At the beginning of spring, you may notice clusters of people digging at the mouth of the Muromigawa River. They’re not panning for gold, but for something much tastier – clams! In Japan, shiohigari (digging for clams) is a popular leisure activity for families and groups of friends, who comb the beaches for clams before taking home their spoils to cook. The season runs from the end of March to early June, and it’s a popular activity over Golden Week. Enjoy a day of shiohigari at the beach, playing in the mud and challenging your friends to clam-hunting contests! Read on for our complete guide to shiohigari – especially the warnings and dos and don’ts.
Though clams are in season from late March to early June, the prime clam-hunting time is April through to early May. The beaches are most crowded during Golden Week (May 3 to May 6 in 2018) and all the biggest clams are snatched up by the end, so we recommend going before then. The early clam-digger catches the fattest clams!
The absolute best time to go clam digging is at spring tide (the tide just after a new or full moon). This year, spring tides will occur on:
• Apr. 9 (Mon.) ~ 15 (Sun.), 23 (Mon.) ~ 29 (Sun.)
• May 8 (Tue.), 15 (Tue.), 22 (Tue.) ~ 29 (Tue.)
How to Check the Tides
When it comes to clam digging, the tides are all important. There are two ‘golden hours’ for shiohigari: the two hours around low tide. We recommend getting to the beach just as the tide starts pulling out and finishing up your shiohigari fun by low tide. This website has predicted the prime clam-picking times for April. We’ve prepared the same information below with an English translation. Find your desired shiohigari date in the central column, and then read along to find the best time of day to go (dark blue denotes the best picking times).
Digging up sand with your hands is no day at the beach! So use a hoe to break up the compacted sand and make it easier to dig. But do it carefully – you don’t want to damage you bounty!
Thick rubber gloves
Master clam-diggers often don’t bother with the hoe, but instead wear protective gloves.
Shiohigari beaches can often be quite rocky and dangerous, so make sure to wear shoes which protect your feet, like rubber boots.
It can get very hot during shiohigari season – bring a hat and maybe some sunscreen.
Towel and clothings to change
When the fun is over, you’ll usually find yourself covered in sweat, mud, sand and water! So bring a towel and a spare change of clothes.
Cooler box and ice
You’ll need to keep your clams alive until you get home, so bring a cooler and some ice to keep your clams fresh until you can put them in the pan.
When it’s time to start cooking your clams, you’ll need to rinse off the sand. It’s best to do so using seawater from where the clams lived; so take an empty bottle to the beach and fill it in the sea.
Often local fisheries insist you buy or give you a bag to put your clams in, but a bucket tends to be handier, so best bring one along anyway.
Hoe and salt
If you’re after Gould’s razor shells, you’ll need a hoe and salt (see below).
How to Dig Clams
Look for little holes in the mud. If, when you stamp your foot near the hole, a squirt of liquid shoots out, a clam has probably set up shop there. In fact, since asari (Japanese littleneck clams) are usually found in groups, there might be a mini treasure hoard of clams down there. Once you’ve found your spot, make a hole about as deep as the teeth on your hand-rake are long (around 5-10 cm). Don’t waste too much time in one space – keep moving until you find an area rich with mollusks. But for Gould’s razor shells, you’ll need to take a different approach. Rake the surface of the sand until you see little holes, then put a pinch of salt into each hole and wait. The clam will shoot out shell first in an effort to escape the salt – grab it, quick (but be gentle)! Check out this video to see how it’s done! Once you’re finished, fill a large bucket with seawater and transfer all your clams to it for the journey home. If it’s very warm outside you should put the bucket in a cooler.
Rules for Clam Digging
• DO NOT take baby clams – release any clams less than 3 cm long.
• DO be careful of the tide; it often rises very quickly, and covers a greater distance than one might expect. You don’t want to get stranded!
• DO watch your children.
• DO NOT enter any areas where fishing/shiohigari is banned, or any other restricted areas.
• DO check what shellfish you are allowed to pick before you begin (usually asari clams only).
• DO check what equipment you are allowed to bring. Big fishing nets, for example, are prohibited.
Avoid all broken clams, clams that smell bad, and clams whose shells aren’t tightly closed. If you find one that’s broken and/or smells bad, it’s probably dead. And be careful not to stab or break a clam’s shell whilst digging – it will start to decompose right away. Dead clams are a health hazard, and broken shells also make for gritty eating. So, if in doubt, leave it in the ground!
Shellfish are filter feeders, so they accumulate toxins produced by certain microscopic algae; these toxins cause shellfish poisoning when consumed. These toxins cannot be removed or negated by cooking the shellfish. Every year, the Chikuzen Sea, Ariake Sea and Buzen Sea are professionally evaluated, and news of any poison shellfish outbreaks that they discover are then passed onto the media and published online. So, keep an eye on the news and check this website before heading to the beach (Japanese only).
