Delicious Seafood! Yamakaku, a Popular Restaurant in Fukushima

Even a decade after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant incident, the damaging rumors surrounding local seafood have continued to circulate. MATCHA visited Yamakaku, a Japanese restaurant in Iwaki City, and asked the owner, Mr. Kawamura, about the local residents' feelings.   
2022.01.18

The Former Japanese Prime Minister and Former USA

讓福島人氣海鮮餐廳「Yamakaku」端上的佳餚告訴您福島水產的安全與美味

Photo taken at Yamakaku

Seafood caught in Hamadori, the Pacific coastal area of Fukushima Prefecture and one of Japan's prominent fishing grounds, is famous for its refined taste.

Those who have the chance to visit Hamadori should not miss out on the local seafood. One of the famous eateries handling local catches is Yamakaku, a Japanese restaurant in Yotsukura-machi, Iwaki City.

The restaurant can be reached in about 15 minutes by foot from JR Yotsukura Station. It is also a 15 minute drive from the Iwaki-Yotsukura interchange (IC), a convenient place to visit either by train or car.

讓福島人氣海鮮餐廳「Yamakaku」端上的佳餚告訴您福島水產的安全與美味

Photo taken at Yamakaku

The kitchen and restaurant are both on the second floor of the building. Once you pass through the red noren (shop curtain), the sight of Naonori Kawamura, the owner, preparing fish will come into view.

讓福島人氣海鮮餐廳「Yamakaku」端上的佳餚告訴您福島水產的安全與美味

Photo taken at Yamakaku

There are framed autographs on the wall by famous personalities who visited this restaurant in the past, including Shinzo Abe, the former prime minister of Japan, and Caroline Kennedy, the former US Ambassador to Japan. This indicates that both have tasted the fine seafood dishes from here.

The atmosphere and menu guarantee a first-rate experience.

A Cheerful, Positive-thinking Owner

讓福島人氣海鮮餐廳「Yamakaku」端上的佳餚告訴您福島水產的安全與美味

Photo taken at Yamakaku

Mr. Kawamura has been a chef for 32 years, managing the restaurant with his natural cheerfulness.

He used to work for an onsen ryokan (hot spring inn) in Koriyama City for 20 years. After returning to his hometown of Iwaki City, Mr. Kawamura opened Yamakaku (*) on April 22, 2010. But on March 11, 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred.

Although the tsunami reached a swimming beach located a few meters away, there was no damage to the new building.

*This is a yago (store name) of the Kawamura family, which has been in the fish-brokering business at Yotsukura port for many generations.

Purchasing Fresh Fish at the Market

讓福島人氣海鮮餐廳「Yamakaku」端上的佳餚告訴您福島水產的安全與美味

Photographed at the fish market of Numanouchi Branch of Iwaki City Fishery Cooperative in June 2021.

Mr. Kawamura's day starts at eight o'clock in the morning.

The fishers of Iwaki City leave the port before sunrise and return with their fresh catch in the early hours. Shortly after, brokers and chefs come to the fish market to purchase fresh products. This is the time when the market comes to life.

Mr. Kawamura goes to the Numanouchi Branch of the Iwaki City Fishery Cooperative to purchase the seafood for his restaurant.

讓福島人氣海鮮餐廳「Yamakaku」端上的佳餚告訴您福島水產的安全與美味

Photographed at the fish market of Numanouchi Branch of Iwaki City Fishery Cooperative in June 2021.

With many years of experience, Mr. Kawamura can recognize the freshness and taste of a fish at a glance. To measure the product's freshness, he checks the skin color, condition of its gills, and shape.

讓福島人氣海鮮餐廳「Yamakaku」端上的佳餚告訴您福島水產的安全與美味

Photo taken at Yamakaku

After taking his purchase to the restaurant, Mr. Kawamura starts his preparation.

Watching the chef masterfully cutting fish into three pieces filled the writer's mind with anticipation of the next dish.

