A Tale of Two Fishing Habits: UK and Japan

fishing habits UK Japan

Sushi or sashimi with a dab of wasabi, dipped in soya sauce, washed down with a Japanese beer. Heavenly Umaii!

This article discusses some seafood habits between Japan and the UK, along with the benefits of eating fish. I finish with a brief discussion of the status of the UK fishing industry (or lack of one)…

Japan and the UK are both islands. Both have traditionally been huge fishing countries. At one point, The British navy dominated the seas of the World.

Japan is famous for sushi and sashimi (raw cuts of fish). The UK is famous for Fish and Chips (fish fried in batter). Both taste great and have their benefits and risks. I’ll start with the risks. Get them out of the way.

Risks of raw fish

Raw fish has a risk of parasites, which can cause an upset stomach. It must be served as fresh as possible as it is at a higher risk of spoiling. There is some fear that it is high in mercury, although, unlike the mercury that comes in vaccinations, this kind of mercury can be detoxified from the body as it passes through the digestive system.


Fish around Japan and particularly the East coast has another very significant risk – radiation poisoning. The Fukushima nuclear power plant is still spewing radiation out into the sea and across the whole planet, and just like Chernobyl, will do so for decades.

What this means is that the fish in Japan will contain a certain amount of radiation particles. Whether this can be removed from the body or if it builds up will require independent research, which I doubt will be carried out.

Risks of Fish and Chips

Obviously as it is fried in batter, it can lead to weight gain. Fried foods tends to be more carcinogenic than methods of cooking like boiling or steaming. However I don’t there are any risks of cancer. I also dont think there are any risks of weight-gain – as long as you don’t eat too much of it. In fact, I would go as far to say it’s a fairly healthy food, as long as you treat it like a treat and overall have a healthy diet, you are active and have a healthy lifestyle.

The only health risk is if you live on a daily fried-food, junk food diet with processed foods and no fresh vegetables or fruit. If fish and chips is part of that, then yes, you will be obese and likely unhealthy.

Fish and Chips treat

Fish and chips is a great occasional treat like on the weekend. I used to love fish and chips on a Friday night as a kid. Back in those days, it used to be served wrapped in actual newspaper.

When I’m old and annoying, – I’ll moan to any young folk that happen to come in close proximity to me, whether I know them or not. (Cue old groaning voice):

“In my day, we did’na ‘ave no smartphones to read the news… Instead we used t’ buy fish ‘n’ chips on a Saturday evening wrapped up in t’ days newspaper and then read the headlines after ah’ finished eating…”

And then the kids will say: “what’s a smart phone granddad?”

These days, fish and chips comes served more hygienically in special wrapping paper. I suppose at some point, it was deemed unhygienic to wrap it in regular newspaper.

But back then, I’m sure somewhere, there was a quirky fish n’ chip seller, that would use that infamous newspaper, – The Sun, as wrapping paper, with its pictures of topless models among the news (ahem) stories.

On a Saturday night, he’d serve up a long line of adolescent teenage boys – hoping, just hoping, that their fish would come wrapped in page 3, served with Samantha Fox’s joyful bosom.

Of course, there would never be a page 3. It was like the holy grail or Haley’s Comet –  a once in a lifetime phenomenon. It’s all simple economics – scarcity increases demand.

Now I’ve got the risks out of the way, let’s discuss the benefits of a fish diet.

The health benefits of eating fish

You only have to look at the Japanese. they have the longest life spans, lower disease rates, lowest cancer rates (except for stomach cancer – which may be due to stress and their high salt diet), and generally they are some of the healthiest people on the planet.

And they eat lots and lots of fish.

Yes, but the Japanese don’t eat junk

Actually they do. They have all the same junk we have in the UK. They have Macdonalds, Chinese food, chocolate, potato chips, pizzas.  They even have their own variations of junk food.

They even celebrate Christmas day by eating Kentucky fried chicken. You think I’m joking? – I’m not. Even the Americans don’t go that far and they invented the stuff.

