Hamaguri clams, a species of seawater clams, have long been regarded as one of Japan’s most popular seafood produces. While found in many places of Japan, one particular city, Kuwana, became famous for its hamaguri clams. Kuwana-juku (桑名宿) was the 42nd of the 53 post stations along the Tōkaidō highway. Once a port city, Kuwana was an important stop for travelers, particularly pilgrims heading to the Ise Shrine, for it served as the Western entrance to the Ise Province. Kuwana is now known as Kuwana City, and rests in Mie Prefecture. Pre-modern Japanese travelers along the Tōkaidō would stop at Kuwana and eat fresh catches of hamaguri clams; usually baked or grilled. It was customary to stop at Kuwana and order a portion of clams; according to a certain woman traveller, Jūshin-in Mitsuko (wife of a daimyo in the late Edo Period), as cited in Literary Creations on the Road: Women’s Travel Diaries in Early Modern Japan, Kuwana’s clams were famous, but apparently not tasty as she had been told otherwise.
Hamaguri Clams as a Symbol
Hamaguri clams are commonly regarded as symbols of marital harmony because the shells symbolize a joined pair. Hamaguri ushiojiru (clear clam soup) is often served at weddings, for hamaguri clams’ auspicious meaning of finding one’s destined match. And because a shell of a hamaguri clam will never fit another hamaguri clam, the clam serves as a symbol of a woman’s fidelity to her husband. This soup is also often served on Hinamatsuri (Girl’s Day), which is celebrated annually on March 3rd.
Hamaguri Clams in Japanese Literature
Hamaguri clams are mentioned in Jippensha Ikku’s Tōkai dōchu hizakurige or Shank’s Mare. After Yaji and Kita’s arrival at Toda (which was also famous for hamaguri clams at the time), the pair orders a plate of hamaguri clams. The pair makes a sexual innuendo as the maid brings in the plate of clams; Yaji comments that he “expects [the maid’s] clam is nicer,” and pinches the maid’s derriere. In this context, Yaji compares the clam to the woman’s (maid) genital. In Robin D. Gill’s Octopussy, Dry Kidney & Blue Spots – Dirty Themes from 18–19c Japanese Poems, clams are said to symbolize the female genitalia.
Clams are also mentioned in Matsuo Bashō’s Oku no hosomichi; in his final poem:
hamaguri no Autumn going –
futami ni wakare parting for Futami
yuku aki zo a clam pried from its shell
This is one of the most difficult poems to comprehend in Oku no hosomichi. Futami is a port in modern day Mie, where the famous Meoto Iwa (Married couple rocks) is located. As aforementioned, Hamaguri clams are often considered as a symbol of marital harmony. Here, Bashō uses it as a symbol of his bond with his friends; all of whom he is reunited with in Ogaki in the final chapter. As he is preparing to depart for Futami, Bashō describes his sorrow in parting with his friends as painful and difficult as prying apart the shell of a clam.
Pictures of the Meoto Iwa:
Gill, Robin D. 2007. Octopussy, Dry Kidney & Blue Spots: Dirty Themes from 18-19c Japanese Poems. Key Biscayne. FL: Paraverse Press.
Jippensha, Ikku. 1960.”Tokaidochu Hizakurige or Shank’s Mare.” Trans. Thomas Satchell. Rutland, VT: Turtle.
Shirane, Haruo. 2002. Early Modern Japanese Literature: An anthology, 1600-1900. New York: Columbia University Press.
Shiba, Keiko and Motoko Ezaki. 2012.Literary Creations on the Road: Women’s Travel Diaries in Early Modern Japan. Lanham: University Press of America.
Contributors: Henry Hsu, Stephanie Mar and Natalie Lai