BY AATISH NATH
To visit a fish market in Japan is to be allowed to view a choreographed performance, in which people become actors, each on a quest for the biggest, best seafood that money can buy. As a food writer, I was excited to sample fish in all its forms in a country known for its vaunted perfectionism. A visit to the auction though, was an opportunity to see the variety of seafood that’s caught, and a glimpse into the orderliness that permeates all aspects of Japanese society.
So, I was there to see some of the fish stored in neat rows of plastic bins, each with pipes circulating water through them. The makeshift tanks are filled—some with a single dangerous pufferfish (known as fugu in Japanese, which needs to be prepared with care, as it contains tetrodotoxin, a poison that is at least 200 times deadlier than cyanide), others with a shoal of mackerel (saba), their oily skin glistening in the tube lights reflected in the water, and walking further down octopus (tako), bagged in netting, so that their eight legs don’t find a way to escape the shallow tanks.
I was on Toshi-jima (jima means island in Japanese) an island in the Mie prefecture, to get a sense of coastal living in Japan. The closest city to the island, Toba is about three hours from Osaka. The small market may be serving only some of the 2,500 odd people on the island, but there’s still a sense of urgency in the air when it comes to bidding for the seafood.
Like all of Japan, there’s no unruliness, but instead, a carefully conducted ritual. I’m interrupting the flow of the day, and it makes me thankful that there’s a school field trip taking place at the same time that I am there, as they run around the tanks while I try to be the more measured disrupter, walking slowly from tank to tank, studying the fish on display.
The language barrier means that it is tougher to learn about the fish, and how to eat them, but that disappointment soon fades, as the auction starts. Participating in the auction is the ryokan owner’s wife where I am staying, and it’s thrilling to see the fish that I will be eating for dinner, being purchased and loaded into an open top van at the end of the auction. There’s no fugu on the menu, but as the day comes to an end, I partake in a kaiseki meal that features mackerel and more.
Aatish Nath is a freelance food and travel writer based in Mumbai, India. He’s always been fascinated by where our food comes from. An avid photographer, his Instagram can be found at @aatishn. He has a passion for live music and architectural photography.
Aatish Nath 是一位在印度孟买的美食与旅行自由写作者。他一直对我们的食物来源十分感兴趣。同时他也热衷于摄影，Instagram 账号是 @aatishn。Aatishn 对现场音乐和建筑摄影富有激情。