The first auction of the year took place despite Tokyo’s ongoing battle with coronavirus.

The new year in Japan brings with it a bunch of ‘first’ traditions and customs. Whether it’s the first lucky bag of the year, or the first trip to the temple (however ill-advised that may be these days) — the new year means a lot of firsts for people.

For people in the fresh produce industry, the new year brings hatsuseri the first wholesale produce market of the year. As any Tokyo guidebook will tell you, the Toyosu Fish Market is the biggest and most impressive fish market in all of the city, and every year they hold their New Year’s tuna fish auction. Toyosu Fish Market’s hatsuseri doesn’t just deal with any old tuna though — it’s famous for bluefin tuna. Bluefin tuna is usually where the big bucks are made — in fact, 2019’s first bluefin tuna sold for a record-breaking 333.6 million yen (US$3.1 million).

▼ Mmmm… tastes like money!

But this year, due to a certain global pandemic, the auction turned out a little differently.  With 174 people working in the market already testing positive for COVID-19, the auction was a more subdued affair, with everyone fully masked up, sanitising their hands before entering the market and using microphones to replace the usual calls and shouts. Visitors are still banned from the venue due to coronavirus risks, meaning there were a lot less people in the market than usual this year.

What was even more subdued, however, was the highest bid at the auction. This year’s biggest catch was a bluefin tuna fish caught off the coast of Oma Port in Aomori Prefecture. Weighing a whopping 208 kilograms (459 pounds), the winning bid went for a mere 20,840,000 yen (US$202,600). While that may seem like a lot of money to drop on a single fish, it was just 10% of the cost of last year’s winning bid. Commenters speculated that the low sale was a direct result of coronavirus, with less people attending the auction and less people eating out at restaurants, meaning less need to spend big money.

To get a full picture of how cheap this tuna went for, compare these winning bids:

2019 — 333.6 million yen (US$3.1 million)
2020 — 193.2 million yen (US$1.75 million)
2021 — 20.8 million yen (US$202,600)

This year’s lucky buyer was wholesale company Yamayuki, and the winning tuna will be used at one-Michelin starred sushi restaurant Ginza Onodera locations in Tokyo, Shanghai, Hawaii and Los Angeles. Ginza Onodera executive chef Akifumi Sakagami said “In these dark times, we want our customers to be able to enjoy auspicious food.” 

▼ The winning tuna fish, costing US$202,600

Many people were expecting Toyosu Fish Market regular and sushi mini-celebrity, Sushi Zanmai’s CEO Kiyoshi Kimura to make the winning bid as he is known for splashing cash at the auction, including 2019’s current record-breaking bid. However, Kimura, also known as the ‘Tuna King’, claimed “It didn’t seem appropriate to go all out this time. This is the time for self-restraint.Kimura usually brings his winning bid to a restaurant to slice up and display, surrounded by customers and TV crews. However, with Tokyo about to enter a one-month state of emergency, where diners are being asked to avoid eating out after 8 p.m., this type of big gathering likely wouldn’t have gone down well with the public.

While this year’s price is a fraction of last year’s, it is still the 8th highest bid ever made at the market since 1999, when records began. So while it may be cheaper than last year’s fish, hopefully it’ll still taste amazing. Although who knows? $200,000 tuna might taste no different than regular store bought tuna. After all, we had a hard time identifying the better tuna in this epic blind tasting!

Source: Yahoo News, LEOC, NicoNico News
Featured image: LEOC
Insert images: LEOC, Pakutaso
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