Let's take a look at the Japanese local life. Small fish
retailers are going out of business. The ones still in business
seem to be having a dull time.
Leaving the New Rising Sun Restaurant feeling a little bit
drunk I got on the Yamanote Circular Line and strolled along
to Okachimachi, where you can find Ameya (Candy store)
Side Street, to say shortly, Ameyoko (Candy Street) beside
the elevated railway.
There were quite a few fish stores around this side street
that were the remnants of a black market that used to sell candy
made by saccharin, disposed of by the government shortly after
World War II.
According to the main voice of the Japanese fish business,
the fish sold here were thought to be cheap and poor in quality.
The reasons are not noticed by fish amateurs.
Maybe the Tokyo Tukiji Central wholesale Market, which
represents the Japanese fish business, has too severe an eye of
checking and price-fixing.
There are some fish in this Candy Street that make people
want to say, "Hey! Why are these fish No. 2 grade!?"
-- Slight shortcomings in appearance; the ways of grading --
are some reasons, and those reasons are also something like
targets by which fish dealers try to get bargain prices.
So, it seems to be true that, Candy Street is making its own
way of life by utilizing the other side of the professional's
point of view.
Most of the fish stores in Candy Street tend to sell salted
goods such as salted salmon, salmon roe and cod roe etc..
It is because these goods are suitable to sell and keep in
One store was sticking out a table towards the street and
selling packs of snow crabs.
When I was taking a look at it, a clerk came out from the
"Hey man! You buy some snow crab? Good stuff, that
The clerk seemed to be Chinese.
I answered nothing.
"This already boiled. Defrost and ready to eat. Simple,
huh?" said the clerk, without pausing.
The pack of 4 to 5 shoulders (usually, crabs are sold by
shoulders, which is a unit, containing nails, feet and shoulder
meat) of snow crab was 1,500 yen.
A pretty reasonable price, I thought.
"What's the shortcoming?" I asked. That was a question I
couldn't figure out. "Does the crabs have meat?"
Some crabs are really stuffed with meat. Some are not.
"No sweat. Quality guaranteed," said the young clerk
looking a little bit surprised, but maybe on purpose.
The colour of the shells was good.
Some nails had cracks on the surface, but cracks were
evidence of having lots of meat inside and thus good quality.
Meanwhile, a Chinese couple came on by, and they picked
up a pack of crab and bought it just in front of me. I was still
deeply in the process of deciding.
The Chinese clerk, after receiving money from the couple,
picked up a pack of crab from the big bunch and stuck it close
to my nose.
"Hey man. You believe me, okay? Good crab, no cheat-
The pack that he was sticking out was a little poor in colour
but seemed to have some extra shoulders packed in: perhaps 1
or 2 shoulders more than the other packs.
I suspected then that it might have been a product from the
Seeing that I was being quiet, the clerk then started to try
"Hey boss! 1,500 yen mean nothing, I know. Please be no
Meanwhile, another pack was sold.
I compared the weights of the packs.
The clerk had given me a heavy one, truly.
"Hey! You buy or no buy?" said the clerk coming back
from attending another customer.
"The colour's no good."
"Colour no mean anything! You no buy crab, okay!"
I took out my wallet and gave the clerk 2 thousand yen.
The clerk received the money and gave me the change first.
Then, he put the pack of snow crabs in a paper sack and tossed
it to me.
Well, I figured I would find out if the Candy Street fish
reputation of being cheap and poor was true or not by eating
the crabs at home.
If you want to buy ordinally fish at an ordinally price, then
you should go to a supermarket. There, you will find fish
with 30 to 40% margin plus cost, displayed in cold boxes.
In the basement floor of Tobu Department Store in
Ikebukuro, Tokyo, there is a fish shop called Hokushin.
Compared to the Candy Street's reputation of cheap and
poor, this Hokushin is likely to be called good and expensive.
Expensive fish are not always good fish in quality, but
taking a look at this Hokushin fish shop display, there seems
to be nothing but good fish, though so expensive.
This Hokushin is really crowded.
If it is usual to say that customers who go to supermarkets
are attracted to cheap prices, then customers who come to this
Hokushin must be people who want to buy something good,
no matter how expensive it is.
Shops like Hokushin try not to sell the same goods as
supermarkets. For example, they try to deal in very rare and
expensive fish, or cut very large slices from very large fish,
which is a contrast with the supermarket way of dealing.
Supermarkets deal in very common and popular fish that have
large catches enough to manage a year-round supply. They
cut medium size slices from medium size fish, so that the unit
price becomes suitable for consumers to buy.
The main idea of high class fish shops (or, fish boutiques,
as some people say) like Hokushin is just a way of dealing in
fish that supermarkets don't have.
No matter how expensive the fish are, there are many
pitholes that can't be detected from the outside.
Butterfishes easily perish from the nose --, jelly meat of
halibut or black cod can't be detected from the outside -- net
marks and seal scratches of salmon are easy to find out, but
inside wounds caused by pressure are not. But the most definite
of all comes from the fact that taste can't be seen. It's hard to
know if each individual fish is tasty or not, before eating.
It seems to me that the main current of fish retailing will
go in two ways. One is the way of supermarkets and the other
is the way of high class fish shops like Hokushin.
I will probably never buy fish from stores like Hokushin.
It is because it seems to me, fish boutiques are not adding any
value to the fish except price. In other words, I can't find the
difference of taste as in the difference of price. Maybe some
people do, but I don't.
"I want to buy something good and cheap," I mumbled
and kept on roaming around the streets like a tired detective,
but there seemed to be no clues to be found.
By the way, I cracked open the crabs I bought at Candy
Street. There wasn't much meat inside.
In the bottom of the pack, there were lots of broken crab
shoulders, nails and feet stuck in, as if to restore its original
Still, I cracked another crab foot and ate it.
The taste was pretty good.