We try shopping and dining at the number-one approved local store by residents of this small island in the southwest of Japan.

During his press tour visit in March, our Japanese-language reporter Tasuku Egawa eventually made his way down to Yoron Island, the southernmost of the Amami Islands administered by Kagoshima Prefecture. One day, while standing on the beach and enjoying the tropical, crystal-clear blue waters, he was faced with one massive problem–extreme hunger.

If he were back home in the Tokyo area it would have been easy to pop out and grab about ten kinds of fast food to suit his mood. But on this tiny island with a circumference of only 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) or so, that was most definitely not an option. A quick Google search brought up several eateries here and there, but he had no way of knowing which ones were frequented by locals and which ones were likely tourist traps.

▼ Tasuku was staying at an old-fashioned hotel called Seikai during his visit–not exactly surrounded by a fast food paradise.

Just as he was mulling it over, an older man carrying a fishing pole came walking by. By asking him and then several others afterwards, Tasuku learned that A-Coop Yoron Store, the local branch of a national agricultural cooperative, was the store that they frequented the most for daily needs because it sold the greatest variety of goods on the entire island. Looking at Google Maps, its building size even seemed to rival the airport.


Now, a traveler purposefully seeking out an “unglamorous” grocery store may seem strange to many readers, but hear Tasuku out. If someone recommended a store like this  in Tokyo, people would probably laugh. However, there’s no reason why you can’t get delicious things from a place like that. In fact, he first became attuned to what these stores can offer when he stopped at an Aeon Supermarket in Namie, Fukushima, by chance and found fresh fish that were caught only ten minutes away and being sold for very cheap compared to city standards. It was a freshness that rivaled Tokyo’s famous Toyosu Fish Market and also included local fish that he wouldn’t normally see in the capital region. Since then, he’s made a point of visiting local grocery stores and markets when traveling to see what kinds of regional gems he can unearth.

And so that’s how Tasuku found himself heading over to A-Coop Yoron Store. As if to confirm its popularity among everyone he spoke to earlier, its large parking lot was packed–the wave of cars coming in and out simply didn’t end.

Various mopeds were also parked around the entrance to the store. Upon asking, he learned that the islanders generally come to do shopping from all over in the morning and evening, and his time of visit marked the evening rush.

Perusing the displays, now he just needed to decide what to buy. Since it was a small island, he supposed he should go with fish. He’d automatically give up if any of the stickers said that the fish were caught in the waters of other countries, but lo and behold!

▼ Shibi (local name for a small Pacific bluefin tuna) sashimi: “Product of Yoron Island”!

▼ Irabuchi (daisy or bullethead Japanese parrotfish), lightly torched: “Product of Yoron Island”!

It felt so good purchasing things that were produced or caught locally. He also made sure to buy the locally popular sanpin tea and some bread for snacking on later.

When exiting the store, he noticed an unusual food stall by the door.

While food stalls outside of grocery stores aren’t anything unusual, why was this one decorated with a handful of Kumamon, Kumamoto Prefecture’s beloved mascot character, toys??

▼ On the Amami Islands, Kumamon would be considered an invasive species!

It turned out that the vendor was originally from Kumamoto. He brought his stall and Kumamon toys with him while setting up shop on various islands and selling fried foods such as hand-cut potato chips that were super popular with the local kids. Since they were local-approved, Tasuku couldn’t resist buying a cup to tide himself over. They were indeed crispy and delicious.

OK, now back to the fish. He had relied on the guidance of a kind middle-aged man when selecting his specific packages in the store. The tuna sashimi was ready to go but he needed to slice the parrotfish by himself. The hotel owner kindly lent him a cutting board, knife, and plates for this task.

▼ It was unexpectedly thick!

All right–with that accomplished, it was time to dig in! Here’s his total haul (pun intended) from A-Coop.

The parrotfish was up first. It was a bit gritty, elastic, and delicious. Its smell was nonexistent. As he chewed, he became aware of a sweetness seeping into his mouth that was different from the soy sauce. Actually, this fish would probably taste very good boiled in this local soy sauce. He wasn’t sure if the sauce was the main style from the Amami Islands, or perhaps Kagoshima Prefecture, but it paired well with the local fish. The side that had been lightly torched had a wonderful, charcoal-like flavor as well. This grocery store find was an easy early victory.

Next up was the tuna. It had a rich flavor which only deepened when dipped in the soy sauce. Yum, yum–make that two for two.

Tasuku had also bought two more sushi rolls filled with this same tuna because of their interesting appearance. From the sides, you could see the tuna and something that looked like a whole spring onion protruding.

Upon taking a bite, he confirmed that it really was just tuna and spring onion in a simple, delicious combination. It was almost as if this sushi was plucked exactly as is from the wild onto his plate.

Lastly, he also tried a lightly torched tuna and mackerel mustard greens sushi roll. He thought that there might be something unique about it given the location, but it tasted the same as the ones on the mainland.

Having eaten his meal, Tasuku then sat down outside to watch as night fell upon the island.

And so, with the stars twinkling in the sky, he reflected on his trip to the locals-approved A-Coop. He encourages anyone visiting the island to check it out for themselves because it’s stocked with the freshest, most local fish around for very reasonable prices. In other words, unlike eateries advertising to tourists, you’ve got a much higher percentage of striking it rich there, where you know that the quality of the local dishes is going to be solid.

▼ If you get really lucky, maybe you’ll also make it big by seeing a shooting star in the shape of the Final Fantasy VII logo like Tasuku did!

Even if the rest of us can’t get down to Yoron Island in the near future, we’ll keep looking for ways to sample rare fish a little bit closer to home.

Store information
A-Coop Yoron Store / Aコープ よろん店
Address: Kagoshima-ken, Oshima-gun, Yoron-cho, Chabana 9-1
鹿児島県大島郡与論町茶花 9-1
Open: 9 a.m.-7:30 p.m.

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