In Japan, wakame is an indispensable component of everyday cooking, used extensively in a great many dishes including the ubiquitous miso soup as well as pickled and vinegared foods. The Sanriku region contributes around 70% of the wakame produced in Japan.
For this feature on Sanriku wakame, we spoke with local fisherman Shunsuke Akama, who is strongly committed to promoting the fishing industry in the Sanriku region.
The waters of Sanriku produce the best wakame
Sanriku is considered one of the three most productive fishing regions in the world. The convergence of the Oyashio and Kuroshio currents out in the open sea produces plentiful hauls of many different species, while the rias shoreline with numerous small bays and inlets creates the perfect conditions for wakame, as well as scallops and oysters.
This exceptional natural environment produces thick, glossy wakame with a firm yet elastic texture and a wonderful aroma. With these qualities, Sanriku wakame is highly sought after in the marketplace.
“The Sanriku region is truly blessed when it comes to wakame,” enthuses Akama. “The waters here have relatively low bacterial counts, and in fact are officially classified as pure water under the national government standard. So it’s an ideal set of conditions for farming fresh delicacies such as wakame and oysters. And because the rias coastline in these parts includes many high cliffs, you’ve got minerals that are washed directly off the cliff surface into the ocean that encourage plankton to thrive. So you see, this is how the seas of Sanriku provide the perfect conditions for making excellent wakame.” Akama grew up in Shiogama in Miyagi prefecture. Both father and his grandfather made their livelihoods from wakame.
“When I was a young boy, I used to always go out with my father on the boat,” recalls Akama, “and by the time I reached junior high school age that was essentially my job.” During his university years, Akama continued working in seafood processing and transportation, developing the skills and experience to become a fully-fledged member of the fishing industry.
Constantly seeking improvements to benefit the Sanriku region
Akama is the nominal head of Wakame Project, part of the Fisherman’s League, an initiative that brings together leading figures from the fishing industry in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures to promote the industry.
The Fisherman’s League staged an event called Sanriku Fisherman’s Fes at the Marugoto Nippon mall in Tokyo’s Asakusa district during June 2016.
Akama himself hosted the very first Sanriku Wakame presentation, describing the unique characteristics of Sanriku wakame and what makes it taste so much better.
There was even a blind taste testing session where visitors compared it to other types of wakame, as well as cooking classes.
It appears that the opportunity to see and taste the product won many people over on the day. Akama says that he felt that those in attendance were impressed with the quality of Sanriku wakame.
“The 2016 presentation program was targeted primarily at adults,” says Akama, “but in the future I would like it to be more of a fun event, with parents bringing their children along. Ultimately we want to promote awareness of Sanriku wakame and once we show people how good it is they will want to incorporate it into family meals on an ongoing basis.”
According to Akama, the waters of Sanriku yield a dazzling variety of quality seafood other than the legendary wakame. Boosting awareness of the full range of produce is one of the aims of the Fisherman’s League that brings together fishing operators and processors from all over the region with a common goal of raising technical standards and pursuing joint product development and marketing opportunities.
The market potential of Sanriku and its seafood produce will be realized through energetic promotion of the Sanriku brand on global markets.
Sanriku wakameSource：Sea Foods Akama president Shunsuke Akama
Sanriku wakame is in season from mid December through to early May.
The softest “early season” wakame is available from December to early March. Intensively farmed wakame peaks in late March, while naturally occurring wakame, prized for its thick, glossy appearance and firm texture, is available right through to May. Note: Seasonal periods can vary according to the area.
How to enjoy them
Fresh wakame in season boasts exceptional fragrance and texture. For an authentic wakame experience, try it in shabu-shabu.
Fisherman’s League was set up by a number of prominent seafood suppliers in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures who wanted to create a global brand to benefit the local fishing industry. An adjunct to this initiative is to promote the traditional Japanese seafood diet, restore a sense of regional pride, and encourage young people to pursue careers in the fishing industry.