Jun 3, 2016
Digging for Clams Post Surf in Chiba
Shiohigari / 潮干狩り is the practice of digging for clams along Japan’s beaches. Anywhere between early Spring and late summer (depending on type and location) you’ll find people, especially of the older variety, rolling up trousers and wading into the water to get themselves a free dinner. Actually, many people are in it for the money.
I’ve become used to this practice on the beaches of Chiba, and it’s fun to have a surf and then head back out to join the locals in a bit of clam picking, or shiohigarari.
I’m not sure it’s technically legal. I’ve yet to see any trouble directly, but this year (just a couple of weeks ago) I saw a report on the TV in which the production crew went to a beach where I often surf and filmed angry scenes between some kind of authority and folks kitted out to get themselves some seafood. The partner told me that perhaps it was a local thing, whereby the regulars (for whom shiohigari is an important source of income) had formed a kind of union and were standing their ground against people coming in and undermining them.
Anyway, on the day I took the pics in this post there didn’t seem to be any trouble, although there were plenty of people out in professional looking clam picking gear (they even had buckets with some kind of official looking name on them).
Safety in numbers as always. There were loads of people wading out on this day. There are even shiohigari outings and events around Japan, and I believe some zones may even be designated as ‘safe’ picking areas.
I’d be lying if I said I knew the best technique. I just loiter in the shallows, dig my feet into the sand, wiggle them about a bit and see what comes up. Usually shells that have already been vacated by whatever was once inside. Still, on occasion I’ve come away with enough to chuck into some kind of pasta dish. Honestly, it makes me feel closer to the human condition to be catching (or picking - they don’t make much of an effort to get away!) my own food and eating it. Makes a pleasant change from some of the insipid ‘creations’ that come out of my microwave!
I’ve used the name ‘clam’ here. That's a bit of speculation on my part. I’ve actually know idea what it is I’ve been picking. A bit of research has turned up the Japanese ‘asari’ which is a Japanese carpet shell. Whatever. If you cook em right, they taste pretty good.
If you're interested in surfing in Japan, I've got one or two posts about my attempts so far ...
That is all so fascinating to me. I want to know how it's determined what a critter's particular "season" is. Like, what do these shell-creatures do the rest of the year that you can't pick them up and eat 'em year round? Time shares?
Don't forget oyster, I once saw people picking some oysters from a rock with a pick near Izu. Maybe they all have some kind of license.
@KpQuePasa I think they're busy at other times of the year; taking in the sights, completing 'bucket lists', that sort of thing. Come Spring, they're fulfilled and ready to be, err, someone's dinner.
@KevinC I think if the number of people is enough, the license just goes out the window and it becomes a free-for-all picking frenzy.