Shimonoseki revels in its role as Japan’s centre for fugu, the potentially deadly blowfish or globefish, which provides inspiration for many local sculptures and souvenirs of spiky, balloon-shaped fish. It is known in Shimonoseki as fuku, homonymous with the character for fortune and wealth, in order to attract good luck and happiness. About half the entire national catch (3000 tonnes a year) passes through Haedomari, the main market for fugu, at the tip of the island of Hiko-shima, some 3km west of Shimonoseki Station.
Chomping on the translucent slivers of the fish, which are practically tasteless, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. However, it is the presence of tetrodotoxin – a poison more lethal than potassium cyanide – found in the fugu’s ovaries, liver and a few other internal organs, that make this culinary adventure both dangerous and appealing. Fugu chefs spend up to seven years in training before they can obtain a government licence to prepare the fish. Even so, a small number of people do die, the most famous fatality being kabuki actor Bandō Mitsugorō – a national treasure – who dropped dead after a globefish banquet in Kyoto in January 1975.