January 27, 2009

I Love Sushi, But This Is Ridiculous!

Maybe it's just me, but when a tuna market in Japan has to worry about tourists molesting the tuna fish, things might be just a bit weird.

"We understand that the sight of hundreds of frozen tuna looks unique and interesting for foreign tourists," said Yoshiaki Takagi, deputy director of the market. "But they have to understand the Tsukiji market is a professional place, not an amusement park."

One of the more notorious recent cases was that of a tipsy British tourist - caught on tape by a Japanese TV crew - who licked the head of a frozen tuna and patted its gill. Two others, also caught on video, rode around on a cart used by wholesalers. "Get out! Get out!" an irate market official shouted in English.

"Tuna is a very expensive fish," Takagi said. "One tuna can easily cost more than 1 million yen ($11,000). But some tourists touch them and even try to hug them."

Fed up, the market decided to impose the ban.

So, when on Jan. 5, a premium bluefin tuna fetched 9.63 million yen - more than $107,000, the highest price in nearly a decade - no tourists were anywhere in sight. The restriction was lifted on Jan. 19, despite some grumbling from the fishmongers.

The sprawling market dates back to the 16th century, when the military rulers who had just moved Japan's capital to Tokyo - then called Edo - wanted to ensure they had a steady supply of fish.

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