Exploring Itoshima’s Fishing Villages – Uotabi Tour #1

Beautiful ocean and bountiful mountains. Located about 30 minutes by car from downtown Fukuoka City, the Itoshima Peninsula on the western edge of Fukuoka Prefecture is home to a wealth of delicious ingredients. Surrounded by the sea and dotted with fishing villages, Itoshima’s characteristic landscape combined with the activities of its people makes for a unique atmosphere.

Itoshima is now a popular destination for transplants from other parts of Japan and abroad. In addition to its rich resources, it is also a place where a unique culture has been nurtured since ancient times, so the time is ripe to think about how the region’s natural beauty and diverse populace can coexist.

This is why a group of local volunteers have started a project to pass these precious local resources and inherited culture onto future generations instead of just consuming them. Called the Jizakana Bank Uotabi Tour, the aim is to encourage people to come to Itoshima, see what it has to offer, enjoy its bounty, and experience its uniqueness first-hand. With this project, visitors from outside and those who entertain them come together to experience Itoshima’s fishing village culture.

Led by Takashi Mabuchi (President of Itoshi no Itoshima Co.), who is energetically working to increase the value of local fish and promote locavorianism in Itoshima, Jizakana Bank is a collaboration of local businesses, including fishery workers and culinary researchers, that carries out a wide range of activities.

The starting point of the inaugural tour was Kozainomori (former Nishihara Residence). Originally built in 1901 on the Old Karatsu Road, it is not far from Chikuzen-Maebaru Station, the gateway to Itoshima. A crossroads of local history and culture, it was once the residence of a wealthy merchant and now houses a cafe and gallery.

To mark the beginning of this special Uotabi Tour, visitors entered through the front gate of Kozainomori, which is only opened to receive distinguished guests.

Thus began our two-day tour of the Itoshima area. Guests were welcomed with matcha green tea produced in Yame in southern Fukuoka Prefecture.

Next, the tour passed along the beautiful coast to Funakoshi Fishing Port, one of the eight fishing ports in Itoshima.

In winter, oyster huts run by fishers open for a limited time at four fishing ports in Itoshima: Kishi, Funakoshi, Kafuri and Fukuyoshi.

The sea at each of these fishing ports is just right for oyster farming. Behind the specially set up oyster houses, fishers unload, sort and polish oysters that have been pulled from the oyster racks.

On a side note, while farming village society was built on the idea of land ownership, fishing village society was based on the ownership of fishing boats and large nets. As a result, people in fishing villages have tended to be less resistant to people moving in. They are more willing to try new things and are more open to outsiders.

To protect the local ecosystem, fishing seasons are limited. The ban on fishing for cuttlefish is lifted in February, which is when fishers begin  preparing their fishing gear.

In Funakoshi, the traditional method of fishing for squid with basket traps is the mainstream. The fishers attach branches and leaves of the Japanese holly bush, a plant that grows near the harbor, to baskets in order to lure in egg-laying squid. Once the squid lay their eggs, the fishers remove the holly branches from the baskets and return them (with the eggs still attached) to the sea. This ensures they’ll be more adult squid to catch next year.

The walking tour winds through the area, giving participants a first-hand look at the activity in the fishing village. The tour also stops at a shrine, which you will always find in an old village like this one. Since olden times, Hikitsu Shrine has been home to the local deity of Funakoshi. People involved in the fishing industry worship at shrines like this one for safety at sea and abundant fish harvests, so rituals are still held in many fishing villages.

Oyster huts are a winter tradition in Itoshima. Most of Itoshima’s oyster huts let you take your own drinks in, so they attract many repeat customers. This year, the price of oysters is ¥1,100 per kilogram, and you can grill and eat them right at your table. (The grills are either charcoal or gas.)

Senryumaru is run by professional sea bream fishers. As part of the Uotabi Tour, you can enjoy charcoal grilled wild red seabream! Enjoy a drink with okyuto seaweed noodles, a Hakata specialty, and fresh raw oysters.

The next stop on the tour is Kitai Shoyu, a 124-year old soy sauce manufacturer. Here you can tour the factory and see how they still make soy sauce in old-fashioned cedar tanks, and taste a variety of soy sauces.

