Tokyo chefs swell with anger over new blowfish laws

Blowfish chefs are upset that Japan, which just threatened to tighten regulations on serving raw meat to control disease, is proposing to loosen regs on potentially deadly blowfish.

Reuters reports that for more than six decades, dicing blowfish in Tokyo has been the preserve of a small band of strictly regulated and licensed chefs, usually in exclusive restaurants.

But new laws coming into effect from October are opening the lucrative trade to restaurants without a license, making chefs like Naohito Hashimoto see red.

"We have spent time and money in order to obtain and use the blowfish license, but with these new rules anybody can handle blowfish even without a license," said Hashimoto, a blowfish chef for some 30 years.

"They’re saying it’s now okay to serve blowfish. We licensed chefs feel this way of thinking is a bit strange."

The poison known as tetrododoxin is found in parts of the blowfish, including the liver, heart, intestines and eyes, and is so intense that a tiny amount will kill.

Every year there are reports of people dying after preparing blowfish at home.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government says city laws covering the serving of blowfish should be changed to reflect changing times and hope that relaxing the rules will cut prices and bring Tokyo in line with the rest of the nation.

"Outside of Tokyo, the regulations for blowfish are even more relaxed and yet there are hardly any poison-related accidents," said Hironobu Kondo, an official at the city’s Food Control Department.

"There is the hope that the number of restaurants with unlicensed chefs serving blowfish will rise, and that blowfish as an ingredient will be used not only for traditional Japanese foods but also others such as Chinese and Western foods."

A full course meal of blowfish, known as fugu in Japanese, features delicacies such as blowfish tempura, slices of raw fish thin enough to see through fanned out across a plate like chrysanthemum petals, and toasted fins in cups of hot sake.

But the meal is far from cheap, as diners pay for the safety of a licensed chef. At Hashimoto’s restaurant, a meal costs at least 10,000 yen a person.

"I don’t want people to forget that you can actually die from eating blowfish," he said. "I feel the government’s awareness of this has diminished."

Couple didn’t know what they were eating

A 47-year-old Israeli woman crawled feebly to the front door to call for help from a neighbor before passing out. Her partner, also 47, had already fallen unconscious.

FOX News reports that the couple began to feel dizzy after eating a meal of fried blowfish, and could barely breathe when the ambulance arrived.

“From what they have been able to tell us,” Rambam Hospital spokesman David Ratner said, “a neighbor gave them the fish as a gift. They didn’t know what it was; they fried it up for dinner and ate it.“

The couple was unaware of the neurotoxins contained in the skin and certain internal organs of blowfish that are highly toxic to humans. Contacting or ingesting these toxins leads to muscle paralysis and can result in an excruciatingly slow and painful death.

Marine biologist Dr. Nadav Shashar said, though the fish is the second most poisonous vertebrae in the world, it is considered a delicacy in Japan and Korea, "but they know how to prepare it."

Dr. Shashar concluded by saying, “The basic rule of thumb is simple: Don’t stick things in your mouth if you don’t know what they are.”

Don’t eat poop or blowfish poison.