Japan's 'Tuna King' laments Tsukiji market move

Tokyo - Kiyoshi Kimura's ear-to-ear grin is tough to miss in Japan - it's splashed across ubiquitous billboards advertising his nationwide sushi chain.

But the self-styled "Tuna King" isn't smiling about plans to move Tokyo's famous Tsukiji market, the world's biggest fish emporium, and warns that its unique identity is at risk of being destroyed.

Kimura's office is a block away from the historic site where in 2013 he famously slapped down a record $1.8 million bid at the traditional New Year bluefin tuna auction.

But this month's sale - where Kimura prevailed again with a comparatively modest US$117,000 (S$168,300) bid for an enormous 200-kilogram (440-pound) tuna - will mark his last victory at the chaotic market, popular with locals and tourists alike.

Backers of the controversial move, planned for November, say the sprawling, 80-year-old complex is tired and out-of-date with an ancient refrigeration system.

Like many critics, however, Kimura - a former member of Japan's military who swapped dreams of becoming a fighter pilot for a life in the fish business - is not sold on the idea.

"It's a bit sad that Tsukiji is moving," the 63-year-old told AFP at his office, which is covered with photos of top Japanese celebrities and politicians.

"For as long as I have been in the fish business, Tsukiji was here," Kimura added, saying that it is hard to see the move in a positive light.

Kimura abandoned plans to help build a leisure facility at the new site, which was set to feature a 1,000-seat food court, about 140 restaurants and retailers, as well as Tokyo's biggest hot spring, known as an onsen.

The four-decade fish veteran is not even sure he'll build one of his own Sushizanmai restaurants at the decidedly less charming new facility built on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay.

"It's still unclear how the outer market is going to be built," he said of the new location.

"A fish market is a place where people like to gather. But if there is no sense of excitement, people won't come."

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