The torpedo-like tuna fish are the star attraction in the sprawling port of Oma (Big Gap), at the northern tip of the axe-shaped Shimokita peninsula. Oma and tuna go together like Devon and cream teas; visitors insist on having some. A University student in the next tent to me, having cycled all the way up from Sendai broke her student budget in a restaurant at the cape, spending 3,000 yen on a bowl of raw tuna on rice. As a reward, a local man treated her to a serving of throat and heart.
In the early morning, I cycled to one of Oma`s harbours. On a concrete step, a large lady was laying out lines of purple tengusa seaweed to dry. A painstaking job, seaweed strips are harder to wash than socks; she has to wash and dry the tengusa 3 times before it is ready. She gave me the good news that a tuna boat was on its way into port.
For 30 minutes I waited on the wharf along with the crows, the seagulls and a 4 year-old girl in pink plastic wellies – her Dad was the skipper of the incoming tuna boat.
The boat had a young crew of stocky, sun-browned men in black t-shirts; they walked with a confident swagger, like a rugby scrum on a night out. Their catch of two 70-80kg tuna fish were hauled in on hooks attached to the end of a forklift. Silver scales sparkling in the sunshine, not a blemish on either beast, they looked magnificent. I heard later the crew`s swagger and smiles were not on show everyday; a month or two without a catch and the tuna fisherman come under real pressure.
I found out a little about Oma`s other beasts in a museum commemorating the . A greybeard descendant of one of the 17,00o exiles gave me a guided tour of the one room exhibiton. The samurai families came from the Aizu clan, they were sent by boat after their defeat in the 1868-69 civil war. At the time Shimokita was a frontier of freezing temperatures, blizzards and uncultivated land. Shimokita remains notorious for freezing temperatures and blizzards; but the land around populated areas has been tamed.
One new trick the ex-samurai learnt was dairy-farming, one of the more successful even went onto to open a dairy farm in Tokyo where the skyscrapers of Shinjuku now stand. Selling milk to green tea guzzlers and the lactose intolerant was not easy though; even now it is hard to convince Japanese that the warm, white juice squeezed out of a cow`s udder is a refreshing beverage; milk needs to be civilized by being mixed with sweet coffee, canned and stacked into a vending machine.
In the afternoon, the basket-bike took me on a tour of Oma`s harbours before dropping me off at the local hot spring. Afer the bath, I followed the curious custom by having a glass bottle of chilled milk – purchased from a vending machine of course.
A couple of hundred yards from the onsen, a small herd of black shorthorn cattle were out grazing. Cows out to pasture? A fine idea. Up on the green sloping fields overlooking the stretched-out seaside town, Oma did a pretty good impression of Devon.