FEATURE How Sushi Went Global

How Sushi Went Global
A 500-pound tuna is caught off the coast of New England or Spain, flown
thousands of miles to Tokyo, sold for tens of thousands of dollars to
Japanese buyers … and shipped to chefs in New York and Hong Kong?
That’s the manic logic of global sushi.
40-minute drive from Bath, Maine, down a winding two-lane highway,
the last mile on a dirt road, a ramshackle wooden fish pier stands beside
an empty parking lot. At 6:00 p.m. nothing much is happening. Three
bluefin tuna sit in a huge tub of ice on the loading dock. Between 6:45 and 7:00,
the parking lot fills up with cars and trucks with license plates from New Jersey,
New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. Twenty tuna buyers
clamber out, half of them Japanese. The three bluefin, ranging from 270 to 610
pounds, are winched out of the tub, and buyers crowd around them, extracting
tiny core samples to examine their color, fingering the flesh to assess the fat
content, sizing up the curve of the body.
After about 20 minutes of eyeing the goods, many of the buyers return to their
trucks to call Japan by cellphone and get the morning prices from Tokyo’s
Tsukiji market — the fishing industry’s answer to Wall Street — where the daily
tuna auctions have just concluded. The buyers look over the tuna one last time
and give written bids to the dock manager, who passes the top bid for each fish
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to the crew that landed it.
The auction bids are secret. Each bid is examined anxiously by a cluster of
young men, some with a father or uncle looking on to give advice, others with a
young woman and a couple of toddlers trying to see Daddy’s fish. Fragments of
concerned conversation float above the parking lot: “That’s all?” “Couldn’t we do
better if we shipped it ourselves?” “Yeah, but my pickup needs a new
transmission now!” After a few minutes, deals are closed and the fish are quickly
loaded onto the backs of trucks in crates of crushed ice, known in the trade as
“tuna coffins.” As rapidly as they arrived, the flotilla of buyers sails out of the
parking lot — three bound for New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, where their
tuna will be airfreighted to Tokyo for sale the day after next.
Bluefin tuna may seem at first an unlikely case study in globalization. But as the
world rearranges itself — around silicon chips, Starbucks coffee, or sashimigrade tuna — new channels for global flows of capital and commodities link farflung individuals and communities in unexpected new relationships. The tuna
trade is a prime example of the globalization of a regional industry, with intense
international competition and thorny environmental regulations; centuries-old
practices combined with high technology; realignments of labor and capital in
response to international regulation; shifting markets; and the diffusion of
culinary culture as tastes for sushi, and bluefin tuna, spread worldwide.
Tuna doesn’t require much promotion among Japanese consumers. It is
consistently Japan’s most popular seafood, and demand is high throughout the
year. When the Federation of Japan Tuna Fisheries Cooperative (known as
Nikkatsuren) runs ad campaigns for tuna, they tend to be low-key and
whimsical, rather like the “Got Milk?” advertising in the United States. Recently,
the federation launched “Tuna Day” (Maguro no hi), providing retailers with
posters and recipe cards for recipes more complicated than “slice and serve
chilled.” Tuna Day’s mascot is Goro-kun, a colorful cartoon tuna swimming the
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Australian crawl.
Despite the playful contemporary tone of the mascot, the date selected for Tuna
Day carries much heavier freight. October 10, it turns out, commemorates the
date that tuna first appeared in Japanese literature, in the eighth-century
collection of imperial court poetry known as the Man’yoshu — one of the
towering classics of Japanese literature. The neat twist is that October 10 today
is a national holiday, Sports Day. Goro-kun, the sporty tuna, scores a
promotional hat trick, suggesting intimate connections among national culture,
healthy food for active lives, and the family holiday meal.
Outside of Japan, tuna, especially raw tuna, hasn’t always had it so good. Sushi
isn’t an easy concept to sell to the uninitiated. And besides, North Americans
tend to think of cultural influence as flowing from West to East: James Dean,
