Along the coast of Japan, a fascinating tradition begins every October; it is the hunt for the Murakami chum salmon.
The people of Murakami City, located in Niigata, Japan, always know when this annual tradition will begin. As chilly, autumn winds blow in from the ocean, thousands of chum salmon also make their way into the city’s Miomote River.
Murakami was home to various merchants and samurai, including one notable samurai named Aoto Buheiji.
Aoto was the first to recognize the plentiful bounty of salmon swimming in Murakami’s waters. The man worked to increase the salmon’s population over time, thereby improving the lives of the city’s civilians and facilitating its future success.
While the city of Murakami changed over time, future generations were always taught to maintain and protect their relationship with the Murakami chum salmon.
What are Chum Salmon?
Chum salmon are the second-largest salmon species in the Pacific ocean, behind the Chinook salmon.
Freshwater chum salmon develop a dark green coloration; males often have red patterning along the belly, longer snouts and shaper teeth. The people of Murakami enjoy them for their mild taste and low-sodium levels, as well as the fact that they can cook with the fish from tip to tail.
The salmon can be cooked in a variety of ways, but the most popular approach is to rub the salmon in a heavy amount of salt. The fish are then hung outside to marinate, picking up flavors from the salty air.
Visitors to Murakami are likely to see hundreds of these fish hanging in street markets and stores. There are said to be more than 100 recipes that chum salmon can be used in, giving visitors and locals all kinds of options for enjoying the dish.
The Cycle of Life
The average lifespan of Chum salmon in the wild is 2-5 years. They are known to spawn later than other salmon, often only reaching their spawning locations by October or November.
Female chum salmon lay anywhere from 2,000-3,000 eggs, usually in calm, freshwater riverbeds. Adult chum die shortly after spawning. As soon as the salmon hatch, they make their way back towards open water to grow to their full size.
Fishing for the Delicacy
There are multiple ways to fish for chum salmon; everyone has their own “style” or preference.
Fly fishing can be effective with chum salmon, especially when using bait that is scented and green-colored. Similarly, bottom bouncing can also show results.
The most common practices in Murakami include the urai technique, which requires fishermen to set up fences that block the salmon on their path upstream.
The most popular style is called ‘iguriamiryo’. This traditional method requires a level of teamwork between three, wooden boats. The fishermen use a series of poles and nets to maneuver the salmon into their traps.
A Beautiful History
The people of Murakami consider chum salmon to be one of their greatest treasures, not only because they promise fulfilling meals and a prosperous economy, but also because of the rich relationship between man and animal.
Murakami is proud of its salmon culture; the image of the fish can be seen emblazoned on doors and windows throughout the city. It is their most steadfast tradition, and promises to support the economy for generations to come.