Photo/Illutration“Akamutsu” (rosy seabass) (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

“Akamutsu” (rosy seabass), also called “nodoguro” (blackthroat seaperch), goes by various other names as well--“danjyuro,” “kingyo,” “mekin” and “akauo,” among others.

It would take a bona fide foodie, or fish expert, to recognize all these names.

Winter is the season most people associate with nodoguro (or akamutsu). But in the Hokuriku region, it is said to taste the best from late summer to early autumn.

Known as a rare delicacy that fetches high prices, the fish shot to nationwide fame four years ago when pro tennis player Kei Nishikori, who made it to a Grand Slam final at the 2014 U.S. Open, said immediately upon his return to Japan: “I want to eat nodoguro.”

The fish is caught mostly along the Sea of Japan coast.

In Toyama Prefecture, the prefectural Fisheries Research Institute in the city of Namerikawa started breed-and-release experiments seven years ago. This was at the request of the local fishing industry to see what could be done to increase the nodoguro catch in Toyama Bay.

The institute’s goal was--and is--propagation, rather than farming.

According to chief researcher Yuichi Fukunishi, 36, this is a delicate fish that is not easy to raise. If held in the hands for too long, the human body temperature causes the fish to go limp and lethargic.

“When the breeding room turns pitch-dark during a power outage, the fish panic and hurl themselves against the tank walls,” Fukunishi explained.

By trial and error, his team learned to optimize the feeding system, water temperature and other conditions, and succeeded in growing the nodoguro population.

The team has so far released 90,000 fish into the bay.

Fukunishi said he felt his efforts were rewarded when a big, healthy nodoguro was caught in a net for the first time.

In Toyama Prefecture, the fish also goes by yet another name--“gyoshin.” This is written with kanji characters that stand for “fish” and “god.”

Apparently, the fish has historically been highly prized and revered like a god.

Nodoguro, which translates literally as “black throat,” derived from the black coloration on the inside of the fish’s throat.

But I think this is a somewhat unfortunate name for this fish with its glossy roseate body and the whiteness of its melt-in-the-mouth flesh.

A poem by Yukari Kojima goes to the effect, “When I learnt, a long time ago, that your name was nodoguro, my throat tightened with deep regret.”

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 30

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.