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Eel imports to Japan's Narita airport peak ahead of traditional summer consumption

A Narita Branch Customs employee is seen checking imported eels at Narita International Airport in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, on July 20, 2021. (Mainichi/Tadakazu Nakamura)

NARITA, Chiba -- Imports of farmed eels to Narita International Airport east of Tokyo are at their peak ahead of "Doyo no Ushi no Hi," the Day of the Ox midsummer day falling on July 28 this year when Japanese people traditionally eat broiled eel to beat the heat.

    Most of the eels are from China and Taiwan. One importer said vacuum-packed "kabayaki" -- eel broiled in sweet sauce -- are selling well due to robust demand from stay-at-home lifestyles amid the coronavirus pandemic.

    The eels arriving July 20 from Taiwan were about 40 centimeters long and weighed between 200 and 250 grams each. The fish moved around, and some even jumped out, as they were taken from bags to containers. Narita Branch Customs employees checked documents, contents and production areas while actually touching the eels.

    "Plump, good eels have arrived," said Koji Nishikatsu, 72-year-old president of Narita-based importer Marukatsu K.K. "I hope people will overcome the hot summer eating tasty eels." Marukatsu plans to import a total of 50 metric tons of eels in July, and intends to make 10% of them vacuum-packed kabayaki for shipping.

    According to Narita Branch Customs, 4,484 tons of eels were imported via Narita airport in 2020, some 82% of nationwide eel imports. Some 2,137 tons were imported between January and May 2021, with 84% from China and 15% from Taiwan.

    (Japanese original by Tadakazu Nakamura, Narita Bureau)

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