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Japanese Cooking: Differences Between Tokyo and Osaka: Dorsal or Ventral Cutting of Fish?

It’s commonly known that between the Kanto region (area around Tokyo) and the Kansai region (area around Osaka and Kyoto), there are differences in culture, custom, dialect and personalities. Among such differences, this article focuses on the differences in methods of gutting fish and the history of how this difference came about. Photo:


Differences in Gutting Fish


Kanto Region: Se-biraki, Dorsal Cutting


Cutting a fish open by inserting the knife from the spine of the fish and leaving the stomach intact is called sebiraki. The reason the incision is made from the backside was because Edo (former name for Tokyo) was a town of samurai and inserting the knife in the stomach was considered ominous as it reminded people of hara-kiri or seppuku.

*Hara-kiri (seppuku): This is the Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment using a short knife. It is a Japanese custom that expresses the pride of samurai, for example, if a mistake was made a samurai would rather kill himself than be executed by others; if a samurai was surrounded by his enemies with no means of escaping he would rather kill himself than be killed by the enemy. 

Kansai Region: Hara-biraki, Ventral Cutting


Cutting a fish open by inserting the knife from the stomach of the fish and leaving the spine intact is called harabiraki. The reason the incision is made from the stomach has its origins in the Japanese expression “Hara wo watte hanasu”. Literally, it is translated to mean “split the stomach and speak”, but what this is expressing is to be frank and open with one another. Because the Kansai area were made of towns of merchants speaking frankly was considered a virtue. That merchant culture can still be seen from the people of the Kansai area today; their easy-going and accommodating personalities, and the often repeated casual dialogue “Moukarimakka? (How’s business?)”, “Bochibochi denna (Not so bad)”.


Today, both sebiraki and harabiraki methods of gutting and cleaning fish are used. However, the differentiation is not by region, rather, it depends on the type of fish they are preparing and the method of cooking. For example, the sebiraki tends to keep the flesh intact so it is often used when visual presentation of the dish is important. Also, because it keeps the tail intact, it is often used for fried dishes (such as tempura, or breaded and fried horse mackerel).  


Differences in Gutting Eel

Unagi or freshwater eel is a representative ingredient in Japanese cuisine. For the eel, unlike the fish, the differentiation in gutting and cleaning is still regional and differs by Kanto or Kansai region. This is because the cooking method itself differs by region.


Kanto Region: Sebiraki

The unagi is grilled without any seasoning, and then steamed. After this process, it is basted with sauce and grilled again. The steaming process in between allows for a fluffier finish and burns off the excess fat. However, because the meat becomes fluffier, it becomes difficult to keep the flesh intact. This is why the sebiraki method is used as it helps keep the flesh from flaking.

Kansai Region: Harabiraki

There is no process of pre-grilling and steaming. It is grilled from the start. Therefore, the flesh stays better intact compared to the Kanto method of cooking. However, the harabiraki is considered a more difficult method of gutting the eel compared to the sebiraki.

The different cooking methods produce different finishes. The unagi of the Kanto region is fluffier from the steaming process and tastes lighter due to the fat being burned off. The unagi of Kansai region is more fatty but rich and has a toasty flavor. We would definitely encourage you to taste and compare the two styles. We wonder which you would prefer the Kanto or the Kansai flavor.

How Japanese Knives are Made and the Secret to Their Sharpness
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