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How does fresh seafood travel from Japan to Vancouver?

A lot of the magic boils down to technical know-how and decades of experience. Today, Takuya-san will show you the journey that your seafood takes before arriving at your door. Although there are even more secrets to the trade, we hope that you will learn a few things and become more interested in the wonderful world of seafood.

Getting the day's catch

Across Japan, the day starts with divers and fishermen sailing into the ocean to do what they do best: catching fish in their hometown. Their catch is immediately processed using advanced techniques specialized for their type of seafood, a few of which will be described below. Only the best of the catch is selected and sent out to Toyosu Market/directly to Takuya.

Pictured on left: a traditional method of searching for sea urchin in Hokkaido.

Preservation Techniques

Ikejime: a traditional Japanese method that is now popular around the world - this technique prevents the fish from producing lactic acid and ammonia, which are the compounds that you taste when a fish 'goes bad'. Ikejime also increases the depth of a fish's umami when it is aged, meaning it is highly sought after by high end sushi restaurants in Japan to bring out each fish's distinct flavour.

Ogakuzu: wood shavings are used in some cases to maintain the freshness of large crustaceans like ise-ebi (Ise lobster) and kegani (Hokkaido horsehair crab). It may sound weird, but wood shavings are often even better than water for keeping live crabs fresh. Their natural density makes them perfect for maintaining the optimal temperature, preserving just the right amount of moisture, and helping the crab breathe more easily.

Water: Sometimes, the best method to transport seafood is to keep it the way it was found. Some types of seafood (like live abalone) are kept in water tanks with an oxygen apparatus. The most important point here is to minimize the amount of time abalone spends in the water tank, because there are no nutrients for the it to feed on. Two abalones may look the same when compared side by side, but the amount of time each spends in the tank will completely change its flavour. This is why trust, which takes years to build, is so important in the high-end seafood industry.

Ensui uni: sea urchin is often pictured in fancy wooden boxes at restaurants, but many chefs actually prefer ensui uni (uni in salt water) when cooking at home. This is because most boxed uni contains a preservative known as myouban (alum), which is what usually causes the slight but unpleasant aftertaste that you might notice in uni. Keeping the uni in salt water means you can taste uni in its most natural form (its sublime sweetness, creaminess, and texture). However, the lack of preservatives means that it only keeps for a short time, which is why most restaurants prefer not to use ensui uni despite its pure taste. Ensui uni is hard to come by even in Japan, so please try it if you have the chance. For a more interesting experience, we suggest trying a side by side taste test between ensui uni and boxed uni to see if you can tell the difference!

Himono: some fish are brined with salt and lightly dried overnight ('ichiya-boshi'), because this process brings out deeper flavours and umami when cooked. The fish used for himono must be extremely fresh (as fresh as any fish used for sashimi), and the details make all the difference. This is why Takuya only picks the highest quality himono, which are made from the best catch of the day and are brined as soon as the boat arrives back in port to maximize freshness.

It might sound counterintuitive to dry fresh fish with so much care, but this step is actually crucial for making good grilled fish. Izakaya chefs in Japan swear by grilled himono—fresh fish doesn't even come close to its depth and richness.

On top of how delicious it is, there is no easier food to prepare. Because the fish is already de-scaled and butterflied, all you need to do is to put it on the grill and serve with daikon oroshi (grated radish) and light soy sauce. Squeeze some sudachi juice on top to taste. You may also use an oven if you don't have a grill, but you won't get the same grill lines or fragrant char.

These are only a few examples of preservation techniques that keep your food so fresh. (In some cases, they even enhance the flavour!) Of course, there are so many more techniques (such as aging and konbu-jime) and much depth to each, but we hope that you now have a better idea of the hard work that goes behind the seafood you eat.

Toyosu Market (formerly known as Tsukiji Market)

Toyosu market is considered by many to be the center of seafood distribution in Japan. This is where the highest quality ingredients are sent, and where the best sushi chefs in Tokyo source their ingredients (many chefs will personally visit the market every morning to decide what to make for the day). Efficiency is key here: the day's catch is sent to Toyosu from across the country via the fastest method, be it by bullet train or air. Seafood arrives by midnight, and the auctions begin by around 4:30 am. Because all the action happens during this period, Takuya-san used to wake up at midnight everyday when he worked at Tsukiji Market! By sunrise, everything is already shipped out to their buyers.

Because seafood is judged and ranked against each other within its category by trained experts, items with a higher auction ranking will come at a steeper price point. The adage "you get what you pay for" applies here. Our buyer will also make his own judgment about which item is best, because a higher rank doesn't always mean better quality - there's still a lot of experience and variation involved in selecting the best seafood. This is the main reason why seafood can look so similar to the untrained eye yet taste so different—there might be other stores selling the same products, but Takuya-san is confident that his selection will be the freshest and highest quality.

Takuya-san also sources many products directly from local fishermen, so these do not go through Toyosu market and arrive directly in Vancouver.

Air journey

Seafood is immediately loaded onto a temperature controlled aircraft, arriving in Vancouver in a matter of 8 hours. (8 hours is less time spent than putting salmon in the fridge overnight!) With such a short flight time and some of the most advanced preservation techniques, the seafood is guaranteed to be fresher than anything you can spot at your local supermarket.


Arrival in Vancouver

Once the aircraft lands at YVR, the seafood is delivered directly to your door. We hope that you've learnt a bit more about where your seafood comes from, and that you can see why high end seafood tastes so different. Takuya works extra hard to source the freshest seafood for you—if something doesn't meet his standards, he wouldn't even consider putting it on the menu.