Clam up and start digging in Japan
Clam digging, or Shiohigari, is one of many popular outdoor activities for all generations in Japan from April to the end of June. For me, it’s an annual rite to dig clams and cook the fresh catch of the day in the evening.
Umi no Koen (Marine Park) in Yokohama city is my favorite spot for clam digging. The park is open to the public for free, but you have to pay 310 yen an hour for parking. The tools you need for clam digging are small rakes, small shovel, buckets and a net. You also need to wear something you can get wet.
And if you do it right, you should bring some chairs, parasol and a cooler so you can enjoy yourself on the beach. I always do it right.
My friends and I went recently to Umi no Koen around 10 a.m., which was two hours before low tide. It is said that the ideal time for clam digging is two hours before and two hours after low tide. It’s also good to remember that a full moon and new moon make for an extremely low tide, which means you can dig deeper.
The park is well-known for its good quality asari clams, also known as Manila clams. And on this day, we were shoveling in the clams, most not burrowing deeper than six inches in the sand. After digging for two hours and getting muck caked on our hands and legs, we had filled our buckets with clams.
The clams were a little smaller than last year, but it was early in the season and they’ll likely grow as the season goes on. The size of clams can vary year to year depending on natural factors such as water temperature and the amount of rain.
If you plan to go to Umi no Koen, I highly recommend arriving early because the parking fills up quickly, especially on the weekends. Every year, approximately 500,000 people flock to the park during clam digging season.
Some rules for digging clams include not keeping any less than 2 cm in size, using rakes wider than 15 cm and not taking more than 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) per person. Although Umi no Koen is free, many beaches charge according to the weight, while others charge an admission.
Although most people come here to dig asari clams, some enjoy the challenge of digging mategai clams. Also known as razor clams, they have a wonderful texture and taste to them. They also are fun to catch. But make sure you bring some salt with you.
To dig mategai clams, first you scope the sand and look for their air holes. Usually, you will see two holes next each other. Pour a little bit of salt into the holes, and wait a few second. The clam should emerge in order to escape the salt and then you just catch it with your hands before it goes back to the hole. When you catch it, you will be surprised how strongly the clam tries to pull itself back into the hole.
To prepare clams for cooking, they need to be left in seawater or saltwater for a minimum of three hours; this removes the sand from inside of them. These claims are used in popular dishes like miso soup, or they are steamed in Japanese sake with garlic. They are also stir fried with butter, and used in pasta dishes.
Clam digging is a fun and tasty way to enjoy the day, but beware there might be some minor side effects: After enjoying delicious spaghetti alle vongole and a bottle of nice cold white wine that night, I woke up with a backache – and a slight hangover. The price I paid for my day of springtime fun.
Where to dig clams
- Umi no Koen (Marine Park) in Kanazawa Ward, Yokohama