baseball, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Disneyland have all gone over big in
Tokyo. Yet Japanese cultural motifs and material — from Kurosawa’s The Seven
Samurai to Yoda’s Zen and Darth Vader’s armor, from Issey Miyake’s fashions to
Nintendo, PlayStation, and Pokémon — have increasingly saturated North
American and indeed the entire world’s consumption and popular culture.
Against all odds, so too has sushi.
In 1929, the Ladies’ Home Journal introduced Japanese cooking to North
American women, but discreetly skirted the subject of raw fish: “There have
been purposely omitted… any recipes using the delicate and raw tuna fish which
is sliced wafer thin and served iced with attractive garnishes. [These]… might
not sound so entirely delicious as they are in reality.” Little mention of any
Japanese food appeared in U.S. media until well after World War II. By the 1960s,
articles on sushi began to show up in lifestyle magazines like Holiday and
Sunset. But the recipes they suggested were canapés like cooked shrimp on
caraway rye bread, rather than raw fish on rice.
A decade later, however, sushi was growing in popularity throughout North
America, turning into a sign of class and educational standing. In 1972, the New
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York Times covered the opening of a sushi bar in the elite sanctum of New York’s
Harvard Club. Esquire explained the fare in an article titled “Wake up Little
Sushi!” Restaurant reviewers guided readers to Manhattan’s sushi scene,
including innovators like Shalom Sushi, a kosher sushi bar in SoHo.
Japan’s emergence on the global economic scene in the 1970s as the business
destination du jour, coupled with a rejection of hearty, red-meat American fare
in favor of healthy cuisine like rice, fish, and vegetables, and the appeal of the
high-concept aesthetics of Japanese design all prepared the world for a sushi
fad. And so, from an exotic, almost unpalatable ethnic specialty, then to haute
cuisine of the most rarefied sort, sushi has become not just cool, but popular.
The painted window of a Cambridge, Massachusetts, coffee shop advertises
“espresso, cappuccino, carrot juice, lasagna, and sushi.” Mashed potatoes with
wasabi (horseradish), sushi-ginger relish, and seared sashimi-grade tuna steaks
show Japan’s growing cultural influence on upscale nouvelle cuisine throughout
North America, Europe, and Latin America. Sushi has even become the stuff of
fashion, from “sushi” lip gloss, colored the deep red of raw tuna, to “wasabi” nail
polish, a soft avocado green.
Japan remains the world’s primary market for fresh tuna for sushi and sashimi;
demand in other countries is a product of Japanese influence and the creation
of new markets by domestic producers looking to expand their reach. Perhaps
not surprisingly, sushi’s global popularity as an emblem of a sophisticated,
cosmopolitan consumer class more or less coincided with a profound
transformation in the international role of the Japanese fishing industry. From
the 1970s onward, the expansion of 200-mile fishing limits around the world
excluded foreign fleets from the prime fishing grounds of many coastal nations.
And international environmental campaigns forced many countries, Japan
among them, to scale back their distant water fleets. With their fishing
operations curtailed and their yen for sushi still growing, Japanese had to turn
to foreign suppliers.
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Jumbo jets brought New England’s bluefin tuna into easy reach of Tokyo, just as
Japan’s consumer economy — a byproduct of the now disparaged “bubble” years
— went into hyperdrive. The sushi business boomed. During the 1980s, total
Japanese imports of fresh bluefin tuna worldwide increased from 957 metric
tons (531 from the United States) in 1984 to 5,235 metric tons (857 from the
United States) in 1993. The average wholesale price peaked in 1990 at 4,900 yen
(U.S.$34) per kilogram, bones and all, which trimmed out to approximately
U.S.$33 wholesale per edible pound.
Not surprisingly, Japanese demand for prime bluefin tuna — which yields a firm
red meat, lightly marbled with veins of fat, highly prized (and priced) in
Japanese cuisine — created a gold-rush mentality on fishing grounds across the
globe wherever bluefin tuna could be found. But in the early 1990s, as the U.S.
bluefin industry was taking off, the Japanese economy went into a stall, then a
slump, then a dive. U.S. producers suffered as their high-end export market
