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Two types of sea urchin with two unique tastes are caught off Hokkaido

The edible portion of the sea urchin is the reproductive glands, or the gonads, which contain the milt or roe depending on if it is a male or female. The gonads of the Ezo horse-dung sea urchin feature a deep orange color, while the kita purple sea urchin has a bright yellow color. To contrast the two, they are referred to as the red sea urchin and white sea urchin.


The Ezo horse-dung sea urchin has a rich, creamy taste, while the kita purple sea urchin has a lighter more refined taste. In the past, both types of sea urchin could be harvested in just about every part of Hokkaido, but changes in the environment have resulted in many fishing grounds only able to harvest either type and not both.


■Fertile konbu kelp grounds have a large stock of sea urchin
Statistics on the sea urchin catch by municipality for 2012 showed that Nemuro City caught the most Ezo horse-dung sea urchin, while Hakodate City caught the most kita purple sea urchin. Rishiri Island and Rebun Island also had a large catch, and viewing the fishing grounds of both islands as one because of their close proximity would make this area one of the largest sea urchin harvesting grounds in Hokkaido.

Sea urchins are omnivorous and the Ezo horse-dung sea urchin and kita purple sea urchin of Hokkaido both eat konbu kelp. This is why the Rishiri and Rebun areas are a major harvesting area because of their well known konbu kelp crop. Visitors are encouraged to taste both types of sea urchin to compare.


■Map / Main municipalities with fishing grounds
・Ezo horse-dung sea urchin
Nemuro City, Rebun Town, Rishiri Fuji Town, Rishiri Town, Hakodate City
・Kita purple sea urchin
Hakodate City, Rebun Town, Rishiri Town, Rishiri Fuji Town, Setana Town, Haboro Town, Shakotan Town

Fresh sea urchin can be harvested throughout the year using different fishing grounds

Surrounded on all four sides by ocean, Hokkaido’s sea urchin harvesting grounds migrate to each part of the prefecture depending on the season. To protect the stock, fishermen only harvest sea urchin in designated waters during the pre-set season, but some municipalities have concentrated efforts on aquaculture like Hamanaka Town, making it possible to enjoy fresh, raw sea urchin nearly throughout the year. Sea urchins are caught off Rausu Town on the Shiretoko Peninsula under the sea ice and in the calm summer waters along the coast of the Oshima Peninsula from Shiribeshi using nets. During the season, fishermen-run canteens pop up cross Hokkaido where you can eat fresh uni kaisen-don during the short fishing season.


In addition to handheld fishing nets, in some regions fishermen dawn wet suits to dive underwater to harvest sea urchin. There is also a type of drift net fishing used where a net with steel frame is sunk to the bottom and towed behind a boat.

Sea urchin Family

  • Ezo horse-dung sea urchin
    The Ezo horse-dung sea urchin has a brown shell with short spines. Its common name of ganze is said to originate from archaic Japanese used in the Heian period. The gonads are sweet with a rich and creamy texture. It is used in sashimi, sushi, and don dishes, as well as steamed and cured in salt.
  • Kita purple sea urchin
    The kita purple sea urchin has a mix of long and short spines and its shell is a deep purple color. Fishermen in Hokkaido call it the nona, from the Ainu word. It offers a lighter, more refined taste, and like the Ezo horse-dung sea urchin, it is made into processed foods and served raw.


Most places ban sea urchin harvesting in October during the spawning season, and since the meat is not very plump during November immediately after the spawning season, the season spans from December to the following September. By region, the season can be broken down to Hidaka in the spring, Shiribeshi in the summer, and spring/summer for Northern Hokkaido and winter to spring for Eastern Hokkaido. Ezo horse-dung sea urchin grown on aquaculture farms in Hamanaka Town are shipped from September to the following March.

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Processed Foods

One of the more well known processed foods sea urchin are made into is called shio-uni, which is salt cured and can be stored for long periods of time. This makes the unique creamy texture of the sea urchin even more sticky and rich, perfect when paired with white rice or alcohol. It is sometimes eaten together with squid or jelly fish to provide contrasting textures and tastes. Steamed sea urchin is also sold canned for easy preparation. The variation of sea urchin products continues to grow, as evidenced by candy flavored like sea urchin as well as unique beverages such as sea urchin cider.