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2018.07.20 This Summer, Visit Ibukijima While It’s Lively With Iriko Fishing!

Exploring Setouchi #7

Ibukijima Island is a 25-minute boat ride from Kan-onji City in Kagawa Prefecture. The island is situated near the center of the Hiuchinada Open Sea in the Seto Inland Sea, and is the westernmost island on which the Setouchi Triennale is staged.

The main industry on Ibukijima is iriko sardine fishing, and the usually quiet island becomes very lively during the fishing season from June until September.

Iriko sardines are a type of small fish called katakuchi-iwashi that have been boiled and dried. They are commonly called “niboshi.” In Kagawa Prefecture, the dashi broth taken from iriko is standard for making miso soup and other dishes. Of course, it is also a vital ingredient for making the dashi broth for Kagawa’s famous Sanuki udon noodles.
In that way, Sanuki udon is inseparably linked with Ibukijima Island.

Even within the Seto Inland Sea, where the iriko fishing industry flourishes, iriko from Ibukijima have an established reputation for their flavor. I headed to Ibukijima to learn more.

Fishing begins extremely early in the morning, and fishing boats head out into the sea one after another along with the sunrise. During this season, many boats dot the sea, floating on the calm waves.

The iriko are caught using a floating trawl net towed between two boats. The fishing process uses a total of four boats: one that searches for schools of fish, the two boats that tow the trawl net, and a high speed cargo boat for transporting the iriko to the processing factory.

After leaving the coast, the leading boat spots a school of fish, and speeds to the area, lowering the trawl net. Then, the two towing vessels line up side by side, and spread out the large net. A huge amount of iriko fill the net, making it very heavy. The whole crew works together to pull it up, while being careful not to damage the fish. Then, the caught iriko are poured into the live box on the cargo boat, which is waiting on standby.

Now begins the process of making delicious dried iriko sardines.

The cargo boat receives the iriko and hurry to the processing factories on Ibukijima Island. The factories surround the coast, wrapping around the island. There are currently 15 companies producing iriko sardines on Ibukijima. Once the cargo boat reaches the dock, the fish in the tank are sucked up in a wide hose, flowing directly into the factory right next to the dock.

In the factory, they are transported via conveyor belt, which takes the fish to be washed and boiled in hot water. As soon as they are boiled, the fish are immediately taken to the drying machine. After being dried for 10 to 20 hours, the process is complete.

Actually, this rapid production process is one of the crucial aspects of making delicious iriko dried sardines.

On Ibukijima, the fishing area and factories are very close together, making it possible for the fish to be processed while they are still freshly caught, preserving their tasty umami flavor. These sardines are sold throughout Japan under the well-known “Ibuki Iriko” brand name.

Iriko fishing begins at sunrise and continues until sunset, repeating the fishing-to-factory process over and over.

This will continue every day, without rest, until September.

Many people come to Ibukijima from Kan-onji City and elsewhere to assist with the fishing and factory processing, making this season the liveliest time on the island.

According to the island locals, the way to distinguish a delicious iriko sardine is by its stomach. A good iriko sardine has silver skin with no yellowing or flaking. Yellowing is a sign that too much time passed before being processed, and flaking is a sign of damage after being caught. Be sure to choose iriko that look nice and silvery.

Also, the fish are eaten differently depending on their size.

In order from the largest size, there is oba (large size), chuba (medium size), koba (small size), and kaeri (fry). Chuba and koba are the most commonly sold sizes in Japanese supermarkets, as they are easy to use for extracting dashi broth for cooking.

The local islanders eat the large size, after breaking off the innards by hand, as a snack or a side with alcoholic drinks. Kaeri fry are very small, so they are often used as a topping for salads, or with pickled cucumbers, or as tsukudani (simmered in sweet soy sauce).

During this season, many households on Ibukijima eat iriko boiled at the factory. Called “kamaage iriko,” their soft texture and strong flavor make them truly delicious. The fish spoils quickly, so kamaage iriko are not commercially sold.

I’m so jealous of the locals who can enjoy freshly boiled iriko as part of their everyday meals.

Ibukijima was one of the islands to stage the Setouchi Triennale 2013, and it will once again participate in the Autumn period of the 2019 festival. The “Iriko Retreat,” (by MIKAN + Students of Meiji University) is a work on Ibukijima constructed out of iriko steaming trays.

This summer, visit Ibukijima while it’s lively with iriko fishing!

Kan-onji City’s official YouTube channel features a video of iriko fishing.
Please check it out.