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Horsehair crab and other types of crab represent one of Hokkaido's most famous seafoods

Various species of crab are caught off the coast of Hokkaido, but the four species of horsehair crab, red king crab, snow crab, and spiny king crab are the most prominent. Crabs have also become a major tourism draw for many of the municipalities where they are caught.


Among these, horsehair crab is  one of Hokkaido’s most well known seafood products. These crabs are prepared in a variety of ways, such as boiled live in salt water or the meat is de-shelled and processed into other products, along with the kani miso.

Other crabs are prepared differently based on their species, either grilled or made into soups, among other dishes, which means you can enjoy menu items unique to each species.


■Wakkanai ranks as the leader in the horsehair crab, red king crab and snow crab catch
Crabs are mainly caught in the areas along the Okhotsk Sea, with Wakkanai City ranking as the leader among all municipalities in Hokkaido in terms of the horsehair crab, red king crab and snow crab catch. In addition, horsehair crab is also caught in the Iburi region where the season peaks in summer. Spiny king crab, or hanasaki-gani, is said to have been named because a large catch is hauled in at Hanasaki Port in Nemuro City, which accounts for a majority of the catch.


■Map / Main municipalities with fishing grounds
・Horsehair crab
Esashi Town, Erimo Town, Wakkanai City, Nemuro City, Oumu Town, Hamatonbetsu Town, Sarufutsu Village, Shiraoi Town, Monbetsu City, Okoppe Town
・Red king crab
Abashiri City, Wakkanai City
・Snow crab
Abashiri City, Yakumo Town
・Spiny king crab
Nemuro City, Hamanaka Town
・Other crabs
Otaru City, Esashi Town, Wakkanai City

Nutrients brought by sea ice during the harsh winter

The Okhotsk Sea usually comes to mind when most people think about crabbing in Hokkaido.

The sight of pure white sea ice approaching during the middle of winter is an annual occurrence in coastal areas. Large quantities of phytoplankton contained in this sea ice are released when the ice melts, creating a major feeding ground for crabs. Crabs that have been fattened on these nutrients feature an even stronger, savory taste, so the harsh winter conditions is what helps crab meat to become soft, yet tightly packed at the same time.

Horsehair crab is primarily caught using specialized cages with bait inside.

Crab Family

  • Horsehair crab
    As the name indicates, horsehair crab has short hair growing all over their body. From the standpoint of preserving resources, only male horsehair crabs with a shell larger than 8cm can be caught off Hokkaido. A horsehair crab has a delicate, refined taste with a hint of sweetness. This is why the best way to prepare a horsehair crab is to boil it in salt water to enjoy its original flavor. The kani miso is also known to be delicious.
  • Snow crab
    Snow crabs are known for their long and skinny legs. The meat is finely packed, stringy and soft, with a refined sweetness. Its boiled and de-shelled meat pairs perfectly with white rice or marinated foods. Crab restaurants also serve kani sashi where the meat is dipped in ice water, making it softer and lighter.
  • Red king crab
    Although named crab, this particular species belongs to the hermit crab family. The body is approximately one meter across, with strong and pointy legs. In most cases the crab is grilled or boiled with the shell, which by itself is quite filling.
  • Spiny king crab
    The spiny king crab has spiny-like protrusions covering its body, which makes it very difficult to prepare with bare hands. The meat has a very rich taste, and makes for a good soup stock, so it is typically cut into pieces with the shell and used in a local favorite called teppo-jiru soup seasoned with miso.
  • Sand crab
    Sand crab caught off Otaru and the surrounding waters is called heragani locally. The shell is soft, so typically it is cut in half and used to make soups as well as Western-style dishes such as pasta sauce or bouillabaissse.
  • Alaska snow crab
    Related to the snow crab, this species of crab can be found in the Sea of Japan between Hiyama and the Rishiri/Rebun Island areas. Most are shipped without the shell. Chitin contained in the shell is also used in non-food applications such as water purifying agents and cosmetics.


Horsehair crab is caught in the Okhotsk Sea during the winter and an expansive area of the Pacific Ocean coastline during the summer. This means they are harvested nearly throughout the year as the fishing grounds change seasonally. The snow crab season runs from March to June and November to December, red king crab from March to November, and spiny king crab from April to September, illustrating that the season differs based on the species.

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Processed Foods

There are truly a wide range of crab products available because of the large number of species caught here. The de-shelled meat and kani miso is widely distributed canned, and there are a large number of processed items as well. Red king crab and snow crab are also eaten as shabu shabu after the shell is removed. There are many products that use crab essence or flavoring, which include candies, furikake, and deep fried agetama. Unfertilized red king crab roe is called uchiko while fertilized roe is called sotoko. After marinating in soy sauce, these are sold bottled as a rare delicacy.