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Delicacies of Hokkaido: Uni and kombu from the coastal town of Rausu

Delicacies of Hokkaido: Uni and kombu from the coastal town of Rausu

Everyone knows that Hokkaido (北海道) is famous for its delicious seafood, and with the island’s abundance of fisheries, wharfs, and morning markets, you can enjoy fresh seafood almost anywhere in Hokkaido especially in the coastal towns like Rausu Town (羅臼). 


Today, we will be focusing on two seafood that Rausu is famous for: sea urchin (ウニ uni) and kelp (昆布 kombu).


Fishing for uni

Boats fishing sea urchin off the coast of Rausu, on the eastern side of the Shiretoko Peninsula in eastern Hokkaido. (Image credit: Hokkaido Tourism Organization)


The town of Rausu sits on the eastern coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula (知床半島 Shiretoko-hantō), which was designated a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site in 2005. A small town with a population of no greater than 6000 people, Rausu is well-known across Japan for the vast variety of fresh seafood which is fished on its coast.


Ezo Bafu uni, a type of sea urchin fished off the coast of Rausu. (Image credit: Hokkaido Tourism Organization)


The variety of sea urchin which is fished in Rausu is called Ezo Bafun Uni (エゾバフンウニ). This sea urchin feeds on the highly nutritious kelp which grows in the waters just off the coast of Rausu, giving it a distinct flavour, sweeter than that of sea urchin fished elsewhere.


The sea urchin fishing season in Rausu begins at the end of January, when the sea is at its coldest. Fishermen board a small boat and head out to sea, picking the sea urchins out of the ocean one by one, using a net. This careful procedure can only be carried out in fair weather conditions when the water is clear and calm.


The sea urchin are split carefully so as not to damage the delicate insides (left). Prepared sea urchin is packed up and ready to be sent to supermarkets across Japan (right). (Image credit: Hokkaido Tourism Organization)


Sea urchins can be fished in Rausu until around mid-June, when the seawater begins to warm up. Each sea urchin is carefully split and hand-washed, with great care taken not to damage the delicate insides.


Enjoying freshly-caught uni in Rausu!

A rice bowl topped with fresh seasonal seafood, including uni. (Image credit: Hokkaido Tourism Organization)


Of course, lovers of seafood shouldn’t miss out on a visit to Rausu to try out freshly caught sea urchin right at the point of origin! From February until June, it is possible to try out freshly caught sea urchin in restaurants around Rausu. We recommend trying out uni-don (うに丼), a bowl of steaming hot rice topped with a generous portion of fresh sea urchin!


Prepare your own seafood bowl!

Participants are instructed on how to carefully split and prepare the sea urchin (top left). Participants create their own seafood rice bowls using the uni they prepared earlier (top right). A delicious seafood rice bowl made using fresh uni and other seasonal seafood (bottom left). Uni sashimi served with soy sauce and wasabi for dipping is considered a delicacy in Japan (bottom right). (Image credit: Hokkaido Tourism Organization)


There’s nothing tastier than a fresh meal using seasonal ingredients which you have prepared with your own hands! Those who want to learn more about Rausu Sea urchin should try out an uni-wari (ウニ割), sea urchin splitting experience, during which you can learn how to split and prepare the sea urchin to make your own seafood rice bowl.


Shiretoko Rausu Hamada Shoten (知床羅臼 丸魚 濱田商店)
Address: 365-1 Rebuncho, Rausu, Menashi-gun, Hokkaido 086-1834
Nearest station: Shiretokoshari Station (知床斜里駅)
Access: 1.5-hour drive from the station
Opening hours: 8am–5pm (Closed on Mondays)
Admission fee (For uni-wari experience): ¥4,600–¥4,800 (Currently suspended)
Tel: +81 153-87-3311


Harvesting for kombu

(Image credit: Hokkaido Tourism Organization)


Have you ever wondered what makes Japanese food culture unlike any other? The secret lies in kombu. The coastlines of Hokkaido are home to a variety of species of this important ingredient, which has been a mainstay of Japanese food culture for centuries. An incredible 90% of Japanese kombu is harvested in Hokkaido, making it a vital part of the region’s fishing industry.


(Image credit: Hokkaido Tourism Organization)


The kombu is harvested with extreme care so as not to harm the “underwater forest” which serves an integral food source and spawning ground for all manner of sea life. Dried kombu is used to produce dashi (出汁 Japanese soup stock), the soup stock which is a fundamental ingredient of traditional Japanese cuisine.


(Image credit: Hokkaido Tourism Organization)


Of all the varieties of kombu in Hokkaido, kombu from Rausu Town is considered one of the most luxurious. Rausu kombu grows in a small but particularly nutrient-rich area, and is subject to a complicated 3-week long preparation process, the end result of which is a high quality ingredient which is greatly  sought after by famous gourmet restaurants across Japan.


If you’re visiting Eastern Hokkaido, be sure to make a stop at Rausu and enjoy this coastal town’s best products—uni and kombu!


This article is written in collaboration with Hokkaido Tourism Organization.
Header image credit: Hokkaido Tourism Organization.


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