Seven Japanese have fallen ill with one in a critical condition after eating the testes of blowfish, police said Tuesday, renewing public fears over the dangerous delicacy.
The group ate raw meat and baked testes of blowfish, known in Japan as fugu, at an upscale restaurant late Monday in Tsuruoka, an old castle town by the Sea of Japan (East Sea), 350 kilometres (220 miles) north of Tokyo.
They were treated at a hospital for numbness in the hands and legs and other symptoms. One of them was in a critical condition on Tuesday.
"The victims included many public welfare volunteers and a town head. They came to party at the restaurant after a public welfare meeting," a Tsuruoka police spokesman said.
The seven men were aged between 61 and 69, except for a 55-year-old secretary at a community centre.
The restaurant, "Kibunya," did not have a licence from the provincial administration to prepare and serve blowfish, which contains tetrodotoxin in its organs, a powerful neurotoxin that can cause death in minutes.
Kibunya's owner, Iwao Aizawa, was being questioned by police on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in injuries.
"It is not so common to eat fugu in this region as it is caught in seas farther south. The fish was purchased from an ordinary dealer," the police official said.
Fugu, cooked in a cauldron or eaten in raw slices, is appreciated in Japan as a culinary delight, especially in the cold winter months. Its testes, known as shirako, are praised as creamy and rich in taste.
Blowfish deaths have fallen since 1983 when the health ministry instructed local authorities to ban eating of its dangerous parts. Only licensed chefs are now allowed to serve blowfish.
Six people died of blowfish poisoning in 2002 but since then Japan has seen no more than three deaths a year, according to health ministry statistics.
Blowfish is even called "teppou (gun)" in western Japan for its famous danger. In 1975, renowned kabuki actor Mitsugoro Bando VIII died at the age of 69 from eating a blowfish liver at a restaurant in Kyoto.