The Japanese invented an extra Valentines day, just so they can persuade more people to buy and shove more chocolate down their throat. It’s called White Day and its supposed to be a day where it’s the womans turn to buy chocolates and cards for the men, whereas Valentines day is strictly for men to give presents to women.

In principle it sounds like a good deal for men – chocolates from women. What’s not to like?

In reality however,  it just means you get two opportunities a year to get a Valentines card from your mum because no one fancies you.

I sure don’t miss my school days.

Japanese are generally slim: Why?

The Japanese are all slim and generally healthier then people in Western countries. Basically it is down to eating habits. Clearly they don’t indulge as much as we do.

But for the sake of this unscientific blog post, lets just say one of the factors that make them so healthy is that they eat fish. Tonnes of it to be precise. In 2011, thy were eating 53kg per capita (per head). In contrast, the whole of the EU (28 countries) ate 24.9kg per capita. Even the US only consumed 21.7kg. (Reference www.statista.comPDF).

So in other words, the Japanese consume more fish annually then all of the EU and USA combined!

There are lots of benefits to eating fish. Plenty of sites on the net will tell you so. Stuff about Omega oils and so on.

But I wonder… The UK is an island just like Japan. The UK has a long history of sea-faring more than any other country on the planet. But looking at these statistics and simply living here will tell you that this country has far less of a relationship to the sea and fishing than its Eastern equivalent – Japan.

I wonder what the consequences of this change are?

UK fishing industry in decline

On TV some time back, I watched 5 minutes of one of those ‘life on benefits’ reality shows that the TV stations are churning out.

This one was based in a seaside town and was the usual kind of fare with one of the cast looking keenly for work but up against the usual problem – ‘that there just ain’t any jobs’.

And they’re right. Not real jobs anyway. We don’t need any more traffic wardens. The whole of London is like a ‘no go zone’ for small traders thanks to the Council.

It’s the same kind of statement repeated numerous times in small Welsh towns and Northern villages that used to have mining or other industries providing jobs. So then the question struck me, why aren’t there any jobs by the sea for the young men to do? Why are there large numbers of people claiming unemployment or disability?

No fishing equals no work

I heard that joining the EU in the 1970s destroyed the UK fishing industry. At the time The UK had to give its fishing rights away to other European nations. I understand it was something like – the UK can only fish up to 12 miles out from the coastline. On top of that there were quotas. The UK was only allowed to catch a limited amount of fish.

The problem was that because the UK fishermen were so good at catching fish, they had to throw tonnes of dead fish back into the sea or into landfill if they brought it back inland. This was all so the UK didn’t go over their quotas. Quite a waste of life and food.

Have you reached your quota comrade?

I remember reading history at school particularly about Stalin’s quotas. Particularly about how the Soviets ambitious targets for its poorly performing farmers had them so pressured that they literally lied and falsified reports; showing that they were reaching their targets.

This caused a problem when Russia found itself suffering from serious food shortages and famines, when according to the reports they should have been brimming with grain.  It was a classic problem of too many ‘yes-men’. Quotas are clearly dangerous things. As it was for the USSR, so it is for the EU-UK.

Its incredible, to think that with famine going on in Africa, and with all the starving people in the world, that this perfectly edible fish goes to waste. ‘Ah well, you can’t transfer it to Africa’, you may say, ‘it will go off’.

Not true. Last week in Tesco’s I paid nearly £5 for a small lump of white fish that had come all the way from Vietnam.

Frequent flying fish

I really wonder why fish has to come from Vietnam instead of the North Sea? And as far as I can tell this isn’t some kind of gourmet overpriced fish. It’s, just some bog standard white fish.

And isn’t this abusing the idea of a carbon footprint? For all our talk of global warning, why must fish be transported thousands of miles instead of just taking it from the water surrounding our island? Can’t they swim?

And then it makes me wonder. What, if while we import fish from Asia. What if Asia also imported fish from Europe? We take their cod and they take ours. Like a giant merry-cod round.

You’d think Asian cod could be distributed around Asia and European Cod sold throughout Europe and in return we save the planet from wasting oil and more pollution.

But of course, that is not how the world works. There must be profit. Certain fish must be available all year round in my local Tescos.

