Meet the Squid Prince! Visit Miyako on the Scenic Sanriku Coast
Miyako, a port city in Iwate, is famous for the scenic views that can be enjoyed from the train window when riding the Sanriku Railway Rias Line. The amazing local seafood is an additional reason to visit! We delve into the charms of Miyako as introduced by the Squid Prince!
Sanriku Railway Rias Line: Made Famous by the TV Series Amachan
"Amachan" (*) was a hit morning TV series broadcast in 2013. The Sanriku Railway Rias Line, the railway featured in the ever-popular show, has its headquarters in Miyako, a city in Iwate Prefecture. The railway's name comes from the Sanriku Rias Coast, which encompasses Iwate.
The Sanriku Railway was devastated and heavily damaged by the tsunami that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011.
Restoration work on the railway was completed in 2014, three years after the natural disaster. However, the railway was again heavily damaged by a deadly typhoon in 2019. After several ordeals, the entire railway line finally reopened in 2020.
*"Amachan" is a trademark of NHK Enterprises, Inc.
The Sanriku Railway Rias Line runs along the Sanriku Coast and is a major transportation route connecting various cities. Occasionally, you can even see spectacular ocean views from the train windows. It's an important railroad for residents and railway fans alike.
Photo by Pixta
The Sanriku Rias Coast is a jagged coastline formed by river erosion and land subsidence. The area is scattered with small rocky islands and steep cliffs along the coastline.
Near the Sanriku Rias Coast, warm and cold currents intersect, resulting in substantial amounts of plankton that thrive in the waters. Schools of fish gather in this area to feed on this plankton.
Thanks to these conditions, the Sanriku Rias Coast is one of the world's top three fishing spots. Coastal fishing is prevalent due to the peculiar topography of the coast.
Seafood in Miyako Shared by the Squid Prince
Miyako was popular for its coastal fishing. However, the city faced unprecedented disaster due to the Great East Japan Earthquake.
One person became the central figure behind the restoration of the local seafood processing industry: the "Squid Prince," a local celebrity known by everyone in the Sanriku coastal area.
Kyowa Fishery: A Seafood Processing Company
The Great East Japan Earthquake led to the creation of the "Squid Prince."
The person known as the Squid Prince is originally a company director named Ryota Suzuki. He used to work at Kyowa Fishery, a seafood processing company, in his hometown Miyako.
At the time, Kyowa Fishery processed and shipped local seafood products, with squid as their main product, to various parts of Japan.
After working in the restaurant industry in Sendai, Mr. Suzuki returned to his hometown and began working at Kyowa Fishery. Understandably, he grew tired of his daily routine of buying ingredients at the market. He also felt the pressure of being a second-generation company employee and did not feel passionate about his work.
Escape from Despair! The Creation of the Squid Prince
Miyako’s fish market following its reconstruction (photo taken in 2022)
On the afternoon of March 11, 2011, a tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake struck various areas in the Tohoku region.
Mr. Suzuki worried about his colleagues and rushed to the fish market. What he saw that day was a terrible sight that he witnessed for the first time in his life. The sporadic honks from destroyed vehicles still ring in his ears today.
Picture courtesy of Givee Inc.
"My company is really going to go bankrupt..."
The company relied on what was thought to be an inexhaustible supply of the ocean's resources. By no means did they ever expect to be unable to catch fish or experience a shortage of food processing workers.
Amid the despair, Mr. Suzuki reconsidered the added value of processed seafood products, which are easier for consumers to prepare. In the early days of the disaster, he remembered someone telling him, "Wouldn't Squid Prince make a good title?"
What happened next was Mr. Suzuki courageously purchased a costume crown online. Upon putting on the crown, he became the "Squid Prince" and began marching through the streets to promote seafood products for Miyako, Sanriku, and the Tohoku region.
This is how the Squid Prince looks back on those days.
According to Mr. Suzuki, "It was pretty embarrassing to call myself a 'prince' and go out in public like that. I was constantly mistaken for a weird person."
He added, "But putting on the crown became symbolic of 'throwing out my weak self.' If you don't stand up, then no one will. I was determined to continue onwards with this mantra in mind."
Taste Miyako’s Seafood Delicacies!
Photo taken at the Miyako City Gyosai Market
A large corporation would have departments involved in product development, supply, and marketing. But the Squid Prince had to do everything by himself, which was tough.
However, it was his knowledge of the sea, his compassion towards fishers unmatched by other companies, and his persuasive power to challenge himself that made it possible for him to share the delicious Sanriku seafood with hundreds of people.
Ika Somen (Squid Noodles): Easy to Eat in a Well-Packaged Cup
The first idea brainstormed by the Squid Prince to promote Miyako's processed seafood products was to make them less daunting to purchase.
The first product he improved was Ika Somen (raw squid slices resembling somen noodles) made by Kyowa Fishery. The product was initially packaged on a plastic tray. But by taking a design cue from natto cups, he changed the product's packaging to a paper cup used for ice cream. It contains low-fat and high-protein squid selected by the Squid Prince himself.
This unique combination of packaging and product became a hit. At its height, the production quantity produced 24,000 servings in one day.
