Worried about abandoning Japan’s traditional fish-based diet, a fishmonger in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture has returned to his rock ‘n’ roll roots to sing the praises of the bounty of the ocean in a bid to to stimulate the decreasing consumption of fish in Japan.
Japan has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world, and one of the reasons for this is its diet rich in seafood. Seafood is a major source of protein for the Japanese people for centuries. However, the meat has since become a culinary favorite. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, per capita fish consumption peaked at 40.2 kilograms in 2001, but was still far ahead of meat at 27.8 kilograms. Japanese people’s preferences, especially among young people, have since shifted away from fish and other seafood, and in 2011 seafood consumption fell below that of meat for the first time. In 2019, annual per capita seafood consumption fell to 23.8 kilograms, while meat increased to 33.5 kilograms. In addition to sluggish demand, catches of staple fish varieties like saury, salmon and squid continue to decline, which is a double whammy for the seafood industry. fishing industry, Japan is experiencing a major transformation in its culinary culture.
A fishmonger in Chiba Prefecture is trying to turn the tide with the impassioned cry of “eat more fish!”
Fish and Sea Songs
Morita Tsurizao, the third-generation owner of Urayasu Izugin Fish Shop, is on a rock-and-roll mission. Under his stage name – Tsurizao literally means “fishing rod” – he leads the musical group Gyokō (Fishing Port) which offers a new type of music that Morita calls “fish rock”. In 2004, the band debuted on major label Universal Music with the song “Maguro” (Tuna).
Morita, whom other members and fans refer to as “Captain”, is the band’s vocalist and songwriter. He writes tunes singing the praises of the fish, the ocean and the fishermen. The band’s live performances are complemented by dramatic tuna carving shows and other attractions to delight fans and underline the band’s message: “Eat Fish!”
When not on stage, Morita sells fresh fish and other seafood in his store. He specialized in tuna and whale meat at the Urayasu fish market, but after the market closed, he opened a shop in the city’s Horie district. He says selling fish is his real livelihood and his passion and even confesses to having turned down an invitation for his band to perform in New York, stating that “I just couldn’t keep the store closed for that long”.
Bringing a fishing town back to life
Not far from Izugin, on the other side of the Sakai River, is the district of Nekozane. The area’s reputation as a fishing town dates back hundreds of years. Morita says that as a child the shore was lined with fish shops, but now the incursion of supermarkets and other changes have reduced their numbers.
“I was in second grade when Tokyo Disneyland opened in Urayasu, completely changing the landscape,” Morita recalls. “Convenience stores popped up here and there, and I remember being amazed that you could buy rice balls just about anywhere.” He notes that the popularity of fast food and items like instant noodles have dramatically changed the Japanese diet, though he insists this is a temporary situation. “The Japanese preference for fish is something rooted in our very being. After all, it was once a fishing town and people here ate a lot of fish.
In the past, fishmongers were hubs of community activity, serving as places where locals could share news or engage in casual chatter while viewing the catch of the day. Morita is determined to revive this friendly atmosphere by making it a point of honor to chat with its customers.
“The dish you recommended the other day was delicious,” a customer tells her. “If you liked it,” Morita replies, her voice trained to sing clear and pleasant, “I suggest you try the matōdai [John dory] today. It is eaten in sashimi and makes an excellent carpaccio. Leave the skin on the remaining half and brown it with a meunière sauce. Delicious!”
Morita sources the vast assortment of fish and seafood he offers in Izugin through relatives and friends working at Toyosu Wholesale Market in Tokyo. The store’s offerings are quite different from those of the average fishmonger. “Knowing that you’re eating a rare delicacy makes it even more delicious,” says Morita. Not only does Izugin offer a wide variety of fish, but it also sells unusual items like juicy “cheek” meat, tail meat, skin, and even tuna brains. And if you don’t know how to prepare such tasty bites, Morita will teach you everything, from the arrangement to the seasoning.
“Tuna brains are fatty and particularly tasty,” says Morita. “The cheek meat is also tasty. And tail meat is rich in collagen. Even the skin can be tasty if you prepare it well. He recommends scalding pieces of skin in boiling water flavored with sake and ginger, scraping off the scales, letting the pieces cool, then cutting them into thin strips. “Dribbling over some Ponzugarnish with daikon grated radish with a little chilli, add some chopped chives, then add a touch of Tabasco to give it a little more spice.
Prepare your own fish
Morita laments that people are increasingly reluctant to fix fish at home due to the smell and inconvenience it causes. He points out that almost any part of a fish can be eaten, with the general exception of the head and bones, and encourages customers to buy an entire specimen and prepare it themselves.
“I can sell seafood for less this way,” he exclaims. “And the fresh fish that you have prepared yourself is always the best. I want my customers to feel a sense of gratitude for the fish that gave its life to fill their bellies. There are so many delicious ways to prepare fish, and I consider it my mission to teach my customers the best ways to do it.
Morita’s resolve has only been strengthened by the current coronavirus pandemic. People are eating more at home, but apart from packets of horse mackerel, yellowtail and sliced red snapper which are major supermarket offerings, Toyosu wholesalers are struggling to sell the rest of their stock. . Izugin has made it a point to buy what he can. With so many varieties available, Morita says he doesn’t have time to cut and sell slices, so he peddles the fish he has whole. This approach has actually improved business, as repeat customers arrive with rave reports of their delicious adventures of preparing seafood themselves.
The approach, however, requires Morita to temper his zeal. “You can’t force people, because if you push too hard they won’t come back.” He happily spins the fish for the customer who requests it, making sure to show him step by step how it’s done. Morita’s service and willingness to teach attracts up to 200 customers a day to the small, unassuming shop. On Saturdays, in particular, the store attracts customers from neighboring and even more distant prefectures.
Working to revive Japan’s traditional fish cuisine
Some in the Japanese fishing industry see Morita with his ambitious dual career of rock and roll and fishmonger as a savior. In 2021, the Japanese Fisheries Association awarded Morita a Certificate of Appreciation for his efforts to encourage fish consumption, and in 2016 he was nominated by the Fisheries Agency to be a osakana kataribe, a sort of seafood ambassador. Morita is also a special lecturer at the University of Marine Science and Technology in Tokyo, teaching students who will become the future leaders of Japan’s marine industry how to prepare and cook fish. He can also be found performing with his musical group at the school’s annual campus festival.
Morita is passionate about his mission. “I don’t tell people to stop eating meat. I like to eat steak, burgers and fried chicken as much as anyone else. However, the fish offer a great variety and have different seasons. There are so many delicious kinds of fish dishes. By teaching people how best to eat seafood, I want to revive Japan’s status as a world leader in fish cuisine. »
Izugin fresh fish
- Address: Horie 3-25-1, Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture
- Hours: weekdays, 11:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Closed: Wednesdays and Thursdays
(Originally published in Japanese. Photos by Nippon.com unless otherwise stated.)