Most visitors to Japan never make it up to Aomori, the northernmost prefecture on Japan’s “main” island of Honshu. To them, Japan means Tokyo and sushi means “Tsukiji”, the market where a disproportionate amount of the world’s seafood is brought to be bought and traded. I once thought that Tsukiji was the “be all and end all” of Japan’s sushi scene too, but a trip this summer to Tohoku presented me with a refreshing alternative.
The Furukawa Market sits two blocks south of Aomori’s train station, and is easy to overlook unless you can either read Japanese or are glued to your google maps app. Once you slide open the door of this large warehouse, however, it’s row after row of fresh seafood and (now here’s the kicker) friendly vendors.
Yes, in Aomori, they actually welcome visitors to their market and want you to eat there and enjoy the fish. To that end, the market has created the nokkedon system. A nokkedon is basically just a bowl of rice topped with whatever fresh fish from the market you select. When you walk in, you’ll be greeted by a cheerful staffer at the information counter. Reference the bilingual guide on the table to purchase your nokkedon tickets – a book of five tickets for ¥540 will get you a half portion of nokkedon, while the full ¥1080 booklet guarantees you a full bowl.
Take one ticket (equal to about ¥100) and go first to any of the market stands sporting the symbol that says they serve rice. (You’ll see it clearly on the info sheet.) After that, feel free to wander among the vendors to select the toppings for your bowl. The vendors will have already prepared small portions of various seafoods and marked them with how many tickets they are worth. Thus, you can get a nice serving of salmon for 2 tickets or perhaps some good fish roe for 3 tickets.
Should you run out of tickets or prefer to try something that isn’t already portioned out, you can always by a la carte. I loaded up my nokkedon with the standard fare and then bought a skewer of grilled scallops, an Aomori specialty, for about ¥300, to add to the mix.
The market provides tables and chairs for diners to sit and enjoy their meals and soy sauce is available on all the tables. Nokkedon can be purchased from 7h00-16h00, though some of the shops may close earlier. You can NOT order nokkedon on Tuesdays (I have no idea why). For more information, check out the Aomori Prefecture home page.