collapsed. Fortunately for them, the North American sushi craze took up the
slack. U.S. businesses may have written off Japan, but Americans’ taste for sushi
stuck. An industry founded exclusively on Japanese demand survived because
of Americans’ newly trained palates and a booming U.S. economy.
Atlantic bluefin tuna (“abt” in the trade) are a highly migratory species that
ranges from the equator to Newfoundland, from Turkey to the Gulf of Mexico.
Bluefin can be huge fish; the record is 1,496 pounds. In more normal ranges,
600-pound tuna, 10 feet in length, are not extraordinary, and 250- to 300-pound
bluefin, six feet long, are commercial mainstays.
Before bluefin became a commercial species in New England, before Japanese
buyers discovered the stock, before the 747, bluefin were primarily sports fish,
caught with fighting tackle by trophy hunters out of harbors like Montauk,
Hyannis, and Kennebunkport. Commercial fishers, if they caught bluefin at all,
sold them for cat food when they could and trucked them to town dumps when
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they couldn’t. Japanese buyers changed all of that. Since the 1970s, commercial
Atlantic bluefin tuna fisheries have been almost exclusively focused on
Japanese markets like Tsukiji.
In New England waters, most bluefin are taken one fish at a time, by rod and
reel, by hand line, or by harpoon — techniques of a small-scale fisher, not of a
factory fleet. On the European side of the Atlantic, the industry operates under
entirely different conditions. Rather than rod and reel or harpooning, the
typical gear is industrial — the purse seiner (a fishing vessel closing a large net
around a school of fish) or the long line (which catches fish on baited hooks
strung along lines played out for many miles behind a swift vessel). The
techniques may differ from boat to boat and from country to country, but these
fishers are all angling for a share of the same Tsukiji yen — and in many cases,
some biologists argue, a share of the same tuna stock. Fishing communities
often think of themselves as close-knit and proudly parochial; but the sudden
globalization of this industry has brought fishers into contact — and often into
conflict — with customers, governments, regulators, and environmentalists
around the world.
Two miles off the beach in Barbate, Spain, a huge maze of nets snakes several
miles out into Spanish waters near the Strait of Gibraltar. A high-speed,
Japanese-made workboat heads out to the nets. On board are five Spanish
hands, a Japanese supervisor, 2,500 kilograms of frozen herring and mackerel
imported from Norway and Holland, and two American researchers. The boat is
making one of its twice-daily trips to Spanish nets, which contain captured
Mediterranean tuna being raised under Japanese supervision for harvest and
export to Tsukiji.
Behind the guard boats that stand watch over the nets 24 hours a day, the
headlands of Morocco are a hazy purple in the distance. Just off Barbate’s white
cliffs to the northwest, the light at the Cape of Trafalgar blinks on and off. For 20
minutes, the men toss herring and mackerel over the gunwales of the workboat
while tuna the size (and speed) of Harley-Davidsons dash under the boat, barely
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visible until, with a flash of silver and blue, they wheel around to snatch a
drifting morsel.
The nets, lines, and buoys are part of an almadraba, a huge fish trap used in
Spain as well as Sicily, Tunisia, and Morocco. The almadraba consists of miles of
nets anchored to the channel floor suspended from thousands of buoys, all laid
out to cut across the migration routes of bluefin tuna leaving the strait. This
almadraba remains in place for about six weeks in June and July to intercept
tuna leaving the Mediterranean after their spawning season is over. Those tuna
that lose themselves in the maze end up in a huge pen, roughly the size of a
football field. By the end of the tuna run through the strait, about 200 bluefin
are in the pen.
Two hundred fish may not sound like a lot, but if the fish survive the next six
months, if the fish hit their target weights, if the fish hit the market at the target
price, these 200 bluefin may be worth $1.6 million dollars. In November and
December, after the bluefin season in New England and Canada is well over, the
tuna are harvested and shipped by air to Tokyo in time for the end-of-the-year
holiday spike in seafood consumption.
The pens, huge feed lots for tuna, are relatively new, but almadraba are not. A
