• Kyodo

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Tourists seeking a taste of winter in Japan might hit pay dirt in Hiroshima, where a local producer with an over 300-year history is offering freshly harvested oysters as part of a boating tour near a shrine listed as a U.N. World Heritage site.

Once a week, Shimada Fisheries in Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, takes visitors aboard a fishing vessel to a location where oysters are harvested. It’s aim is to promote the local specialty.

As a bonus, at high tide and when weather allows, the boat passes through the famous Itsukushima Shrine’s vermilion “floating” torii, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The reservation-based tour, conducted in Japanese, begins at 7 a.m. each Saturday and will be held until early May. It costs ¥3,000 per adult and is free for junior high school students and under.

“It’s a good bargain because you can enjoy harvesting, the food and sightseeing all at the same time,” said 45-year-old Kazunori Maruhashi, of Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, after taking part in the tour.

During one tour in late November, participants were guided to an oyster bed. Under a raft, oyster larvae stick to shells attached to some 700 wires, each roughly 10 meters in length, where they grow.

After explaining how oysters are harvested, fishermen hoist the wires using a crane and cut the oysters loose, creating a giant noise as they hit the deck. The excited tourists on board start taking photos.

Within minutes, the ship arrives at the shrine’s gate, and the tourists are served grilled oysters and oyster porridge to conclude the tour.

Each day, the company harvests about 5 tons of oysters that have grown for two to three years, according to the company.

While Hiroshima oysters are a well-known culinary delight, numerous oyster producers in the prefecture have abandoned their businesses due to lack of successors and falling oyster prices.

The number of oyster farmers in Hiroshima Prefecture, which stood at some 900 in the 1960s, had dropped to about 300 by 2013, a government survey says.

“We can’t survive just by harvesting many oysters and selling them to wholesalers,” said Shimada Fisheries President Shunsuke Shimada. “To ensure stable revenue, we need to sell oysters we have harvested on our own.”

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