Picture courtesy of Kyowa Fishery
The serving size per cup of the Ika Somen was also reduced to create pockets of "blank spaces." By doing so, the consumer can add any toppings, such as kimchi or mentaiko (spicy pollack roe), and customize it to their liking.
Ika Somen is not only available at fish markets and supermarkets, but you can also buy it at convenience stores (Lawson) in Miyako.
The product can be easily eaten straight from the cup after defrosting. The texture is also moderately firm with a subtle flavor. It pairs deliciously with Kyowa Fishery's original Ika Somen sauce.
The Prince's Luxury Fried Cod as Seen on TV
The Prince's Luxury Fried Cod is another signature product of Kyowa Fishery. There's a reason why the word "luxury" is featured in the name.
Most commercially sold frozen fried cod is mixed with meat from white fish, such as Alaska pollack. Furthermore, the distance between the factory and the fishing harbor causes a loss of flavor due to repeated freezing and defrosting.
However, the Prince's Luxury Fried Cod uses generous amounts of high-quality and locally raised Pacific cod. Additionally, a special freezing method is utilized to preserve freshness that results in soft, juicy meat.
This product also obtained HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) certification for exporting to the United States.
A tried-and-true method recommended by the Squid Prince is adding a dash of soy sauce and then eating it with tartar sauce.
Picture courtesy of Kyowa Fishery
Under its crispy batter is soft and flaky Pacific cod meat, which becomes more flavorful and prominent with soy sauce.
Notable Sightseeing Destinations in Miyako
In addition to eating local food, you should enjoy some sightseeing while in Miyako. The Sanriku Coast, where delicious seafood is cultivated, is home to several wonderful sightseeing destinations along its coastline.
1. Jodogahama Beach
Jodogahama Beach comes to mind as the most famous sightseeing spot in Miyako. The beach is inside Sanriku Fukko National Park, characterized by gorgeous blue skies and emerald waters.
On the other side of the ocean, you can see a small island with sheer cliffs and towering rocks. The island is overgrown with green pine trees, a sight that captivates visitors with different appearances each season. From afar, you can also spot the jagged coastline unique to this coast.
The beach is especially popular for its scenic beauty and ranks among "the top eight new views of Miyako."
2. Jodogahama Rest House
Want a panoramic view of Jodogahama Beach? We suggest the observation deck at Jodogahama Rest House next to Jodogahama Beach.
This location has more charms than simply being a photogenic spot. You can try a rare dish called "Bottled Raw Cod Bindon" made with Pacific cod sashimi at Hamasho Uminekotei, a restaurant attached to the resthouse.
Cod is normally not prepared as sashimi. This is due to the fish having conditions that make it ideal for bacterial growth, making it difficult to preserve.
These two conditions must be met: a production area must be nearby, and the cod must be high quality. Only then can its fine, delicate texture and flavor be enjoyed.
In addition to Bindon, various products are sold at Jodogahama Rest House's gift shop. These products include sea urchin, a must-have delicacy in Iwate during the summers, high-quality hair crab, and more!
3. Blue Grotto
Want to deepen your knowledge of the charms of Jodogahama Beach? You should not only go on a sightseeing boat tour but explore the Blue Grotto via a boat from Jodogahama Marine House.
The waters are immensely clear so that you can enjoy emerald green waters at the Blue Grotto, even on cloudy days. Sometimes, the waters will be a mystical, dreamy sky blue. Occasionally, this seawater flows into the cave and appears like a fountain.
You can take a boat to admire the patterns of large rocks near the Blue Grotto. You may likely spot some rocks shaped like a skull, lion, and other incredible shapes that can be viewed from various angles.
4. Miyako Fish Market and Miyako City Gyosai Market
In Japan, auctions normally occur only in the mornings at fish markets. Miyako Fish Market, however, holds their auctions twice a day: once in the morning and once in the afternoon when the trawl fishing boats leave the harbor.
The fish market has rubber boots and hats in many sizes for visitors to wear. This comes in handy if the weather turns wet.
If you're watching the morning fish auction, don't forget to try a seafood rice bowl at Uoichiba Shokudo inside the marketplace. The dish is available at a reasonable price and served with generous toppings. It's also made with fresh ingredients.
Gyosai Market is another location near the Fish Market that supports residents' daily lives.
They sell frozen products like the Prince's Luxury Fried Cod—a product mentioned earlier in this article—along with seafood, fresh vegetables, and fruits. You might even see locals selling their homegrown fruits and vegetables at the market.
Rediscover the Local Charms of Iwate Prefecture!
Many people learned about the Sanriku Coast's gorgeous ocean scenery and thriving seafood industry through the TV series "Amachan."
But let's shift our attention from the TV show to the real world. Upon doing so, you'll see passionate people like the Squid Prince making efforts to share the charms of food and sightseeing in Miyako while cooperating with locals.
Come visit Miyako and rediscover the local charms of Iwate Prefecture!
Main image by Pixta
Written by Lin
Sponsored by The Reconstruction Seafood Processing Industry Market Recovery Promotion Center