Record US$3.1 million paid in New Year's tuna auction at Japan's new market

Record US$3.1 million paid in New Year's tuna auction at Japan's new market

Kiyoshi Kimura 278kg tuna
President of sushi restaurant chain Sushi-Zanmai, Kiyoshi Kimura (R), displays a 278kg bluefin tuna at his main restaurant in Tokyo on Jan 5, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Kazuhiro Nogi)

TOKYO: A Japanese sushi entrepreneur paid a record US$3.1 million for a giant tuna on Saturday (Jan 5) as Tokyo's new fish market, which replaced the world-famous Tsukiji late last year, held its first pre-dawn New Year's auction.

Bidding stopped at a whopping ¥333.6 million for the enormous 278kg fish - an endangered species - that was caught off Japan's northern coast.

Self-styled "Tuna King" Kiyoshi Kimura paid the top price, which doubled the previous record of ¥155 million also paid by him in 2013.

"It's the best tuna. I was able to buy a delicious, super fresh tuna," the sushi restaurant chain owner proudly told reporters.

"The price was higher than originally thought, but I hope our customers will eat this excellent tuna," Kimura said after the auction.

READ: Tokyo fishmongers mourn and protest closure of famous fish market

Tsukiji - the world's biggest fish market and a popular tourist attraction in an area packed with restaurants and shops - moved in October to Toyosu, a former gas plant a bit further east.

Opened in 1935, Tsukiji was best known for its pre-dawn daily auctions of tuna, caught from all corners of the world, for use by everyone from top Michelin-star sushi chefs to ordinary grocery stores.

Especially at the first auction of the new year, wholesalers and sushi tycoons have been known to pay eye-watering prices for the biggest and best fish.

Bidding on tuna at Tokyo's fish market (pictured October 2018 at its reopening) stopped at at a
Bidding on tuna at Tokyo's fish market (pictured October 2018 at its reopening). (Photo: AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura)

Despite the relocation, the auction ritual remained intact: Before dawn, buyers in rubber boots were inspecting the quality of the giant fresh and frozen tunas by examining the neatly cut tail end with flashlights and rubbing slices between their fingers.

At 5.10am, handbells rang to signal the auction was underway and the air filled with the sound of auctioneers yelling prices at buyers, who raised fingers to indicate interest.

In a roar of wholesalers surrounding the day's best tuna, an auctioneer hammered the top price as the Kimura side outbid his rival wholesaler in a thrilling head-to-head battle.

"BLACK DIAMOND"

Japan consumes a large portion of the global bluefin catch, a highly prized sushi ingredient known in Japan as "kuro maguro" (black tuna) and dubbed by sushi connoisseurs as the "black diamond" because of its scarcity.

A single piece of "otoro", or the fish's fatty underbelly, can cost dozens of dollars at high-end Tokyo restaurants.

READ: In a Tokyo neighbourhood's last sushi restaurant, a sense of loss

The new market has already opened its auction warehouse to visitors to witness the organised pre-dawn chaos from a balcony, hoping to take over a must-see spot for tourists from Tsukiji.

"Finally, the first New Year auction was held at Toyosu market," said Yoshihiko Otaki, a market official.

"We have a lot of tuna here like we did in Tsukiji," he said.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, wearing white rubber boots, said: "I sincerely hope this market will be loved by many people."

The relocation was a lengthy and controversial process.

Few would contest the fact that Tsukiji was past its prime, and there were concerns about outdated fire regulations and hygiene controls.

In contrast, the new market, located around 2km to the east at Toyosu, boasts state-of-the-art refrigeration facilities and is nearly twice as big again as Tsukiji.

But Toyosu is located on the site of a former gas plant and the soil was found to be contaminated, forcing local authorities to spend millions of dollars to clean it up and delaying the move.

Source: AFP/ec

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