- Japanese: 鮑, 鰒, 蚫 or 石決明 (awabi)
Abalone is a shellfish often eaten raw or marinated (i.e. as sushi or sashimi). It became particularly common, or popular, in Japan in the late 18th or early 19th century, though it was probably eaten before then as well. It is also used to make noshi, a dried abalone product used as symbolic or sacred decorations for gifts and offerings; since ancient times, noshi has been offered at various Shinto shrines, including Ise Shrine.
In the Edo period, abalone was a prized export good; considered in a category known as tawaramono alongside kelp and sea cucumber, these and other marine products were so highly prized throughout the region that they were able to be exported in place of bullion, playing a key role in stemming the outflow of silver from the country in that period. Abalone shipped to China was usually dried, and then known as hoshi-awabi. Harvested in a variety of areas around the archipelago as well as being obtained in trade with the Ainu, abalone was collected in the 1780s-90s along with other marine products through shogunate clearinghouses, shogunate-sanctioned merchant trade associations, and other official channels, with the shogunate mandating quotas for each domain's export of these goods, which would be purchased by the shogunate at a low fixed price. No abalone could be sold on the open market until enough had been sold to the shogunate clearinghouses to fill the quotas each season.
Abalone was also a highly prized luxury product eaten fresh at the shogunal and imperial courts, and for that reason shogunal and domainal authorities in many regions paid special attention to offering protections and privileges to the ama (female divers) who collected it. In many domains, an ama was permitted to dive for abalone in waters belonging to villages other than her own, and in some cases, even in waters beyond those of her domain.
Beginning around 1800, however, fishermen found that local and national demand had become high enough that they could be quite successful in selling their marine products privately, in violation of shogunate policy, for higher prices. This was especially lucrative in the case of abalone, since the abalone meat typically had to be dried for export, but once it became more popular for domestic consumption in the late 18th to early 19th centuries, fishermen were able to save quite a bit of cost and labor by selling it to local shops and restaurants raw.
Abalone was also believed to help alleviate eye ailments.
- Arne Kalland, Fishing Villages in Tokugawa Japan, University of Hawaii Press (1995), 166.
- Kalland, 167.
- Robert Hellyer, Defining Engagement, Harvard University Press (2009), 123-124.
- Kalland, 168.
- Kalland, 163.