• Chunichi Shimbun

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Here’s a novel treat: a senbei rice cracker made of giant isopods, creepy crawlies from the ocean deeps. The snacks are now on sale at a range of outlets in Japan and are quickly gaining popularity.

Giant isopods resemble pill bugs, their terrestrial counterparts. They are crustaceans, so are distant relatives of crabs. Around 10 cm long, they live at a depth of 600 meters.

They have become popular on the Internet and in aquariums for what some people consider to be their creepy-cute appearance.

The crackers were first produced this spring by a team of deep-sea fishermen led by Kazutaka Hasegawa, 40, from Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture. The first batch of 3,500 boxes sold out in a month.

“I don’t want this to be just a fad. I want to make this a Yaizu specialty,” Hasegawa said.

In the course of his fishing Hasegawa would drop 1-meter tubes to catch hagfish and sometimes would haul them up with giant isopods inside. He used to discard the creatures as unwanted by-catch.

A few years ago a TV celebrity came aboard his boat for an interview, saw an isopod and asked if it was edible.

They tried roasting it and discovered that it was delicious, tasting like shrimp and crab.

In March last year, the group held a food tasting event of fried isopods at an aquarium in Yokohama, where they proved popular.

Last summer, Satoshi Yamamoto, 36, from Tokyo-based advertising agency Ozone Network Co. was planning to create New Year’s dishes with a deep-sea concept. He contacted Hasegawa to find out if it was possible to make fried giant isopods the main dish.

After meeting Hasegawa in Shizuoka, Yamamoto bought some prawn senbei to take home. This gave him the idea that it might be easier for people to buy giant isopods if they were in cracker form.

He then contacted Kiichiro Isobe, 33, a sales manager in Shizuoka of Yamaki Kaisan, a company based in Aichi Prefecture that produces prawn crackers.

The three agreed it would be an interesting collaboration and began on a trial basis turning the animals into crackers in January.

First they tried crushing them into powder without adding any flavor. This was not a success. Because the bugs are omnivorous the smell of their organs was simply too pungent.

They continued testing different seasonings and varying amounts of powdered isopod until they found the perfect balance. The snacks are produced on the same production line as prawn crackers.

The outer packaging and individual wrappers bear illustrations of isopods, and the product is priced at ¥1,620 for a dozen crackers, including tax.

The snacks are on sale at aquariums nationwide, as well as at rest stops on the Tomei and Shin Tomei expressways, Yaizu Sakana Center and gift shops in Akihabara, Tokyo.

The crackers were also sold at Niconico Chokaigi 2015, an annual Niconico fan event in Chiba held in late April.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on July 25.

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