I am not a morning person. Not by any means. So when it was suggested that I get up at half-past-stupid o’clock (5:30am) to go shopping, I wasn’t particularly enthused…until I saw this:
Oh no, wait…!!
I meant THIS:
Every Sunday morning between March and December, the usually quiet Tatehana Wharf of Hachinohe City in Aomori Prefecture is a hive of activity. From dawn until 9:00am, locals busily set-up market stalls jam-packed with fresh local produce while thousands of shoppers of all ages (locals and tourists alike) meander around them, stuffing their bags and bellies with as much as their wallets and waistlines can handle.
With close to 400 market stalls selling everything and anything from fresh seafood, bread, noodles and pastries, to sewing machines, knives and a car (because…why not?), the claim that it is ‘the largest morning market in Japan’ is certainly not an overstatement.
Hachinohe City itself is situated on the East coast of Aomori prefecture. It is the absolute ideal location for a produce market with bounties of both the ocean and mountains close at hand.
In fact, the city is home to nine different markets, but the Tatehana Wharf market is without a doubt the biggest and the best!
Whether market or festival, I have a personal preference for a pre-purchase perousal of all of the different stalls (no regrets), which is no small feat at this particular market, stretching along a whopping 800 metres. I have done the ‘hard work’ for you, so you can make the most of those precious morning hours…here is a virtual-recky of the best Japanese market I have ever been to.
Let’s see what we can find…
Forget the crowded and dangerous Tsukiji market in Tokyo, there is absolutely every kind of seafood you could possibly want here at the Tatehana Wharf market. From fresh tuna, salmon and mackerel, to ‘tako-tonbi’ (octopus-mouth?) there is plenty to choose from, or at least to enjoy looking at. The market begins from dawn and most of the seafood you can find here has literally just been off-loaded the fishing boats from the morning catch. You simply can’t get much fresher than this without catching it yourself.
For those that prefer their seafood a little less close to living (or are traveling without access to refridgeration), I can 10/10 recommend a sumptuous skewer of sweetly marinated scallops, roasted over this traditional charcoal hearth. There are no words other than ‘every morning should start like this’.
Fresh Fruit and Veg
Apples, apples and more apples!
Aomori prefecture is the top-producer of apples in Japan (over 400,000 tons of apples every year which make up 56% of the domestic market and 90% of Japan’s export market) and so it is no surprise that a range of different varieties can also be found at the market every Sunday. Whilst some of the varieties are not as cheap, you can buy box-loads of sweet, juicy ‘fuji’, ‘tsugaru’ and ‘orin’ varieties for a very reasonable price. Pro-tip: you can also enjoy tasting them all, for free!
Besides apples there are literal truckloads of fresh fruit and vegetables being sold by local farmers; usually friendly, crinkly-eyed women who must be in 80s or 90s but have more energy than I could ever hope to have before breakfast. The colour and size of the produce is in a completely different class to the mass-produced varieties found in city supermarkets. I had to laugh as I picked up a huge, light-green fruit bigger than my head and checked with the stall-owner ‘this can’t be a nashi-pear…can it?’ – she simply smiled and pointed to the hand-written sign next to the price which said ‘なしです’ (This is a nashi-pear). Clearly, I wasn’t the first to ask!
Fried…Everything (before 07:00am)
List of everything fried consumed before 7:00am (the first and last time this will ever happen in my life):
- Fried chicken: yakitori style, karaage, fried-wings (possibly the most popular items with locals as well)
- Deep-fried ‘saba’ or mackerel – the local specialty.
- Fried dumplings
- Creamy crab-croquette
- Tempura-senbei (deep fried rice-cracker)
At about this point I decided that I was possibly over-doing things…I leave it to you to continue the mission.
The Weird and Wacky
Amongst the hundreds of food stalls was the odd stall selling random bits-and-bobs, some high-quality Japanese knives, a range of sewing machines and a casual car or two. It appears that anything goes here in Hachinohe (and I love it).
For the more adventurous: how about some coffee-flavoured ‘youkan’ (jelly-like sweet) infused with black garlic? Some whale-soup served next to hot blueberry juice? Some gummy sweets in the shape of maggots or other unspecified lavae?
Perhaps horse-meat hot-pot is more your thing? Or a pizza-filled ‘taiyaki’? A loofah made from fisherman’s net to scrub your weary market-legs?
You’d be forgiven for thinking that many of the discoveries made here are a figment of your yet-to-be-fully-conscious mind rather than a reality, but a glorious reality it is!
For me, more so than the stalls and goods, it was the friendly locals that created the larger-than-life atmosphere as they called-out to each other and to their customers in their thick, Aomori dialect.
‘Hey! You look foreign! Don’t suppose you know what this is?’ asked a lady standing over a hot-plate of dumplings and holding-up a suspicious looking bunch of greenery in her hand. After a slightly dubious taste-test the group consensus was that it was probably dill and would go very nicely with some local smoked salmon. Without a moment’s hesitation the carboard sign saying ‘Herb: 100 yen (mint??)’ was edited to ‘Perfect with smoke-salmon! ‘Dill’ Herb: 100 yen
(mint??)‘. Whilst slightly amused that my word had been so readily trusted, it was nice to have an impact (however small) on a place which left such a profound impact on me!
Next to the dumpling stand was another stall owner who will forever stay in my mind – this wonderful old lady making delicious yakisoba (fried noodles), with an incredibly generous outlook on portion sizes (about three-servings stuffed into a one-serving size box will set you back just 350 yen).
The prize for most unique local, however, definitely goes to Mr. Ikadon:
‘Ikadon’, the friendliest squid I’ve ever met, can be seen wandering around the market-stalls in his kimono, sporting artfully groomed facial hair (?) in the shape of the characters 八戸 (Hachinohe). He is indeed the unoffical mascot of the market and is sometimes accompanied by his squid-family.
Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to meet them, but he was kind enough to gift me with this picture, also serving as his business card, which reads ‘Ikadon. Address: The sea’
At least I now know where to find him.
The Tatehana Wharf Morning Market will start its 2017 operation from Sunday, March 12!
How to get there:
Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from JR Tokyo Station JR Hachinohe Station (about 3 hours, 15000 yen)
Take the Tohoku Shinkansen from JR Sendai Station JR Hachinohe Station (about 1.5 hours, 10000 yen)
From Hachinohe Station:
The market is about a 20 minute car/taxi journey from Hachinohe Station or 10 minutes from the Hachinohe Expressway.
Parking: 500 spaces available (but get there early!)
15 minute train ride to Mutsuminato Station on the JR Hachinohe Line to Same. The wharf is a 10 minute walk from Mutsuminato station.
There is also a bus called the ‘Isaba Sunday Morning Market Loop Bus’ which services a few other locations in the centre of Hachinohe, including the wharf market. http://www.city.hachinohe.aomori.jp/bus/osirase/asaichi/ (website in Japanese only).
Address: search 「八戸市新湊三丁目」or「漁港ストア」in google maps
Minato Sunday Morning Market Cooperative: 0178-27-3868 / 090-4636-7523
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