couple of miles down the coast from Barbate is the evocatively named
settlement of Zahara de los Atunes (Zahara of the Tunas) where Cervantes lived
briefly in the late 16th century. The centerpiece of the village is a huge stone
compound that housed the men and nets of Zahara’s almadraba in Cervantes’s
day, when the port was only a seasonally occupied tuna outpost (occupied by
scoundrels, according to Cervantes). Along the Costa de la Luz, the three or four
almadraba that remain still operate under the control of local fishing bosses who
hold the customary fishing rights, the nets, the workers, the boats, and the
locally embedded cultural capital to make the almadraba work — albeit for
distant markets and in collaboration with small-scale Japanese fishing firms.
Inside the Strait of Gibraltar, off the coast of Cartagena, another series of tuna
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farms operates under entirely different auspices, utilizing neither local skills nor
traditional technology. The Cartagena farms rely on French purse seiners to tow
captured tuna to their pens, where joint ventures between Japanese trading
firms and large-scale Spanish fishing companies have set up farms using the
latest in Japanese fishing technology. The waters and the workers are Spanish,
but almost everything else is part of a global flow of techniques and capital:
financing from major Japanese trading companies; Japanese vessels to tend the
nets; aquacultural techniques developed in Australia; vitamin supplements
from European pharmaceutical giants packed into frozen herring from Holland
to be heaved over the gunwales for the tuna; plus computer models of feeding
schedules, weight gains, and target market prices developed by Japanese
technicians and fishery scientists.
These “Spanish” farms compete with operations throughout the Mediterranean
that rely on similar high-tech, high-capital approaches to the fish business. In
the Adriatic Sea, for example, Croatia is emerging as a formidable tuna
producer. In Croatia’s case, the technology and the capital were transplanted by
émigré Croatians who returned to the country from Australia after Croatia
achieved independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Australia, for its part, has
developed a major aquacultural industry for southern bluefin tuna, a species
closely related to the Atlantic bluefin of the North Atlantic and Mediterranean
and almost equally desired in Japanese markets.
Just because sushi is available, in some form or another, in exclusive Fifth
Avenue restaurants, in baseball stadiums in Los Angeles, at airport snack carts
in Amsterdam, at an apartment in Madrid (delivered by motorcycle), or in
Buenos Aires, Tel Aviv, or Moscow, doesn’t mean that sushi has lost its status as
Japanese cultural property. Globalization doesn’t necessarily homogenize
cultural differences nor erase the salience of cultural labels. Quite the contrary,
it grows the franchise. In the global economy of consumption, the brand equity
of sushi as Japanese cultural property adds to the cachet of both the country
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and the cuisine. A Texan Chinese-American restauranteur told me, for example,
that he had converted his chain of restaurants from Chinese to Japanese cuisine
because the prestige factor of the latter meant he could charge a premium; his
clients couldn’t distinguish between Chinese and Japanese employees (and
often failed to notice that some of the chefs behind his sushi bars were Latinos).
The brand equity is sustained by complicated flows of labor and ethnic biases.
Outside of Japan, having Japanese hands (or a reasonable facsimile) is sufficient
warrant for sushi competence. Guidebooks for the current generation of
Japanese global wandervogel sometimes advise young Japanese looking for a
job in a distant city to work as a sushi chef; U.S. consular offices in Japan grant
more than 1,000 visas a year to sushi chefs, tuna buyers, and other workers in
the global sushi business. A trade school in Tokyo, operating under the name
Sushi Daigaku (Sushi University) offers short courses in sushi preparation so
“students” can impress prospective employers with an imposing certificate.
Even without papers, however, sushi remains firmly linked in the minds of
Japanese and foreigners alike with Japanese cultural identity. Throughout the
world, sushi restaurants operated by Koreans, Chinese, or Vietnamese maintain
