Lobster Ikizukuri


Lobster Ikizukuri from Doraku Exec Chef Yoshimoto

I recently had the chance to eat live lobster sashimi, and it was quite an experience!

Ikizukuri is a Japanese technique that involves serving sashimi from a fish that’s fileted while leaving it’s heart still beating, it’s internal organs still intact.

This sounds strange to Westerners, because we tend to distance ourselves from our food sources. We don’t want to think about where our food comes from. But Japanese tradition holds that we should be grateful to the animals who give us sustenance , and to acknowledge our relationship to them.

Typically ikizukuri style is used with fish like carp or snapper, octopus, squid, lobster or shrimp. This is a very old technique, at least 2000 years old, first brought to the West a decade ago by Nobu Matsuhisa.

In this style, as in all Japanese cuisine, presentation is essential. The form of the animal is preserved by using it as the serving mechanism. But it doesn’t merely serve an aesthetic purpose, this style of sashimi declares to the recipient that it is demonstrably as fresh as possible. If it’s still moving, it is indisputably fresh.

Our Maine lobster was not only the ultimate in “fresh” but actually tasted different. The basic idea is that when animals die, the tissue begins to deteriorate. That process of chemical decomposition changes the taste. So eating it as soon as possible ensures the sweetest, most tender lobster; if it sits around it gets tough and bland.

I think it’s bad that so many modern Westerners want to disconnect from our food sources. Our food comes from plants and animals, and embracing that connection with the other living organisms on earth is important. Death sustains life, and realizing you’re part of that cycle is to become more aware of yourself and your role in the greater ecosystem.

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  • Mike, The way you worded this post was so perfect. I would have never known how to express this experience. It goes beyond the food….. I didn’t know it was a 2000 yr tradition.
    I do know of cultures that give blessing for the life of the animal that gives us sustenance. I guess it puts it in clearer perspective to give the blessing for everything we eat every day. This was live in front of our eyes and after reading this, I realize that I should consciously give thanks for this lobster for the experience that I haven’t fully integrated.
    Hide Yoshimoto is a grand artist. Thank you so much Hide! You are amazing! Please come back from Hawaii soon!
    Great choice of music in the background;)

  • Tony says:

    I want more lobster ikizukuri.

  • Patti says:

    It was one of the most memorable dishes I ever had. Hide-san, thank you so much for taking such effort to prepare this SPECIAL meal for us…BANZAI!!

  • Mike says:

    Nothing is fun alone. How great this was sharing a unique experience with cool friends! And I agree Hideki is a master chef.

    Ikizukuri is actually banned in Australia, where it is perceived to be cruel. But I think it’s adhering to a tradition that has a reason – the taste and experience. Contrast this with modern slaughterhouses, which are brutally cruel to biologically complex mammals for no reason at all.

  • Peter says:

    The practise of ikizukuri is unbelievably cruel. Despite it being a 2000 year old tradition, it doesn’t stop it from being so cruel. The animal is being filleted whilst it’s still alive for God’s sake! There is no anaesthesia or mercy shown at all! As for Mike’s comment, condoning the practise citing slaughterhouses, it is completely wrong. The animals that are processed at an abattoir are subdued before they are slaughtered, usually by the use of a captive bolt pistol. So your argument lacks any substance, Mike – the animals slaughtered in an abattoir are sold to butchers and supermarkets alike, and the offal is either sold to pet food factories or ground as fertilizer.

    But returning to the main point, ikizukuri may provide the freshest meat possible, but it is completely unethical by Western standards.

  • mdw says:


    Thanks for your feedback. I can understand your point of view, and of course there are many others who feel the same way. Even in Japan there are those who disapprove of this style.

    I do still disagree though on several grounds. I think this is a case of cultural condescension, where Westerners want to tell others that they shouldn’t do things that we don’t want to do. And I think it’s a bit hypocritical for us Westerners to support industries like the one that raises millions of chickens in tiny cages and preach to other cultures about their animal cruelty.

    I think we’ll have to just agree to disagree on this, but I’m glad you took the time to write your thoughtful comment.

  • mjg says:

    Interesting take, mdw, though upon reflection completely absurd. Is it “cultural condescension” when Westerners take a stand against female genital mutilation in Africa? Or when Westerners object to the stoning of a young rape victim in Iran? While perhaps different in severity, the cases are exactly analogous.

    Moral relativism is a dead-end, friend. By your lights, it is impossible to find fault in any practice (ANY practice) that any other culture accepts. Including, interestingly, slaughterhouse and poultry farm practices in the U.S.; by your own logic, those things are immune to criticism from, say, the Japanese.

  • mdw says:

    OK mjg, respect your opinion, but I don’t see anything wrong with drawing a line beyond which actions are unacceptable. For me, doing things like you describe to people is unacceptable. When it comes to animals, environmental degredation and more, I think it’s appropriate to show deference.

    See this post for a more detailed elaboration of my personal beliefs on the subject http://blog.sushi.pro/2010/10/ikizukuri-cruelty-or-important-custom/

  • Human says:

    While I can see the merit in Peter and mjg’s comments. They have obvious never been to a slaughter house or seen how the west boils and pluck chickens and leave them to die slowly. The west’s violations of animal rights far exceed any other nations in waste and animal cruelty, not for the sake of fresh and flavor but for profit. The west waste more food daily then the rest of the world, To die for nothing is the worst thing an animal can die for.

  • DC says:

    There’s NOTHING good about this. If you have a pet and someone treated it like this, you wouldn’t be in favor of it. It’s completely cruel and to act like this “tradition” and therefore has some merit is idiotic thinking. They do it because it TASTES good-if it didn’t, they wouldn’t perform these experiments. We’re supposed to be advancing in our way of thinking, which this is quite the opposite. Over fishing for tuna and other species-ONLY for their yummy food-stupid thinking. Idiots.


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