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Local Sights & Specialties

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Shiogama Fish Market

Shiogama’s large fish market is run by the city, and for 91 years, it has been an important point of sale for fish that eventually makes its way to tables all across Japan. For the past 30 years, it has been one of the country’s largest markets for fresh (not frozen) tuna, and boats come from across the archipelago to sell their catch at the morning auctions.

 

To prevent overfishing, the market requires fishing boats that drop their catch here to abide by strict quotas and fishing practices. The prized bigeye tuna sold at this market are caught using longlines, rather than nets.

 

Every morning (except Wednesdays) around 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m., tuna and other fish are sold to the highest bidder in a “walking” auction, where the auctioneer quickly walks down the rows while taking bids. This format makes Shiogama’s auction one of the fastest in Japan, at around 2.5 seconds per fish. Around 3,000 fresh tuna are sold each morning, before they are transported to markets all around Japan, including Tokyo’s famous Toyosu Fish Market (which replaced the historic Tsukiji Fish Market). Visitors are welcome to watch the action from the gallery hall above the market floor.

 

In the gallery, visitors can learn about the market and the fish landed here through various interactive displays. These include a virtual sushi shop, a booth where visitors can try on a fish seller’s apron and pose with a wide array of realistic plastic fish, and a giant stuffed tuna for children to play on. At the market’s small restaurant and shop, visitors can enjoy some of the freshly caught fish, including ruby red tuna sashimi.

 

The market is a 10-minute walk from Higashi Shiogama Station and is open daily except on Wednesdays.

Shiogama Seafood Wholesale Market

This wholesale market is often the next stop for visitors who have watched the early morning tuna and fish auctions at the nearby Shiogama Fish Market. Here, the freshly caught seafood is sliced and readied to be sold to customers. Unusually for a wholesale market, it is open not only to restaurateurs but also members of the public.

Established in Shiogama in 1965, the seafood market miraculously survived destruction from the tsunami that resulted from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. It is the only market of its kind left in the Tohoku region and has an atmospheric retro feel. The market’s broad roof shelters 93 stalls, many of which have been run by the same family for generations.

One highlight at the market is the chance to make one’s own kaisendon (rice bowl topped with seafood). The vendors have posted clear signs that identify which types of seafood can be eaten raw, so even first-time visitors can easily and safely select their choice of ingredients. A thick slice of tamagoyaki (rolled omelet), available from a specialized stall, is considered the perfect way to end a meal of sushi or sashimi.

For those who prefer their seafood cooked, there are charcoal grills available to rent. Freshly fried tempura, light nibbles, and drinks are also on offer.

Visitors who wish to see the tuna-cutting are most likely to catch the skilled workers on Friday and Saturday, around 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.

Sushi in Shiogama

Shiogama is said to have the largest number of sushi restaurants per capita of any city in Japan. Each serves its own version of the country’s iconic dish.

 

The Shiogama Fish Market is Japan’s top seller of fresh (not frozen) tuna, and the coastal waters abound with sought-after shellfish like sea urchin (uni) and abalone (awabi). The sea that lies beyond Shiogama’s port is the meeting point for the Oyashio and Kuroshio currents. The veritable banquet of plankton brought by these Pacific Ocean currents attracts a wide variety of fish. This biodiversity is reflected in the menus at sushi restaurants around the city.

 

The relationship between sushi chefs and fishermen in Shiogama is much closer than in large cities. Shiogama’s sushi shops are an important part of maintaining the area’s family-run businesses and community. Besides buying crates of fish from the major market nearby, many sushi restaurants also rely on fishermen who operate small boats, returning with the catch of the day just in time for the chefs to start preparing for lunch.

 

Diners at the city’s sushi restaurants can find both traditional favorites, including tuna purchased at Shiogama Fish Market’s early morning auction, and less common items. Depending on the season, unusual cuts of tuna, the sought-after nishigai (Asian rapa whelk), or akamanbo (moonfish, or opah) may be featured on the menu. When eating at one of Shiogama’s many sushi restaurants, adventurous eaters are encouraged to ask the chef about that day’s special offerings. No matter the selection, food lovers can expect to taste some of the freshest sushi possible, delivered from ocean to plate in almost no time.

 

Fish is not the only important ingredient for good sushi. The pillow of vinegar-seasoned rice beneath the fresh fish is also essential, and rice is another local product. Cooking rice in water from the same area is said to yield the best flavor, and so sushi chefs around the city often use Sasanishiki or Koshihikari rice.

 

Sasakama (Surimi Fish Cakes)

Kamaboko are cured surimi (ground fish) cakes that originated as a way to use unsold fish. They are now an important part of Miyagi Prefecture’s culinary heritage, and this is particularly true of Shiogama’s leaf-shaped sasakama.

Sasakama are made with ground white fish, mainly kichiji rockfish, mixed with salt and other natural flavorings. The shaped cakes are then lightly roasted, creating a fluffy, pleasantly chewy consistency.

These fish cakes were originally known as berokama (“tongue cakes”) for their elongated oval shape but were later renamed to the more elegant sasakama (“bamboo-leaf cakes”). This name was inspired by the bamboo leaf in the crest of the Date family, who ruled parts of modern-day Miyagi and Iwate prefectures during the Edo period (1603–1867).

Sometimes playfully called “fast fish,” as the lack of bones makes for an easy protein-snack, kamaboko can be purchased at gift shops across the area. Besides the plain versions, Shiogama’s many producers also create sasakama in seasonal flavors or mix in additions like cheese, green onion, or shellfish.

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