On September 6, 2018, Hokkaido was hit by the Hokkaido Eastern Iburi earthquake. Among the affected areas was Mukawa which was struck with violent tremors measuring an intensity of 6 on the Shindo scale, causing great damage to the town (the highest seismic intensity of the earthquake measured Shindo 7). While Mukawa has been in the spotlight because of the earthquake, it has always been famous for its Mukawa Shishamo Festival, a delicious food event held in autumn that is all about shishamo smelt. Usually held in October, this year transformed the traditional one-day festival into a recovery event held on November 3 and 4, bigger and busier than ever! We visited this lively gourmet hot spot and its people!
Busier Than Ever: Making a Whole City Smile Again
Two months have passed since the massive earthquake struck. Mukawa was close to the epicenter and was hit particularly hard, but walking around the bustling, bright venue makes this day seem far away. The Mukawa Shishamo Festival is held every year at the end of October, drawing in many people who are after the seasonal fresh flavor of the fish. While some people were concerned whether the event could be held this year as well, it garnered a lot of support from both people and organizations, including the Hokkaido Bureau of Economy, Trade, and Industry. The Mukawa Shishamo Festival is back on the menu as a 2-day earthquake disaster recovery event, bigger and better than ever!
The first day was blessed with a clear autumn sky, drawing countless people to the various food stalls offering their different delicacies. One of them is the Welcome Booth selling specialty dishes cooked right at the Mukawa Central Elementary School which served as the event’s venue. It started to become really crowded at around 11:00 a.m. and long lines formed in front of each booth.
The Irresistible, Authentic Deliciousness of Seasonal Shishamo!
There are plenty of amazing dishes offered at the event, but the highlight is, of course, Mukawa’s famous shishamo. It is a species of smelt that can only be found in the Pacific Ocean on the east side of Hokkaido, between Mukawa and Kushiro. A rare delicacy indeed! From a set of three grilled shishamo to shishamo soup, the booths offer four different shishamo delicacies to try. Authentic shishamo smelt is pale white and boasts moderate fattiness, making for a taste that is rich, elegant, and just so incredibly delectable that people are more than ready to queue for it. The first day saw all 7,000 shishamo sold out by 2:00 p.m.!
Mukawa isn’t the only town showing off its local cuisine. Seven other municipalities that have been afflicted by the earthquake offered their own regional delights, including towns such as Biratori and Atsuma. After savoring shishamo, visitors got to try Biraori wagyu beef skewers or pizza topped with venison from Shimukappu, a whole plethora of local specialties! The event even featured Yoshitake Tanaka, a Japanese TV personality who now runs the Hanabatake Farm and represented it with its own booth. He himself stood behind the counter and handed out free pork bowl to the locals. Everyone else could buy the dish and it seems that any profit has been donated in full to the town of Mukawa.
Events and Fireworks Further Enrich the Mukawa Shishamo Festival
Celebrities and artists took the special stage of Mukawa Shishamo Festival from 1:00 p.m. on the first day. Yoshitake Tanaka, the pop singer Chisato Okai, the Enka singer Takao Horiuchi, the musician Jiro Sugita, and the singer-songwriter Akira Inaba showed off their latest songs and other creations. All of a sudden, the music performer Chisato Moritaka also took the stage, adding even more grace to the event.
After the shows by the various celebrities, visitors got to enjoy a thrilling Japanese drumming performance by the famous drum artist Yukitaka Tamura who is based in Hokkaido’s Abira. At the end of the first day, 800 rounds of fireworks colored the evening sky for the occasion.
Visiting Mukawa with a Stamp Rally
Enticing visitors to explore the town of Mukawa was a fun stamp rally sponsored by the local tourism association and the Hokkaido Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry. It took us to ten unique restaurants in town, each of them offering famous shishamo cuisine that wasn’t featured at the event venue. It’s a fun stroll through the town that offered plenty of additional gourmet highlights and sights.
“The rebuilding of our lives has progressed steadily, and the annual shishamo festival seemed like a great opportunity to get everyone excited about the full-fledged reconstruction efforts as well,” says Mr. Aradate, secretary-general of the Mukawa Tourist Association who was in charge of organizing the event. That seemed to have worked splendidly!
The 2-day Mukawa Shishamo Event did not only offer a plethora of delicious shishamo cuisine but also stage events, a stamp rally, fireworks, and more! This fun concept drew in more than 20,000 visitors during the two-day period, showing that the excitement has been even higher than usual. The real draw of this event, however, was the beautiful demonstration of the warmth and power of a community working together, represented by locals such as the school’s students helping with the organization and shopkeepers sponsoring the stamp rally. This tremendous momentum is sure to fuel the reconstruction, letting the area emerge from disaster stronger, more confident, and all the more attractive than before!
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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