Iwana Sushi
Whitespotted char

iwana sushi

What is Iwana イワナ [𩸶]?

Iwana represents the genus of chars in Japanese, some species are also referred to as “trouts“, which belong to the salmonid family. The term is predominantly used in Japanese cuisine for the whitespotted char. Both land-enclosed freshwater forms and marine iwana exist.

The tratidional character for iwana 𩸶 or 岩魚 is composed of the character for “rock“ 岩 (iwa, いわ) and “fish“ 魚 (sakana, さかな). This can be interpreted as a fish that lives in mountain streams or prefers a rocky environment.

Iwana as an ingredient for Sushi and Sashimi

The bright and shiny, white to reddish meat has a light and pleasing taste. The smell is very neutral and the aromas are subtle. The taste of the meat can be intensified by marinating in vinegar marinade (sujime). Iwana is therefore also suitable for preparation as „pressed sushi“ (oshi-zushi, 押し寿司).

Compared to salmon, which belongs to the same family, the taste of iwana is less full-bodied and more restrained. In particular, char that spend most of their lives in fresh water have a slightly “earthy” flavor.

Best Season

The spawning season depends on the region and subspecies. It takes place in many tributaries of the main stream from September to January. Therefore, the period from May to September is considered the best season for iwana.

Iwana offered on the market often come from aquaculture and are available all year round.

Characteristics & Ecology

Iwana prefers fast flowing, oxygen-rich, cool and clear waters with gravel or sand bottom. They are fast swimming predators that feed on small organisms, water insects, other fish, insects falling from shore trees and frogs.

Some iwana groups live anadromously, that means they migrate from saltwater to freshwater for spawning, these are called amemasu (アメマス) in Japanese. The term ezoiwana (エゾイワナ) is used to describe groups of iwana living in landlocked freshwater areas. Ezoiwana prefers rivers and streams with a water temperature below 15°C.

The distribution in rivers extends over different regions of Honshu and Hokkaido. In addition, the natural habitat includes the northeastern Korean peninsula via Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands to Kamchatka in the Northwest Pacific.

Subspecies of Japanese Iwana

The characteristics of iwana vary greatly from one region to another, but it is common to classify the whitespotted char into four subspecies: Amemasu, nikkouiwana, yamatoiwana and gogi. Furthermore, a distinction can be made between the whitespotted char and the dolly varden trout.

GroupJapanese nameScientific name
Whitespotted char Amemasu (ezo iwana)
Salvelinus leucomaenis leucomaenis
Nikkou iwana
Salvelinus leucomaenis pluvius
Yamato iwana (kirikuchi)
Salvelinus leucomaenis japonicus
Salvelinus leucomaenis imbrius

Related Species of Iwana

In Japan, related species of the same genus are only partially called iwana. For example, the brook trout, is counted among the trout (masu, torauto).

Japanese nameCommon nameNative to Japan
Arctic char
Salvelinus alpinus
Kawamasu (Burukkutorauto)
Brook trout
Salvelinus fontinalis
Oshorokoma (Karafuto-iwana), Miyabe-iwana
オショロコマ(カラフトイワナ)、 ミヤベイワナ
Dolly varden trout
Salvelinus malma, Salvelinus malma mitabei
Lake trout
Salvelinus namaycush


© さばけるチャンネル. 岩魚(いわな)のさばき方:大名卸し - How to filet Char ver. Daimyo Oroshi -|日本さばけるプロジェクト. 2017-09-20, youTube.com


As a general rule, do not eat ingredients that are not explicitly labeled for raw consumption.

The use of unauthorized drugs or misuse of authorized drugs in seafood aquaculture poses a potential risk to human health. Only eat raw seafood from production facilities whose products are approved for raw consumption.

Seafood from particularly coastal or land-locked waters may be contaminated by varying amounts of industrial chemicals, including heavy metals and pesticides. These pollutants could accumulate in concentrations that, if consumed regularly, may cause health problems

References & further reading

  • [Froese & Daniel, 2019]: Rainer Froese, Pauly Daniel. FishBase. The Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of Kiel, FishBase.org. 2019. Retrieved online on: December 24, 2020
  • [Fujiwara, 2020]: Masataka Fujiwara 昌髙藤原. Bozu Konyaku's Market Fish and Shellfish Book ぼうずコンニャクの市場魚貝類図鑑. Bozu Konnyaku Co., Ltd., Tokyo ぼうずコンニャク株式会社東京, zukan-bouz.com. 2020
  • [Kafuku & Hiromu, 1992]: Takeichiro Kafuku, Ikenoue Hiromu. Modern Methods of Aquaculture in Japan, Volume 24. Elsevier Science, Amsterdam. 1992



Drawn illustration for  iwana

Common names

whitespotted char, east siberian char, headspotted char, honshu char, japanese char

Japanese names

  • amemasu (アメマス)
  • ezoiwana (エゾイワナ)
  • gogi (ゴギ)
  • iwana (イワナ)
  • kirikuchi (キリクチ)
  • nikkouiwana (ニッコウイワナ)
  • yamatoiwana (ヤマトイワナ)

嘉魚, 岩魚, 鮇, 𩸶

Scientific name

Salvelinus leucomaenis




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