Ultra-high-end snow crab brand gaining attention

Published on
December 28, 2016

Of all the local brands of snow crab on the Sea of Japan, Echizen crab, which is identified with a yellow plastic tag, has been considered the most famous and expensive, and recently, a new and even higher level of Echizen crab popped up in Japanese markets.

Called “Kiwami,” a single crab typically costs around 70,000 to 80,000 yen (USD 596 – 153, EUR 571 – 653). To qualify for the top class, they must weigh more than 1.3 kg, the width of the carapace must be over 14.5 cm, and the claws must be more than 3 cm wide. Small defects, such as a broken claw-tip, can disqualify a candidate crab.

Snow crabs from the Sea of Japan are a major draw for gourmet tourists in the winter along the Sea of Japan. Each prefecture in the area has its own branded product identified with a distinctive band on the claw leg. That way, the guests at expensive traditional inns where top-end, gourmet cuisine is served can be assured they are getting fresh local product.
Regional snow crab brands include Matsuba crab in Kyoto prefecture (with those of Taiza Town noteworthy for excellent quality) and Tanzani crab in Ishikawa Prefecture.

Echizen is the old name of Fukui Prefecture. The yellow identifying tag includes the name of the port of landing. Echizen and Mikuni Towns are the major crab ports. The season runs from 6 November to 20 March for males, but only to the year end for females. Only male snow crabs landed in this region are given the title of Echizen Crab. The females are called “Seiko.”

To promote the brand, a two-day Echizen Crab Festival is held annually in mid-November. The festival attracts around 70,000 visitors. The town of Echizen also features a crab museum.

Last year in Fukui, 23 crabs qualified on the opening day and the high price on that day (typically for PR purposes) was 144,000 yen (USD 1,228, EUR 1175) for one crab. This year, the top crab, weighing 1.6 kg., sold at 370,000 yen (USD 3,155, EUR 3,020). The opening day tends to have more and larger crabs. On a typical day, later in November, with 41 small dragnet fishing vessels on the day, just 16 crabs qualifying as Kiwami were landed.

Live prices at the port towns are:

  • Kiwami – (1.3 kg and up) typically 70,000 – 80,000 yen each (USD 596 – 153, EUR 571 – 653), up to 370,000 yen (USD 3,155, EUR 3,020).
  • Echizen crabs -- (males, or zuwai, around 700 to 900 grams) – typically 4,000 – 25,000 (USD 34 – 213, EUR 32 – 204), up to 40,000 yen (USD 341, EUR 326).
  • Seiko (females, around 500 grams) 800 -900 yen each (USD 6.82 – 7.67, EUR 6.53 – 7.35), up to 30,000 yen (USD 255, EUR 244).
Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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