Sea Pineapple – Hoya in Japanese – was a local seasonal staple in Miyagi Prefecture for centuries. Found in abundance in the bays there it was a cheap and fresh source of protein for the people.
But the acquired taste required to enjoy it didn’t spread that far even in Japan. They remain very popular in Korea.
As other cheaper foods became more available and abundant hoya fishing went into decline. The government encouraged fisherman to abandon Hoya fishing in favour of more rewarding harvests. So the sea pineapples proliferated.
One man, Fumiyuki ‘Bun’ Sato, saw the decline in hoya fishing and consumption and it saddened him. He thought an important local tradition was being lost.
And not just a tradition. Some studies have shown sea pineapple consumption may delay the onset of dementia.
Thinking it’s a super food might help you get past the acquired taste part. Japanezy’s Mariko-san is a fan; as a native Miyagan she grew up eating it in season every year.
So she’s a supporter of Bun Sato’s campaign to restore it to Japanese and international tables. He has become known as the Hoya Taishi or Sea Pineapple/Sea Squirt Ambassador.
He has spearheaded efforts to diversify it’s culinary use, and make it available year round with frozen and dried varieties.
Sea Pineapples have several other interesting claims to fame. They are an early and simple form of marine life that evolved a ‘brain’ – a simplified nervous system for motion and an eye to see where that are going – for the juvenile stage, when they swim. But then they attach themselves to a suitable surface – rock, boat hull, post, cultivator’s lines – and never move again. They actually consume their redundant ‘brain’ once established in their ‘forever home’ spot. The simple ingest and squirt out lifestyle doesn’t require much thought thereafter..
Will you try some next time you are in Japan? You’ll never never know if you never swallow as we like to say at Japanezy.
If you visit Sendai or anywhere along the Miyagi coastline you can find it, and other areas.
In neighbouring Iwate Prefecture wild hoya are favoured, whereas in Miyagi it’s mostly the cultivated variety which have more colour.
The famous fish markets in the leading fishing port of Shiogama near Sendai are a good place to see them. Shiogama boasts the most sushi restaurants per capita in Japan. Use the JR Sendeki line from Sendai to Shiogama.