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Monday, December 1, 2014

FALL CIRCLE PACIFIC ADVENTURE: Day #29A--Why People Eat a Poisonous Fish

I hope there will be a Day #30--My Dinner at Torafugu-Tei.  As my end is nearing--I'm getting old--I've more and more fantasized on Heaven, Purgatory and Death in general.  Last week my stay at the Ritz-Carlton was especially descriptive:

A few months ago I posted on "Could 15 Craigside be Purgatory?"  Last year I effused "Craigside is Close to Heaven."  Well, I might have just found heaven in the form of the Tokyo Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge.

Let me begin with the final paragraph from yesterday:

Well, I'm back at the Tokyo Westin, and the staff at the Executive Club arranged for me to have a fugu dinner tomorrow night.  It is also known as blowfish, puffer and tetrodon.  In the 1930's a thousand people died after eating this delicacy, for the liver and ovaries are deadly poisonous.  Tetrodotoxin is 100 times more potent than potassium cyanide. In 1958 when chefs were first licensed, 176 died that year.  However, as recently as 2007, only three passed away, and those who succumb tended to be fishermen who catch the fish and cook it at home.  However, here is a news article of 7 falling ill in a Hokkaido restaurant by consuming the testicles.  There is a testicle story I'll re-tell tomorrow, for that is the item I especially requested.

So let me begin this testicle tale, which is only too true.  It was in the early 1990's that Professor Takeo Kondo  (with me at an Italian restaurant) of Nihon University invited an American colleague from the federal government in DC and I to dinner in a Kita-Kyushu fugu restaurant hosted by an industrial representative.  The first course, which cost $75 each, was a dish of fugu testicle.  The amount of one gonad, considering the diminutive size of the fish (above), was larger than you would expect, perhaps a squashed sphere the diameter of a quarter.  As my friend from DC refused to eat his, I had two and don't remember the taste nor texture.  We, of course, survived the ordeal.  However, for two subsequent years or more I was at my creative best:
  • The concept of the Blue Revolution came alive.
  • I then chaired the Hydrogen Technical Advisory Panel of the Secretary of Energy, and we developed a program that in a decade grew a budget greater than solar technology.  The Japan Times this morning indicated that two of the three major car manufacturers in Japan will be marketing hydrogen fuel cells vehicles next year.
  • I  helped initiate a cultured pearl farm, and additionally came up with a new concept of RAINBOW pearls--instead of only white and black, what about Chinese Red and Kelly Green, etc.  Plus, in a controlled land-based tank, the whole system matures in half the time.
  • With  local architectural and engineering firms, we explored the concept of Hawaiian Onsens on the Big Island as an ecotourism adventure.  We got very close with a design of a geo-spa for a new golf resort in the Puna region, and actually found an investor.  But the Japan economy burst.  I did take various trips to Japan to visit onsens, and stayed one winter at one in Kyushu that two weeks after I left was totally destroyed when Mt. Unzen erupted.  Hmm...Pahoa, lava...
  • The Hubble Telescope had recently been launched and exosolar planets had not yet been detected.  So I resurrected my Planetary Abstracting Trinterferometer (PAT) concept, which not only showed promise for finding planets around other stars, but also predict the atmospheric composition.
Clearly, I'm going for a fugu dinner not to commit suicide, but to enhance my creativity and, maybe too, brilliance.  Perhaps I'll complete my novel on THE VENUS SYNDROME or an e-photo album on PEARL'S ASHES.  I've now dropped her ashes off at 50 or so sites around the world, and some of those escapades are worthy of sharing.  This is a photo of the first ceremony, behind me at Rainbow Falls, Hilo.  If nothing else, the IRS approved my travel expenditures and must be awaiting for the arrival of those publications.

On the hand, about death, you wonder why the toxin from fugu is not used to execute condemned criminals.  Electric chairs, the guillotine, hanging and shooting squads are said to be barbaric, and lethal injections are not working.  I've always thought nitrogen gas would be ideal, but just one liver from a blowfish and the tetrodotoxin (right) should do the job.  It is said that a Japanese chef whose customer dies from fugu commits ritual suicide.  Probably apocryphal, but that would be a source from which various states can employ an executioner.

That compound, which is not produced by the fish, but by the bacteria from other seafood consumed by the blowfish, where the fugu has evolved to be immune, is 1200 times more toxic than cyanide.  Here is what happens, from Wikipedia:

The symptoms from ingesting a lethal dose of tetrodotoxin may include dizziness, exhaustion, headache, nausea, or difficulty breathing. The victim remains conscious but cannot speak or move. Breathing stops and asphyxiation follows.
There is no known antidote, and treatment consists of emptying the stomach, feeding the victim activated charcoal to bind the toxin, and putting the victim on life support until the poison has worn off. Japanese toxicologists in several medical research centers are now working on developing an antidote for tetrodotoxin.

The Chinese are said to have been eating fugu since 400 BC, and the Japanese for more than 2000 years, and there remain thriving populations in both countries.  However, the shoguns from 1603 prohibited consumption of this delicacy, and this ban continued through the Meiji Era (1867-1912).  

It takes up to three years to train to be a fugu chef.  Only 35% of entrants attain that ranking.

Scientists at Nagasaki University developed a non-toxic variety of torafugu (right) by restricting the fish's diet.  These are now commercially sold.  I wonder if the testicles of this variety have the right chemical balance for creativity?

For those in the USA, there are 17 fugu restaurants, twelve in New York.  The fugu comes prepared in Japan.  There are no fugu restaurants in Europe.
So why do people eat poisonous fish?  Perhaps a sense of adventure.  For me, I hope to again catalyze my neurons.

Well, I'm off to Torafugu-Tei, a chain with 50 restaurants.  Torafugu means tiger fugu, which is said to be the most prestigious and most poisonous.  

Return tomorrow for the results.  If I stop posting, there can be only one reason why.

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