THE YUKON KING SALMON
Some days later, I met a sujiko technician from Japan.
We flew together to a village called Marshall located at
the upper reaches of the Yukon River. Same as the year before,
I flew to Bethel. From Bethel, we had to charter a Cessna.
The Cessna flew over deep forests, lakes and tundra at a
low altitude, rolling a lot.
It started to rain. A big river and a village along it came
into sight. The Cessna passed the village by. At the next
village, the pilot, wearing an Apollo cap, said, "Now, here we
The pilot didn't land and just flew away.
"We got to wait until the wind becomes fair," said the pilot.
We started to fly around the village in quite a small circle
for many times.
"I say, I am not feeling too good," said the technician in
his Hokkaido dialect. I felt like throwing up too.
"Hey, how do you guys feel?" said the pilot. I wondered
how I could have felt good in a case like that but didn't mention
it. Instead, I said, "Yeah! Great!" It must have been a good
answer to the pilot's some kind of American sense of humour.
After a 30 minute merry-go-round ride in the air, the Cessna
landed at the airport of Marshall. The small craft hopped 3
times high when she landed. The airport was a flattened out
hill with only loose small stones gravelled as pavement. To
say more, it was only about 500 yards in length. I almost cut
my tongue when we landed, but thank God that we didn't fall
over the cliff.
The technician and I took off our trunks from the Cessna
and waited at the airport for about 15 minutes. The mountains
around seemed to be a good place for grizzly bears to live.
From below the hill came a Japanese man. He was large,
muscular, wearing a vest of down, had a stubble, his name
was Ishiwara and he was hired for Ataka Agri & Aqua Products
"How are you?" said Mr. Ishiwara grinning with pleasure.
"Fine. Nice to meet you," said I.
The technician and Mr. Ishiwara were not strangers to each
other. From their conversation, I understood that they had
worked together somewhere before. We all walked down the
hill. There was a house in the Eskimo village rented for us to
Cold rain blew in my face together with the wind. It was
about 10 degrees centigrade.
The simple log house that we reached had 2 rooms and a
living room plus dining kitchen. In the Japanese definition,
these type of rooms were called 2L.D.K., which stands for 2
rooms and 1 living dining kitchen. Mr. Ishiwara and I got
each of the 2 rooms and the technician stayed at the L.D.K..
The Yukon River is about 2,300 miles in length. It is the
longest river in Alaska and the flow of water is extraordinary.
Although Marshall is 120 miles upstream from the mouth, the
Yukon River is so wide that you couldn't see the opposite
side of the river. The size of the Yukon River gives the salmon
a characteristic that salmon of different rivers don't have. They
store a great deal of their energy to run up the Yukon River.
In other words, they are very fat.
Within the salmon, that have the Yukon River as a mother
river, are three kinds: kings, chums and pinks. The king salmon
is very popular in America and has a large domestic demand.
They are cooked into steaks and are good for making into susi .
Japanese buyers pay high prices for the Yukon king salmon.
It is mostly used for raw material, for smoked salmon in high
classed hotels and restaurants in Japan.
Some people say that the Yukon king salmon is the most
delicious salmon in the world. I have no objections about it.
Yukon River is one of the early spots that salmon fishing
season opens in Alaska. But in 1980, the run of the salmon
was to come late. So, the sujiko technician and I, who had
arrived at Marshall in the middle of June, had no work to do
although it was almost July.
It was lucky for me because I was frustrated for having so
little sleep working at the market in Japan. In Marshall, besides
eating, I slept for 24 hours a day.
The daily life were so different from that in Japan. There
was no bath; no hot shower. The water was cold as ice. In
Japan, I took baths everyday. But in Marshall, I didn't take
one for more than a month.
Eskimos made a kind of steam bath or sauna by themselves.
They gathered dry twigs and leaves and made a two foot tall
tent out of it. On one side, the tent opened. Under the tent,
they dug a hole. They filled the hole with water and threw in
red hot burnt rocks in it to make steam.
I had never tried this sauna, but just took a look. I think
now that I have missed a good experience, but I had been shy
and fooled myself by thinking that saunas didn't make you
clean. I was rather busy smoking marijuana in the bushes
outside of the village, close to a small power plant.
Finally, July came. The salmon appeared in the streams
around Marshall. Salmon fishing season was open at last. Just
the same as Yugtuk, the Japanese bought salmon from the
Eskimo's fishery co-op. The co-op had no freezing facilities.
The co-op's name was Maserculiq Fish Co-op. "Maserculiq"
meant "Red fish," in Eskimo language.
Already processed salmon -- head, guts and roe removed --
were put in a 200 pound carton box full of ice, airlifted to
Anchorage immediately by a Cessna and was quick-frozen
there. Advance money was paid from Ataka and with it,
Maserculiq had bought a large ice making machine.
A couple of boxes of 200 pound salmon were loaded on a
Cessna and it was ready to take off from Marshall airport.
The Cessna blasted its engine into full power. Everytime, the
Cessna seemed to drop down the cliff as if she couldn't bear
the weight of the cargo and crash. She always went out of
sight, but came into sight again. She would climb up into the
sky and head for Anchorage.
The technician and I, with the help of Eskimo workers,
processed fresh salmon roe into sujiko. The quality of sujiko
there was not estimated to be good in Japan because the pieces
of roe were too big -- like 2 or 3 kilograms per bunch of roe --
and they turned out very black in colour. At Tukiji Wholesale
Market, they would be good targets for bargain prices. As a
matter of fact, lots of them were dumped into the hands of
Sabu of Stone-mountain, I heard.
The reason for the sujiko turning black was a question.
Maybe iron was contained in the water we used; or maybe it
was only the nature of the roe of the Yukon salmon. The
technician and I tried things like changing the water we used,
but we couldn't find out the answer.
In the middle of July, the salmon season was about to end.
The technician and Mr. Ishiwara were drinking together. I
don't know exactly what happened between them, but it ended
up to be a fight. It was a big fist fight. The technician had few
chances to use his fist though. He tried to grab a knife to
make odds even. I kicked it away from his hands.
Beyond my sense of understanding, the next year, the
technician and Mr. Ishiwara came together to Marshall again.
The fight was because they were too close friends, maybe.