November in Itoshima is when winter seafood starts to come into season and people can enjoy the delicious delicacies the region has to offer. Oyster huts, which have become a winter tradition in Fukuoka, start their winter-only operation around November at various fishing ports, and many people from far and away, as well as locals, come to enjoy the oysters of Itoshima at the huts.
▷ Itoshima Kakigoya – Oyster Hut Guide 2021-2022
Also, for eight years in a row (!!!) Itoshima boasts the largest catch of wild sea bream in Japan, and fresh, fatty sea breams are available directly at local prices.
This is also when Spanish mackerel, a popular fish both at home and in restaurants, is in season. Every year, Fukuoka Prefecture boasts one of the biggest Spanish mackerel catches in Japan, and Itoshima accounts for a large portion of this. This is the time of year when you can pick up large Spanish mackerel laden with fat.
Amid this busy season for fishermen when the fishing ports are bustling with people, the second Jizakana Bank Uotabi Tour was held (see here for our first report).
The tour was organized 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, which Mabuchi heads, is a collaboration of local businesses, including fishery workers and culinary researchers, that carries out a wide range of activities, including the Uotabi Tour.
The starting point for the second tour was Kishi Fishing Port, where you can experience Itoshima during its prime fishing season.
Kishi, which faces Hikitsu Bay on the Genkai Sea, one of the world’s richest fishing grounds, is a port with gentle waves that has existed for so long that it was even written about in the Man’yōshū (Japan’s oldest anthology of poetry). Nearby there is a large stone that is said to be the stone monument dedicated to Empress Jingu (170~269, according to the Chronicles of Japan; wife of Emperor Chuai, the 14th legendary emperor). The stone is also called Ryuguishi or Jinguishi, and the custom of offering food to the gods and praying for a good catch of fish still remains.
Next to the monument is Hanakake Shrine, where Empress Jingu is said to have hung flowers to enshrine the deity Sumiyoshi. (The shrine used to be located in the Shima-Nishikaizuka district of Itoshima.)
Not far from the fishing port sits a fishing village consisting of a cluster of fishermen’s homes equipped with workplaces. These combined workplace-residences reflect the lifestyle of the local people, and may look different to the outsider.
The former Doira residence, an old traditional house that remains in Kishi
Of the eight fishing ports in Itoshima, oyster huts open in the four ports of Kishi, Funakoshi, Kafuri, and Fukuyoshi, but Kishi has the largest number of huts.
Grilled oysters are the main item on the menu, but oil oysters and other processed goods are popular souvenirs. (Time to eat!)
Kishi Fishing Port provides access by regular ferry to Itoshima’s only inhabited island, Himeshima. The city-run Himeshima Ferry makes four trips a day to the island, which takes 16 minutes one-way. With a circumference of 3.8 km and only 150 residents, the island is small, but it has a flourishing fishing industry and the islanders all know each other. On this tour, we took boxed lunches to Himeshima and had a picnic.
Weighing over 2.5 kg each, the fatty Spanish mackerel caught from November to March are humanely killed on the spot and packed in ice for six hours to ensure freshness. Fished treated with this procedure, which has undergone continuous improvement and is now fully manualized, is sold as the high-grade brand tokusen honsawara.
It’s finally lunch time!
One of the real pleasures of the Uotabi Tour is the food. Jizakana Bank prepared a special boxed lunch made using local fish caught in Himeshima for this tour.
・ Bento Lunch: Spanish mackerel rice, fried mahi-mahi, Spanish mackerel grilled in koji (rice malt), octopus dumpling, Itoshima vegetable side dish
After filling up on food, it was time to take a walk around Himeshima.
We headed to Himeshima Shrine, which is also the origin of the island’s name. It is located on a small hill, and when we looked back over the houses below, the view of the ocean beyond the roofs added a little something extra to make this trip special.
A short walk from the shrine, there is a monument and the restored jail cell where the poet Nomura Botoni was imprisoned during the upheaval at the end of the Edo period. Eventually, after about six months in exile, she escaped thanks to arrangements made by the samurai Takasugi Shinsaku, and it is interesting to note that one of the acts of the Meiji Restoration took place on the island of Himeshima.
Himeshima is also home to a wooden school building, Himeshima Elementary and Junior High School. Here there are displays of materials that tell the history of the fishing industry and the fishing methods that support the island’s economy. We were given a special tour of the displays for the Uotabi Tour. (In fact, these displays were handmade by the locals!)
The climax of the second tour was a cruise around Himeshima on a fishing boat.
On the north side of the island, opposite to where the village is located, you can see steep terrain, including strange rock formations like Bozu no Kubi (so named because it looks like the shaved neck of a monk) and two 10-meter-high holes called Ubu no Ana (“birth holes”), which are said to be the birthplaces of the island’s gods. Neither of these can be seen on the ferry trip over to the south side of the island.
On the cruise, members of the Itoshima Fishing Cooperative, who are knowledgeable about the sea around Itoshima, explain the fishing methods of Himeshima and Itoshima.
The small mackerels caught in the fixed nets are farmed and raised until they are large enough to be shipped. They are fed with fish fry that is also caught in the fixed nets.
After observing how the fish are caught and the fishing grounds where they are raised, the next step is to get hands on and learn how to cut fish. Shoko Sato, a culinary researcher with ties to Himeshima, carefully demonstrated how to cut and descale various types of fish.
The cornetfish is a flute-mouthed, brightly colored fish. Despite its striking appearance, its sweet white flesh is delicious. It is a high-grade fish that is rarely seen in stores but sought out by high-end Japanese restaurants. She also taught us how to prepare thread-sail filefish, by mixing the liver with soy sauce to make a sauce.
Back at Kishi Fishing Port, we had dinner at Ekimae no Bar, which is another meeting place for Jizakana Bank activities. Here, we tried our hand at making sushi. After a toast to get us in the mood and a lecture on sushi by Mr. Mabuchi, we were ready to practice.
Naturally, all the ingredients were from Itoshima. On the day of the tour, the local fish and seafood caught using environmentally friendly and sustainable fishing methods included: Squid (shrimp trawling), konoshiro gizzard shad (fish trap), flounder (shrimp trawling), sunfish (pole-and-line fishing), clam (hand-digging), red sea bream (surrounding net fishing), Spanish mackerel (pole-and-line fishing), wavy-back skipjack tuna (pole-and-line fishing)… and more!
The large, fresh and fatty Spanish mackerel has a transparent white, sweet flesh that is delicious when eaten as sashimi. It is a popular red fish because it can be eaten seared, grilled, fried or even marinated in miso. (Although the flesh looks white, it is classified as a red fish like tuna.)
Guests who celebrated their birthdays during the Uotabi Tour were treated to a sushi cake made with local fish from Itoshima.
Day 2! Morning broke on the second day of this fish-filled tour, and the atmosphere of Kafuri Fishing Port felt different than when we visited yesterday.
Not to mention, it is a stone’s throw away from the front door of Rakuten Stay House.
Guests enjoyed a special Uotabi Tour breakfast at Shima no Kaisendonya located inside Shimanoshiki, which is operated directly by Itoshima JF (Japan Fisheries Co-operative).
The menu was adjusted suddenly to add freshly caught large amberjacks.
The tour ended with some souvenir shopping.
This time, the Uotabi Tour focused even more on local fish, and the schedule was adjusted to make it more leisurely. Going forward, the tour organizers will continue improving the tour to make it even more enjoyable for more people. Keep an eye out for our next report on the third test tour to be held in December.