Friendly faces call out greetings as I stroll through the morning market in Wajima on the northern end of Noto Peninsula, Ishikawa Prefecture. I'm a big supporter of the fish sauce and fermented foods sold here, and it seems some vendors have remembered me. There may be less wrinkled women selling their wares here, but a fresh crop of grandchildren have been slowly taking over some of the stalls. There's hope for the future of Wajima's traditional seafood, such as himono (air-dried fish), fish fermented in nuka (rice bran) and ishiru (fermented fish sauce).

While most of the small fish-processing operations are located in converted garages connected to family homes along the warren of narrow streets in the Fugeshimachi district, Yoshie Minamidani's family work from their home in the hills above Wajima City Hall. An elegant structure with whitewash walls offset by dark brown wooden posts and beams, their home was once an upscale Japanese restaurant run by Minamidani's father.

Minamidani is friendly, approachable and all too willing to show us their operation. However, due to our late arrival we have held up the fish-drying process so her husband is anxious to get the last fish into the drying cage. The cage is an ingenious structure akin to a shelved closet with netting as the "walls" and "floor." The cage sits under an overhang to protect the fish from direct sunlight, but is also adjacent to a bluff that promotes air currents. Moving air is the key to producing the best air-dried fish — you need a location where the air passes through freely and consistently. According to Minamidani, these conditions ensure "the flesh becomes taut and the flavor concentrated." But this is difficult to do in hot weather, which is why locals typically stop air-drying from spring to fall. The day we visited in early April was probably the last day that Minamidani and her husband would be using their outdoor drying cage. Since the couple make their living selling air-dried fish year-round, they will move the drying operation into a temperature-controlled, humidity-free room with fans simulating the sea breeze.