What is Ikizukuri?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ikizukuri is a Japanese sashimi dish made with organisms which are still alive, lending a whole new meaning to “fresh fish.” Both inside Japan and outside of it, ikizukuri is controversial, with some people feeling that it is cruel or inhumane, while others argue that it is part of Japan's cultural heritage, and it can be an interesting dining experience. Typically only very high-quality restaurants offer ikizukuri, because it requires a very skilled and well-trained chef.

Ikizukuri is a type of sashimi dish.
Ikizukuri is a type of sashimi dish.

In Japanese, ikizukuri means “prepared alive,” and there are a number of different types of ikizukuri, such as odori ebo, or “dancing shrimp,” various octopus dishes, and versions made with fish. The dish places a heavy emphasis on fresh flavor, with accompanying sauces typically being very mild so that people can really taste the flavor of the seafood. Ikizukuri may also be served with pickled vegetables such as ginger and seaweed, as well.

The preparation of ikizukuri starts with the selection of the animal to be eaten. Many establishments which offer ikizukuri have a large tank of various choices in the dining room, allowing diners to both meet and pick their meal on the spot, although live fish can also be kept in the kitchen and prepared as requested by diners. After a fish has been selected, the chef quickly catches it, guts it and removes any other inedible parts, and then serves it.

In the case of fish, it is traditional to slice off a few thin pieces of fish and leave the bulk of the fish intact, allowing the diner to clearly see the beating heart and quivering flesh of the fish. Fish ikizukuri can be eaten with chopsticks; more wily creatures like octopi are usually wrapped around chopsticks to make the consumption process easier for the diner, who dips the seafood into a sauce of choice before consuming it.

Animal rights advocates have lodged considerable opposition to ikizukuri, arguing that the organisms involved have nervous systems and the ability to experience both pain and fear. They suggest that while ikizukuri might seem novel and exciting, it is cruel, and should be avoided by compassionate and cultured individuals. Supporters of ikizukuri argue, however, that death is usually quick, and that the muscle twitching seen on the plate is the residual response of the nervous system as it shuts down, rather than the labored movements of a dying animal.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Actually some types of ikizukuri are not much different from sushi. Sometimes, ikizukuri only involves killing the fish or other sea creature immediately before it is served. So the only difference is that the fish is more fresh when it comes to the table.

Other times, ikizukuri means cutting up the animal in such a way that it remains alive when it arrives on the table. Now this is the part I don't like either. But there is no rule that those who eat ikizukuri have to come face to face with a live and moving sea creature.


@Markerrag-- There is a huge difference! One no longer feels pain and the other does! It's cruel. And I hope that it never becomes popular in the States.


I have respect for different cultural traditions. I understand that these are part of heritage and people enjoy them and want to continue them.

That being said, I don't think that ikizukuri is humane. I personally would not want to eat any moving creature, and I do not want to see any creature's beating heart on my plate. It's fine to eat sea creatures, but they should be killed humanely and quickly so that they do not suffer. Regardless of what advocates of ikizukuri claim about the practice, I don't believe that those creatures do not suffer. So I refuse to ever engage in this type of dining practice and I urge ikizukuri lovers to think twice the next time they are at such a restaurant.


@Melonlity -- don't talk too soon. You can find ikizukuri in the United States if you look hard enough and don't be surprised if it becomes popular in America. After all, sushi was considered disturbing by a lot of people once upon a time and restaurants specializing in that Japanese dish have become quite popular.

Besides, to each their own, right? I don't really see the ethical problem here. What's the difference between eating something that's still alive and eating something that was once alive? Either way, the critter is dead.

Hey, eating live animals doesn't appeal to me but some people obviously love it.


Holy moly! This should remind any Star Trek fan out there of Klingon cuisine which is considered best if served totally alive. The notion of your food moving around on you is more than a bit disturbing. Thankfully, this hasn't caught on in the United States.

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