The coast of Kita-Ibaraki (pop. 42,000), the northernmost city in Ibaraki Prefecture on the border with Fukushima Prefecture, is one of Japan’s prime fishing grounds for monkfish, a type of anglerfish prized for their ankimo liver (lower right photo).
There are many species of anglerfish in the world. The one caught here is Lophiomus setigerus. Monkfish have a large head, wide mouth, and a lure on the forehead to attract small fish. Looks kind of grotesque and lives on the ocean floor. Only the female monkfish are eaten. The males are too small. The monkfish has been made one of Kita-Ibaraki’s official mascots named “Kou-chan” (upper right photo).
Upper photo shows Hirakata Port where they just brought in a haul of monkfish for the wholesale fish auction. The motionless monkfish lay belly-up on the concrete floor.
Lower left photo shows a local chef skinning and carving a female monkfish about 5 or 6 years old, weighing 12.7 kg. Since the monkfish is too slimy and slippery on a cutting board, it is hung like this for carving. He first peels off the skin (loaded with collagen, good for your skin) and extracts the liver (ankimo), the most prized part of the fish (lower right photo).
The ankimo liver is typically cooked in a hot pot called “dobojiru ankou-nabe” (どぶ汁 あんこう鍋) in a miso broth. I had it, but the broth made it difficult to know what the liver tastes like.
If you like off-the-beaten paths, go to Ibaraki. Among the 47 prefectures, Ibaraki is always ranked at the very bottom or near bottom in tourism appeal among Japanese tourists. (Update: In 2020, for the first time in seven years, Ibaraki ranked No. 42 instead of 47 at the bottom.) In truth, all 47 prefectures are worth visiting and each has unique and famous things. Ibaraki is definitely no exception.
In 2020, the top five prefectures in tourism appeal were Hokkaido, Kyoto, Okinawa, Tokyo, and Kanagawa. And the five lowest ranking from No. 42 were Ibaraki, Fukui, Saga, Tokushima, and Tochigi. These annual brand appeal surveys are conducted by Brand Research Institute, Inc. (ブランド総合研究所)
It’s weird to see Tochigi at the bottom because Nikko is so famous. Ironically, some people in Ibaraki are disappointed that they are no longer at the bottom. Less notoriety means less media attention. Well, we shouldn’t take this too seriously.
More photos of Kita-Ibaraki: https://photoguide.jp/pix/index.php?cat=366
Official Ibaraki Tourism Info: https://english.ibarakiguide.org/
Official Ibaraki Tourism FB: https://www.facebook.com/ibarakisightseeing
From Ueno Station in Tokyo, it takes about 2 hours by JR Joban Line express train to Kita-Ibaraki. JR Isohara Station (磯原駅) is one of the main train stations in Kita-Ibaraki.