OSAKA, Japan — This behemoth of the ocean must be every sushi master's dream ... or his worst nightmare depending on how many sous chefs he has at his disposal: a 269-kilogram tuna that sold at auction in Tokyo this morning for a record US$736,000 (56 million yen).
That works out at 10,000 pieces of sushi.
Environmental concerns about Japan's voracious appetite for bluefin tuna appeared to be furthest from the minds of the traders who gathered to watch Kiyoshi Kimura, a restaurateur, put in the winning bid at Tsukiji market.
The sale, made at the famed market's first — and largely ceremonial — auction of the year, easily beat the previous record of 32.49 million yen set last January.
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Asked why he had handed over a sum that works out at a hefty 210,000 yen per kilogram, Kimura, who runs the Sushi-Zanmai nationwide chain of 46 restaurants, claimed to be acting in the best gastronomic interests of his compatriots.
"I wanted to secure the best tuna so that customers in Japan, not overseas, can enjoy it," he told APTV News, adding that he hoped the auspicious bid would "liven up Japan" as it recovers from last year's triple disaster.
Last year, the first giant tuna of the year was snapped up by a duo comprising an upmarket Tokyo sushi restaurant and Ricky Cheng, a restaurateur from Hong Kong — a reflection of sushi's growing global popularity.
If sold at cost, a single slice of sushi from the bluefin, caught in Oma on the northernmost tip of Japan's main island, would go for between 5,000 yen and 8,000 yen.
But soon after the auction, Kimura was making good on his promise to sell the fish for between 134 yen for a slice of akami red meat to just over 400 yen for fattier otoro cuts.
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Once the hype of the New Year sale has subsided, however, Japan will again come under pressure to address international concerns about the sustainability of its tuna habit.
The country consumes about 80 percent of Pacific and Atlantic bluefin tuna, and has been accused of frustrating international attempts to dramatically reduce fishing quotas.