Self-styled “Tuna King” Kiyoshi Kimura forked over the whopping sum for a 278kg bluefin tuna, an endangered species that was caught off Japan’s northern coast.
“The tuna looks so tasty and very fresh, but I think I did too much,” Kimura, who runs the popular Sushi Zanmai chain, told reporters.
“The price was higher than originally thought, but I hope our customers will eat this excellent tuna.”
Kimura has been the highest bidder at the new year auction for several years. He paid the previous record of 155 million yen ($1.4m) for a fish in 2013.
Although the auction prices were way above usual for bluefin tuna, wholesalers and sushi tycoons have been known to pay eye-watering prices for the biggest and best fish, especially at the first auction of the New Year.
Later in the day, sushi chefs sliced up the giant fish with special knives resembling Japanese swords at Kimura’s main restaurant. Hundreds of sushi lovers queued for a taste.
“I have come here every year to eat New Year sushi but this tuna is tastier than ever,” Reiko Yamada, a 71-year-old housewife, told the AFP news agency.
Japan consumes a large portion of the global bluefin catch, a highly prized sushi ingredient known as “kuro maguro” (black tuna) and dubbed the “black diamond” by sushi connoisseurs because of its scarcity.
A single piece of “otoro”, or the fish’s fatty underbelly, can cost dozens of dollars at high-end Tokyo restaurants.
Surging consumption of the Pacific bluefin tuna in Japan and overseas has led experts to warn it faces possible extinction, with stocks depleting by 96 percent from pre-industrial levels.
The 2019 auction was the first New Year sale to take place at the new fish market in Toyosu, on the site of a former gas plant.
In previous years, the market was held at Tsukiji, which was the world’s biggest fish market and a popular tourist attraction in an area packed with restaurants and shops.
Opened in 1935, Tsukiji was best known for its predawn daily auctions of tuna, caught from all corners of the world, for use by everyone from Michelin-star sushi chefs to ordinary grocery stores.
The new market at Toyosu hopes to attract tourists who previously visited Tsukiji.
“I sincerely hope this market will be loved by many people,” said Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, who attended the sale, wearing the white rubber boots favoured by auctioneers.
The move to Toyosu was repeatedly delayed because of concerns over soil contamination.