Winter in Itoshima is when the seafood is the tastiest!
Many kinds of seafood are landed in Itoshima throughout the year, but as the water temperature begins to drop and the fish try to protect themselves from the cold, yellowtail, sea bream, Spanish mackerel and other fish develop a flavor-packed layer of fat, so winter is when they are the most delicious. Oysters are also in season. Oyster huts under the direct management of fishermen, which open at fishing ports for a limited time, are a well-known winter tradition in Itoshima, and many people come from far and wide to enjoy grilled oysters.
The winter Jizakana Bank Uotabi Tour starts at Shima no Shiki, a market offering a wide range of Itoshima’s seasonal delights.
Shima no Shiki, which is directly operated by Itoshima JF (Japan Fisheries Cooperative), is popular not only among people who live nearby but also among chefs who have restaurants in Fukuoka City because of its wide selection of local fish and the reasonable prices made possible through direct sales. It is also home to Shima no Kaisendonya, a seafood bowl restaurant that only uses local seafood from Itoshima.
Takashi Mabuchi, the owner of the restaurant, has established Jizakana Bank, a group that collaborates with local businesses, including fishery workers and culinary researchers, to ensure that people can continue to enjoy delicious local fish from Itoshima well into the future.
To pass these precious local resources and inherited culture onto future generations instead of just consuming them, Jizakana Bank began organizing Uotabi Tours to offer visitors the opportunity to experience and enjoy authentic fishing village culture.
The ingredients of the kaisendon (a bowl of rice topped with local winter fish) differ depending on what is available.
On the day of this tour, the dish featured sea bream, Spanish mackerel, amberjack and ribbonfish, with a touch of color provided by funori, a seaweed found in the waters around the island of Himeshima off the coast of Itoshima. (Photo: Small kaisendon) In addition to raw fish, you can also enjoy tempura on your bowl of rice.
Shima no Kaisendonya
• 33-1 Shima-tsuwazaki, Itoshima City, Fukuoka
• 092-327-4033 (reservations not accepted)
• Open: 11:00~14:00 (ends as soon as they run out)
• Close: Wed.
After filling up on kaisendon, which is also popular with the locals, we headed to Kafuri Bay, which spreads out below the 365-meter-high Mt. Kaya—the symbol of Itoshima.
Kafuri flourished as a trading port with the continent in ancient times, and merchant ships used to come and go until around the Meiji era. The sea level was higher then, and the coastline was further inland than it is now. In the fishing village of Kafuri, which is crisscrossed by narrow alleys, there are still many landmarks that allude to the prosperity of yesteryear.
Kano’o Soy Sauce, one of four soy sauce breweries in Itoshima, was established in 1889. It was the first soy sauce brewery in Japan to commercialize sweet soy sauce, which is made without adding sugar or sweeteners to give it the sweet flavor that is characteristic of Kyushu soy sauces. The company produces about 30 products, including koji soy sauce, which is made by adding koji (rice malt) from rice grown in Fukuoka Prefecture to moromi (mash), which is made by fermenting soybeans and wheat grown in Fukuoka Prefecture in a mixture of salt, soup stock and miso.
Kano’o soy sauce is used in school lunches at elementary and junior high schools in Itoshima City as well as all outlets of the Maki no Udon restaurant. For Itoshima locals, it is a flavor that reminds them of home cooking.
Kafuri Tenmangu Shrine sits at the end of the approach leading from Kafuri Fishing Port. The wide approach is a remnant of the Yamakasa festival that used to be held here. If you look out toward Mt. Kaya from the shrine, you can see the whole village below.
In addition to oyster huts, another winter tradition in Kafuri is clam fishing.
Wild clams, including the Yamato clam, a species endemic to Japan, are harvested here. Over 90% of the clams sold in stores throughout Japan are Chinese clams imported from China and Korea, so the wild clams in Kafuri are highly valuable.
Kafuri clams disappeared for a while due to overfishing, but they have made a comeback thanks to local fishermen who worked to clean up the area and protect the local resources. The wild clam harvest in Kafuri is limited to the period from November to March.
The clam is considered a symbol of a good romantic match because the two shells of a single clam are the only ones that fit each other perfectly. Clams are used in meals for auspicious occasions and for the Girls’ Festival to wish girls good luck in finding a partner. For this reason, they are valued not only for their delicious taste but also for their good luck.
During our stroll through the fishing village, we took a coffee break and watched the fishermen fishing for clams. Being able to see the daily comings and goings of the village is a special treat for visitors.
In the evening, we tried our hand at making sushi—one of the most popular elements of the Jizakana Bank Uotabi Tour!
At Ekimae no Bar, located in front of Chikuzen-Maebaru Station, bar owner Mr. Mabuchi gave us a lecture and showed us how to turn local Itoshima seafood into sushi. With rice from Itoshima in hand, we made nigirizushi (hand-pressed sushi) using seasonal local fish such as sea bream and Spanish mackerel.
We also used mackerel caught in Himeshima to make oshizushi, which is sushi made in a mold. As with nigirizushi, the trick to making oshizushi is using just the right amount of force.
We enjoyed the clams from Kafuri steamed in white wine. The clam meat is packed with flavor, and since it is fresh, it is slightly only seared before it is served.
After returning to the inn, we enjoyed a little “home party” set. The set featured Itoshima’s own Kaorino strawberries, which are highly aromatic, sweet berries with a sugar content of 16~19%, and a glass of sweet Itoshima sake. It also included an assortment of prepared foods from Ekimae no Sakanyasan in case we got hungry in the middle of the night.
We stayed at Rakuten Stay House, a whole-building lodging facility equipped with a kitchen located right in front of Kafuri Fishing Port.
The first thing in the morning, we boarded the Sumiyoshi Maru fishing boat to visit the oyster racks floating offshore.
Located in the Genkai Sea, which is one of the best fishing grounds in Japan, the Itoshima peninsula is close to mountains, and the nutrient-rich river water that flows from the forest into the sea makes the area ideal for oyster farming.
Scallop shells covered with oyster larvae are hung on the floating racks for six months to a year. When the oysters are ready to be eaten, they are landed, polished, sterilized with ultraviolet light and ozone and then shipped to the oyster huts or markets.
The Sumiyoshi Maru oyster hut serves oysters, which are cultivated in the sea right in front of you, grilled over charcoal.
The oyster porridge is an Uotabi Tour specialty that will warm you up after a cold day at sea. The oysters grown by Sumiyoshi Maru are carefully shucked one by one, and you are sure to enjoy the rice that has absorbed the oyster extract together with the soup.
It’s so good you would hope they put it on the regular menu one day!
Of course, we also enjoyed our fill of grilled oysters. Other original Sumiyoshi Maru dishes that we enjoyed included whole-oyster steamed dumplings and wild clams from Kafuri Bay.
Every winter, oyster huts are erected at four of the eight fishing ports in Itoshima: Kafuri, Kishi, Funakoshi and Fukuyoshi. Meanwhile, wild clams can only be harvested in Kafuri from November to March.
Itoshima is a fascinating place to visit at any time of the year, but it is especially enjoyable when you go back to participate in local activities that are only available for a limited time. It is a good idea to use a scheme like Jizakana Bank Uotabi Tour as a starting point for your next trip to Itoshima.
Jizakana Bank is a project that emphasizes the importance of getting people to understand the value of Itoshima by having them visit and experience local areas throughout the city. For more information on their activities, be sure to check the Jizakana Bank Facebook group.
▷Fukuoka Now Report “Jizakana Bank”