Japan's top tuna of 2022 sells for “moderate” price

Japan's Toyosu market.

Japan’s top tuna of the New Year fetched a relatively low price this year amid continuing concerns about COVID-19.

The best bluefin tuna sold at the first tuna auction of the year at Japan’s Toyosu (and previously, at the Tsukiji) wholesale market is usually the object of a bidding war. The high price is a plug for the prestige of the product, and earns bragging rights and name-recognition for the successful bidder.

The price saw a big run-up from 2008 to 2015, due to increasingly hot annual contests between Kiyoshi Kimura – owner of the Japanese sushi restaurant chain Sushi Zanmai – and the Hong Kong-based Taste of Japan Group that owns Itamae Sushi. When the latter pulled out of the race, the field was left to Kimura, and the price fell sharply.

However, a new rival entered the bidding wars from 2017, driving the price gradually higher until it hit the stratosphere in 2019, when Kimura paid JPY 333.6 million (USD 3.1 million, EUR 2.7 million, at the time) for one fish. The second highest price, in 2020, was JPY 193.2 million (USD 1.8 million, EUR 1.6 million, at the time).

Kimura failed to bid in 2021, as he said that it would be hard to hold a tuna cutting show at his restaurant while avoiding the “3C’s” of closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings. He abstained again this year.

At the first tuna auction of this year, held on the morning of 5 January, a 211 kilogram fish landed at the port of Oma in Aomori Prefecture went for JPY 16.88 million (USD 145,514, EUR 128,726). The price per kilogram was JPY 80,000 (USD 690, EUR 610).

For comparison, the current market price for fresh bluefin from Aomori Prefecture is normally JPY 17,000 to 20,000 (USD 146 to 172, EUR 129 to 152) per kilogram. The difference represents the PR premium.

This year’s top bluefin was purchased jointly by intermediate wholesaler Yamayuki and restaurant operator Onodera Group. Yamayuki, which supplies many of the top artisanal sushi bars in Tokyo, also snagged the top fish last year and in 2018.  

Photo courtesy of cowardlion/Shutterstock


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