A City Tour Of Kesen-numa, Japan's Shark Fin Capital...
By now, regular visitors to this blog are aware of the daily shark carnage at Kesen-numa City, Japan. Today we leave the dock and go on a tour of the city...
But our journey starts on the dock, where a guy is busy ripping the heart out of a dead salmon shark.
He's is doing that because local folk in Kesen-numa City have a peculiar and bloodthirsty habit.
You see, townsfolk in Kesen-numa enjoy eating salmon shark heart sashimi. Try saying that when you're drunk.
Salmon shark hearts are on sale every day in the Umi-no-Ichi fish market. The fish market is situated underneath the shark museum, next door to the wholesale market. All the action takes place on the same block.
Kesen-numa folk say salmon shark heart sashimi makes them strong.
I had a kind e-mail from Susie Watts yesterday who used to work for WildAid, and was in Kesen-numa a few years back. She said that she was shocked by the sheer amount of low end shark-derived products that she had found on sale in Japan, like the shark jerky pictured above. She mentioned shark fin cat food, but I never saw any.
"One of the things that appalled us in Japan was the availability of "low-end" shark fin products: shark fin cat food, cookies, bread.....instant just-add-water shark fin soup, canned soup.....all that stuff."
I, however, did find some shark fin candies.
Still inside the Umi-no-Ichi fish market, all kinds of different shark fin products are on sale, but the most popular by far is shark fin soup.
Abecho, a big fisheries/tourism conglomerate in Kesen-numa, have girls in the market giving away free samples in disposable plastic cups.
A visit to the Abecho website is worth it just to have a laugh at the double speak on their site.
I love their ironic company motto, "Living with the ocean". It makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time.
Shark fin soup at 9am, anybody?
Or perhaps you would like to purchase your very own shark fin to boil up at home?
On a nearby table I found a framed photo of a secret place outside Kesen-numa where they dry the fins in winter. A trader told me it was in the mountains, but I can spy a bit of sea in that photo.
In the summer months Kesen-numa is too hot and humid, so they dry the fins in a warehouse. I am only guessing here, but I think they use giant dehumidifiers. Asking around, other shark fin buyers told me that some fins are sent to China to be dried, but he said the exact location is an extremely well-guarded secret. Much as I pushed, I got absolutely nowhere in my enquiries as to exactly where in China they do the drying. The closest I got was one trader who told me that it was "somewhere near Shanghai". If any readers of this blog in China know where the place is, please drop me a line!
A quick walk around the town, reveals a parallel universe, where even the most basic concepts of marine conservation and environmental protection do not exist.
Adapting slightly from Monday's blog post, just a stone's throw from the dock, is the 'Kesen-numa Rias Shark Museum', which visitors enter through a giant set of shark jaws.
The place is quite interesting, in a very quirky Japanese kind of way. Once inside, tourists are first confronted by real copies of faded front pages of tabloid newspapers from around the world that sensationalize shark attacks on swimmers.
Make no mistake, sharks are bad, evil, a threat to humanity and they should be erdaicated from the face of the earth, the headlines, and so it seems the museum's message screams at us. This despite the fact that humans are statistically far more likely to die from crossing the road, than from an attack by a shark.
So as if to allay all the alarmist fear one is first assaulted with, traumatised vistors to the museum can calm down by petting a cute and cuddly cat shark. At least these Kesen-numa sharks are sake from the knife. By the way, that's my translator in nearly every museum shot so far, as the place was quite empty at 10am on a Tuesday morning!
When you get bored of petting the cute and cuddly cat shark, you can have your photo taken next to a big set of great white shark teeth. And after passing a few more exhibits relating to the natural history of sharks, visitors leaving the museum are forced to pass a glass display box filled with all kinds of shark-derived products.
Shark fin soup in a can, shark cartillage pills which are supposedly good for joint pain, and hand-crafted handbags made from shark leather. But strangely not a word about marine conservation and the critical situation facing global shark stocks due to over-fishing.
Instead of all that environmental rubbish, how about some nice wall-mounted photos (left) detailing the best way to slice up a whale shark in order to get at all those big yummy gill rakers?
And here are some pictures of other peoples photos mounted on giant light boxes in the museum, first up a Kesen-numa City aerial shot.
More fins drying, closely cropped to obscure any recognizable landmarks that could give up a potential clue as to the exact location of the drying compound.
Different Japanese cooking styles of shark fin.
A plastic display bowl of shark fin soup next to a real shark fin, at the restaurant by the museum exit.
Here's a close up of the dock where it all happens.
In the afternoon I went to a shark fin processor factory. The fins, when they are all cleaned up actually look very beautiful.
They have a mother of pearl kind of sheen to them when they are soaked in water.
Once dried, the workers sift through the fins. This could be almost be a photo from Sheung Wan district in Hong Kong - except for the protective hair nets.
I couldn't get a better angle than this. I was not allowed past the doorway.
Interesting diagram on the wall, detailing technical shark fin production stuff in Japanese.
The product lines are very heavily reliant on Chinese-style graphic design. At centre, big industrial catering sized tins of Golden Dragon Brand for hotel and restaurant use only.
In the evening I made sure I found someone Japanese actually eating it.
He had nearly finished it, by the time the necessary permissions were granted to shoot in the restsurant. In Japan, you can't just 'gun it and run it' like you can in China.
Here's a sushi chef in the same restaurant preparing some bonito, another Kesen-numa speciality. Not sure about the sustainability issues here. You would have to ask Casson Trenor.
On the way out of town, I passed this happy smiling blue shark (Prionace glauca) painted on the road.
Kesen-numa is indeed a very strange place. Even after leaving, two and a half hours down the road, you still can't get away from the stuff.
Here it is for sale at the airport in Sendai.
Kesen-numa Part III will be up in a few days...
At this point I would like to thank Tre and Mayumi at Pangeaseed, a small Tokyo NGO for all the invaluable advice they gave me prior to my trip to Japan's Shark Fin Capital. These guys are awesome, and they form part of a semi-underground, grass roots, community-based, collective of artists, designers, photographers and musicians. Their message, (courtesy of the entertaining slideshow on their site), is very plain and simple...
ALEX HOFFORD : HONG KONG CHINA SHARK FIN KESENNUMA JAPAN PHOTOGRAPHER