Jan 292014

Good morning from the Itoigawa Global Geopark!

If you were given only one word to describe Itoigawa’s winter, what would it be? For me, there is only one:


The winters here along the Sea of Japan are harsh. Cold, blustery weather, meters upon meters of snow, it’s enough to make holing up indoors for three months look like a sound life decision. And yet last Sunday, hundreds of people gathered in downtown Itoigawa in the freezing rain. Why? One word:




Let’s get this out of the way: Monkfish are ugly. They are large, fat, misshapen blobs that are almost entirely mouth. Large members of the anglerfish family, they are so fat they actually have almost no ability to swim. But every bit as hideous as they are, monkfish are delicious. Monkfish flesh is also soft. It is so soft. When prepared in soup or stew, it seems to just melt on the tongue like butter.

One of the main features of the Itoigawa Global Geopark is its extreme variance in elevation. From 0m at the coast to 2,766m at the peak of Mt. Korenge, the mountains of Itoigawa seem to fall directly into the sea. And this is because they do! The seabed drops sharply off the coast of Itoigawa, and this deep seabed rich in marine life provides a perfect habitat for the monkfish. This is why Itoigawa has become one of the best places to enjoy this rare delicacy.

A line forms in the background while people enjoy soup under tents

A line forms in the background while people enjoy soup under tents

Monkfish soup is ladled into bowls

Monkfish soup is ladled into bowls

This past Sunday, over a thousand people lined up in the cold and the rain to take part in the 2014 Itoigawa Monkfish Festival, held every January in front of Itoigawa Station. Most people attend the festival for the monkfish soup, which is sold for the incredibly low price of only 500 yen per bowl, but the festival also features a tsuruishigiri demonstration.

TsurushigiriTsurushigiri is a traditional method of cleaning and slicing a monkfish while it is hanging from a hook. It is easiest to clean this way due to its immense size, but it also used to act as a sort of spectacle to draw customers to fisherman’s stalls and shops. At the Itoigawa Monkfish Festival, you can take in this traditional performance, provided you have the stomach for it!

Visitors to the festival enjoy a variety of other seafoods

Visitors to the festival enjoy a variety of other seafoods

Even if seeing a massive ugly fish being gutted and sliced isn’t really your thing, the monkfish festival has a lot to offer anyone who just enjoys seafood. A number of vendors arrive to sell locally caught fish and produce, both fresh and prepared in a variety of ways.

If you are interested in visiting the Itoigawa Monkfish Festival this year, you haven’t missed the boat! While the Itoigawa Event finished last Sunday, it will be held again at Oyashirazu Pier Park on February 2nd and Marine Dream Nou on February 9th! While both of these locations have ample parking, they are popular tourist destinations and so parking can be limited. Be sure to arrive early if traveling by car!

Also, monkfish soup is limited, so arrive as early as you can if you want to guarantee yourself a bowl!

Hope to see you there!


2014 Itoigawa Monkfish Festival – Oumi Location
2/2 (Sun) 10:00~14:00 Oyashirazu Pier Park (Limit 500 bowls)
15 min. walk from Oyashirazu Station

2014 Itoigawa Monkfish Festival – Nou Location
2/9 (Sun) 10:00~14:00 Marine Dream Nou (Limit 1000 bowls)
1 hr. walk from Nou Station


Mar 262013

Good morning, everyone, from the Itoigawa Global Geopark!
The temperature has dropped again the past few days. Will we ever see spring?

This past weekend visitors to Marine Dream Nou (near the Benten-iwa Geosite) had a respite from the lingering cold thanks to the 2013 Sea of Japan’s Bounty – Hamajiru Festival.

Hamajiru Festival

Scores of people came to enjoy crab and seafood soups (sold at a special price of 100 yen per bowl) as well as fresh crab, grilled seafood, and other seaside treats!

Crab Soup

‘Hamajiru’ Seaside Soup with Crab

Itoigawa’s local Idol Group, The Geo☆Girls, also performed at the festival. Visitors also had a chance to partake in a fish auction on both Saturday and Sunday.

Without a doubt, however, the most popular part event was the all-you-can-eat crab buffet:

Crab Feast

Located next to Nou Fishing Harbor, Marine Dream Nou is famous for its crab as well as other fresh seafood caught daily and sold directly by local fishermen and their families. During this festival only, you can pay1500 yen for 30 minutes of all-you-can-eat fresh-caught crab― a deal that cannot be beat!

