Is eating fugu dangerous?

Maybe you have already heard about fugu, the pufferfish. It is pretty famous overseas for being ‘the deadly poisonous fish Japanese people like to eat’. It’s true! Japanese people love eating fugu.
The fish truly is dangerous: its inner parts (especially the liver) and skin contain lethal amounts of the poison tetrodotoxin, that is more deadly than cyanide. And there is no antidote!

Don’t worry though, you will not die if you try to eat fugu while in Japan…if you do it at the right place. The laws on the matter are very strict. All the fishes that you can eat in restaurants or buy in supermarkets are cut by people who have followed a training and own a special license. There are still about 6 people per year who die from eating fugu, but most of the time it concerns people who try to cook it by themselves without having the ability.

As for its taste, it does not have much fat, so it is rather light. Another of its characteristics is how beautiful it looks when cut for sashimi, since it is very resilient and it has to be thinly sliced, to the point that one can almost see the color of the plate through it. It is also used in deep-fried and hot pot dishes.

Fugu sashimi

Eat fugu in Shimonoseki and get lucky!

A fisherman in Shimonoseki (Source: http://setohime.com/)

Shimonoseki, in Yamaguchi Prefecture, is an area famous all over the country for its fugu. Shimonoseki is located at the westernmost of Honshu, the main island of Japan, and has flourished as an important sea port because of its position facing the Sea of Japan and the Seto Inland Sea. Even today, this is an area with a prosperous fishing industry, with fugu at its head. Shimonoseki deals with 80% of the fugu that circulates in Japan.

Shopping at Karato Ichiba (Source: Karato Ichiba official website)

In Shimonoseki, there is a fish market called Karato Ichiba (ichiba means ‘market’ in Japanese), which is open to the general public. It is a must-visit place for anybody interested in fugu. The auction starts at 5 am. This is extremely early in the morning but, in return, it gives you plenty of time to go sightseeing in the afternoon. You can go to Fukuoka in one hour and a half, or to Hiroshima in a little over two hours, so try and drop by before you go visit the standard sightseeing spots.

fugu03

Karato Marketplace is not only about its lively auctions, but it is also an energetic market where the voices of sellers calling out to customers and the voices of those negotiating for the best deal can be heard everywhere. On Sundays and national holidays, street stalls line up, and one can enjoy eating fresh seafood while walking around. Of course, they also sell fugu. During winter, which is the best season for fugu, you are likely to find it at many of the shops.

In Shimonoseki, it is typical to pronounce fugu as fuku. This comes from fuku ,” a word meaning ‘happiness’ or ‘good fortune‘. That’s why fugu is considered a very auspicious thing to eat by the locals. It may even be a sin to avoid it just because one is scared of the poison!

If you are planning to visit Shimonoseki, don’t miss our other article: Cooking on a roof tile?! Have a taste of “Kawara Soba,” a Yamaguchi Prefecture specialty

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AUTHOR

Kenichiro Asai

Kenichiro Asai

Writer

I’m a wanderer who suddenly found himself working as a writer. I normally teach junior high school students at a preparatory school.

Information

Address 50-5 Karatocho, Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Pref.
Access 10 minutes from JR Shimonoseki Station by car