Wednesday, February 23, 2005

マグロに賭ける男達 (The Men Who Stake It All on Tuna): Shimokita’s Mighty Tuna Hunters

The Tsugaru Strait: Home to the World’s Most Expensive Tuna

I did not grow up with a proper respect for tuna fish. As far as I could tell from canned tuna and tuna salad, tuna fish were about as impressive as sardines

. . . maybe less so because, although I didn’t know what sardines were, at least they featured prominently in early twentieth century literature. I can’t remember when it was in my life that I realized that tuna fish are actually HUGE

And although I grew up in Aomori prefecture, it wasn’t until I moved to Kazamaura that I learned that the next door town of Oma is the tuna capital of the world.

One of Oma's Ice Encrusted Monuments at the Northern Tip of Honshu: Man vs. Tuna

I have spent many words in the past maligning Oma, but that is because I am jealous. Kazamaura prides itself on its cheap spas (onsen) and its squid racing. On a scale of machismo, this does not compare favourably to the masterpiece of Socialist Realism that is the spirit of Oma. The last time Kazamaura was on television was when the village’s fourth elementary school achieved some sort of jump rope record the same year it was shut down. The television special about Oma’s tuna fishermen, on the other hand, is well known and frequently aired. マグロに賭ける男達: “The Men Who Stake It All on Tuna.” I photographed this scene from it off my television set the other day.

It is of the final moments of mortal combat between an Oma man and a tuna fish—blood splashing everywhere. Squid don’t bleed like that. In fact, I have never heard of a Kazamaura man being faced with a squid that fought back. Our village is not combat experienced. On the other hand, squid sacrifice themselves up to the village economy on a regular basis whereas an untalented tuna slayer in Oma might go a whole season without a single catch. Oma tuna are the most expensive in the world. A few years ago a record breaking tuna fish was sold in Oma for ¥22,000,000 (about $220,000). However, very few tuna fisherman are ever able to make ends meet and most rely on their wives’ petty wages for daily necessities. And the stakes are always being raised—expensive sonar systems to locate schools of tuna, high voltage stunning devices, secret and exotic baits, secret family fishing hooks that are fuzzed out by television censors . . . and still it’s a gamble. The coming generation has been opting out of playing the odds, and it is likely only a matter of time before commercial fleets replace the family fishing outfits. Sad, but it’s not popular to make your wife work as a cleaning lady so that you can accumulate debt and go fishing with expensive gizmos.

A Trophy Tuna on Display in Oma

Final Destination: Oma Cusine


Usually I rely on my own cell-phone photography to illustrate this blog. However, all of the photos contained in today's post have been ripped off from other web pages. Please click on the photos to visit the sites from which they originated.