The Unique Seafood Traditions of Minamichita

Let’s pay a visit to this picturesque part of Japan to find out more about the charms of Minamichita cuisine...

By Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Sea Bream Salt Kettle Roast (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Minamichita Town is a place of wonderful natural beauty that incorporates the southernmost area of Aichi Prefecture’s Chita Peninsula and surrounding islands. Various festivals celebrating the sea are held here throughout the year, attesting to the rich fishing grounds and culture that has grown up around them over centuries. Let’s pay a visit to this picturesque part of Japan with its unique traditions to find out more about the charms of Minamichita cuisine...

Map of Shinojima (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

About halfway between Cape Morozaki at the southern tip of Chita Peninsula and Cape Irago at the western end of Atsumi Peninsula at the entrance to Mikawa Bay lies the island of Shinojima. This tiny island, with just an 8km coastline, is a short 10-minute high-speed ferry ride from Port Morozaki and sits amid an abundant fishing ground that provides a great variety of fish in any season, drawing many tourist anglers.

The Fishermen of Shinojima (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

From long ago, this island of around 2,000 people has been renowned for its delicious seafood. Around 80 percent of it’s working population is directly connected to the fishing industry and has a close relationship with the sea.

The View of the City of Shinojima (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Walking the nostalgic lanes of Shinojima

Shinojima has a rather charming, old-fashioned townscape. Walking the narrow laneways from the seafront up to the hilled areas takes you past a series of traditional Japanese-style houses. Here and there, exterior walls are brightly colored pink, green, or orange; this vista is perhaps unique to the Shinojima township and has arisen from the adoption of the same paint used for coating the hulls of the fishing boats. As the tight lanes and alleys are not easily traversed by car, the island’s denizens will often park their vehicles by the sea and go by bicycle, motorbike, or on foot to their destination. This is part of what makes time feel like it is passing a little slower here than the rest of the world, evoking a somewhat nostalgic atmosphere.

Shinmei Shrine (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

The Shinojima shrine built from the sacred Ise Jingu

In the center of the island can be found the Shinmei Shrine, the focal point for the annual Onbe-tai, or Red Sea Bream Dedication Festival. Each year for over 1,200 years, Shinojima has dedicated salted sea bream to the Ise Jingu, or the Ise Grand Shrine, the most revered shrine in Japan. The links with Ise Jingu go deeper than that: every 20 years, the main Ise Jingu shrine halls are totally rebuilt and some of the old timbers are shipped to Shinojima where they are used to reconstruct the main building of the Shinmei Shrine. The old timber from the Shinmei Shrine is then used to rebuild the Hachioji Shrine, another shrine on the island that enshrines the god of shipbuilding and the sea. And, the old Hachioji shrine? It is used to remake several minor Shinto shrines dotted about the island — in total, the cypress from the Ise Jingu is used with great care and reverence for a full 60 years after reaching the island.

Hachioujisha from the path of the Torii (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Raw Shirasu (baby sardines)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Shinojima’s seafood specialty: shirasu

Shinojima is home to the largest hauls of shirasu (whitebait) in Japan. Succulent, fresh shirasu or the many dishes that incorporate them are a treat that should be tasted by all that visit Minamichita. The seasons for eating shirasu are said to be spring and autumn. Each season brings out different characteristics in the little fish that makes them tasty in their own ways; spring shirasu are smaller and plump, while autumn sees their fat levels rise with the corresponding drop in water temperature. Meanwhile, the long history of fishing for shirasu and the skills developed over the years in preparing them, has led to processed products featuring ‘Minamichita shirasu’ being acclaimed for their excellent quality.

Freshly Caught Octopus (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Each season, the sea around Shinoshima is a treasure trove, offering up such delights as the famed tiger pufferfish, octopus, giant clam, spiny lobster, abalone, and turban shell. Along the island’s white beaches, the waters are beautifully clear, so much so you can see the sea floor for quite some distance. Taking in this scene and listening to the softly lapping waves is sublimely relaxing. The Kahi Park Observation Deck, meanwhile, is acclaimed for its beautiful sunset views and was selected as one of the 100 best spots to see the sun go down in Japan.

The Beautiful Ocean that Surround Shinojima (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Sea Bream Shabu Shabu (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Natural red sea bream — beautiful bounty of the sea

Another must-try when visiting Minamichita is the red sea bream. This fish has long been considered particularly auspicious in Japan and is an indispensable part of celebratory occasions and the red sea bream caught in the waters around Minamichita is exceptional. Served as sashimi or shabu-shabu, it has a firm elasticity and a light and elegant taste with a hint of sweetness.

Sea Bream Shabu Shabu (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Sea Bream Karaage (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Sea Bream Salt Kettle Roast (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Shiogama grilled red sea bream (shiogama-yaki) – the whole fish is encased in salt and cooked in a large pot

The impressive-looking shiogama-yaki is placed on the table then ‘opened’ with a wooden mallet, somewhat reminiscent of the ritual of breaking the lid of a celebratory barrel of sake. The flavor of the sea bream is sealed within its salty crust; this exterior allows the fish to cook slowly, making it plump and deliciously juicy.

Sea Bream Salt Kettle Roast (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Sea Bream Salt Kettle Roast (2020)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Sea Bream preparation experienceMinistry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Recently, Minamichita Town has proposed a type of ‘farm stay’ program where visitors can learn the proper ways of enjoying the sea’s richness and the town’s history by touring around the islands and get a hands-on experience of the area’s traditional way of preparing sea bream. The fish you have prepared can be cooked up at one of many lodging facilities or restaurants, part of the ‘Full Sea Bream Course’ that was created for this program.

Sea Bream preparation experienceMinistry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Sea Bream FestivalMinistry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Prayers of gratitude to the sea: Minamichita’s lively festivals inherited from ancient times

With its close relationship with the sea, Minamichita has many festivals dedicated to the waters around it throughout the year. Among them is the spectacular Toyohama Tai Matsuri, or Sea Bream Festival, a traditional event held in the fishing port of Toyohama to pray for safety on the water and bountiful catches. Giant red sea bream made from bamboo and wood frames and covered with dyed cloth, weighing around one ton and anywhere between 10 and 18 meters in length, are paraded around the town — and through the sea — as part of this lively, colorful festival.

Sea Bream FestivalMinistry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

It is said that this tradition originated from a large, cloth-covered house mouse that was made to add a little fun to a local festival. This then morphed into animals of the Japanese zodiac and even whales until they became giant bream at the start of the Showa Period (1926-1989). Each of the big fish is hoisted aloft by groups of up to 60 strapping young men who seem to bring their charges alive as they guide them around Toyohama, cheered on by the many gathered onlookers.

Onbe Sea BreamMinistry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Together with the Toyohama Tai Matsuri and the Shinojima Onbe-tai festival, Minamichita is home to the Morozaki Sagicho Festival, held in various locales along the Morozaki coast, and many other festivals that keep unique local traditions alive for future generations. Encountering the food culture of Minamichita, you cannot help but feel the beauty that comes from the purity of the call to live together with the natural world and the desire to pass on traditions by those who earn their livelihood from fishing, existing side-by-side with the dangers of the sea that surrounds them and all the abundance it brings.

Credits: Story

Cooperation with:

Minami-chita town

Photos: Yusuke Abe (YARD)
Text: Orika Uchiumi
Edit: Saori Hayashida

Production: Skyrocket Corporation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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