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Story Behind the Development of Crab-Flavored Fish Stick

Osaki Suisan was founded by Nobuichi Osaki in 1928 in Kusatsu, a seaside town in the western part of Hiroshima City.

A port town at a chokepoint along the former Sanyodo trunk road, Kusatsu has a long history. Even today, historic townscape remains around the former trunk road.

Since high-quality fish was abundant in Kusatsu, many stores making kamaboko (boiled fish paste) from the fish lined the streets.

Many of these kamaboko makers also engaged in fishing for a living. Nobuichi was one of them.

Being a pioneer by nature, Nobuichi was one of the first to attach an engine to his fishing boat, attracting public attention.

Nobuichi Osaki and his daughter

When Katsuichi Osaki, Nobuichi’s son, took over Osaki Suisan, he developed non-traditional, original kamaboko products one after another.

Katsuichi was unique in that he also participated in the development of manufacturing machinery.

One day, Katsuichi was patrolling the factory as usual, when he casually stopped in front of the Kani Kyuri (Crab Cucumber) machine.

The Kani Kyuri was one of the original kamaboko products that Katsuichi developed: a cucumber stick with crab meat filling inside is wrapped with fish meat.

Each time one manufacturing step is completed, the fish meat remaining in the nozzle is discharged by pressure, commingled with crab juice.

When Katsuichi tasted it, this residue tasted like real crab.

“If we make good use of this fish meat, we can develop an entirely new product,” thought Katsuichi.

Katsuichi Osaki and his wife Chieko

Katsuichi came up with an idea. Collecting the fish meat mixed with plenty of crab juice, he applied to it the method for making Uo Somen (noodles made of boiled fish paste), which he developed earlier. As he expected, the end result tasted and smelled like real crab meat.

Katsuichi thought, “If we can add red coloring, they will look like real crab legs. We can provide consumers a kamaboko that tastes substantially the same as expensive crab meat at a low price.”

His efforts to manufacture a Fish Stick began at this time.

Initially named “Kani Stick” (kani means crab), this product was later renamed “Fish Stick” and launched on the market in 1974, eventually becoming the savior of the kamaboko industry.

Indepndntly Developed Fish Stick Manufacturing Line

There were three difficulties to be overcome to develop a machine for the mass production of Fish Stick.

The first problem was how to bind together thin noodle-like fish meat. The second problem was how to apply the red coloring evenly. The third problem was how to cut the product to the same length.

These three problems of binding, blowing, and cutting had to be resolved.

Katsuichi’s experience and ingenious approaches, which he cultivated in the development of original kamaboko products such as Sazare Ishi and Hamano Matsutake, helped realize the development of this machine as well.

After repeated trials and improvements of the machine, Katsuichi finally succeeded in independently making a fully automated mass production line in May 1978, a miraculous feat at the time. This production line embodies all the expertise of Osaki Suisan.

In those days, Katsuichi used to say jokingly, “I assembled and disassembled the machine day in and day out. They said this factory looked more like a scrap yard. Well, looks like we finally have a Stick factory now.”

The Fish Stick first attracted attention at sushi restaurants.

The product gradually gained popularity as offering substantially the same taste as expensive crab sushi at much lower prices. At the same time, the Company was flooded with requests for interviews from television stations, magazines, and other media, which made the name of Katsuichi and Osaki Suisan widely known across Japan.

At that time, the kamaboko industry was struggling in a depression. So other companies also started selling products similar to the Fish Stick.

Business became brisk in the kamaboko industry after a long time. People enjoyed crab-flavored kamoboko as a new type of food, and started using it in a variety of ways, such as for salad topping, tempura, and sushi. As it started to be used in restaurants and home cooking, the consumption of imitation crab sticks jumped significantly.

Naturally, competition in the industry became fierce.

Fish Stick as Popular Food Around the World

Osaki Suisan has frequently received suggestions “to sell not only high grade products, but also middle grade products as a corporate strategy.”

Seiichi Osaki, the current chairman of the Company, espoused the policy of his father Katsuichi and rejected these suggestions, saying “We will not make products of unsatisfactory quality. Making lower quality products is worse than making nothing at all.” The tradition of the Company, “Osaki Suisan means high quality,” has not been compromised.

The Company’s commitment to quality has been appreciated overseas as well. In March 1984, Osaki Suisan participated in the Edinburgh Food Show in Britain, earning a favorable reputation.

Next, the Company passed the rigorous standards of France, Switzerland, and Sweden, and obtained an official export permit from the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Osaki Suisan has acquired HACCP certifications for both the EU and US. Thanks to our dedication to high quality, the Osaki Brand became an established name and our products started to be sold in many cities like Los Angeles and New York.

Eventually, crab-flavored kamaboko has grown to be an international food enjoyed not only in Japan, Europe, and the US, but also in East Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, as well as in Oceania, Central and South America, and the Middle East, as a home cooking ingredient.

Katsuichi’s dream, to “make many people enjoy products that are totally new and really tasty,” has been realized by the Fish Stick, which is now literally enjoyed by people around the world.

Photo taken around 1955 of Katsuichi Osaki and the employees of Osaki Suisan.
Katsuichi's mother, Maki, and his wife Chieko are at the center of the first row.