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Japan Hour

It's Lunchtime

Looking for the elusive drift ice on the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk, savouring oysters from Lake Saroma and visiting a farm which has a robot to automatically milk cows are this week's highlights.

This week, we travel by bus to search for drift ice and find out what people eat on the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk in Hokkaido. Drift ice is unpredictable and shifts depending on the wind force, wind direction and the currents. For example, drift ice may appear in the morning and disappear by noon.  

We start our adventure from the town of Engaru and take the bus to our first stop, Yubetsu Gyokyo. We arrive at the fishing town at 11.50am after a 40-minute bus ride. We are keen to see the sea and visit the fishery cooperative to ask for directions. We also find out that the Sea of Okhotsk is one of the top producers of scallops in the country. The oysters of Lake Saroma in Yubetsu are also famous. 

We finally reach the sea after walking for 15 minutes. Here, we take a photograph of what we think is drift ice, as part of the water is frozen in the shape of waves. We later find out from a local that what we saw was just regular ice, not drift ice. We make our way to the main street to look for a place to have lunch. We manage to find a seafood restaurant called Ribbon after walking for 20 minutes. The owner recommends we try the set meal with oysters from Lake Saroma, which are currently in season until early April. These oysters grow in Okhotsk’s seawater which is rich in plankton that is mixed with Hokkaido's fresh water. The oysters are known for their rich and creamy flavour. The oyster hotpot includes green onions, mushrooms, Chinese cabbage and shirataki. The set meal also comes with breaded deep-fried oysters, steamed oysters and boiled oysters. 

The restaurant’s owner agrees to let us see her lunch. She is having oyster rice bowl with deep-fried oysters and a homemade bonito-based sauce. Onions from Yubetsu are added to make the sauce sweeter. She then seasons it with soy sauce and sugar, and later adds a beaten egg to the sauce. 

After this, we continue our search for the elusive drift ice. We are told to go to the town’s observatory to try our luck. We go there but don’t manage to see it. By now, it is past 3.30pm so we return to the bus stop and take the 4.15pm bus heading towards Monbetsu. We travel along the coastline and alight at Kato Farm at 4.25pm. The only buildings we see here are those that belong to the farm. We meet the president of Kato Farm, Mr Tomoyuki. He tells us it is difficult to go to the shore to see drift ice because of the deep snow. 

We thus decide to take a tour around the farm, which was established in 2003. We also get to meet Mrs Kato. Five workers, including Mr Kato, raise about 900 Holstein cows here. We go to a room where many calves are put once they are born. The males are sold after a couple of weeks, while the females remain at the farm. We are also shown the milking room where there is a “robot” which automatically milks the cows. 

As the farm does not have many employees, the staff usually work until about 8pm. We are interested to see what the Kato family is having dinner. We are invited to their house inside the farm, where we are introduced to Mr Kato’s mother. She makes kitaakari potatoes simmered in butter, soy sauce and sugar, and another dish made of simmered radish, taro and carrots. She also cooks jingisukan, a staple lamb dish of Hokkaido which the family eats two to three times a month. The meal also includes rice cooked with young scallops and a Vietnamese dish called banh chung. The latter, a celebratory dish often eaten during Lunar New Year, was made by Vietnamese interns who are helping out at the farm. Green bean paste and pork are added to sticky rice, which is wrapped with banana leaves and boiled. 

We mention to the Kato family that we want to see drift ice. They tell us about a red ship called Garinkogo towards Monbetsu. It seems we can take the ship to see drift ice. We decide that we will do so the next day. The bus we planned to take from Kato Farm has already departed at 7.15pm. So we have no choice but to spend the night in this area. 


1)    Oysters and scallops from the Sea of Okhotsk are famous in the town of Yubetsu
2)    Drift ice is a popular tourist attraction in Hokkaido








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