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Popularity of Japanese fugu to puff up ahead of Olympics

ITN News Editor
By ITN News Editor February 20, 2020 12:03

Inside the kitchen of Fukudokoro Sakai, a wholesaler across the road from a seafood market at the southern tip of the main island of Japan, the chef casually hacks off the head of a live pufferfish.

 

He proceeds to skin and gut the fish while its heart still beats, deftly removing the poisonous parts and tossing them into a bucket on the floor for later disposal. The meat of the fish, stained a bloody red from the violence, will then be cleaned and cut into thin, semi-translucent sashimi slices and arranged into a shape of a chrysanthemum flower for customers at the adjoining restaurant to eat for lunch.

The poisonous parts – which include the eyes and the liver – are what puts this otherwise nondescript fish in the spotlight.

Other than being a wide-eyed fish that puffs itself up into a ball when threatened, it is known as the fish that claims the lives of those unlucky enough to accidentally consume its poison.

Between 2008 and 2018, six people died while dozens of others fell ill each year from the poison.

But this scene may soon be less common with domestic demand for the pufferfish declining, as the gross value of output was down to 3.4 billion yen in 2017 from 5.0 billion yen ten years ago with a few spikes in between.

With that in mind, Japan’s pufferfish industry now have their sights on a new target – tourists arriving for this year’s Olympics.

Thousands of foreign tourists are expected in Japan for the July 24 – Aug. 9 Games and many will have eating the notorious fugu on their bucket list.

ITN News Editor
By ITN News Editor February 20, 2020 12:03