Today, we’re going to check out Nemuro Hanamaru, a sushi chain popular with locals, that originated in the fishing village of Nemuro. As it’s surrounded by water on all sides, Hokkaido is where you can find exquisite sushi at great prices - even in conveyor belt sushi restaurants.
But great prices aren’t all that makes Nemuro Hanamaru special! Read on as we take you inside.
1. What’s Nemuro Hanamaru all about?
The area of Nemuro, where Nemuro Hanamaru originated, faces the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk and is where the fishing industry thrives. The public was called on to suggest names for the restaurant, and Nemuro Hanamaru eventually got its name from a submission by an older adult living in Nemuro! How, then, did this name come about?
First, Nemuro is home to many places like “Hanasakiminato” and “Hanasaki Kaidō” that have in their names ‘hana,’ which means flower in Japanese. Second, the ‘hanamaru’ is a circular hand-drawn symbol that signifies affirmation and means “very good,” often used when grading in school or calligraphy. The elderly customer had hoped his beloved restaurant would receive ‘hanamaru’ from its other customers. This beautiful and heartwarming story behind the name is indeed proof of how well-loved the restaurant is locally.
Nemuro Hanamaru’s name has reached out far and wide outside of Hokkaido, with branches popping up in Ginza and Marunouchi. Out of all the stores within and outside Hokkaido, the one we are focusing on this time is “Kaitenzushi Nemuro Hanamaru JR Tower Stellar Place,” located on the sixth floor of Sapporo Stellar Place, a shopping mall directly connected to Sapporo Station. Even with the abundance of dining establishments and cafes on the same floor, there is usually a queue outside this restaurant – a testament to its enormous popularity.
2. From Entering the Restaurant to Ordering
Because the food preparation area is situated in the center, you will be able to watch the sushi professionals at work regardless of whether you are seated at the counter or in the booths.
At the counter, between the kitchen and the seats, is a conveyor belt from which you can pick up the sushi of your choice. Due to the current COVID-19 situation, various precautionary measures have been put in place, including the placement of vinyl sheets between the kitchen and the seats, alternate seating at the counter, and transparent partitions set up on the table between seats.
In addition to some old-fashioned fishing gear, handcrafted goods made using crab shells, and seashells make up the interior décor. Indeed, the store at Stellar Place has been painstakingly decorated, so it projects an image that draws strongly from the local fishing industry.
The mokko, a wooden fishing tool that is carried on one’s back and used to hold pacific herrings, and the ukidama, a glass ball used for keeping fishnets afloat. Try looking out for these when you visit the restaurant.
After getting seated, the restaurant even provides a little how-to sheet on eating the sushi and using the conveyor belt.
Next, you can check out the available range of sushi on the menu.
There are menus in English, Mandarin Chinese, and Korean that you can browse. If you can’t see the sushi you want going around on the conveyor belt, choose your sushi from the menu and write their corresponding numbers on the order slip and pass it to a staff member.
As part of the measures against COVID-19 and for hygiene purposes, every plate of sushi now comes with a cover over it.
But, if you do see something you like, of course, you can choose from the sushi winding around the counter too – after all, this is a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. However, do remember to be mindful of the etiquette here. Be sure to pick up the entire plate instead of picking single pieces of sushi off the plates.
If you are new to conveyor belt sushi restaurants, the plates are essential for deciding your bill at the end! Note that the prices of each plate of sushi are different depending on the color of the plates. When in doubt, look through the guide again!
The staff handwrite the daily specials each morning
If you are looking for some recommendations, have a look at the handwritten menu with the recommended sushi of the day. This list of specials is available only in Japanese, so alternatively, feel free to ask any staff member directly for recommendations.
The blackboard is decorated colorfully by the staff with the daily recommended menu as well
3. The Secret to Nemuro Hanamaru’s Delicious Sushi
The biggest selling point of Nemuro Hanamaru is how it receives direct deliveries of seafood fished in Nemuro and nearby coastal waters and its offering of fresh seasonal sushi toppings. Because this store has close connections with the local fishermen of Nemuro, it is able to procure fresh and delicious seafood promptly.