Japanese identities. In sushi bars from Boston to Valencia, a customer’s simple
greeting in Japanese can throw chefs into a panic (or drive them to the far end of
the counter).
On the docks, too, Japanese cultural control of sushi remains unquestioned.
Japanese buyers and “tuna techs” sent from Tsukiji to work seasonally on the
docks of New England laboriously instruct foreign fishers on the proper
techniques for catching, handling, and packing tuna for export. A bluefin tuna
must approximate the appropriate kata, or “ideal form,” of color, texture, fat
content, body shape, and so forth, all prescribed by Japanese specifications.
Processing requires proper attention as well. Special paper is sent from Japan
for wrapping the fish before burying them in crushed ice. Despite high shipping
costs and the fact that 50 percent of the gross weight of a tuna is unusable, tuna
is sent to Japan whole, not sliced into salable portions. Spoilage is one reason for
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this, but form is another. Everyone in the trade agrees that Japanese workers are
much more skilled in cutting and trimming tuna than Americans, and no one
would want to risk sending botched cuts to Japan.
Not to impugn the quality of the fish sold in the United States, but on the New
England docks, the first determination of tuna buyers is whether they are
looking at a “domestic” fish or an “export” fish. On that judgment hangs several
dollars a pound for the fisher, and the supply of sashimi-grade tuna for
fishmongers, sushi bars, and seafood restaurants up and down the Eastern
seaboard. Some of the best tuna from New England may make it to New York or
Los Angeles, but by way of Tokyo — validated as top quality (and top price) by
the decision to ship it to Japan by air for sale at Tsukiji, where it may be
purchased by one of the handful of Tsukiji sushi exporters who supply premier
expatriate sushi chefs in the world’s leading cities.
The tuna auction at Yankee Co-op in Seabrook, New Hampshire, is about to
begin on the second-to-last day of the 1999 season. The weather is stormy, few
boats are out. Only three bluefin, none of them terribly good, are up for sale
today, and the half-dozen buyers at the auction, three Americans and three
Japanese, gloomily discuss the impending end of a lousy season. In July, the
bluefin market collapsed just as the U.S. fishing season was starting. In a
stunning miscalculation, Japanese purse seiners operating out of Kesennuma in
northern Japan managed to land their entire year’s quota from that fishery in
only three days. The oversupply sent tuna prices at Tsukiji through the floor,
and they never really recovered.
Today, the news from Spain is not good. The day before, faxes and e-mails from
Tokyo brought word that a Spanish fish farm had suffered a disaster. Odd tidal
conditions near Cartagena led to a sudden and unexpected depletion of oxygen
in the inlet where one of the great tuna nets was anchored. Overnight, 800 fish
suffocated. Divers hauled out the tuna. The fish were quickly processed, several
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months before their expected prime, and shipped off to Tokyo. For the Japanese
corporation and its Spanish partners, a harvest potentially worth $6.5 million
would yield only a tiny fraction of that. The buyers at the morning’s auctions in
New Hampshire know they will suffer as well. Whatever fish turn up today and
tomorrow, they will arrive at Tsukiji in the wake of an enormous glut of hastily
exported Spanish tuna.
Fishing is rooted in local communities and local economies — even for fishers
dipping their lines (or nets) in the same body of water, a couple hundred miles
can be worlds away. Now, a Massachusetts fisher’s livelihood can be transformed
in a matter of hours by a spike in market prices halfway around the globe or by a
disaster at a fish farm across the Atlantic. Giant fishing conglomerates in one
part of the world sell their catch alongside family outfits from another.
Environmental organizations on one continent rail against distant industry
regulations implemented an ocean away. Such instances of convergence are
common in a globalizing world. What is surprising, and perhaps more profound,
in the case of today’s tuna fishers, is the complex interplay between industry
and culture, as an esoteric cuisine from an insular part of the world has become
a global fad in the span of a generation, driving, and driven by, a new kind of
fishing business.
Many New England fishers, whose traditional livelihood now depends on
