Remote Island in Okayama Pref. Prepares to Attract Foreign Tourists with New Locally Sourced Sushi Menu

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Foreign tourists taste a new sushi menu in Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture.

A council to promote the revitalization of Kitagi Island in Kasaoka, Okayama Prefecture, is working to develop a sushi menu for foreign visitors using locally caught fish and other foods from the area.

With the cooperation of a university and various businesses in Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture, the council aims to offer a trip to the remote island as an option for tourists to the Bingo region, which includes Kasaoka and Fukuyama, to encourage more visitors to come and extend their stay in the region.

A sushi tasting event was held at the Zao branch of Kaisenzushi Shimanami in Minami-Zao in Fukuyama on Nov. 18. Six sushi menu items, including nigiri sushi with natural red sea bream tempura and yellowtail aburi grilled sushi, were served. Chirashizushi — an assortment of sashimi and a variety of toppings on sushi rice — was also served and presented in a bowl made out of a daidai citrus, which was harvested on the island.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A new sushi menu, which includes yellowtail and red sea bream from Kitagi Island in Kasaoka, Okayama Prefecture

About 30 people, including international students at Fukuyama University and foreign language teachers from Fukuyama and Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, tasted the dishes.

Nikolay Dralev, 23, a Bulgarian student at the university, said that he has had sea bream at restaurants in his country, but the dish he had in Fukuyama tasted very fresh.

“The combination of ingredients was unique as well,” Dralev added.

Chen Siqi, a 21-year-old Chinese sophomore at the university, said, “The chirashizushi in the daidai bowl smelled really good and looked nice, so it would look great on social media.”

Offering something new

Kitagi is the largest of the Kasaoka Islands, which comprises about 30 islands. It used to be known for its quarries, but is suffering from aging and depopulation recently.

In 2019, the revitalization council was formed by the island’s food and beverage, as well as lodging and tourism businesses, along with the local government.

The council has been working with the university, which has departments relating to oceanography and nutrition, to develop recipes using oysters, a specialty of the area, among other plans to increase tourism.

In May, as measures against COVID-19 were eased, they began developing a sushi menu in anticipation of an increase in foreign visitors to Japan. With the cooperation of the university and the sushi restaurant, a menu was created in June.

In October, international students were invited to taste the dishes and answer various questions, including their thoughts about the menu. Since many foreign visitors tend to find the daidai peel, which is placed on the seafood canapes, a little bitter, a creamy sauce was added to the menu for the November tasting event.

The council will consider offering the menu during tours of the Bingo region.

Meanwhile, expectations are high among business operators in the Bingo region for tourism development that will include Kitagi.

“Ninety percent of visitors only stay one night in Tomonoura [in Fukuyama],” said Tatsuhiko Murakami, 42, president of Tomo Skole Corp., one of the businesses that support the council. “If we can offer a package that will allow tourists to visit the island from Tomonoura, it will create new options for people who want to see the area around the Seto Inland Sea and more. It will also lead to visitors staying in Tomonoura for a longer period of time.”

Tomo Skole operates lodging facilities in Tomonoura and Onomichi.

The Kasaoka Islands are only about 10 kilometers east of Tomonoura, but as visitors have to take a ferry from Kasaoka port to reach the islands, the council is discussing creating a direct route from Tomonoura to the islands via water taxis or other means.

“The new sushi menu will be one of the attractions used to encourage visitors to stay on the island in the Bingo region,” said Kazuhira Fujii, 53, who chairs the council. “We would like to develop plans that will allow tourists to experience something new and different to enhance the appeal of the entire region.”