Sunday 30 April 2023

Japan's Hidden Fish Paradise - with Fantastic Views of Mount Fuji to Boot!

Japan does not generally feature much in the UK media, and if it does the focus is typically on something exotic or wacky, but recently the UK papers have been full of articles on "Sushi Terrorism" following online videos of customers at conveyor belt (kaiten) sushi chains engaging in various unhygienic behaviour such as licking communal soy sauce bottles. While labelling it "terrorism" seems a bit of a stretch - the Japanese media generally used the word itazura meaning mischievous, naughty, or engaging in practical jokes - the behaviour did cause shockwaves in a country which prides itself on cleanliness and also loves its fish. On that note, I thought I'd focus this month's post on the subject of seafood.

What fish are eaten in Japan and UK? Brits tend to be rather conservative when it comes to fish, and 80% of all seafood eaten in the UK is one of the "Big five":  cod, salmon, haddock, tuna, and prawns. On the other hand, the most popular fish in Japan were salmon (sake/shake), tuna (maguro), pacific saury (sanma), mackerel (saba), and yellowtail (buri). As hinted at before, Japanese eat a broader variety of fish - there is a strong awarness of what fish are currently in season - and eat it at different times of day too, prepared in different ways (grilled salmon at breakfast for example). 84.3% of Japanese say they eat fish at least once a week, with only 1.9% saying they do not eat seafood at all. In contrast, only a third of Brits eat fish weekly, with 12% saying they never eat it - with the younger generation even less likely to eat fish. Who said Fish and Chips was the national dish?!?

For tourists looking to get a taste of a Japanese fish market, the typical destination is Tsukiji (see also my blog post here), though this (partly) relocated to Toyosu in 2018, including the famous early morning tuna auction (you can view this from the observation deck - if you're lucky enough to get a ticket through the lottery system!). However, if you want a more tourist-free local spot - and a chance to see a real live fish market without any ticket lottery - I'd recommend Numazu Port, located at the northwestern end of the Izu Peninsula (about an hour's drive from Atami covered in last month's blog!). Numazu is full of restaurants offering kaisendon (海鮮丼) or fish bowl, various kinds of raw fish (sashimi) piled on a bed of rice - a mountain of DHA delight!

Aside from fish there are a number of other interesting things to see and do in Numazu, not least great views of Mount Fuji on clear days. At the top of Numazu Port Observatory Watergate (沼津港大型展望水門), which also functions as an anti-tsunami barrier, there is a great observation deck and I was lucky enough to catch some good views of Fuji-san, which show the snow beginning to melt. The guide in the tower also allowed me to use a picture she had taken in November on a particularly clear day - thank-you! There is a also a rather interesting statue in the park, a memorial to Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara who issued visas to save Polish Jews fleeing from the Nazi's in 1940. It has been estimated that around 100,000 people are alive today as a consequence of Chiune's actions.

Two views of Mount Fuji (March left and November right) taken from the observation deck at Numazu

Click to see on amazon

Finally, let me introduce my favourite snack - eel bones! Loyal blog followers may already know that eel or unagi is one of my favourite dishes: as I wrote here, unagi is a stamina-boosting food that is a particularly popular way to beat summer heat fatigue. Whereas the bones on unagi are always removed before serving in restaurants, the bones themselves can be deep-fried and flavoured (typically with soy sauce, wasabi, or just salt) and make a super moreish crunchy snack, one that is full of calcium and vitamins A, B2, D, and E! Definitely recommended, especially as tsumami (side-dish) with beer or sake or as a heathy oyatsu (snack) for children. If you can't get hold of eel bones where you are, then you'll just have to make do with salivating over the all-you-can-eat sashimi restaurant "Osakana [fish] Paradise" captured in the video below. Enjoy - and do let me know about your fish eating habits, preferences, and recommendations in the COMMENTS!


Lesley Phillips said...

Hi Chris. I love eating fish. I eat salmon, cod, basa and shellfish several times a week. I've gone off meat except for chicken and only have beef occasionally usually in a chilli or pasta meal. If I have a curry its usually a fish one. x

Chris Burgess said...

Thanks for your comment - sounds like you should move to Japan! Japanese don't eat a whole lot of red meat - wagyu is unaffordable for most. Personally speaking, I've been avoiding beef in recent years, mainly due to the negative environmental effects. Here's hoping our fish/white meat diet leads to a long life!