A Fishy Way to Get a Free Meal

If you’re a fan of sushi, you know that it can get expensive, and fast. Two pieces of salmon sushi can easily reach $5 in some areas, and a full dinner easily hits $20. Eating at a sushi restaurant for meal after meal, day after day, is a bad idea for your wallet. But free sushi? That sounds like a great idea.

Akindo Sushiro is a restaurant chain in Taiwan, and sushi is one of the prominent and popular dishes on the menu. Like most other businesses, they’re always looking to get more customers through the door. So last week, Akindo Sushiro ran a promotion. As the Guardian reported, “any customer whose ID card contained “gui yu” [鮭魚] – the Chinese characters for salmon – would be entitled to an all-you-can-eat sushi meal along with five friends.” In other words, if your name was Salmon, you and your friends ate for free. And you weren’t entitled to one free meal; you could eat for free all day on Wednesday and/or Thursday of last week if you so desired. (If you’re trying to figure out how Akindo Sushiro made money here, the “free sushi” promotion was an anchor for a broader discount. If your name contained either 鮭 or 魚, you got 10% off your bill; if you had both characters on your ID card but not combined into the one word, that got bumped to 50%.) 

But most people aren’t named Salmon, and therefore, weren’t entitled to the free meal. But where there’s a will, there’s a way — especially when there’s a loophole. And there was a loophole here: if your name isn’t Salmon, you can just change it. And as Nick Kapur, a historian of Japan and East Asia notes, “it turns out it’s extremely easy and cheap to legally change your name in Taiwan. It only costs ~$3 US ($80 NTD).” Further, Taiwanese law is very clear when it comes to the rules about changing your name; per NBC News, “in Taiwan, individuals are legally allowed to change their name a maximum of three times,” but with no other restrictions. As most people have never changed their name, getting all that sushi just meant changing your name to 鮭魚, eating for two days, and then changing it back after the promotion. All it would cost you $6 for the two name changes and a bunch of paperwork.

This promise of all-you-can-eat sushi was too much for many to pass on. Per the above-linked Guardian story, “about 150 mostly young people visited government offices [during and before the promotion] to officially change their name” to include “salmon” in it. The government wasn’t pleased — per CNN, “Taiwan’s Ministry of the Interior stepped in on Wednesday and urged people to think carefully before changing their names after a surge in applications” — but the law is the law, and the Ministry didn’t have the power to stop the name changes. Per various reports, many people ended up eating hundreds of dollars worth of raw fish over the two-day period, paying nothing to Akindo Sushiro for the privilege. (One couple, per the BBC, ate $460 worth of sushi and later posted online “I do not think we will want to eat salmon again for a while.”)

Akindo Sushiro was happy with the results of the promotion and is considering doing something similar again. However, one loophole-abuser may find himself unable to participate in the next one. As Taiwan News reported, a student legally changed his first name to “Salmon Dream” to get himself in on the deal, intending to change his name back afterward — but then learned that “it was his last allowable name change and [his new name] would be permanent.” 

Bonus fact: The 25th United States Secretary of the Treasury (and later, the sixth Chief Justice of the United States) was a guy named Salmon P. Chase — a name that not only would have gotten him free sushi last week, but if you ignore the middle initials, is also a decent way to describe the efforts of those who tried to get free sushi last week. But, as he was alive in the 1800s, he wasn’t around for the deal. No matter, because this Salmon pulled off a bigger trick: he used money to make himself famous. Not by spending it, though: by minting it. In 1862, the Treasury minted $1 bills for the first time, and as Treasury Secretary, Chase was able to decide on the currency’s design. Here’s what that $1 bill looked like. The person pictured? That’s Salmon P. Chase. In order to make himself more well-known, he put himself on the $1 bill. 

From the Archives: Proof That Nothing Motivates Like Free Pizza. Not Taiwan, but Russia. Not sushi, not pizza. Not your name, but… well, you’ll see.