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Japan Hour

It’s Lunch Time

This week, we embark on a culinary journey around Japan. We will find out what the locals eat and learn how their cuisine is prepared.

This week, we embark on a culinary journey around Japan. We will find out what the locals eat and learn how their cuisine is prepared. Our first adventure takes place in Namerikawa City in Toyama Prefecture. Situated in the northeast, Namerikawa faces Toyama Bay, with a population of around 30,000 people. It prospered in the 17th-19th century as a lodging town of the Hokuriku Highway. 

One of the city’s delicacies is firefly squid and its spawning season is between March and June. To see how firefly squid fishing is carried out, we go to the harbour at around 2am. Several boats are getting ready for fishing and we manage to get permission to hop on board one of them. The person in charge of this particular firefly squid fishing expedition is Mr Fumiya Ikeda, who is 60 years old.  

We eventually leave the port and the fishermen get to work. To catch firefly fish in Namerikawa, a net is first set underwater. Then about 15 fishermen pull up the net full of firefly squid. The firefly squid are called "the mystery of Toyama Bay" because they glow, making them look like miniature jellyfish. The firefly squid's bioluminescence serves as a camouflage from predators. They glow even from the stimulus of touching the net.

After about two hours of fishing, about 83,000 firefly squid have been hauled in. They sell for around 1,000 yen per kilogramme. The fishermen grill some of the firefly squid for us to try. The fishing expedition ends at 7am and once we return to shore, we ask Mr Ikeda if we could see what he eats for breakfast. So we head to his home, where we meet his wife and mother who prepare a hearty breakfast for all of us.

One of the items is called “dragon palace cold noodles”, which is actually sashimi made from firefly squid legs. Other dishes include firefly squid boiled in soup stock with vinegar, steamed squid with soy sauce, grilled mackerel, and miso soup with fish shavings and homegrown daikon radish.

After this, we walk to the city's residential district where a local tells us to check out Uzuya. It is a popular hamburger shop-cum-convenience store. Run by a couple, it also sells confections, sundries and locally grown vegetables. Dry cleaning and express mail services are also offered. It was originally a greengrocer shop which was later revamped into this store over 35 years ago. Twelve kinds of hamburgers, starting at 300 yen, are sold here and the most popular one is called Big Burger. It comprises fried fish sandwiched between two beef patties and costs 680 yen. Fried noodles and pilaf lunch sets are also available. 

We then request to see what Uzuya’s owners are eating for their lunch. The main dish is fried noodles with a special homemade sauce. The noodles include cabbage, pork, shrimp and squid. Soup stock made from chicken bones is added to the noodles which are then flavoured with the sauce. The meal also includes a miso soup of carrots and Chinese cabbage.

Our next destination is Nasushiobara City in Tochigi Prefecture. Its Shiobara Onsen hot springs resort is famous, with a history of 1,200 years. Famous authors such as Soseki Natsume and Koyo Ozaki used to visit the city to enjoy the hot springs. It is also one of the top producers of milk and thus boasts various kinds of delicious yoghurt and cheese made with fresh milk.

We begin by talking to Ms Arai, an 84-year-old farmer. She has her own private farm where she grows things such as potatoes, cabbage and different types of onions. She’s on her way home with the harvested vegetables and we ask her if we could see what she’s having for lunch. She kindly agrees to our request and we accompany her home. Her first dish is hot dumpling broth with fresh vegetables such as chopped Chinese cabbage, freshly picked green onions and carrots. The vegetables are mixed with some fried pork after which kelp soy sauce and soup stock are added. Other dishes include dumpling soup flavoured with miso, vinegared daikon radish and carrot, stewed beans and boiled field mustard greens.

1) Firefly squid is one of the delicacies of Toyama Bay and it is best eaten in spring
2) Besides hot springs, Nasushiobara City is also known for its dairy products


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