Types of Clams Around Fukuoka
Asari – Japanese littleneck
Scientific name: Venerupis philippinarum
It lives in the mid to low intertidal zone of bays and estuaries, where it prefers mud, sandy mud and cobble. They can be found buried 2-4 cm below the surface. Each shell’s pattern is unique and distinct! These clams can be used to make a delicious clam chowder or spaghetti alle vongole; or try your hand at Japanese cuisine by making sakamushi (asari steamed in sake).
Mategai – Gould’s razor shell
Scientific name: Solen strictus
A long, narrow saltwater clam. These clams prefer to live around 20-50 cm below the surface. Their taste is a little richer than asari, and they are delicious when fried up with butter!
Hamaguri – Japanese hard clams or Common orient clams
Scientific name: Meretrix lusoria
This species, which is common in Japan, takes its Japanese name from the words “hama” (shore) and “guri” (chestnut), perhaps because they look like chestnuts nestled in the sand. Hamaguri are traditionally eaten by girls during Hina Matsuri, a tradition which is said to help girls find a good husband.
Shiohigari: (n) Clam digging
Kancho or Hikishio: (n) Low tide
Mancho or Michishio: (n) High tide
Horu: (v) To dig.
Kumade: (n) Hand-rake
Asari: (n) Japanese littleneck
Mategai: (n) Gould’s razor shell
Ookii: (adj.) Big
Chiisai: (adj.) Small
Takusan: (adv.) A lot
Sukoshi: (adv.) A little
Toreta?: How did the clam picking go?
Clam-digging spots in Fukuoka
Shells: Japanese littleneck only
Fee: Adults ¥500, Child (Under JHS) ¥200. Takeaway possible only if you buy special bag (¥100) – max. 1 bag per person.
Picking season: Only open when it’s spring tide (tide just after a new or full moon) during Mar. ~ May, hours may vary
Facilities: Public toilet, free parking (150 spaces).
Access: 10 min. from JR Imazu Sta. by Showa bus towards Nishinoura, get off at Nisseki Iriguchi. 10 min. walk from the bus stop.
Tel.: 092-806-2121 (Fukuoka fisheries cooperative, Hamasaki-Imazu branch)
Yukuhashi City Nagaihama Beach [Map]
Shells: Mainly Gould’s razor shell
Fee: Adult (JHS and above) ¥500
Facilities: Public toilet, parking (200 spaces).
Access: 15 min. from JR Yukuhashi Sta. by Taiyo Kotsu bus Nagai line, get off at Nagaihama.
Tel.: 0930-22-4780 (Yukuhashi fisheries cooperative, Nagai branch; Tue., Wed., & Thu. only)
Buzen Unoshima area [Map]
Shells: Japanese littleneck only (2 kg max.)
Picking season: 4/21 (Sat.) ~ 5/31 (Thu.) from 12:00 p.m. until sunset
Closed: 4/23 (Mon.) ~ 26 (Thu.), 5/7 (Mon.) ~ 11 (Fri.), 5/21 (Sat.) ~ 25 (Fri.)
Facilities: Public toilet, Parking (100 spaces).
Access: 15 min. walk from JR Buzen Unoshima Sta.
Tel.: 0979-83-2228 (Houchiku fisheries cooperative main branch)
Buzen Hachiya area [Map]
Shells: Japanese littleneck only.
Fee: ¥500 (incl. one fishing net) *only picking with fishing nets allowed; bringing your own fishing net is prohibited
Picking season: 4/1 (Sun.) ~ 5/31 (Thu.). Hours may vary.
Closed: 4/5 (Thu.) ~ 11 (Wed.), 4/20 (Fri.) ~ 25 (Wed.), 5/5 (Sat.) ~ 10 (Thu.), 5/19 (Sat.) ~ 24 (Thu.)
Facilities: Parking (100 spaces)
Access: 15 min. walk from JR Buzen Unoshima Sta.
Tel.: 0979-83-2179 (Houchiku fisheries cooperative Hachiya branch)
Buzen Matsueura area [Map]
Shells: Japanese littleneck, Gould’s razor shell
Fee: ¥500 *also applies as entrance fee to the beach
Open: 2/28 (Wed.) ~ 5/28 (Fri.) during spring tides
Closed: 4/5 (Thu.) ~ 14 (Sat.), 4/20 (Fri.) ~ 25 (Wed.), 5/5 (Sat.) ~ 11 (Fri.)
Facilities: Parking (50 spaces).
Access: 10 min. walk from JR Buzen Matsue Sta.
Tel.: 0979-83-2716 (Houchiku fisheries cooperative Matsueura branch)
Hamanomiya Beach [Map]
Shells: Japanese littleneck only
Fee: Adult ¥500, under ES free
Facilities: Public toilet, parking (150 spaces).
Access: 10 min. walk from JR Shiida Sta.
Tel.: 0930-56-0120 (Houchiku fisheries cooperative, Shiida branch)
Originally written in March 2016, updated April 2018.
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NOTE: The information presented here was gathered and summarized by the Fukuoka Now staff. While we have done our best to check for accuracy, there might be errors and details may have changed. If you notice any errors or changes, please contact us. This report was originally written in March 2016.