Monday, December 18, 2006

Alive to See Shimonoseki

I cannot see her tonight.
I have to give her up
So I will eat fugu.

Yosa Buson (1716–1783)

Just like Mt. Fuji, many westerners try fugu for the experience. The risk that you may be poisoned. In all honesty, I found it to be somewhat less thrilling than gambling (and this is coming from an adrenaline junkie), with the threat of death tossed in. Even with the knowledge that Shimonoseki chefs haven't caused a fugu-related death in sixty years, I have to admit I felt a little nervous. Just a little. For those who aren't aware, fugu (河豚), also known as takifugu, is the Japanese blowfish, a fish whose liver and internal organs contain deadly amounts of the poison tetrodotoxin. There is no known antidote. If the diner somehow injests poisoned fugu, he can only be supported as far as passive medical treatment - respiratory and circulatory assistance.

If you are traveling to the small coastal town of Shimonoseki (下関市) in Japan, it is definitely a worthwhile experience. The Shin-Shimonoseki station is connected to the local JR lines, so travel is convenient. The area surrounding the Shimonoseki station is colorful and rife with shopping. To top it off, Shimonoseki is home to a key international ferry between Japan and Pusan, Korea.

Despite Lonely Planet's recommendations, I'd suggest staying somewhere close to the JR area. The Hinoyama Youth Hostel is cheap (about ¥3000), but you really should take a bus or taxi from Shimonoseki Station to get there. There are already plenty of moderately priced hotels in the station area, like the Via Inn (ホテルヴィアイン). Plus, all the attractions and shopping are close. True, if you want to climb Hinoyama to get a better view of the straight between Honshu and Kyushu (the two islands of Japan), or if you want to be a little closer to the Shimonoseki Kaikyohan (aquarium), by all means travel east.

The aquarium in Shimonoseki costs ¥1800, features a dolphin and otter show, viewings of all the different types of fugu, and some amazing trilobite-like creatures.

The Kaikyo Yume Tower offers a great view of Kyushu and the Shimonseki area, including the Kanmon Kaikyo Bridge between Honshu and Kyushu.

If you are only in Shimonseki for a few hours, there's a good plan for you - the tower, the aquarium, and head back to the station for some fugu dinner and souvenirs. The station souvenir shop has everything from fugu-shaped chocolate to dried fugu, to fugu cookies.

If you are in the mood to "risk your life" (I really don't believe you are doing so, but might as well scare you a little), there are two options for you:

1. If you have time, are with a large group, and not concerned about money, by all means ask the information officer at the station a recommendation for a good fugu restaurant. The experience at a good izakaya is always a plus, and if you throw fugu into the mix... excellent. However, fugu sashimi can be incredibly pricey, running up to ¥20,000/plate, so be careful with your money.

2. If you're in town for a short time and just want to taste fugu for the experience, there's also an excellent restaurant in Shimonoseki Station. I believe it's the only one, but they should have the fugu dinner set on display outside for you to confirm. For less than ¥3000 you can sample all the different kinds of fugu.

- The fugu sashimi is quite exquisite - it is eaten with sauce and not wasabi, but rather some red paste similar to wasabi. Maybe the fugu equivalent.

- The fried fugu tastes exactly like fried chicken. If you're in the mood for that, there's a KFC next to the station.

- The miso is served with boiled fugu inside the soup.

- The hot pot contains a few pieces of boiled fugu, which is also very similar to chicken, both in taste and consistency.

- However, the real kicker is the sake. Japanese sake is of course very potent, but I found the one served with fugu to be very strong. Served hot. A fugu tail fin is dropped inside for extra flavor. Then, the sake is lit on fire and covered to hold in the taste. Very strong, very unique, quite delicious.

Five different types of fugu in one meal - savor it, and tell your friends you're still alive. Also noteworthy - fugu is better known as fuku in Shimonoseki. The city itself hosted the Treaty of Shinomoseki, which effectively ended the first Sino-Japanese War.

With all the traveling I've been doing and my plans for Hokkaido in February, my eikaiwa budget is pretty much drained. It's plenty of money to live on in luxury if you never leave your town - you can buy all the clothes, food, and hostess bar drinks you want. But, if you're planning on doing any exploration of Japan, budget everything wisely. Sayonara.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am researching for a tv show on fugu. can you please tell me the name of the restaurant where you ate fugu or the name of a restaurant in the Shimonoseki area.