Famous track and field star Suguru Osako told us, “I found someone interesting in Toyosu.” So we paid a visit to the market.
Adachi (A): Please tell me your name.
Yuki Kubono (K): My name is Kubono Yuki (from Yamayuki Group.)
A: How did you first meet Osako?
K: In September 2019, Osako san came to visit Toyosu Fish Market. I was there as his guide and that’s how we met.
A: What was your first impression of Osako?
K: I used to run track and field when I was in school, so I knew who he was. Osako san was a star runner, and so when he suddenly appeared in front of me, I got so excited and said, “wow that’s Osako san!” I remember that moment very vividly.
A: Can you tell us what you do at Toyosu Fish Market?
K: I work as a wholesaler of maguro, or bluefin tuna fish. Maguro caught around the world are gathered in Toyosu Fish Market. The fish are then auctioned off. Our job as a wholesaler of maguro is to carefully examine the quality and condition of each fish and get them at the lowest price possible for our customers at the auctions. It’s not common for a restaurant to purchase an entire fish (as it’s quite large) so we make recommendations and sell the appropriate parts and portions of the fish to our customers, such as sushi restaurants, and then we deliver the product to each of them.
A: What are some of the challenges that you face on a daily basis as a wholesaler?
K: We handle top quality, wild maguro mainly. Since these are wild fish, the condition of the ocean plays a huge role. When the weather is bad, there’s no fish coming our way. Also, in early spring through Summer, these tuna go through a season of breeding and laying eggs. The fish spend nearly all their energy spawning, which causes them to lose their body fat and become quite thin. Therefore, they lose the most attractive parts of the meat for consumption. However, maguro is always in high demand regardless of the season, especially in sushi restaurants. It’s an extremely challenging mission for us to get the kind of quality maguro that meets the demands and expectations of our customers, and deliver the goods without fail.
It is extremely important to deliver quality maguro. Understanding what good quality maguro means is also important. As an example, for sushi, the definition of “quality maguro” varies depending on the restaurant, by the sushi chef’s preference. You must visit the sushi place to taste the rice they cook. You have to select the kind of maguro that goes with the rice of the specific restaurant. Knowing the preference of your customer is important.
A: That’s an excellent point. Know your customer.
K: I’d say that’s the most difficult part. There are many cases where we thought it was good quality meat, but the customer thought otherwise. It’s especially challenging for those restaurants with a short history of doing business with us, because we have to start everything without fully understanding their preferences. We try to ask many questions to our new customers through our conversations to know what they are looking for before delivering the maguro to them. Our customers have to verbalize the kind of maguro they have in mind and we have to interpret their ideas. Sometimes our interpretations can be wrong. Throughout the year as we continue to deliver maguro to our customers, we can feel from the reactions that we delivered something good or that the maguro didn’t really meet the expectations. Every day we continue to accumulate our experience so that we can learn to be more accurate and precise in selecting the right maguro for our customers.
A: I see. I was just about to ask how do you overcome your challenges but it seems like you communicate with your customers and the fish while focusing on learning as much as you can about the consumers. You use your accumulated experience to better select the ideal maguro for each situation.
K: Yes. We always need to understand deeply about the ingredient, maguro. We use the blanket term maguro but there are various characteristics and flavors. There are also various ways to catch them. The location where the fish grew up contributes a lot to the flavor. At the end of the day, what the maguro has been eating in the past has a lot to do with its flavor.
A: Understanding maguro seems extremely interesting.
K: It totally is. For example, Oma is one of the most well known places for maguro in Japan.
A: It sounds familiar.
K: I believe a lot of people have heard of Oma before. At the beginning of each year, they conduct a first-of-the-year auction that is often broadcast on TV. Even in Oma, as an example, some are caught with the method called pole-and-line fishing using a fishing rod. Some are caught by longline fishing method using a long main line with baited hooks to catch multiple tuna at once, it’s called haenawa in Japanese. There is a certain depth of the ocean where maguro can be caught, we call it tana. Depending on the fishing method, the targeting depth varies. Depending on the depth where the maguro have grown, they have been eating different kinds of small fish. There are fish that live in the shallow water and are different from the ones in the deep water. Therefore the maguro caught by a rod and the maguro caught by a longline method are quite different in taste.
A: I tend to think that the fish caught in the deeper water are tastier.
K: Well, that’s not always true!
Generally, the fish in the deep ocean are called deep-sea fish. They tend to be quite fatty but less fragrant and flavorful. I wouldn’t say all of them are, as each fish is unique. But generally speaking, the fish caught by longline tend to be more fatty but less fragrant.
A: What are some of the things that you value as a professional maguro wholesaler?
K: I feel that it’s important for me to eat maguro myself. We’re dealing with the fish that is a food ingredient. If we want to call ourselves professionals, we need to eat and learn the flavor better than anyone else. Otherwise, we won’t be able to tell our customers whether the maguro is delicious or not.
Some say, “I touch maguro all day every day at work so I don’t want to eat it.” I’m the opposite. I want to eat and know more than anyone else so that I can convince my customer when I say the maguro is good. To be honest, I genuinely love eating maguro.
A: People with genuine passion are the strongest..
K: I’m in a work environment where I’m allowed to eat as much maguro as I’d like.. There’s no other place that makes me happier.
A: It’s so wonderful that you can be passionate about what you do and you can experience such joy through your work. Lastly, could you share what you are excited about or looking forward to regarding the Toyosu market, the wholesale business and yourself?
K: I was born as a Japanese person, so I want to live my life like one. I believe that is why I chose this job as a maguro wholesaler. On my deathbed, I want to feel privileged to have lived my life as a maguro wholesaler. I believe that maguro has the power to make people happy. Sushi in general has that kind of power. Culturally, sushi is something so close to us Japanese people. Even children can enjoy it while gathering with family for celebrations and special occasions. I believe a lot of us grew up that way in Japan.
K: It’s similar to how people enjoy birthday cakes on their birthdays. It’s the type of food that brings joy to people. So for me, maguro served raw is the superstar of joyful food. If you ask people to color a picture of sushi, I’m sure a lot of people will choose red to color the piece of fish on top of the rice, depicting it as maguro.
A: Hmmm that’s certainly true.
K: Right. So for me, maguro is an irreplaceable fish for sushi. I’m very fortunate to handle such special food on a daily basis, in addition to working with some of the most talented chefs in the country. The top sushi restaurants in Japan use the maguro we select and deliver. Their customers are also the most extraordinary people in Japan and from abroad. Maguro truly is a special ingredient that has the power to impress people in special places. Although we don’t really get to see the reactions of these people when they bite into the piece of maguro unfortunately,, I have a strong intention to make these people happy, even if I can’t be there to see their reactions.
A: Now I understand how Mr Osako was intrigued by you. Thank you for teaching us a lot today and sharing your passion with us.
K: Thank you for having me. I hope to see you again.
Interview & Photograph : Kohei Adachi