Big price for first bluefin tuna of 2024 augurs well for Japan’s restaurant sector

Representatives of Onodera Group with the tuna they won at auction.

During the first tuna auction of the new year at Tokyo's Toyosu Fish Market, a bluefin weighing 238 kilograms sold for JPY 114.24 million (USD 787,342, EUR 720,740) – the fourth-highest amount on record and a sign of renewed confidence in the economic recovery of Japan’s hospitality industry.

Intermediate wholesaler Yamayuki and the operator of the Sushi Ginza Onodera restaurant – both based in Tokyo – jointly bid on the top tuna at the 5 January auction. It was the fourth year in a row the two have snagged the bragging rights that go along with the top purchase.

"I'd been feeling that the economy was getting better, so I thought the bidding would reach JPY 100 million [USD 694,000, EUR 633,000]," Yamayuki President Yukitaka Yamaguchi told local media after the auction.

Although Japanese consumers have had to scrimp due to inflation, restaurants and other businesses that cater to tourists have been buoyed by the lifting of Covid-19 measures and the return of inbound overseas visitors.

The Japan National Tourism Organization reported over 17.3 million visitor arrivals from January through September 2023. This compares with around 3.8 million for all of 2022, only 200,000 in 2021, and 4.1 million in 2020. In pre-pandemic 2019, there were a record 31.8 million arrivals.

The price of the top tuna is not related to the general price nor is it driven by supply and demand. In fact, the supply of wild Pacific bluefin tuna has been increasing due to stricter controls on the catch of juveniles. Instead, the stunt is essentially advertising for the top bidder and a way of adding prestige to the Oma tuna brand. Oma is the port where the top tuna is typically landed by the handline method.

For example, because the 2019 record price remains unbroken, the bidder that year – Kiyoshi Kimura of Japanese sushi restaurant chain Sushi Zanmai – continues to attract name recognition in every Japanese media news story about the event, making his purchase a solid long-term investment.

Kimura said Onodera will donate some of the proceeds from sale of the tuna to relief efforts that have followed the deadly earthquake that hit Ishikawa Prefecture on New Year’s Day.

Photo courtesy of Onodera Group


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