Sea urchins inspire Iwate torchbearer to be resilient

SHITAUTSUBO Yukinori founded the Seafood Wholesaler Company in Hirono town in 2010. But not even a year passed since he built his company, the town was struck by the Great East Japan Earthquake. The tsunami took everything he had. Yukinori didn't want to start over again and almost gave up.

However, he thought, 'if a young person like me gives up that easily, there would be no future for Hirono town where the population is aging and decreasing.'

In order to help revive his home town, Yukinori tried hard to think of the unique points of Hirono. Eventually he came up with the idea of promoting sea urchins, as Hirono is no 1 in terms of sea harvest from Honshu Island. His idea was to develop a sea urchin farm that would subsist and won't be affected by the weather. The sea urchin farm is currently at the trial stage, and it will take more time to make it a real business. However Yukinori is determined, and he will carry the torch to show his perseverance and his hopes for the future.

Tell us your thoughts behind founding a company in 2010.

I was born and raised in Hirono-cho, which used to thrive on primary industries. The population is aging and decreasing now, and it has lost its spirit. If someone doesn't do something now, the community will continue to decline, so I decided to establish my own company here.

What kept you going during that difficult time after the earthquake and tsunami?

The people. So many people encouraged me and companies support me, and I gradually moved forward step-by-step. I cherish the relationships I have with the people I've encountered. The people who have supported me continue to encourage me and we remain good partners to this day.

What is so unique about Hirono-cho's sea urchin, and tell us some of the obstacles you faced establishing the sea urchin farm.

The sea urchin of the Hirono-cho Sea Urchin Farm has a mild sweetness and it is very tasty. The shell is packed with sea urchin. Sea urchin farming is not yet well established. I am working hard to develop the right feed formula and the best cage so that the farm-raised sea urchin will taste just as good as natural sea urchin. It's all for the future of my hometown.

What is the number one spot in Hirono-cho that you would recommend?

Hirono-cho faces the Pacific Ocean, and it has the only sea urchin farm in the world. On a sunny day when you look out to the ocean from a hill, you can see the sea urchin farm spread across the beautiful blue water. There's nothing better than eating sea urchins on a rice bowl served at the local restaurant.

What message do you have for the people in Hirono-cho as a torchbearer?

When you live in one place for a long time, you could lose sight of the good things; but Hirono-cho in the Kitasanriku area is rich in marine resources and has a wonderful natural environment that we can be truly proud of. Let's promote the charm of our local area to the world and invite people from all over to visit our town!