For many people, a wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event. For many others it’s a twice or three-time occurrence, but still pretty rare in the grand scheme of things. As such, it’s only natural to want it to be something truly memorable for all in attendance.

And now a new business in Japan’s Wakayama Prefecture has just the thing to do that. For a rather large sum of money, they will come to your reception with a huge freshly caught fish and proceed to cut it apart in front of everyone. Of course this doesn’t happen until the bride and groom get a romantic picture taken making the first slice together with a meter-long blade.

■ Kaitai Shows

The art of publicly carving up a fish for entertainment is in itself nothing new. If you happen to hang out where the fishmongers do at markets like Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market, you’ll likely have seen several displays like it as they’re effective promotional tools for seafood sellers, adding a level of showmanship to an otherwise drab display of dead fish.

▼ This marketplace Maguro Meijin show has the boys up against a massive 350-kilogram (770-pound) tuna.

They’re called kaitai shows where kaitai translates to “dismantling.” That may seem like an odd choice of verb when talking about fish, but after seeing one in action the word is actually pretty fitting. These workers take apart a tuna with the efficiency of a customs agent on my car after telling them I bought some Coke but forgot the “a-Cola.”

It was at one of these kaitai shows that Shinya Takenawa happened upon which inspired him to leave his job in the medical equipment field to start up Maguro Meijin (Tuna Masters).

■ Maguro Meijin

Seeing the spectacle of a kaitai show and how the crowds responded to them, Takenawa got the idea to take it on the road into celebratory environments. To do this he formed the Maguro Meijin, an elite team of 12 fish handlers who will come to your wedding, cut up a fish the size of a small adult in about 20 minutes, and then serve it up fresh to all in attendance.

▼ A slideshow of Maguro Meijin events

In addition to the food preparation, there are fish-themed jokes and quizzes as well to keep guests entertained. Also, much like with a cake at some receptions, the bride and groom are encouraged to make the first cut together. When dismantling a tune the first cut is usually to remove the head by cutting into the gill with a maguro bocho (tuna knife) measuring about a meter (3 feet) long.

▼ You call that a knife? Good, because you should.

This cut is meant to symbolize the newlyweds’ first act of work together. Afterward, they feed each other pieces of the sashimi. However, I’m guessing they don’t smoosh it into each other’s face like cake at some weddings.

■ Prices may vary

You might be wondering what a Maguro Meijin show at your wedding would cost. It depends on a few things actually. First and foremost your choice in fish will factor greatly. At the lower end you can expect to pay around 275,000 yen (US$2,200) and if you want to go all-out you can get a 100-kilogram (220-pound) tuna for 1.5 million yen ($12,000). Bear in mind that a fish like that would provide toppings for about 2,000 pieces of sushi.

▼ Fish on the Maguro Meijin website are also measured in the ISO unit of businesswomen.

After that, costs will depend on the location of the event due to travel expenses and delivery of the fish that is said to be caught on the morning of the show. This can run anywhere between 10,000 yen to 160,000 yen ($80-$1,300).

■ From Prisons

It is thought that the kaitai show began a long, long time ago in Japanese prisons. As you might suspect, men of the sea back then were a rough-and-tumble bunch of guys who frequently got locked up for their shenanigans.

At the time there was a strict one-fish allotment for prisoners, so, using their connections in the fishing industry, inmates could often get their hands on the biggest single fish possible. Then with much joy and celebration that fish would be dismantled and divided among the prisoners by a professional.

■ To Wedding Halls

Prison parties aside, generally in Japan some fish are considered a celebratory food much like a turkey or roast pig in other places. Sea bream is the best example of this often severed grilled on an auspicious occasion.

So the Japanese way of seeing a tuna’s head cut off and placed upwards on the dinner table may vary somewhat from viewpoints in other countries. Still, would Japanese brides-to-be really want this on their wedding day? I asked a few Japanese women of marrying age what they thought of a kaitai show at their wedding reception using this random demonstration video.

Here’s what they said:

“No, I’d rather have cake.”

“No…just no.”

“It looks like it smells.”

“Personally, I wouldn’t want it. But I might do it for the people who come to the wedding. They would probably enjoy it.”

It seemed not everyone was enchanted by the idea. Nevertheless, business is good for Maguro Meijin. They held 220 shows last year with many repeat customers, and they aim to grow further in the coming years. They have even received orders from other countries like China to perform and serve.

▼ And there are some lucky guys who land a lady who can do the kaitai show at the wedding all by herself!

Tuna dismantling shows have come a long way from prisons, to fish markets, to banquets. Who knows where they will go from here? Just don’t be surprised when a burly guy suddenly pops out a door with a five-foot fish on his shoulder at your next social engagement.

Source: Maguro Meijin, Asahi Shimbun, Kininaru News, Japan Association of Dismantling for Tuna, Taishukan (Japanese)
Videos: YouTube – Maguro Meijin, raumenshinkaIshii Tsutomu
Maguro Bocho Image: Amazon
Sea Bream Image: Wikipedia – Akiyoshi Matsuoka