When Mihoko Toda married a fisherman based in Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, she had a rather unorthodox wedding vow: “I’m not going to touch fish, you know.”

Fifteen years later, Toda, now 41, gives lessons on cleaning fish.

Toda, a daughter of an officer worker, was born and raised in Kobe.

While she was working as a company employee, she met Yuhei, a fourth-generation fisherman now 40, through a mutual friend. They married in 2002.

Although she had barely touched fish in the first six years of her married life, Yuhei one day told her that he wanted to open a shop to sell fish that cannot fetch good prices at auctions because they were slightly damaged when they were caught.

The fish shop, however, turned out to be a prefab structure installed in front of their home in a residential area. Toda ran the shop with her husband and mother-in-law, observed how they cleaned fish and taught herself the skills.

In addition to the shop, Kairenmaru, the couple also run a sushi shop.

Toda recalls a time when she wept as she cleaned fish late at night while carrying her young child on her back. But she received strength from the neighborhood homemakers who bought the fish and said, “It tasted good,” with a smile.

Even among the same species, each fish tastes differently depending on the way it is cut to maintain the quality of the meat. As a result, some are sashimi-quality while others are not.

Wanting to acquire accurate knowledge about fish, Toda took lessons offered by Hyogo Prefecture’s fisheries cooperative association to learn the challenging way to prepare “hamo” (dagger-tooth pike conger) and other fish.

The more she learned about how to make fish even tastier, the more she enjoyed handling them.

The couple have a son born in 2005 and a daughter born in 2009.

Despite being busy raising the children, Toda about five years ago began offering cooking lessons in Akashi, hoping to stimulate people’s interest. The classes at Fresh Kitchen (http://akashi-fish.com/freshkitchen/) feature the seasonal fish of Akashi.

The octopus season has started, and a large quantity will be landed in Akashi. Even live ones will be sold at the Uonotana Shopping Street in the city.

Preparation is easier than expected. Toda places the octopus in a metal sieve, sprinkles some salt, and rubs the arms and head thoroughly on the small holes of the sieve. When a bubbly sticky substance emerges and the meat turns whitish, rinse the octopus, and it is ready to be cooked.

According to Toda, the best way to enjoy it is to dry and grill the octopus, even skipping the above process. This way, it turns out rich in flavor and texture.

She says she sometimes asks Yuhei to dry the octopus on the ship.

“Perhaps because it is exposed to the sea breeze, it turns out so good,” she says. The dish will remind you that you are given a share of the sea’s bounty.

INGREDIENTS

(Serves two)

1 small fresh octopus (about 300 grams)

METHOD

Cut arms apart, rinse briefly to remove dirt. Sprinkle some salt on head and rub it in. Boil head briefly in water with salt and use in vinegared dish, among others.

Hang arms on hanger with clothespins and dry overnight in an airy place. If daytime is preferred, they may be dried in the sun for 4 to 5 hours on a sunny day. Hang until the surface dries and the meat feels lightly resilient when pushed with a finger.

Place octopus arms on baking grid. Place on stove and toast for 1 to 3 minutes making sure they do not burn. (The octopus may be cooked in toaster or fish grill.)

When the arms start to shrink, serve on dish with mayonnaise, “ichimi togarashi” (chili pepper powder) and soy sauce to taste.

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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column