Squid Marks

Posted by on Dec 12, 2011 in Tottori, Travel Volunteer Journey | 3 Comments
Squid Marks

Squid. It’s all over Japan – it’s all over Asia for that matter. On our very first day in Kanazawa we went to a market and saw a neat little row of the bug-eyed, jelly-bodied little guys, frozen in shock. Since then, I don’t think we’ve been to a prefecture where it’s been unavailable. In Hokkaido, entire squid came stuffed with rice, other times it’s been fried in an almost sweet sauce, but mostly it’s come as sashimi.

Truth be told, it’s not our favourite, largely because it can be so inconsistent. The freshest stuff is brilliant white and tastes almost buttery; the less good stuff is irritatingly similar in colour, but typically leaves you chewing away like cow eating toffee.

Still, there’s no denying its popularity, or the fact that it’s virtually fat free but high in protein. While you can find it all around Japan’s long coastline, here on the Japan Sea side of Honshu, in Tottori and Shimane prefectures, it is especially plentiful and popular. And, thanks to that, it’s also incredibly fresh – so fresh in fact, that live squid are bagged-up, boxed and shipped around Japan to discerning restaurateurs.

Despite catching over 500,000 tonnes of squid a year in Japan alone, the fishing method is remarkably low-tech: just a mildly phosphorous jig attached to a line and dangled over the side of a boat. With those big eyes, squid detect light levels that our rubbish human peepers cannot, so they go mad for anything that’s glow-in-the-dark.

When they’re hauled in, they don’t give as much of a fight as fish, so it’s simply a case of winding in a line by hand. The biggest threat they pose is firing a little ink in your direction. Only amateur fishermen need to worry about this kind of thing (and, having failed to catch anything at all, we didn’t even have to worry about that).

Night is the best time to go squid fishing, when the lack of sunlight sends the nervous beasts closer to the surface in search of something else. A squid boat, then, has a powerfully bright light on top to attract them, something that is rendered useless when a full moon is out and confusing them altogether.

It’s unclear why this stretch of sea between Japan and Korea is so rich with squid: perhaps they’re brought here on a strong current, perhaps they’re chasing food of their own. What is clear is that the process of preparing them once they’re out of the water is neither easy, nor pleasant.

I suppose its not particularly nice to eviscerate any creature. I wouldn’t honestly know – the days when I’d relish picking apart a bug or a fish have long gone.

There are many difficulties that arise when attempting to gut a so-fresh-it’s-still-moving squid, but the most challenging is just how hard it is to hold onto any part of the animal. Honestly, a wet bar of soap is a less slippery foe. It’s also often unclear about just where the knife should go, and with what pressure: the body of a squid when relaxed, or when so close to death that it doesn’t matter any more, is translucent* making it very difficult to work out what bit is attached to where. The only obvious parts of its anatomy are the enormous eyes (which burst and pop like watery blisters) and the iridescent ink sack which almost always ruptures all over the place. All of this while trying to hold onto its slimy, cold body… Trust us on this one: you’re better leaving the squid preparation to the professionals.










  1. Kim
    December 12, 2011

    Lmao, Katy’s face is priceless on the last photo, clearly sums up squid preparing in one glance!

    Nice to know never to go swimming in the dark on the full moon! Odds are you’ll end up covered in stings!

  2. Joe Lafferty
    December 12, 2011

    Those lilac pants are very fetching Jamie!

  3. Eric
    December 12, 2011

    They didn’t catch any, despite phosphorescent bait and a powerful spotlight in the night… I wonder who of Katy or Jamie scarred all the squids away ?? ;-)

    Or is it the lilac pants? ;-) )