Now it was time for a coffee break. We sat on the beach and enjoyed a drip coffee made from the same spring water from Mt. Funakoshi that Kitai Shoyu uses along with a Kitai Shoyu soy sauce pudding.

On the way to the beach, the tour stopped at Masue Goro Inari Shrine, a privately built shrine that offers a panoramic view of the mountain. Toyota Matsuzaki, the man who built the shrine, was a farmer of rice, wheat and soybeans, and his descendants, the Matsuzaki family, now run Hyakushoya. They have maintained the shrine over the years.

Nestled in the hills of Nijo, a district of Itoshima known for its rice, our accommodation for the night was Uguisu-za. In the open kitchen, guests learned how to cut barracuda, which is in season now. The fish were cut open along the spine, salted and left to dry until morning, when they were served as part of breakfast.

The climax of the tour was the special dinner featuring a wide variety of local fish. Mr. Mabuchi, the owner of a popular seafood bowl restaurant, joined the group at this point to show off his culinary chops. All ingredients in the dinner are sourced from Itoshima.
Menu: Appetizers made from Itoshima vegetables, red seabream and bonito sashimi, bouillabaisse, edamame gelato

The bouillabaisse is chock full of local fish from Itoshima. It is a specialty dish of Marseille, a city in the south of France on the Mediterranean Sea, which is also a center of marine products like Itoshima. Mr. Mabuchi, who was impressed by the taste of the local fish when he visited Marseille, makes the dish in accordance with the Bouillabaisse Charter, which stipulates in detail how to prepare the soup, and to make his dish unique to Itoshima, he uses only small fish caught by shrimp trawling.

Freshly ground and brewed coffee served in the mountains of Itoshima. Enjoy the alluring flavor of this rare Chinese coffee.

Upon opening its doors, Shimanoshiki, which is operated directly by JF (Japan Fisheries Cooperatives), has a wide variety of fresh seafood available for sale. The fresh fish corner is crowded even on weekdays, as chefs who run restaurants in the vicinity visit the store to stock up.

At Shima no Kaisendonya, the cafe inside Shimanoshiki, guests enjoyed a special Uotabi Tour breakfast. The restaurant is only open for lunch on weekdays, so just being able to have breakfast here is a special treat. What’s more, the meal was made from carefully selected local ingredients. One of the participants from Italy, who was delighted to see all the fresh fish in the shop, decided to add one more dish!

The JF in Itoshima also conducts other activities such as releasing baby fish into the ocean to protect local fishery resources. This time, the Rotary Club of Itoshima participated in a special fish release event with local kindergarten children, and together they released about 2,000 baby scorpion fish into the sea. “Come back when you’re all grown up!” said the children as they let the fish go.

A local told the group that a big catch was being landed by fixed net fishers, so we headed to the fishing port where we saw a boat loaded with mackerel and horse mackerel that had just arrived from Himeshima island. The fishers and JF staff were very skillful in putting the lively fish into the baskets. We were even given fresh fish as a souvenir that we could take home to practice the fish-cutting skills we had just learned.

The next stop was Mt. Tateishi, whose spectacular vistas are a point of pride for the citizens of Itoshima. After hiking up the mountain for about 10 minutes, you can enjoy a gorgeous view of the beach stretching from Keya no Oto and Karatsu on the other side.

After enjoying the scenery and climbing down, it was time for lunch at a special location overlooking Keya Beach below.
The lunch, made special for the Uotabi Tour, was a minced octopus burger and a fish sandwich, and everyone was excited to enjoy lunch in this great location.

Finally, the last stop of the tour was Yamasue, which is rapidly gaining popularity for its #Itoshima mentaiko.

Made with sake from Shiraito Shuzo brewery and authentically brewed soy sauce from Kano’o Shoyu, the mentaiko is mild yet full of flavor. The shop also sells soup stock made from local Itoshima marine products as well as a variety of processed products, which make for great souvenirs. There are many products that just might strike your fancy, like Itoshima seabreams that are processed so that you can eat them bones and all. Takashi Baba (President of Yamasue Inc.), one of the partners of the Uotabi Tour

Going forward, the tour organizers plan to improve the tour to make it even more enjoyable for more people. Keep an eye out for our next report on the second test tour.

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Published: Nov 10, 2021 / Last Updated: Nov 10, 2021

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