THE CAPELIN MAN
In 1983, I went to Norway as an employee of Toukai Fish
Fillets. It was to check the capelin Toukai Fish Fillets was
going to buy from Norway. Via London, I flew to Oslo, and
on a domestic flight, I flew far north to Wardo. From there, I
got on a bus and drove over land deep frozen in snow to a
island near the most northern part of the Scandinavian
I met a man named Mr. Issei Uoi, there.
Mr. Uoi was a gentleman. Yes, he was truly, since he was
honoured by the government of Norway as "Sir" for his
contribution in exporting capelin to Japan.
Mr. Uoi seemed to have his own ways. He was bold, and
had a thick moustache. In Japan, he was the chief of an
organization called the Yukon Research Organization. He was
one of the few Japanese who first developed the salmon roe
processing project in Alaska.
l had often heard many stories about this Mr. Uoi from
Mr. Honda. Mr. Uoi was the teacher of Mr. Honda about the
capelin business. Actually, it was Mr. Uoi who had driven
Mr. Honda into this capelin project.
Mr. Uoi's actual function in the capelin business was one
as an inspector. It was so printed clearly on his name card.
<Capelin Inspector,> it said.
Mr. Uoi would pick up samples from large amounts of
capelin caught, and he checked: freshness; male-female
content; maturity; roe content; existence of feed in stomach.
He had tried hard to connect Norway and Japan with capelin.
But the glory days of this old inspector was turning gray.
Looking back to the start line of the capelin business,
windows of trade from Iceland or Norway were open only
solely to limited Japanese like Mr. Uoi. Japanese importers
were united underneath one negotiator, Mr. Uoi. He was the
one and only inspector. The casting vote of the quality of
capelin that each individual Japanese company would receive
was in the hands of Mr. Uoi. For each company, since capelin
were all fixed at the same price at the beginning of the season,
the remaining wish was better quality. So, Mr. Uoi gained
But times had changed. Many Japanese corporations newly
joined the competition in importing capelin. They started to
do their own inspections and negotiations. They made their
own contracts. The share of pie for each had grown rather
small, and what was left in the hands of Mr. Uoi was only the
connection of the Norwegian company, Frionol to Nissho lwai.
Yes, times had changed. But that year, 1983, a mission of
Japanese supermarket buyers and small fish processors came
to Norway to visit Mr. Uoi. They intended to study the
Norwegian fisheries and check the capelin they were going to
Mr. Uoi was working hard.
For 10 days to 2 weeks, the capelin fishing lasts and during
the whole time, Mr. Uoi almost didn't sleep at all.
Vadso's streets were absolutely frozen in January and
February. Blown by the strong wind from the sea, people
were likely to be swept away as though they had been wearing
skates. Mr. Uoi ran around those places.
Before landing the capelin, a check had to be done. Mr.
Uoi would make a fast check that took about ten minutes and
then he would decide: the capelin to be processed as export
grade; the capelin to be processed as meal; the capelin to be
thrown away; the capelin to be sold to Russia as mink-feed.
Even within those busy hours, there was always a meeting
at Mr. Uoi's place, which was a fine room in the only hotel in
Vadso. Food provided at the meeting was made in a do-it-
yourself system. It was the same for the mission from Japan.
Everyone had to treat themselves and treat the others. They
cooked, ate and drank.
After that, it was the time to listen to Mr. Uoi's long, long,
endless speech, which was not fun at all.
But everyone listened to the boring speech patiently as if
listening to it was the ticket to get good fish. If Mr. Honda
would have been there, he never would have been able to stay
out of the scene.
I don't think Mr. Honda liked listening to Mr. Uoi's speech.
And it seemed like the sole reason of Mr. Honda ordering me
to go to Norway: so that he wouldn't have to attend that
Mr. Uoi's speech was so self-assertive to me that I couldn't
stand it. What he said must not have been personal at all, but
it sounded personal to me.
I remember Mr. Uoi saying that foreign people, especially
Europeans, evaluated other people by asking what their children
were doing. Another story I remember is Mr. Uoi's theory
that people aging over 30 couldn't change anymore.
I heard both of these words personally.
There was nothing to be gained from attending Mr. Uoi's
meeting, so I remained in my hotel room, sleeping.