TOKYO – If you thought your last sushi bill was expensive, check this out. Sushi Zanmai, a Japanese restaurant chain, just paid $117,000 for a 441-pound bluefin tuna. Yes, you read that right. That’s $265 per pound.
But this was not just any fish. It was the prize catch in the last New Year auction at Tsukiji, the famous, ramshackle fish market in Tokyo that will be torn down this year.
“It was a little more expensive than expected, but it’s the highest quality for its shape, color and fat,” Kiyoshi Kimura, the owner of the restaurant chain, told reporters at the market after the first auction of 2016. “I want our customers to be happy. It was the last auction at Tsukiji so there were many people there, and I feel everyone in the auction was deeply moved.”
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The bluefin was caught off Aomori prefecture, an area famous for its tuna, and sold for almost three times as much as the most expensive fish at last year’s first auction. But this year’s pricetag was not a record: Kimura paid almost $1.8 million for a 490-pound tuna in 2013 when he got into a vicious bidding war with the owner of the rival sushi chain, Itamae.
Now, Japanese have a habit of over-paying at the first auction of the year, part of a superstition called “goshugi soba,” or “congratulatory price,” that acts as a wish for a good market year ahead.
According to the Associated Press, about 80 percent of the worldwide tuna catch is consumed in Japan, and overfishing has caused a drop in stocks of the three bluefin species, Pacific, Southern and Atlantic.
But this year was especially meaningful because of the impending closure of the market, the scene of pre-dawn mayhem as little motorized vehicles zoom around the market loaded with fish, trying (or often, not trying) to avoid the tourists snapping photos.
The fish market, one of the biggest in the world, was built in 1935 but will be moved to a new location on a man-made island in Tokyo near the 2020 Olympic village in November. Critics say the new development looks like a shopping mall, but supporters say the old market was unhygienic and dangerous given that it wasn’t made to accommodate all the tourists who flock to it.
Yuki Oda contributed to this report.