Whenever you get off a cruise ship and dedock at a port you’ve never heard of or know very little about, you’re never quite sure what to expect, as was the case with Sakaiminato in northern Japan. Of course I had never heard of Mizuki Shigeru, the famous Japanese comic celebrity, known for his work around Yokai. He is most known for his motif of Yokais, especially the notable Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro.
Nonnon baa to Ore was awarded the Best Comic Award at the Angouleme International Comic Festival in France in 2007 and he himself was honored as a Person of Cultural Merits of Japan in 2010. The legacy of his comic work is prolific in the city of Sakiminato. In fact, everywhere you turn, there is evidence of his presence and proliferation, first and foremost the moment you enter the port. Cartoon characters are everywhere – below, I was greeted near the port and before I took a walk into the city center itself, whose area spans around 28 square kilometers.
Throughout the city, there are products plastered with his cartoon work. There’s also a Mizuki Shigeru Memorial Museum, where you can see all of his diverse art work as well as the world of Yokais, which represent Mizuki’s philosophy and spirit through exhibitions and motion pictures, such as a Japanese house diorama where Yokais are hiding inside and a room here replicates Mizuki’s life.
Mizuki Shigeru Road is sprawling with shops and restaurants, all of the shops selling products that bear the Mizuki Shigeru’s comic work.
The Fish Market
There’s also a known fish market on the other side of town. The city itself is a fishery base. For five consecutive years, Sakaiminato was No 1 in terms of the quantity of fish brought into Japan. There are also a large number of factories in the city which manufacture and process seafood products. The crabs caught in Sakai port such as red snow crabs and queen crabs (see photo below), make up the largest percentage of all the crabs hauled in Japan. They also take pride in being the number one distributor of northern bluefin tuna in Japan.
Because of the quantity of seafood, even outside the seafood market, you can order rice bowls topped with local fresh seafood. known as “kaisen-don”.
The Port Festival, which takes place in the city every July. The festival starts with praying rituals for the success of the fishery, the safety of sea traffic and the prosperity of the port. It closes with fireworks, a dancing parade and other events. One of these, the Sea Parade, is especially magestic and features over 100 ships running through the Sakai Channel, each decorated with banners which signify a “good daily catch of fish.”
Marine Products Festival takes place in mid-October and is held at the Fish Market and surrounding area. Here you can sample seafood, crab soup and watch traditional performances.
Below, I met a new friend from the local tourism board who showed me around the town.
A great side trip from Sakaiminato is the Yuushien Gardens in the northwest part of Japan. The Yushien Gardens are on the island of Daikonshima, which is connected to the mainland by a short causeway. They have a wonderful collection of peonies and ginseng and these are the plants they major in. The gardens themselves are beautifully planned and laid out in the Japanese style and are a haven of peace and tranquility in a busy world.
Yuushien Gardens Photo Credits: Chris Dodd, All Other Photos Renee Blodgett.
Note: My trip to Tokyo was hosted by Princess Cruises, of which Saikiminato was a stop over — all opinions expressed are entirely my own.