Toyosu Market “tuna king” steps back in 2021, with first auctioned fish sold to a new buyer
Japan’s self-proclaimed “tuna king,” Kiyoshi Kimura, is neither the owner of the largest sushi chain in the country, nor its leading purchaser of tuna. He is, however, the one credited with always buying the “biggest and best tuna” available from the first wholesale auction each year at Tokyo’s Toyosu Market. Until this year, that is.
On 5 January, 2021, Kimura – who serves as president of Sushi Zanmai Co., Ltd. – abdicated his title amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, allowing the top tuna to go to Yukitaka Yamaguchi, president of intermediate wholesaler Yamayuki, which supplies many of the top artisanal sushi bars in Tokyo.
The price for the 208.4-kilogram Pacific bluefin tuna landed at Oma Port in Aomori Prefecture was only JPY 20.84 million (USD 202,453 or EUR 164,955), a steep drop from the highest price on record of JPY 333.6 million (USD 3,240,738 or EUR 2,640,553) and about 10 percent of last year’s price. Yamaguchi said that the price – which is the seventh-highest on record – was reasonable, and that the purchase was a good result amid a lot of negative news surrounding COVID-19.
In years past, Kimura has followed up his purchase with a tuna-cutting show that packed diners into his shop, but with social distancing being encouraged, he said that it would have been difficult to do so safely this year while avoiding the “3C’s” (closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings).
The high price paid each year for the top tuna typically buys bragging rights and name recognition advertising. But those perks may not go as far 2021, especially when Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is urging restaurants to close early and the national government to declare a state of emergency. Furthermore, the government’s “Go-To-Eat” program, which subsidized eating out, has been suspended and the number of positive PCR tests is hitting new highs – between 3,000 to 4,000 per day.
While dine-in only sushi bars may be taking a hit, the major rotary sushi chains have not been as badly affected, mostly because this brand of sushi is a reasonably-priced takeout item.
Japan’s biggest sushi chain, Suita City-based Sushiro Global Holdings, reported December revenue for stores existing over one year at 109.3 percent of the previous year, with customer count at 104.1 percent and the average ticket slightly up at 101.2 percent. For the fiscal year ending in September 2020, the chain increased revenue by 2.9 percent. Operating profit fell by 17.1 percent, but remained in the black.
Meanwhile, Yokohama-based Kappa Create, parent of the Kappa Sushi chain, reported November same-store sales at 101.4 percent of last year, and profit at 102.3 percent.
Another major chain, Osaka-based Kurazushi, had same-store sales of 134.4 and 94.5 percent of the previous year for November and December, respectively. The fall may reflect the suspension of the Go-To-Eat subsidy, as some diners noted a loophole that allowed them to get “infinite sushi.” The program gave diners a JPY 1,000 (USD 9.73, EUR 7.91) credit for meals of JPY 1,000 or over. Thus, if the meal costed exactly JPY 1,000, the program allowed continuous free meals after the first payment. Kurazushi’s same store profit was 100.5 and 108.1 percent that of the previous year for November and December, respectively.
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