What is Shiohigari?
The Shiohigari is a popular Japanese tradition during spring and summer. In the literal sense of the word, it means "tide hung-out-to-dry hunt". It is an outdoor leisure activity of clam digging that is usually enjoyed by families and group of friends. It is in the months of March to June that it is normally done, but it is best to do it in May and June due to air temperature and water condition. It is also during the golden week that the beaches are the most crowded. Annually, thousands of Japanese drive down to the beaches to hunt down Asari or Japanese littleneck clams. Then, the clams will be enjoyed later in a sumptuous meal.
Clam Digging 101: Do's and Don'ts
Here are some tips on what to wear and what to bring, it is best to be prepared so that the activity can be fully enjoyed. First, it is very important to check the weather and Tide report on that day; this is to determine when the best window period is. Often than not, most places are open for digging for only a few hours before and after a low tide.
Second, always wear layer of clothes or change of clothes when traveling for Shiohigari. It is always cold in the morning, and it gets super hot in the middle of the afternoon. Also, a person may find himself covered with mud and dirt after the activity. So, it's best to be dressed appropriately for a better clam digging experience. To complete your gear, it is appropriate to wear a hat, put on sunscreen and bring lots of fluids.
Third, it is vital to wear sandals or plastic shoes during the activity, to protect the feet from broken shells and clams. A pair of rubber boots may also do the job.
Fourth, the essential tools for digging are the following: a bucket, a metal rake (garden rake), a small net bag, a cooler filled with ice and a small stool or chair. The small stool is used so that it will not be painful on the back while bending over the entire time. These items are also available for sale if a person fails to bring one; the items are usually sold for: buckets 200 to 500 Japanese Yen, a Net bag 200 Japanese Yen, and digging rakes 200 to 500 Japanese Yen.
Moreover, here are some suggestions on how to search and collect those clams. First, look for little holes in the mud, it is best to dig in the shallow waters. Next, dig a hole as deep as the teeth of the rake or about 5 to 15 cm deep. It is a fact that clams (asari or Japanese littleneck clams) are usually found as a group, so it's either a treasure full of clams or none at all. So, if there is no clam found in an area, it is best to move to another location and keep moving. There is a different approach if we're dealing with the Gould's razor shell, one needs to pinch a small amount of salt in the hole, then wait for the clam to shoot out its shell, then grab it gently. Another important thing to remember is do not get the baby clams, these are usually less than three cm long. Always ask what clams are appropriate for picking, in most situations it is it the asari clams. It is also proven that clams easily decomposes when it's shell break, so it's important to be careful while digging those clams.
It is also vital to know the proper way of transporting the clams from the beach to the house before cooking. First, fill the bucket of clams with saltwater, it is best to bring a cooler instead. If the weather is hot, put some ice in the cooler while it is being transported. At home, place your bucket or cooler in a dark place for six hours, this will allow the clams to spit out the sands.
Here are the things that need to be avoided when clam digging: stay away from clams that smell bad, is broken, or shells of clams are not closed tightly. This only means that these clams are probably dead and may be toxic and poisonous to our body.
Selfish poisoning is usually caused by these clams, so one should be careful before cooking and consuming these clams. Shellfish accumulates toxins produced by certain algae, these toxins are dangerous when eaten. In addition to this, these toxins can't be removed by cooking. There are four types of shellfish poisoning such as Amnestic, which means permanent brain damage; diarrheal that causes vomiting and of course diarrhea; Neurotoxic that causes slurred speech; then, lastly paralytic, which causes coordination loss and speech defect. There is no specific treatment for shellfish poisoning. But, rather, patients are induced to vomit to reduce the number of toxins absorbed by the body.
Best Places to go for Shiohigari
Odaiba Kaihin Koen (Minato-ku, Tokyo)
It is a special ward in Tokyo, Japan, also called Minato city; special ward means it is a municipality that together makes up the populous Tokyo. It is considered a famous spot for clam digging. This place is a three mins walk from Odaiba Kaihin Koen on the Yurikamome Line. There is no fee for clam digging in this area, however, there is no equipment for sale as well. So, it is vital to have complete gear before riding down to this area.
Egawakaikan Shiohigarijo (Kisarazu, Chiba)
Chiba is the capital of prefecture Japan, it is one of the primary seaports in the Kanto region. It caters to one of the largest volumes of cargo in the country. It is accessible by riding a taxi that is a six-minute drive from Iwan station. A boat is available for rent, it costs 200 Japanese Yen for adults and 100 Japanese Yen for children, which can take you to the best location for clam digging. There is also available equipment that you can buy in the location.
