The Fish That Ate Japan

Ben Kirchner
Ben Kirchner / Ben Kirchner

Hello Kitty and Godzilla aren’t the only unassuming critters to brutally conquer the Land of the Rising Sun.

When Japan’s Crown Prince Akihito came to Chicago in 1960, Mayor Richard J. Daley wasn’t sure what to get him. After a lot of thought, he settled on some local bluegill, a popular sport fish.

The gift was a thoughtful one. Akihito is a devoted student of ichthyology, the study of fish, and has even published his research in Science and Nature. The crown prince happily took his new fish home and gave them to a research facility, with the hope that they could be farmed to offer Japanese diners a new source of protein.

It was a noble plan, but somehow the bluegill escaped, and the fugitive fish liked their new digs a little too much. The bluegill swarmed Japan’s waterways, choking off the food supplies of native fish and driving at least one species into extinction. “My heart aches to see it has turned out like this,” now-Emperor Akihito lamented.

Making matters worse, bluegill might have been a delicacy in Illinois, but Japanese eaters didn’t care for the flavor. Nevertheless, authorities think getting locals to chow down on bluegill may be the quickest way to eradicate the pests. Realizing it’s easier to change palates than to wipe out a species, the government has begun collaborating with chefs to create new dishes that incorporate the fish, and government websites have begun posting recipes for bluegill burgers in the hope that citizens will help eat the fishy imperialists into oblivion.

This story originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Get a free issue here!