In Japan, August 6th—traditionally considered the hottest day of the year—marks the end of special festival called “Doyo no Ushi no Hi” or Midsummer Days of the Ox. During this festival, Japanese people eat huge quantities of “unagi” to counteract the summer heat.
Festivals such as this are one reason a whopping 70% of freshwater eels produced worldwide are consumed in Japan.
An especially loved food item is “kabayaki” or glazed grilled eel. Stalls and markets all over Japan make a brisk business in the selling of this tasty treat.
Unfortunately, this unique Japanese cultural and culinary experience may soon disappear. The Japanese eel is ranked as “endangered” on the IUCN Red List and as eel stocks have declined, the Japanese seafood industry has been forced to go to greater and greater lengths to continue produce unagi. Juvenile eels are often caught far offshore—sometimes found off the Mariana Trench—fattened in Chinese fish farms, and then exported to Japan. Growing alarmed at the decline of wild stocks, the governments of Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan signed a landmark agreement in 2014 to reduce the amount of glass eel harvests, but the agreement hasn’t yet been fully implemented.
Last week, the O2 Japan team joined the Doyo no Ushi no Hi celebrations, check out some of the photos from one of the festivals below.
Attendees of this eel festival had the opportunity to hand-catch eel from a miniature pool and observe how kabayaki unagi are prepared and cooked. © Ocean Outcomes
An annual summer eel festival hosted by a local food service and catering company in Tokyo. © Ocean Outcomes
Freshly caught eel being prepared for the grill. © Ocean Outcomes
Grilling kayabaki unagi (glazed grilled eel) over charcoal. © Ocean Outcomes
Tray of kabayaki unagi ready to be enjoyed by customers. © Ocean Outcomes
Special sale of kabayaki unagi at a major department store leading up to Doyo no ushi no hi. © Ocean Outcomes
Traditional Japanese eel products being advertised for English-speaking customers as well. © Ocean Outcomes