Japan has a great fondness for raw food products: the raw fish (sashimi) which everyone knows, raw beef (yukke), raw horsemeat (basashi), and the perennial favorite, raw beef liver aka “liver sashimi”(rebasashi). However, there have been some deadly cases of food poisoning involving raw meat in the last few years, and the public and the government are growing more aware of the risks of raw cuisine.
“This is a valid preventive measure,” explains a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Labor. “The O-157 strain of E. coli bacteria was found concentrated in cow livers. Consumption of raw meat in general, including beef liver, can cause food poisoning, whether the meat is fresh or not.” However, if boiled or cooked, beef liver can still be sold at restaurants and bars. Only the “liver-sashimi” is banned from sale. The ministry spokesman said the consequences of consuming raw beef liver include diarrhea, vomiting, and brain damage, depending on the situation. “Our research panel discovered the presence of this bacteria in beef liver in December 2011, but this has nothing to do with any sorts of health consequences of the 3/11 Fukushima nuclear accident,” he added. According to Kyodo News, five people died from food poisoning and 180 people suffered from diarrhea and vomiting after eating raw beef in April last year.
While the Ministry has issued a firm rules against human consumption of raw beef liver, there is no such prohibition in Japan against the consumption of human flesh. Although, after an artist charged customers ¥20,000 ($250) for a plate of what he said was his own surgically removed testicles in May, there have been some calling for regulations on cannibalism. According to the AFP, the artist, Mao Sugiyama, 22, "said steps were taken so the act met all relevant laws, including a ban on organ sales, processing of medical waste and even food sanitation requirements." Japan currently has no laws banning the consumption of human meat or regulating how to prepare it. Sugiyama's dish included mushrooms and a parsley garnish.
(For the record: There have been incidents of Japanese serial killers who dabbled in cannibalism, but "long pig" is not a traditional part of Japanese cuisine.)
While Sugiyama's particular dining event cannot be repeated (he's tweeted, "I receive questions ... asking 'Will there be a next time? Please host it again.' But there is only one set of male organ"), authorities have sought to deter other would-be self-carving carnivores. So far, though, Japanese police have been stymied in their attempts to come up with a law Sugiyama may have violated. A detective in the Tokyo Police Department told The Atlantic Wire, “If you cut off a dead person’s penis and served it, well that would be a violation of the penal code about desecrating a corpse, but not if someone still alive has it done on his own initiative. The laws never anticipated things like this—cutting off your own testicles, that’s just nuts.”