The prized catch was served up at Sushi Zanmai branches around Japan.

In Japan, the start of the year comes with a number of ceremonial “firsts”, with the word “hatsu” (“first”) used to mark important New Year events and activities like hatsuhinode (first sunrise), hatsumode (first shrine visit), and even hatsuyume (first dream).

For many fresh produce wholesalers, the first working day of the year kicks off with the hatsuseri (“first produce auction”), and the one that gets the most attention from local and international media year after year is the tuna auction run by the world’s largest wholesale fish and seafood market in Tokyo.

▼ The scene before the auction began this year.

After many years at Tsukiji, the fish market relocated to a new facility at Toyosu in October, so people around Japan were particularly keen to see what the first tuna auction of the year at the new location would bring, and the highest price fetched was beyond everyone’s expectations.

▼ Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike spoke to market sellers on the first day.

The auction began at 5:10 a.m. on 5 January, with 1,295 tuna (72 more than last year) being auctioned off in a series of calls and hand signals.

Shortly afterwards, one man came out victorious, setting a new record for a tuna sold at the market, after purchasing a 222-kilogram (489.4-pound) bluefin tuna for 333.6 million yen (US$3.1 million). The prizewinning catch came from off the coast of Oma in Aomori, an area known for having large, high-quality tuna.

▼ The most expensive tuna in the world.

The winning bidder was Kiyoshi Kimura, owner of the popular Sushi Zanmai chain, who earned himself the nickname “Tuna King” after setting a previous record at the auction in 2013, when he purchased a 222-kilogram bluefin tuna for 155.4 million yen.

▼ Like Colonel Sanders, Kimura has a statue of himself outside many of his restaurants.

Speaking to reporters after the auction, Kimura said: “The price was higher than I thought it would be, but the tuna I bought is the absolute finest. I want my customers to eat excellent tuna, and I was able to buy the freshest and most exceptional tuna.”

Kimura received a superstar-like welcome when he arrived for work at the main branch of Sushi Zanmai in Tsukiji after the auction.

▼ People gave him high-fives and posed with him for pictures.

▼ Crowds came to visit Sushi Zanmai and view the tuna, which was displayed in the front window.

According to customers who ate there later that day, the tuna sashimi from the fish was delicious.

“Tastes like 3 million yen”

Kimura’s 333.6 million purchase works out to be 1.2 million yen per kilo for the 278-kilogram fish, making it equivalent in value to roughly 70 kilograms of gold. This is the highest bid on records, which date back to 1999.

Bluefin tuna is prized around the world, but experts warn growing demand has made it a vulnerable species. In response to concerns surrounding the growing scarcity of the fish, governments around the world, including Japan, have agreed to fishing restrictions and strict quotas in order to replenish levels by 2034.

Sources: NHK, Mainichi Shimbun
Featured image: Twitter/@FD3S_333