A UFO catcher that goes beyond plushies and figures.

Generally, the prizes for UFO catchers/crane games in Japan fit into one of two categories. There are the mainstream cute prizes, like stuffed animals of Disney and Sanrio characters, and then there are the otaku/fujoshi-oriented prizes, often figures or other trinkets of whoever the currently most popular anime characters are.

But sometimes you come across a Japanese crane game that’s stocked with items neither cute nor cool, but delicious, like the one we bumped into in the town of Izunokuni on Shizuoka Prefecture’s Izu Peninsula.

The town has what’s called a michi no eki in Japanese, which translates to “road station.” These complexes generally combine a roadside rest stop with a food court and souvenir shop selling local crafts and produce, and at Izunokuni’s Izu no Heso road station the stars of the show are shiitake mushrooms.

The climate of the Izu Peninsula is especially well suited to the prized fungus’ cultivation, and the region’s shiitake grow up thick and juicy. As soon as you walk in the door of the road station you’ll see all sorts of shiitake stuff, but the real surprise comes when you take a look to your left…

…and see the shiitake UFO catcher!

▼ This being Japan, of course there’s a pun involved, with the kanji for Izu, 伊豆, subbing for the English word “is” in the sign’s declaration of “This 伊豆 shiitake catcher.”

Peering inside, we saw piles and piles of shiitake, waiting for a skilled crane game master to come along and grab a clawful.

But even as our mouths watered and our stomach growled, a fait caution signal from our brains managed to get through. Sure, the mushrooms looked unblemished, but is it really sanitary to eat food that’s ben directly handled by a crane game’s arms?

Our minds were put at ease, though, when we leaned in for a closer look and realized that these aren’t actual shiitake, but extremely convincing plastic replicas. They’re not meant for winners to take home, though. Instead, if you manage to snag one you show it to the store staff, and they’ll let you exchange it for some sort of actual shiitake product, like shiitake soup mix or a shiitake base to cook along with your rice in the rice cooker.

The Shiitake Catcher costs 100 yen (US$.90) per play, and we just so happened to have a single 100-yen coin in our pocket, so we tossed it into the machine to try our luck.

We were pretty confident we’d only need the one try to win a prize. After all, the basic mushroom shape seems like it should be pretty easy for a UFO catcher claw to latch onto, right?


…once again we turned out to be overly confident in our crane game skills, and went home empty-handed.

Well, not entirely empty-handed. Before using the last of our spending money on our unsuccessful crane game attempt, we’d already bought some dried shiitake powder, which can be added to soups or pickles and gives them a flavor mushroom fans will definitely love.

Still, being the sore losers/incorrigible foodies we are, we couldn’t shake the feeling of shame we felt from having been defeated by the Shitake Catcher. Unable to just let it go, we got in contact with the Izu no Heso management, and they took pity on us and gave us a hint: The replica shiitake are heavier than some people assume, and so trying to pick one up by both sides of the cap and carry it all the way to the prize drop-in hole is a pretty tough maneuver to pull off. The smarter thing to do is to look for one that’s already near the drop-in hole and on its side.

▼ Like this guy here

Once you’ve found your target, try to get the claw’s arms to pinch down on just one side of the cap, which will let it maintain its grip long enough to slide into the hole, the Izu no Heso staff told us. So now we’ve switched from sulking over our defeat to looking forward to our delicious revenge the next time we’re in the neighborhood.

Location information
Michi no Eki Izu no Heso / 道の駅伊豆のへそ
Address: Shizuoka-ken, Izunokuni-shi, Takyo 195-2
Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

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