Last week’s most remarkable food story concerned a record-breaking price paid for a giant bluefin tuna at Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji fish market. Kiyoshi Kimura, the owner of the Sushi-Zanmai restaurant chain, paid a staggering $736,000 for a bluefin weighing in at 593 pounds. The first auction of the year at Tsujiki traditionally sees eye-popping bids, but this sale easily eclipsed the previous record of $416,000 paid at the initial auction of 2011.
Most sushi lovers realize that bluefin tuna is an endangered species, but that rarely stops us from eating it. It falls into the irresistible category of guilty pleasures. The part of the fish prized above all others is the o-toro, or fatty belly meat, which can be extremely expensive when available.
If you do the math, Kimura’s purchase doesn’t make a great deal of sense. The fish yielded 10,000 slices of sushi. To break even, he would have to charge $74 per slice, yet Sushi-Zanmai sold each piece for $6. Kimura will lose about $600,000 on the deal.
Why did he do it? Because he can, for one thing, but his motivations appear to go deeper. Kimura told the Wall Street Journal that his gesture was intended to boost national morale by way of a massive infusion of umami. “I wish for Japanese people to eat good tuna together,” he said. “Despite the March 11 earthquake and the sluggish economy, I want to lift up Japan’s spirits urging people to work hard together.”
These are admirable sentiments—putting aside, for a moment, the fact that the fish in question is rapidly disappearing from the earth. Kimura’s generosity would be comparable to Donald Trump announcing that he will sell bottles of wine from his newly-purchased Kluge Estate for $3, in an effort to rejuvenate the Virginia wine industry (don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen). Ecology be damned: some days, it’s good to be Japanese.