Five million for a crab? It’s not really a crazy price


The world’s media have been fascinated by a Japanese crab this week.

Reporters were amazed that someone paid five million yen ($46,000 USD) for a large snow crab at an auction.

The price was a world record. This type of crab is a winter delicacy that can only be caught only between November and March.

A lot of the reports suggested the buyer must be wildly eccentric and prone to wasting money. However, I think they overlooked some important points which reveal the true value of the deal.

Fishy business

Firstly, the person who bought the crab has raised his personal profile and promoted his business. The winning bidder was Tetsuji Hamashita, who is the president of a fishery wholesaler called Hanashita Shoten.

So the record breaking auction provided a bit of a publicity stunt for Mr Hamashita and his business, which is focussed on selling seafood.

CNN said the crab’s meat “will end up on a few lucky diners’ plates at an upscale restaurant in Tokyo’s posh Ginza neighbourhood.” I think that if the restaurants are selling it in small portions of sushi or sashimi – or putting parts of it in bowls of soup – they could earn quite a lot of money from the crab, especially if they use it promote customer loyalty among people with expense accounts.

Putting Tottori on the map

The sale of the crab was also a way of raising international awareness of the small prefecture of Tattori on Japan’s northern coast. Tottori uses the name Kani Tori Ken – which means “crab catching prefecture” – to promote itself.

Following the auction, the governor of Tottori, Shinji Hirai, travelled down to Tokyo for a crab themed party at Yebisu Garden Place in Shibuya.

“This is a sekani record” he said, playing on the words sekai for “world” and kani for “crab.”

Places like Tottori hope that their traditional industries, such as fishing and farming, can help them cope with serious economic challenges caused by an ageing and shrinking population.

The Japanese government supports this plan and aims to increase exports of agricultural and fisheries products worldwide. In fact, the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga recently visited Sakaiminato in Tottori to encourage its export effort.

Tender beef

Tottori is also promoting its cattle farms by selling high quality beef in other parts of Japan. Governor Hirai went to Osaka in July to open a restaurant which sells high quality Tottori beef in the busy district of Shinsaibashi.

In an interview with The Japan Times, Mr Hirai explained that the beef’s fat makes it unique and tender.

“Its fat is quite different. It features a high oleic acid content, the melting point of which is 16 degrees Celsius. It’s as if the fat melts in your mouth,” he said.

“We have hoped that high-end restaurants will use our foods,” the governor said. “We’d like to test out our potential on discerning international guests in the Shinsaibashi area, which is often compared to Ginza in Tokyo.”

The Japan Times points out that the restaurant in Osaka sells high quality Tottori crab, too. So, although the price of a big snow crab seems surprising, as a promotional tool for a proud community, perhaps it represents good value for money.