The food was so good, even Black Bancho, the mascot for Itoigawa Black Yakisoba, made an appearance, selling yakisoba and entertaining the crowds:

Black Bancho

Thank you to everyone who came this year and a special thank you to the organizers and fishermen who made this festival the success that it always is!

While it’s too late for this year’s festival, we hope to you see here next year!



Mar 072013

Good afternoon, everyone! Here at the Itoigawa Global Geopark we’re experiencing some fantastic spring weather. It’s so warm, I rode my bicycle in to work today! I hope you’re seeing some beautiful weather wherever you are.

So, yesterday I visited Shimohayakawa Elementary School once again to try their Geo School Lunch! This month’s menu takes advantage of Kaiyo High School’s recently announced fare: Makochan Udon!

Mako-chan Udon

I wrote about Makochan Udon in a blog entry last week. At that time I (rather embarrassingly!) had to admit that I had not tried it. However, by stroke of luck I was invited to enjoy Geo School Lunch at Shimohawakawa Elementary School!

Makochan Udon, Fried Smelt, Spinach, Rice

Today’s menu consisted of (from left-to-right) rice, fried nigisu (a locally-caught type of deepsea smelt), spinach and peanut salad, and, the main event: Makochan Udon!

Makochan Bukkake Udon Closeup

The Makochan Udon was served bukkake-style. That is to say, the cold noodles are added to a rich fish-based broth. In this case, the broth was garnished with carrots, onion, and kamaboko, a type of fish sausage.

You can really see the jade-like green flecks of kelp in this udon. The flavor is rich and slightly salty while the texture is very ‘al dente,’ slightly chewier than your typical udon noodles and much more flavorful. I definitely prefer them over regular udon.

Unfortunately, the delicate flavor of the noodles was a bit overwhelmed by the rich broth, so I am definitely looking forward to trying them again.



Lunch with Shimohayakawa Elementary School Students

Lunch with Shimohayakawa Elementary School Students

Feb 262013

Good afternoon, everyone! It’s a beautiful sunny day today at the Itoigawa Global Geopark. It’s hard to believe after so much wind and snow!

As you may know, Itoigawa is home to Niigata Prefecture’s only maritime high school, Kaiyo High School in Nou.

As part of their school curriculum, students at Kaiyo cultivate and harvest marine products and use them to produce their own food products.  They’ve already scored a local hit with their “Mako Jam,” a salty sweet preserve-like spread made from kombu kelp. This year they have produced another kombu-based treat:

Mako-chan Udon

Mako-chan Udon

Made with kelp cultivated in the waters around Benten-iwa Geosite, Mako-chan Udon noodles have a speckled green, almost jade-like appearance. While I have, unfortunately, yet to have the opportunity to try them, my coworker tells me they have a nice ‘al dente’ body when cooked and are very smooth, with a rich, savory flavor (thanks to the natural umami found in kelp) that pairs well with any udon broth.

Mako-chan Udon Detail

The students at Kaiyo High School worked hard to perfect this recipe and are confident that it will be a success. Here at the Geopark Office we are inclined to agree!


Feb 252013

Good afternoon, everyone! Today the Geopark is seeing more snow. It looks like we’ll be getting a fair bit more of the stuff before we see spring!

Last week, I went with some friends to Tsukitoku Hanten, a Chinese restaurant near Itoigawa Station. To be fair, our original reason for going was this:

Huuuuge platter of gyozaLook at all that gyoza! It was on sale for only 100 yen per serving. We orderd 4 servings for a whopping total of 20 gyoza!

Gyoza in Yo' Face!Gyoza, known in many English-speaking countries as ‘pot stickers,’ are a variety of fried pork and vegetable dumpling that originated in China. They are popular throughout Japan and Tsukitoku Hanten serves up some of the best.

The gyoza were delicious, but I wouldn’t be wasting your time just telling you about the giant plate of gyoza we devoured. No, what I really want to share with you is a special dish only available until the end of February…

Monkfish Chow Mein…Monkfish Chow Mein!

Until February 28th, you can enjoy monkfish chow mein! The monkfish is lightly battered and fried before being tossed with crispy noodles and vegetables in a savory soy-based sauce. It was an excellent meal and I will definitely be trying it again next season! It’s a great way to taste Itoigawa’s winter specialty.




Tsukitoku Hanten (Japanese)
2-5-18 Omachi
Itoigawa-shi, Niigata-ken Japan 941-0061
Lunch:  11:00am – 2:30pm
Dinner:  4:30pm – 9:00pm