Blowfish Japan

Fugu – The Fish More Deadly than Cyanide

Recently in Osaka, Japanese police closed down a restaurant serving fugu, known in English as blowfish. Also known as pufferfish, it gets its name from its ability to expand its body in order to deter predators. The chefs who prepare fugu are among the most highly trained in Japan because a single mistake in preparation could kill a customer. The ovaries in particular, but also the liver and intestines, are potentially lethal. In 1975 a famed kabuki actor died after he insisted on eating blowfish liver. Since 2000, over two dozen people have died, mainly fishermen who caught the fish and insisted on preparing it themselves.

Tetrodotoxin, found in the guts of the fish, causes numbness around the mouth followed by paralysis and death by respiratory failure; the victim remains conscious throughout. There is no known cure. This delicacy, which is usually served as sashimi, is expensive: a meal at a fugu restaurant usually starts at $120 a head. It is a seasonal fish, served only in winter.

On a personal note, I once ate fugu. It was prepared by my father-in-law who is not a trained fugu chef! In fairness he was a fish merchant all his life, and was the expert who went to the docks to choose which fish to buy. This is extremely important in a business which sells fish to sushi restaurants. The day I ate the fugu, in a miso soup prepared as delicacy for New Years day, I felt a slight numbness around my lips, but nothing more.

The thought did occur to me later that, if he had wanted to ‘bump off’ the gaijin husband of his daughter, this would have been a great way to do it!

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All photos and text copyright © Tony Smyth