Prices bite eel lovers on Day of Ox

JIJI

Grilled eel remained popular on the Day of the Ox on Monday, although the summer favorite is taking a greater toll on people’s wallets these days the eel shortage pushes up prices.

The scorching heat that arrived right after the early end of rainy season seems to have pushed eel fare into the spotlight. For centuries, their rich nutritional value has been said to help stave off summer weariness.

In Japan, it is customary to eat grilled eel on the midsummer Day of the Ox, which according to the Chinese zodiac fell on Monday this year.

In front of Yatsumeya Nishimura, an eel restaurant in the Tokyo suburb of Meguro, more than 30 people lined up ahead of its of 10 a.m. opening time seeking eel to go.

“I get a craving for eel when it’s this hot,” said Etsuko Miyamoto, a 55-year-old housewife who bought some grilled eel for her family of five.

But prices are climbing for the delicacy. At Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, wholesale prices for grilled eel and live fish are up by about ¥1,000 per kilogram from last year.

In June, Yatsumeya Nishimura was forced to hike prices after experiencing a year-on-year cost increase of nearly 20 percent. Its “bento” (boxed lunch) featuring grilled eel served over rice now start at ¥1,800.

Last year, despite a price hike in February, the restaurant attracted plenty of customers on the Day of the Ox, but saw patronage decline by about 30 percent the rest of the way.

“It’s fine around the Day of the Ox, but I’m worried about customer traffic after that,” said Kiyoshi Matsumoto, the 51-year-old owner of the restaurant.

This year, large orders have been coming in from nearby companies since March, apparently helped by recent signs of economic recovery in Japan.

“I’m hoping the economy will pick up and we get more customers,” Matsumoto said.