unfamiliar tastes and distant markets, turn to a kind of armchair anthropology
to explain Japan’s ability to transform tuna from trash into treasure around the
world. For some, the quick answer is simply national symbolism. The deep red
of tuna served as sashimi or sushi contrasts with the stark white rice, evoking
the red and white of the Japanese national flag. Others know that red and white
is an auspicious color combination in Japanese ritual life (lobster tails are
popular at Japanese weddings for just this reason). Still others think the cultural
prize is a fighting spirit, pure machismo, both their own and the tuna’s. Taken by
rod and reel, a tuna may battle the fisher for four or five hours. Some tuna
literally fight to the death. For some fishers, the meaning of tuna — the equation
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of tuna with Japanese identity — is simple: Tuna is nothing less than the
samurai fish!
Of course, such mystification of a distant market’s motivations for desiring a
local commodity is not unique. For decades, anthropologists have written of
“cargo cults” and “commodity fetishism” from New Guinea to Bolivia. But the
ability of fishers today to visualize Japanese culture and the place of tuna within
its demanding culinary tradition is constantly shaped and reshaped by the flow
of cultural images that now travel around the globe in all directions
simultaneously, bumping into each other in airports, fishing ports, bistros,
bodegas, and markets everywhere. In the newly rewired circuitry of global
cultural and economic affairs, Japan is the core, and the Atlantic seaboard, the
Adriatic, and the Australian coast are all distant peripheries. Topsy-turvy as
Gilbert and Sullivan never imagined it.
Japan is plugged into the popular North American imagination as the
sometimes inscrutable superpower, precise and delicate in its culinary tastes,
feudal in its cultural symbolism, and insatiable in its appetites. Were Japan not
a prominent player in so much of the daily life of North Americans, the fishers
outside of Bath or in Seabrook would have less to think about in constructing
their Japan. As it is, they struggle with unfamiliar exchange rates for cultural
capital that compounds in a foreign currency. And they get ready for next
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You determine when you get the paper by setting the deadline when placing the order. All papers are delivered within the deadline. We are well aware that we operate in a time-sensitive industry. As such, we have laid out strategies to ensure that the client receives the paper on time and they never miss the deadline. We understand that papers that are submitted late have some points deducted. We do not want you to miss any points due to late submission. We work on beating deadlines by huge margins in order to ensure that you have ample time to review the paper before you submit it.

Will anyone find out that I used your services?

We have a privacy and confidentiality policy that guides our work. We NEVER share any customer information with third parties. Noone will ever know that you used our assignment help services. It’s only between you and us. We are bound by our policies to protect the customer’s identity and information. All your information, such as your names, phone number, email, order information, and so on, are protected. We have robust security systems that ensure that your data is protected. Hacking our systems is close to impossible, and it has never happened.

How our Assignment  Help Service Works

1.      Place an order

You fill all the paper instructions in the order form. Make sure you include all the helpful materials so that our academic writers can deliver the perfect paper. It will also help to eliminate unnecessary revisions.

2.      Pay for the order

Proceed to pay for the paper so that it can be assigned to one of our expert academic writers. The paper subject is matched with the writer’s area of specialization.

3.      Track the progress

You communicate with the writer and know about the progress of the paper. The client can ask the writer for drafts of the paper. The client can upload extra material and include additional instructions from the lecturer. Receive a paper.

4.      Download the paper

The paper is sent to your email and uploaded to your personal account. You also get a plagiarism report attached to your paper.

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