Karato Market is a seafood hub in Yamaguchi Prefecture that is well known for its assorted pufferfish (fugu) offerings and other rare ocean delicacies. This market is a great place to add to your itinerary when making a day trip from Fukuoka or when staying near Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi. Unlike Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji (now Toyosu) Fish Market, at Karato Market, you can buy food directly from the sellers and the blowfish is notably affordable. Plan a trip here to try pufferfish for yourself and experience the bustling liveliness this market holds!
Karato Market is located by the water’s edge on the southern side of Yamaguchi Prefecture. Though it resides in Honshu (Japan’s main island), it is very easy to access from Northern Kyushu by ferry.
What to Buy: Seafood in Karato Market
I recommend visiting the market on either Friday or the weekend as this is when the main area is filled with stalls selling fresh nigiri, pufferfish, seafood bowls, and more. Since the market gets very crowded around lunchtime, it is better to go early in the day to get the best pickings and avoid the crowd.
Upon entering, say hello to the large pufferfish then continue walking inside to the center of the action.
When I first entered, I was overwhelmed by the vast assortment of seafood and spent a good amount of time walking back and forth between the stalls to take in all my options. It was hard to decide what to eat since everything looked so appetizing.
Since Karato Market is famous for fugu, I knew that was something I had to try… despite its infamously deadly and poisonous nature. (Fugu contains a deadly toxin called tetrodotoxin that can cause paralysis and death if prepared incorrectly and ingested.)
Among the stalls there were a variety of ways pufferfish was prepared and sold: sliced paper-thin as sashimi, cooked in a seafood soup, fried like fish sticks…
Additionally, some stalls sold huge trays of fugu sashimi arranged in a beautiful chrysanthemum pattern that looked almost too pretty to eat. These platters cost almost $200! (Though this is considered affordable for pufferfish)
After much deliberation, I chose a fugu sashimi plate (¥800) and a cup of fried fugu sticks (¥200).
I also picked out two pieces of fresh nigiri that I had never seen before: blackthroat seaperch (nodoguru) and barracuda (kamsu). At the nigiri stall, I just had to point to the pieces that looked good and the seller packaged it all up.
With my newly purchased goodies, I headed outside to the water to enjoy my forages.
Note: There is a cafe on the second floor that is usually open for lunch but was closed when I visited due to Covid-19.
Eating Pufferfish (Fugu)
I started lunch off with the fried fugu sticks. Dipped in a bit of tartar sauce, I enjoyed their freshness and satisfying crunch. As I ate though, I found that the fish didn’t have a very distinctive flavor. It kind of of tasted like a regular fish stick- good but not super special…
Next up was the sashimi plate with its incredibly thin and translucent fugu slices. The texture and chewiness of the sashimi reminded me a bit of squid (ika). However, like the fish sticks, other than the psychological thrill I got from eating the potentially “deadly” slices, I wasn’t too impressed with the taste.
Also included in the sashimi plate were strips of pufferfish skin. These were extremely collageny and even chewier than the sashimi slices. Apparently it is really good for your skin, but I found it tough to eat and unsatisfyingly flavorless. Maybe I’m just not a fugu connoisseur….?
In all, my pufferfish tasting adventure was a bit anticlimactic- I’m not sure where all the hype comes from. Regardless, I’m thankful to have not been poisoned and am interested in trying pufferfish soup the next time I visit.
On a brighter note, the two pieces of nigiri that I got were delicious! This was my first time seeing (and tasting) seaperch and barracuda and it was great. Although these are premium fish, the individual nigiri pieces seemed a bit expensive at ¥300 and ¥400 each. After eating though, I could understand the price as the fish slices were generously sized and very tasty.
If you are looking for seafood souvenirs to bring home, there is an area inside the market for just that. You can pick up pufferfish crackers, dried fins to drink with sake, pufferfish rice seasoning, and so much more to share the Karato Market experience with others.
Should You Visit?
Karato Market is a great place to visit for the seafood enthusiast, especially if they are looking to try pufferfish. (Though I’ll say it again, I think it’s over hyped ?). This market holds an abundance of unique items and affordable specialities that are hard to find elsewhere. Arrive early to avoid the lunch rush, and enjoy experiencing a Japanese seafood market!
Have longer to Spend in the Area?
I spent about an one hour at Karato Market – deciding what to purchase, walking around, taking pictures, and eating. If you have extra time to explore the area closeby, make sure to visit Akama Shrine which is just a 10 minute walk from the market!
I am putting together a guide for a One Day Kitakyushu / Kanmon Trip so stay tuned if you are interested!