Occasionally tuna mania overtakes an auction. Hiroyasu Ito, the president of Chuo Gyorui, the biggest of the wholesalers and auction houses in terms of sales volume, tells me of a January morning in 1999 when an Oma tuna came to auction through his firm. It appeared to be the perfect tuna, a vision of true kata.
Ito-san remembers that the auction started modestly at ¥9,000, or about 75 bucks, per kilo. "And then ¥10,000, ¥20,000, ¥30,000, and ¥40,000. And then three men wanted that tuna very badly." The bidding among them escalated furiously. "At ¥50,000 per kilo, one of them gave up." The remaining two continued to compete. "Ninety thousand, and then ¥100,000 was the last."
The tuna weighed 200 kilos. At ¥100,000 per kilo, the possessed bidder had paid ¥20 million—the equivalent of more than $170,000—for a fish whose parceled meat could never recoup that amount.