Umi no Koen (Kanazawa-ku, Yokohama)
Along Tokyo bay in the south of Tokyo, lies Yokohama in the Kanto region. It is the second largest city of Japan in terms of population, second to Tokyo. It can be reached within a two-minute walk from Umi no Koen or south station that runs on the Kanazawa sea sideline. Clam digging is free up to two kilograms, but it has to over 2 cm and less than 15 cm in size. Equipment is also available for sale in the area.
Funabashi Sanbanzekaihin Koen (Funabashi, Chiba)
This place is accessible through a bus ride that is six minutes from Funabashi station. However, there is a fee needed before a person can do clam digging. These fees are as follows: 430 Japanese Yen for Junior high school and above; 210 Japanese Yen for children and above. Despite the fee, the good thing about this place is there is no weight limit as to how much clams a person can dig. Gear and equipment are also sold in this area.
There are also famous spots in Fuokoka area:
This place is one of the famous spots in Fuokoka area. It is a 20-minute walk from Nisseki Iriguchi bus station. There is a corresponding fee collected before a person could go for clam digging, the fees are as follows: 500 Japanese Yen for adults and 200 Japanese Yen for Children (Junior high school and below). Also, a special bag is for sale for 100 Japanese Yen, and take homes are normally the special bag fully filled out. One thing to remember about this place is that it is only open from March-May.
Yukuhashi City Nagaihama Beach
This place is known mainly for the Gould's razor shell. It is a 15-minute drive from JR Yukuhashi station by Nagai line, the beach is located near Nagaihama. There is a fee to be collected before clam digging, the rate is 500 Japanese Yen for each person.
Buzen: Unoshima area
This place is where asari or Japanese littleneck is abundant, every person who visits can take home at most 2 kilograms per person. This place is an approximately 15-minute walk from JR Buzen Unoshima station. There is an entrance fee of 500 Japanese Yen. It is open daily from April 22 to May 31 from 12 noon until the break of dawn.
This place in Fuokoka area is about a fifteen-minute walk from JR Buzen Unoshima station. It is absolutely free for all beachgoers, however, bags are available for sale so clams can be taken home. These special bags are available at 500 Japanese Yen. It is open from April 8 to May 28, with no particular time.
This area is accessible by 10-minute walk from JR Buzen Matsue station. Japanese littlenecks are available in this area, but the entrance of 500 Yen has to be paid. It is open daily from Feb 25 to May 28.
This little clam haven can be found with just a 10-minute walk from JR Shiida station. There is an entrance fee for adult, 500 Yen and free for all junior highs and below. Clam diggers can go there anytime during spring.
Different type of clams found in Japan
Asari or the Japanese little neck
It has the scientific name of venerupis philippinarum, also known as Manila clam, Japanese cockle, and Japanese carpet shell. It is usually elongated, oval in shape and its body has radiating ribs. Its dimensions are 40 to 57 millimeter wide of approximately 79 millimeters. It has a variance of patterns and colors: it can come in gray or cream with different lines and patches. It thrives in shallow waters, normally on sand, gravel or mud; it can be found not more than 10 centimeters deep below the sand or gravel. These type of clams are abundant in the coast of Philippines, India and the Pacific Ocean.
Mategai or Gould's razor shell
It has the scientific name of solen strictus, it is long and narrow and has a little richer taste than asari. It is commonly found in Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan. It is normally found at 20 to 50 cm deep on the sand or gravel.
Hamaguri or Japanese hard clams or common orient clams
It has the scientific name of meretrix lusoria. This species is common in Asia and is normally found in China, Korea, and Japan. Its Japanese name came from the words "hama", which means shore, and "guri" that means chestnut. The name was derived because they basically look like a chestnut in the sand. These type of clam is traditionally eaten by Japanese girls during Hina Matsuri so that they could find good husbands.
Famous Asari recipe: Japanese Sake steamed clams (Asari no Sakamushi)
Sake is a fermented rice wine that originated from Japan, it literally means liquor. Asari or Japanese littleneck has been a favorite delicacy among the Japanese. One famous and easy recipe for this type of clam is steamed with Sake. It is a simple dish and it is also easy to cook. To make this dish, especially if fresh clams are to be used, it is important to de-grit. The process of de-gritting is when the clams are purged by soaking it in salt water and then it grits, it would normally take one to four hours to finish this process.
To make this delicious and sumptuous dish, there are only six main ingredients needed such as sake, ginger, black pepper, red chili pepper, green onion or scallion, and of course the Asari clams. The procedure to cook it is as follows: First, bring to boil the sake and ginger in a large frying pan. It is important to remember not to put in too much sake, this is to avoid overpowering the natural flavors of the clams.
Next, add the clam and red chili pepper. Let the pan steam so that all the clams will open. Then, put it the freshly ground pepper and green onion, shake the pan a little so that the clams will not overlap. Lastly, the dish is ready to serve, it is best to eat this dish while it is still warm.