JOURNAL / JAPAN etc.(English)

JAPAN [Aomori]SHIJIMI CLAMS Nature’s Restorative

Japanese Ingredients for the World’s Top Kitchens #20


text by Michiko Watanabe / photographs by Daisuke Nakajima / English text by Susan Rogers Chikuba

Though the times are always changing, there are certain timeless ingredients from Japan that will never go out of style. Yukio Hattori, president of Hattori Nutrition College in Tokyo, introduces unique labors of love—items grown and produced with care and integrity by hardworking suppliers across the country.

Separated from the Pacific by a sandbar to the east, and fed by mineral-rich rivers that flow from the volcanic peaks of the Hakkoda mountain range to the west, the brackish waters of Lake Ogawara in Aomori prefecture are the third largest source of shijimi clams in Japan. We met up with Eiichi and Tomoyuki Numao, a father-and-son duo who haul in their catch the old-fashioned way, using long-handled basket rakes. 

Each rake alone weighs 15 kilograms. To support their lower backs, older diggers affix a wooden support board to their bodies; the younger ones wear a belt. “Some 250 clam diggers work on the lake. Hardly anyone here uses an automated harvester—they churn up the mud and kill off the clams left behind,” Eiichi told us. The nutrient-rich shijimi are sorted by size on the boat. Those with a height of less than 11 millimeters are returned.

Clam diggers on Lake Ogawara work from 7 a.m. to 12 noon. Winter hauls used to be done by cutting two-meter squares in the ice, but the lake hasn’t frozen over for four years now. 

Eiichi Numao supports his back for the heavy lifting with a wooden board tied to his waist. 

Sorting is done by hand. From top, these clams are five,four, three, two, and one year(s) old. 

Sake-steamed shijimi are a simple delicacy. Cooking for just a while longer once the shells open multiplies their savoriness.

Eiichi, age 63, is a 20-year veteran. 

◎Lake Ogawarako Fisheries Cooperative
4-31-662 Asahikita Tohoku-machi, Kamikita-gun, Aomori

(The Cuisine Magazine /September2018)