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Sanma Ramen in Ōfunato!

This is Shinichirō Takano, ariTV.

Today’s calendar entry is about Sanma Ramen, promoted in Ōfunato, Iwate to help overcome the disaster and bring life back to the town.

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Ōfunato boasts one of Japan’s largest sanma (Pacific saury) catches.

Using those very fish, in Autumn 2010, pre-disaster, the “Sanma Ramen” town revitalization project was launched.

10 hotels, taverns, and restaurants in Ōfunato developed and sold their own sanma ramen, a novel mixture.

Just as the project was set to further liven up and expand, last year’s East Japan Great Earthquake forced a temporary halt.

Two of the previous participants, swept away by the tsunami, remain unable to resume operations. Another has relocated to a temporary prefabricated building, but has yet to resume sanma ramen.

We spoke with the restaurant Banrai Shokudō, which though it fortunately avoided the tsunami itself, had to shut down for a 40-day span last year:

“With the disaster, and as we’re getting pretty old ourselves anyway, we figured maybe we’d just close up shop.”

It was his customers who convinced owner Mr. Chiba to rethink.

“’Open back up!’ or, ‘When are you opening again?’ I heard from so many customers and figured I wouldn’t close up after all.”

40 days after the main shock, with the water still not running and thus working with water rations, they somehow managed to start back up.

Even so, with ingredients short at hand their menu had only a third of its previous variety.

Banrai Shokudō’s menu

As he made ramen with the remaining sanma, volunteers from Hokkaidō to the north and Okinawa to the south came to order it in quite large numbers, we are told.

“After seeing it on TV and deciding they wanted to try it, a family stopped by with a tank of water from Shizuoka. It really wouldn’t be going too far to say I’ve been saved by sanma ramen,” a beaming Mr. Chiba explains.

“After devoting four months to develop our sanma ramen, to have a tsunami come in a moment and stop us was really frustrating. But with people making the trip from so far away just to try it, that gave us the will to come this far. Even one person had it three days in a row, talking up how delicious it was! They came again the fourth day and finally tried something different though.”

Ōfunato’s sanma ramen is sold in varieties original to each participating shop.

Here at Banrai Shokudō the dish is called “Ume~men” (a pun playing on the words ume, a type of pickled apricot, and ‘delicious’; “men” means ‘noodles’). The sanma simmers for at least ten hours to soften the bones and is then cut in thirds, and to create a unique taste ume and a lemon slice are added.

I had a taste myself, and a sweet flavor is complimented by a light tanginess—it was so delicious I was compelled to drink the broth to the last.

Ōfunato sanma ramen maps like these are available at sightseeing information centers. Touring each and trying the unique flavors makes an enjoyable trip.

More and more shops are taking up the cause of town revitalization by using local ingredients.

Mr. Chiba left us with some emphatic words:

“Once again, with this sanma ramen Ōfunato is a sanma town! And Ōfunato ain’t dead! I want our town’s name to thunder across Japan.”


● About Sanma Ramen ●

Goishi Kaigan Rest House

TEL 0192-29-2121 (Japanese only)

Iwate-ken Ōfunato-shi Massakichō Ōhama 221-68


● Banrai Shokudō ●

TEL 0192-26-3763 (Japanese only)

Iwate-ken Ōfunato-shi Ōfunato-chō Miyanomae 9-2

Open 10:00 – 19:00

Closed on the 10th, 20th, and 30th each month




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