Japan’s ‘Tuna King’ wins annual auction with US$636,000 bid

The 2017 auction could be the last at Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market, which is scheduled to move to a new location

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 January, 2017, 11:08am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 January, 2017, 2:49pm

Japan’s self-styled “Tuna King” has done it again – paying more than US$600,000 for a single fish.

Sushi entrepreneur Kiyoshi Kimura paid top price at the first auction of the new year at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market on Thursday, bagging a prized bluefin tuna for an eye-watering 74.2 million yen (US$636,000).

The head of the Sushizanmai chain is now the proud – if temporary – owner of a 212kg fish.

At that price, a single piece of fatty tuna sushi would cost roughly US$85, or 25 times the US$3.4 that Kimura charges for the product at his 51 stores across Japan.

“I feel it was a bit expensive, but I am happy that I was able to successfully win at auction a tuna of good shape and size,” Kimura said.

Kimura has built his successful chain into a national brand by paying big money at Tsukiji’s first auction every year – he has now won for six straight years – essentially using the event for publicity.

He paid a record US$1.8 million for a bluefin – a threatened species – at the New Year auction in 2013, outbidding a rival bidder from Hong Kong.

Last year, he faced no formidable rival and paid a bargain US$117,000 for a 200kg tuna.

The prices may seem enormous, but Kimura makes sure to get the most value for money.

Every year, the boisterous auction, which takes place in the small hours, makes national headlines.

On Thursday, Kimura made the rounds of Japan’s major networks, telling viewers the tuna will be cut and distributed among his restaurants.

The 2017 auction could be the last at Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market. It was originally supposed to move to a new location in November, but the plan was put on hold until at least late this year over concerns about toxic contamination at the new site.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike said in November that the move could even be delayed until the “spring of 2018” depending on results of health and environmental tests. But she also held out the possibility of scrapping the relocation altogether.