The Chef's Views on Fukushima Seafood

讓福島人氣海鮮餐廳「Yamakaku」端上的佳餚告訴您福島水產的安全與美味

Photo taken at Yamakaku

After the earthquake, the farmers and fishers of Fukushima Prefecture were troubled by rumors regarding the incident at the nuclear power plant.

We asked Mr. Kawamura, a resident and restaurant owner of the disaster stricken area, what he thought about the circulating stories.

讓福島人氣海鮮餐廳「Yamakaku」端上的佳餚告訴您福島水產的安全與美味

Photo taken at Yamakaku

He confidently replied, "I'm not worried at all." While the writer was surprised by the response, it fits an upbeat person like Mr. Kawamura.

"All of the Fukushima seafood undergoes a strict screening process, so there's nothing to worry about," he added.

The fishery cooperatives in Fukushima have set a safety standard for Caesium at 50 becquerels per kilogram (*1), which is stricter than the standard set by the Japanese government. For more information about the screening, please check this article.

Any fish that surpasses the benchmark will not be distributed, so all of the seafood on the market is safe.

讓福島人氣海鮮餐廳「Yamakaku」端上的佳餚告訴您福島水產的安全與美味

Photo taken at Yamakaku

"The safety of seafood is not a problem. I'm always thinking about seasonal menus, how to arrange them, and how I can serve fresh, fine-tasting fish to my customers."

Preserving the Iwaki tradition of consuming fish caught in the area is another one of his goals.

His words alone illustrate a profile of Mr. Kawamura as a positive-minded individual. It may be the reason why Yamakaku is frequented by locals and tourists.

*1: The benchmark set by the Fukushima fishery cooperatives for Caesium is 50 becquerels (Bq) per kilogram (kg). The Japanese standard for food is 100 Bq per kg. The American standard is 1,200 Bq per kg.

The Fine Seafood Served at Yamakaku

讓福島人氣海鮮餐廳「Yamakaku」端上的佳餚告訴您福島水產的安全與美味

Hama Gozen (1,850 yen after tax)

Even though we came here for an interview, it wouldn't be right to leave without tasting Yamakaku's seafood dishes.

The writer chose the Hama Gozen. The plate in the middle has an assortment of fresh sashimi on top of ice. On the plate on the upper right there is fish and vegetable tempura while on the one on the upper left there's boiled komon-kasube (ocellate spot skate).

The boiled ocellate spot skate pairs well with rice.

讓福島人氣海鮮餐廳「Yamakaku」端上的佳餚告訴您福島水產的安全與美味

Hama Gozen (1,850 yen after tax). A sashimi of houbou (gurnard) in front and katsuo (skipjack tuna) in the back.

Houbou (gurnard) that was caught on the day of the interview is included in the sashimi assortment. All of the dishes are carefully prepared by Mr. Kawamura.

It has a firm texture with the umami taste increasing with each bite. In fact, the writer tasted gurnard for the first time and was blown away by its delicious taste!

讓福島人氣海鮮餐廳「Yamakaku」端上的佳餚告訴您福島水產的安全與美味

Deep-fried Mehikari (880 yen after tax)

The next dish was deep-fried mehikari (round greeneye).

Characterized by its big, shiny eyes, the fish has been designated as the symbolic sea creature of Iwaki City.

Mr. Kawamura fried the greeneye fish after sprinkling them with potato starch. The crispy texture and delicate taste were impressive.

The writer inquired how the chef thinks up new dishes.

"It's all instinct. The menus just pop into my head."

The answer made the writer think about re-visiting Yamakaku during another season to taste what he comes up with next.

Taste Safe Seafood from Fukushima

The writer, who had the chance to taste the delicious Fukushima seafood in person, was moved by Mr. Kawamura's attitude toward the products.

He is a cheerful, positive-minded person, and our writer instantly became his admirer.

If you have the chance to visit Iwaki City, don't forget to drop by Yamakaku to taste his superb seafood dishes.

Yamakaku

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Please note that business hours will change in the case a state of emergency is declared.

Written by Jacky Chen
Sponsored by Fukushima Prefecture
In cooperation with Yamakaku

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.