But won’t someone please think of the fish?

There really is no escape for this fish. They probably worked all year in the Atlantic and decided to take a break in Asia for some sun and warm seas and some pina coladas. After swimming for thousands of miles, they get there ready for some R n’ R, and then what happens?

They get caught up in some big net and get shipped back to freezing blighty.

Sure, I understand there are economic reasons for this, but if you just stop and think about it – it really doesn’t make sense. Could that be taken as an indicator that the world is a madhouse?.

Fish is more expensive here – Why?

Fish in British supermarkets come with quite a high price-tag, which is curious because we are an island surrounded by water and fish. It should be like Japan.

The fish there is plentiful, fresh and cheap. There are thousands of fish restaurants. But here, in London, a single fish and chips costs £8-10. A few pounds for the chips and the rest is the price of the fish. Supermarkets are not much better. Fish costs about two times more expensive than meat in supermarkets.

Factory farming does not equate to cheaper fish

While a whole battery chicken can sometimes be as cheap as £2, the same is not the same for factory farmed fish. Mind you, isn’t there something a bit wrong that chicken is so cheap?.. hmm? …well?

Personally, I’d prefer to eat fish that had actually spent some of its life swimming in the actual sea, instead of a 4 by 4 square pond in Scotland splashing around like Brits in a Spanish holiday resort – fin to fin with thousands of its brethren.

All you need is someone to vomit in the pool, some deck furniture to be thrown off the balcony and a couple to have sex in the communal changing room and then the quintessential British holiday is complete. And someone, somewhere, is walking around with a huge inflatable dildo.

So the destruction of the fishing industry has two consequences:

1) Fish is in shorter supply then it should be and hence far more expensive than meat. A shame, because fish is generally a lot healthier for our bodies than meat – all that omega oil.

2) The generations of young men whose ancestors proudly worked as fishermen or shipbuilders, who went out fishing in all weathers sometimes putting their lives at risk; These men who no doubt were strong and hardy – basically lost meaningful and purposeful work.

And now their descendants have nothing else to do but sign on every week or claim disability for chronic back problems or other health problems. These problems would probably disappear if they lived in a thriving working fishing town, where a strong work ethic was re-introduced.

And of course, if fewer people are claiming welfare and more people are working and selling this surplus fish abroad – this would mean that taxes can come down and the UK fishing industry can grow making the UK wealthier.

It might even make the UK football team great again… ha.

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4 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Fishing Habits: UK and Japan

  1. Thanks John, I guess the vomit of your religion of gluteny blog was a detox for this much improved reception. As you say, you have to go with what comes and the smooth tastes better on an empty stomach.

    Good reporting. Thanks.


  2. Some of these posts are actually very old bits of writing I have done over the last few years. I am averse to wasting bits of writing, so I tend to recycle them even though the tone may be more darker. The ‘Gluttony’ post as well as the ‘Tale of Two Fishing Habits’ are parts of old articles I wrote about 2 years ago but set aside. I suppose I am using them as ‘filler’ for the time being until I get back to my normal service. I am choosing to keep some kind of publishing schedule even though they may not fit my other work.

    I do have an upcoming set of articles on qigong again.


  3. Very nice article, John. Well done. But in Indonesia, it being a south East Asian country, we have had a fair share of japanese food too. Some of them are junk japanese food like hoka hoka bento, for example. But I think generally speaking… oriental people tend to have a much healthier heating habit than westerners. Westerners only care about drinking alhocol. That’s the focus of their social life. Whereas for us Asians, food is the centre of it all. In Britain you talk about the weather, in Asia, when we greet someone for the first time, we ask them whether or not they’ve eaten. It’s the custom there. Interesting observation between East and West. ❤️


    1. Thanks DS, I never heard of hoka hoka bento before. I know bento is like a lunch box. But what is hoka hoka? I would agree that oriental people have a healthier approach to eating especially around socialising. British will socialise at a pub often on an empty stomach and drink pint after pint. The Japanese have their Izakayas where they order food and drink together and the food is really good. I think the closest equivalent we have in the UK is the Wetherspoons pubs with good food and reasonably priced beers.


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