Customers Brave Heat for Grilled Eels on Day of Ox

Jiji Press
A cook grills unagi on the Day of the Ox in Toshima Ward, Tokyo, on Sunday.

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — Many people lined up in front of kabayaki grilled eel stores and restaurants in Japan on Sunday, this year’s Day of the Ox, apparently hoping to survive the scorching heat by eating the summer delicacy.

Japanese people have a tradition of eating nutritious grilled eels, believed to be good for restoring energy, on the midsummer Day of the Ox. Amid a long spell of extremely hot days this summer, kabayaki stores and restaurants have been busy since before the Day of the Ox.

At Unagiya, a kabayaki restaurant in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward that has been in business since the 1960s, all staff members worked hard to serve numerous customers on Sunday, with the restaurant also offering takeout services. At the grill, Isao Endo, a kabayaki cook with over 70 years of experience, tirelessly grilled eels one after another.

Although Unagiya is facing financial difficulties amid surges in materials procurement costs and utility expenses, the restaurant kept the price of “Kabayaki (Ume),” its most reasonable dish, unchanged at ¥3,000.

A customer in his 60s who visited Unagiya shortly after its opening on Sunday purchased Unaju Bento, a boxed lunch of rice topped with grilled eels. “I come here to buy this every year. On the Day of the Ox, it’s eel after all,” he said with a smile.

Yatsumeya Nishimura in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward raised the price of large-size kabayaki to ¥3,000 from ¥2,700. However, the restaurant has continued to attract many customers since last week.

“We’re worried about the health of our customers lining up [on the Day of the Ox] in the fierce heat,” Kiyoshi Matsumoto, manager of Yatsumeya Nishimura, said. The restaurant decided to start its cooking preparations earlier so that it could serve kabayaki quickly.

Eel demand in Japan, which had diminished amid the spread of COVID-19, has recovered to pre-pandemic levels, and this year’s purchase prices of eels are comparatively high, according to industry sources.