Some might not find winter a very welcome season in Japan. Especially on the northern side of the country, it is heralded by a bitter cold and seems to bring life to a halt, driving us all back into the comfort of our kotatsu.
But there are reasons to look forward to the Japanese winter – and even some that will bring us out of our houses!
Not surprisingly, the greatest of these are food-related. One that is especially esteemed in Hyogo is the crab caught off the Sea of Japan coast and brought to the port in Kasumi, in northern Hyogo.
Kasumi is famous nationwide for its crab catch, and a special train from Osaka is even scheduled during the winter months so that you can arrive, stuff yourself with crab, and return home all in a day trip. You’ll even be greeted at the station by this hilarious crab mascot.
Why Kasumi crab? Well, the king crabs caught off the Sea of Japan are especially sweet-tasting and large in size, and are called Matsuba crab to distinguish them from lower-quality crabs from faraway seas.
Kasumi is one of the major crab ports in this part of Japan, which means that if you visit Kasumi, you can eat the very freshest crab available.
The best way to do this is to stay in a minshuku, a traditional Japanese lodging more affordable than a ryokan. If you stay at a minshuku, you’ll be able to enjoy a full-course meal of crab dishes in the comfort of your own room.
And that’s what we did at Marusei, a delightful little minshuku with a low-key environment and a focus on the food.
The meal starts with deliciously sweet and cold crab sashimi.
Then, the delicately soft and fluffy steamed crab.
Western-style flavors make an appearance in this gratin-in-a-crabshell.
The meal concludes with a filling and nutritious crab hotpot.
The balanced Japanese-style breakfast includes grilled fish, sashimi, egg, and a variety of vegetables, as well as a crab-flavored miso soup.
You’ll leave Marusei feeling relaxed and rejuvenated… and very well-fed!
If you’re looking for an unusual experience, it’s worth your while to wake up early in the morning to witness the crab auction. At about 5:30 in the morning, fishing ships return to the port after about three days at sea.
It’s dark as night at the fishing port, but hundreds of boxes of crab on ice have been unloaded. There are even some boxes of live crab – these fetch premium prices.
Once all the crab has been unloaded, the auctioneer from Japan Fisheries Cooperatives arrives and the bidding begins!
This was honestly a completely bewildering event for me. The auctioneer began talking in a sing-song voice and walking slowly down the endless rows of crab. I couldn’t tell what he was saying, and my Japanese companion told me that he couldn’t understand a word either!
As the auctioneer walked, he indicated various rows of crab with a pole. The auctioneer’s assistant was scribbling furiously, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell from the mysterious gestures who had bought the crab or for what price.
Still, though, it was completely fascinating to witness, and we got to see some other exotic sea life on sale as well.
By the time the auction had finished, dawn was barely breaking over the town of Kasumi.
All-in-all, highly recommended. Be sure to call the fisheries cooperative to make sure that a fishing boat will return to port on the day you’re in town. Japan Fisheries Tajima: 0796-36-1331.
Hours: Check-in: 3 PM. Check-out: 10 AM.
Address: 31-1 Kasumi Kasumi-ku Kami-cho Mikata-gun, Hyogo 669-6544
Website: http://www.kaniyado-marusei.jp/index.htm (Japanese)
How To Get There
From JR Sannomiya Station, take the Limited Express Hamakaze to Kasumi Station (2 hours and 50 minutes). A shuttle bus will pick you up from the station.
Three Hamakaze trains leave per day, and a reserved seat is recommended (available at the green ticket machines or Midori-no-Madoguchi windows at major JR stations).
Buy lunch and drinks to eat on the train while you relax and enjoy the Japanese countryside scenery! This is the best way to travel on the limited express.