'I bought a good tuna': Japan's sushi king shells out record $4.2 million at Tokyo's new year fish auction

'I bought a good tuna': Japan's sushi king shells out record $4.2 million at Tokyo's new year fish auction
PHOTO: AFP

A Japanese sushi entrepreneur paid a record S$4.2 million for a giant tuna on Saturday as Tokyo's new fish market, which replaced the world-famous Tsukiji late last year, held its first predawn new year's auction.

Bidding stopped at a whopping 333.6 million yen for the enormous 278kg fish - an endangered species - that was caught off Japan's northern coast.

Self-styled "Tuna King" Kiyoshi Kimura paid the top price, which doubled the previous record of 155 million yen from 2013.

"I bought a good tuna," Kimura said after the auction. "The price was higher than originally thought, but I hope our customers will eat this excellent tuna."

Tsukiji - the world's biggest fish market and a popular tourist attraction in an area packed with restaurants and shops - moved in October to Toyosu, a former gas plant a bit further east.

Opened in 1935, Tsukiji was best known for its predawn daily auctions of tuna, caught from all corners of the world, for use by everyone from top Michelin-star sushi chefs to ordinary grocers.

Especially at the first auction of the new year, wholesalers and sushi tycoons have been known to pay eye-watering prices for the biggest and best fish.

Despite the move, the auction ritual remained: before dawn, buyers in rubber boots were inspecting the quality of the giant fresh and frozen tunas by examining the neatly cut tail end with flashlights and rubbing slices between their fingers.

At 5:10am, handbells rang to signal the auction's start and the air filled with the sound of auctioneers yelling prices at buyers, who raised fingers to indicate interest.

"Finally, the first new year auction was held at Toyosu market," said Yoshihiko Otaki, a market official. "We have a lot of tuna here like we did in Tsukiji," he said.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike said: "I sincerely hope this market will be loved by many people."

The move was a long and controversial process.

Few would contest the fact that Tsukiji was past its prime, and there were concerns about outdated fire regulations and hygiene controls.

In contrast, the new market, located around 2km to the east at Toyosu, boasts state-of-the-art refrigeration facilities and is much bigger.

But it is on the site of a former gas plant and the soil was found to be contaminated, forcing local authorities to spend millions of dollars cleaning it up, delaying the move.

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