Moreover, this branch boasts an extensive ‘grand menu’ - the usuals - with approximately 100 different items and a seasonal menu with around 20 items. While the menus are subject to change depending on the season and inventory levels, the stores in Hokkaido usually offer a wider selection as compared to other stores elsewhere.
Nemuro Hanamaru pays great attention to two key details during the preparation of sushi. The first is the way the sushi toppings are cut. The perfect thickness and size an ingredient should be cut is different depending on the type of seafood and its taste.
Those that taste better with a thicker cut are correspondingly cut into thicker slices, and the same goes for those that taste better with a thinner cut. For Nemuro Hanamaru, serving sushi is not about simply offering the seafood in ‘generous’ thick portions, but it is about preparing the ingredients in the way that best brings out their tastes.
The second is the condiments. With the changing of seasons, the fat content and texture of the same fish will change. Thus, the store adapts the types and amounts of condiments used to meet these changes so that the taste is not compromised.
4. Have Your Fill of the Most Exquisite Sushi
Sushi are prepared by hand by the professionals
Broiled fatty salmon sushi with burnt soy sauce (297 yen; tax-inclusive)
You can eat sushi with either chopsticks or by using your hands. When you add soy sauce to your sushi, try to add it to the fish topping directly instead of the rice so the sushi does not fall apart.
Aburagarei, a variety of the righteye flounder (253 yen; tax-inclusive)
Red salmon roe pickled in soy sauce (352 yen; tax-inclusive)
“Benizake Sujiko Shōyudzuke” consists of salted salmon roe pickled in homemade shoyu sauce for one night and then left to rest for another night on a draining basket. You can enjoy the sushi on its own without adding extra condiments because the roe is already extremely flavorful and bursting with umami.
Extra-large botan shrimp (594 yen; tax-inclusive)
The “Tokudai Botan Ebi” is to be eaten in a unique manner. The first step is to remove the shrimp head.
Pull it open with your fingers.
Place the innards onto the gunkanmaki.
Done! There are many customers who take photographs after, impressed by the appearance of this dish.
With this dish, you will be able to enjoy the different taste and textures of the gunkanmaki and the usual nigiri sushi.
5. Nemuro Hanamaru’s Specialty “Hanasakigani-no-Teppōjiru”
The teppōjiru, literally ‘gun soup,’ is a well-known home cooked dish in fishing towns. There are different reasons as to why it is referred to as such, including how crab legs look like gun barrels and how the preparation of crab looks similar to the cleaning of guns. The richness of the crab stock in this soup makes it a great combination with sushi.
When boiled, the hanasaki crab turns a bright red so vibrant you cannot help but want to take a photograph. If you are keen on other soups, there are about eight different kinds available. The range of soups offered here is one of Nemuro Hanamaru’s selling points too.
6. Tips for Before Entering the Restaurant
Since there are many customers who visit the restaurant in JR Tower Stellar Place, there are times when you may have to wait for your turn. For this reason, a ticketing machine is set up at the entrance of the store. Collect a queue ticket by following the instructions on the screen.
Indicate the number of people in your group and the type of table you would like.
If you would like to be notified via phone, select the left option at this step.
If you key in your mobile number, you will be notified when you are eighth in line. This is especially helpful when the queue is long.
Tap that last button to receive a queue ticket to complete the process!
Sapporo Stellar Place is full of shops you can check out in the meantime so you can spend your time productively while waiting for your turn to dine at Nemuro Hanamaru!
*The above article is based on information from June 2020
Kaitenzushi Nemuro Hanamaru JR Tower STELLAR PLACE
Stellar Place 6F, 2-5 Chūō-ku, Sapporo-shi, Hokkaido 060-0005
Hours: 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. (last order at 10:30 p.m.)
*Opening hours may be shortened as a measure against the spread of COVID-19
Price: Starts from 143 yen (tax-inclusive) for one plate