The “octagon” is a Hokkaido fish that’s virtually unknown elsewhere in Japan…but is this one secret better left undiscovered?

Our Japanese-language reporter Haruka Takagi is on pretty good terms with the owner of her local fish market, who’s always willing to answer any questions she might have about his wares. And on her most recent visit, her question was

“…it this really a fish?”

Not only did it not look like a fish, its name didn’t sound like one either. According to the placard on the box, those are hakkaku…but hakkaku is the Japanese word for “octagon.” The owner assured Haruka that hakkaku is indeed a fish, though, and that while it’s virtually unknown in most regions of Japan, it’s considered quite the delicacy in certain parts of Hokkaido, especially as sashimi.

Leaning in for a closer look, the hakkaku wasn’t not terrifying…but the longer she stared at it, the more Haruka came to feel that it’s also pretty awesome looking, like an alligator or a dragon, and so she decided to buy one for 735 yen (US$6.75) and try it for herself.

Haruka isn’t alone in her feeling that the hakkaku is a fish that doesn’t entirely look like a fish. It’s part of what’s known in English as the “poacher” family of fish, which are also called alligatorfish.

It has two sets of fins, but they look like they could just as easily be wings, with the ones in back having a draconian feel…

…and the ones in the front looking like a bat or butterfly.

Its mouth is kind of goofy looking, though, and Haruka found the contrast with its other more intimidating features charming.

Now, since sashimi is raw fish, Haruka wasn’t going to have to do any cooking. However, she was going to have to clean and slice the fish herself. In keeping with its appearance, this was a little like taking up a sword to do battle with a mighty dragon, and fittingly for her first strike Haruka went for the head.

However, she immediately ran into a problem, because the hakkaku has a row of spines running along the length of its back, and they’re incredibly sharp.

Honestly, the whole fish feels like one “Don’t touch!” sign, and finding a place where she could press her fingers was a major challenge. The only consolation was that the hakkaku’s skin isn’t slimy, so at least she could get a decent grip on the small spots of surface areas that weren’t stabbing her in her fingertip flesh.

Once she finally managed to slice the head off, the next steps were to remove the guts…

▼ No, the hakkaku doesn’t have pixel-based organs. That’s a discretionary mosaic we applied.

…and rinse the fish.

It was at this point that Haruka got to see why hakkaku shares its name with the word for octagon, since that’s the shape people in Japan felt it looked like when viewed from directly in front.

▼ Though this begs the question why they went with “octagon” and not “gaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!”

Next it was time to remove the fins. Unfortunately this meant she had to grab the fish again…

…which meant another painful encounter with its back spikes.

And since there are two sets of fins, she had to do the process twice.

After about the 50th time she stabbed herself, Haruka realized what she was doing wrong. As someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience cleaning a fish, she was trying to hold onto it with a strong grip to keep it from sliding around on the cutting board. However, what she really needed to do was to use a lighter touch, pressing down just enough to keep the fish steady but not so hard as cause pain if she accidentally came in contact with the spikes.

That’s easier said than done, though, and she still hadn’t entirely gotten the hang of it when it was time to peel off the skin.

But though she shouted “Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch!” several times, Haruka miraculously finished cleaning the fish without spilling any blood of her own. Now all she had to do was slice it into bite-sized pieces

…and elegantly plate it.

As you can see, hakkaku looks quite a bit more appetizing as sashimi than it does as a fish. The pink color had an enticing luster to it, promising plenty of flavor.

After pouring some soy sauce and adding a squeeze of wasabi, Haruka grabbed a slice of hakkaku with her chopsticks…

…and all of her hard work and finger pain immediately felt like they’d paid off!

The hakkaku’s pre-sliced appearance had Haruka bracing herself for a fishy, gamey, tough, and maybe stringy eating experience, but that’s not the case at all. It’s rich and flavorful, but also tender, with a taste that reminded her of flounder.

So in the end, she’s glad she was brave enough to try hakkaku, and should you ever have the chance to do the same, she says it’s an opportunity you shouldn’t pass up.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]