Stretched along the Amaharashi Coast in Toyama Prefecture, the port city of Himi attracts visitors from far and wide for its stunning views of the Sea of Japan and the northern Japanese Alps. Perhaps even more famous than its views however, is the incredible bounty of fresh and delicious seafood that is caught and served here daily. From sushi, to fish cakes, to fisherman’s stew, Himi is a seafood lover’s paradise.
What Makes Himi’s Seafood so Special?
Himi’s primary fishing port is located next to the beautiful Toyama Bay. The secret to their excellent quality of fish can be found in the bay’s unique topography. Just beyond the shore, the sea floor level drops sharply, creating a deep underwater canyon that is often referred to as a “naturally-occurring fish bowl”. As a result, fish can live much closer to land in these nutrient-rich waters.
With a steady food supply, the marine life can grow healthy and large, and their proximity to shore means they can arrive at port shortly after being caught. Of course the freshest and most flavorful fish is that which you can buy closest to the source. For this, we head to Himi Banya-gai; a large, modern fish market located just across the street from Toyama Bay.
About Himi Banya-gai
At mere minutes away on foot from the city’s largest fishing port, it comes as no surprise that Himi Banya-gai is where those in the know come to buy their fish. The name Banya-gai comes from the Japanese word for a fisherman’s hut. While far more welcoming than your average fisherman’s hut, it is every bit as packed with delicious, freshly caught fish.
Let’s take a closer look at what visitors can expect to find on a trip to this seaside marketplace.
Experience the Local Offerings
Sometimes referred to as “buri” or “amberjack”, the undisputed king of the Himi seafood scene is the yellowtail. Come winter, it is widely sought after for its fatty, rich meat. Not only tasty, the Himi yellowtail is packed with protein and heart-healthy omega-3’s, making it an all-natural superfood of the sea. With its soft pink hues and delicate texture, it’s perfect served on its own as sashimi, or over locally-sourced rice as sushi.
The broad velvet shrimp; also known as shiro-ebi (white shrimp in Japanese) or glass shrimp, are a small, opaque species of shrimp, prized for their sweet flavor. As the only place they can be found in Japan, the broad velvet shrimp has been dubbed “the jewel of Toyama”. Eaten raw, fried, or stewed, these versatile and flavorful shrimp are a local delicacy and can be enjoyed from spring to late summer. Be sure to keep an eye out for them on your trip to Toyama!
Another Toyama Bay exclusive, firefly squid are a local favorite in spring. Like their namesake; firefly squid create a beautiful blue bioluminescent glow when gathered in large numbers. Unlike the common squid most westerners are familiar with, firefly squid are much less chewy than their larger counterparts and are typically eaten whole. While there are many ways to prepare them, boiling and serving with vinegared miso is the recipe of choice for most locals.
Also calling the deep waters of Toyama Bay home is the long-legged red snow crab. Its sweet and slightly fibrous meat is excellent eaten straight out of the shell, or garnished with miso and served over sushi rice.
Of course, not everyone wants the challenge of cleaning and preparing fish before eating it. Thankfully, those wishing to skip the hard part are in luck, as Banya-gai has plenty of delicious, ready-to-eat seafood to offer. Of these, the most eye-catching is perhaps the custom-made kamaboko at the Sankon Shop. These incredibly detailed, made to order cakes are made out of processed white fish, formed into decorative shapes, and can even be prepared as a gift with a personalized message written on it. In many ways, it’s like the ultimate birthday cake for the seafood lover in your life.
You have used the word fish cake before and now Kamaboko.
If you prefer your fish raw, try another Toyama area favorite, Masuzushi. In what could be described as a sushi pie, pressed fish; typically salmon or trout, is served over a bed of vinegared sushi rice and covered with bamboo leaves. Not only is it delicious, but it’s easy to slice and share with friends as well.
Those who don’t eat seafood need not feel left out either. With over 30 vendors selling products in Himi Banya-gai, everyone is bound to find something they enjoy. In the mood for fresh fruits and vegetables? There’s a shop that sells local seasonal produce. Fancy a drink? You can choose from an assortment of local sake, beer and liquor.
There are plenty of souvenirs for children to choose from as well. Fans of Japanese animation will surely be familiar with Doraemon, the titular star of the long-running children’s series. As the show’s creators, Hiroshi Fujimoto and Motoo Abiko,are both natives of the Toyama area, many of their most popular creations can be spotted throughout the gift shops; their faces adorning everything from snacks, to books, to puzzles.
Working up an Appetite
By now, browsing the vast selection of locally-caught fish will have undoubtedly left you feeling hungry. In Banya-gai’s restaurant area, you’ll find everything you could possibly want to whet your appetite. On cold afternoons, there is nothing better than a warm bowl of fish stew. The salty broth and rich flavors are a favorite of local fishermen who awake and board their boats well before sunrise. Chock-full of shrimp, crab, and white fish, and slowly simmered for hours, it’s the perfect seaside comfort food.
Surprisingly, Himi’s fish aren’t the only local food with a legendary reputation. Himi’s cattle; having been raised in the region’s ideal climate and spacious pastures, are known throughout the country for producing beef of exquisite marbling and texture. In fact, it has placed first in several national wagyu competitions. At Banya-gai, you can try this award-winning beef in the form of a hamburger, or to fully experience all of its nuances, lightly seared and served over sushi rice like nigiri.
If seeing just how many mouth-watering choices Himi has to offer has left you with fear of missing out, worry not. Banya-gai also features a conveyor belt sushi restaurant where you can sample the best of Himi’s seasonal selections. Grab whatever catches your eye as it passes by on the conveyor belt, or fill out a request slip for the chef for a made-to-order plate. With plates starting at as little as 100 yen, you can try all of Himi’s local favorites without breaking your budget.
Take in the Sights
After a long day of shopping and eating, it’s time for a little relaxation. Take a stroll out towards the bay you’ll soon come across Banya-gai’s natural hot spring foot bath. Soaking your aching feet in these warm geothermal waters while taking in the views of Toyama Bay is the perfect way to unwind.
Afterwards, head across the street, just past the Himinoe cable bridge, to find a massive staircase overlooking the water.
Climb the steps to the top to take in the incredible views of Toyama Bay and the surrounding Himi landscape, and to appreciate the natural treasures this area has to offer.
Enjoy Your Visit to Himi
At just over an hour from Toyama city, Himi Banya-gai is a hidden gem for seafood lovers. For the freshest sushi you’ll ever try and unique seafood offerings not found anywhere else, be sure to plan a visit to this wonderful coastal market.
Website: http://himi-banya.jp (homepage available only in Japanese)
Hours: Open daily from 8:30 AM to 9:00 PM
- From Toyama Station: Take the daily Toyama Buri Kani Bus tour that departs Toyama Station and ride until the last stop, which is Banya-gai. Round trip tickets are ¥1,020 for adults. Please visit this link to view the bus timetable.
- From Himi Station: From the station bus stop, take the bus bound for Himi Municipal Hospital. Ride for four stops until reaching Himi Central bus stop. From here, Banya-gai is roughly 8 minutes away on foot.