Osaka firm works to build local fugu brand

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Fugu swim in an aquaculture tank operated by Rikusui.

MISAKI, Osaka — With an eye on the 2025 Osaka-Kansai Expo, a young aquaculture company in Osaka Prefecture is cultivating the tiger puffer fish, a type of fugu, and a local favorite that is an indispensable ingredient for nabe hot pots in wintertime, in an effort to build a new brand.

The company, Rikusui, is aiming to expand production and build brand recognition of the fish in the prefecture, which is said to be Japan’s largest consumer of tiger puffer fish.

Rikusui operates a fugu farm set up in a building that was formerly an auction site in Tannowa fishing port in Misaki, a town located at the southernmost tip of Osaka Prefecture. There, about 3,000 fugu swim in a 60-ton tank and two 30-ton tanks.

Hailing from Sakai, Rikusui President Yuki Nasu, 29, launched the company in May last year in the city where he grew up, after studying tuna farming at Kindai University and working as an aquaculture manager at a major fishery.

Annual catches of tiger puffer fish off Osaka Bay are estimated to have been in the 100-ton range until around 1960.

However, that figure has decreased to about 100 kilograms, and most tiger puffer fish distributed in the prefecture are said to be cultivated in Kyushu.

For these reasons, Nasu began farming fugu in Misaki, taking advantage of its location to deliver fish to stores within two hours of harvesting them.

Rikusui cultivates the fish on land, using tanks filled with seawater that has been pumped ashore and sterilized with ultraviolet light.

Farming fish on land has advantages over sea cultivation, including not being subject to negative effects of the natural environment such as red tides and typhoons, and a lower risk of diseases spreading among fish.

“We’re confident in the taste,” Nasu said, adding, “We’ve devised a feed blend that produces meat with a low water content and a strong flavor.”

The Osaka prefectural government plans to promote Rikusui’s fish under the name Osaka Misaki Torafugu as an Osakamon branded product, a brand that the prefectural government established for commodities produced in the prefecture and products made from such ingredients and materials. The word “torafugu” is Japanese for “tiger puffer fish.”

The fish will be served as a part of a full course menu at four of the Osakamon Ryori Sora restaurants in the prefecture that specialize in food cooked with locally produced ingredients.

“The fish is extremely fresh because it was harvested in the morning,” said Yutaka Imai, 58, a representative of the restaurant’s management company. “We expect it to become our new specialty.”

Rikusui aims to increase production 10-fold and distribute its fugu widely, especially in Osaka Prefecture ahead of the 2025 Osaka-Kansai Expo.

“We’ll do our best to attract attention from overseas as well, so people will want to eat fugu raised in Osaka [Prefecture], a well-known place for the fish,” Nasu said.