Bringing in the Fish

Fish in Tateyama isn’t only fresh, it’s personal. You can see it up close and non-industrial at any of several tiny marinas.

Come out around 5 a.m. one day to Banda marina at one of those bends in the road where a few homes are clustered against misty hills to one side and the sea on the other. One-man boats bob up and down in the offing till their nets are full and then pull up onto the beach and head for the market.

Watch for a slightly larger boat in the gray-blue waters, with 6 or 7 men emptying a long, curtain-like net that has held all the fish swimming into the offing since the night before. If the men are out there more than half an hour, today’s catch is a good one.

One of the waiting fishmongers peers into a pair of binoculars, then calls out, “They’re coming in!” and suddenly the tiny pier is a whirl of activity. A small tractors drags huge bins filled with seawater into place. The boat pulls up to the dock, and a bucket brigade forms, sloshing the fish from boat’s hold to buckets, and the buckets from hand to hand, till the bins are brimming with fat, floppy fish to be rinsed and then tumbled out again, sorted, and weighed. Small fish are pulled out of the mouths of the bigger fish. Hawks circle overhead and gulls cry raucously for their bit. A cat loiters about the bins, waiting for a treat.

Shiira 4 kg, hagi 400 g, hamasu 600 g, urugo 2 kilos,” the guys call out, “sokashi, aji, sanma!”

Most of these fish will be taken to Funakata pier, Tateyama’s main wholesale market, first stop between sea and the great Tsukiji market across the Bay. But every now and then a couple of fish disappear into one of the men’s private stashes. Two hours after the boat first set out, the entire process is complete.

While you watch them sort and sift and weigh and calculate the day’s take, you might meet the hoteliers who stop by to requisition their own favorites, which they gut right then and there by the edge of the dock. If you’re lucky, they’ll invite you back to their homes for a taste.