Sea cucumber

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  • Japanese: 海鼠 (namako)

Sea cucumber was a major export good in the Edo period, in a category of marine products known as tawaramono which were in high demand throughout the region. Tawaramono such as sea cucumber, abalone, and kombu were in such high demand in China and elsewhere, in fact, that they were able to be exported in place of silver, thus stemming the grievous outflow of silver during the 17th-18th centuries which deeply worried shogunate advisors & officials.

Sea cucumbers had been used in Japan for various purposes, including in Shinto rituals, and as tribute or trade goods sent to China, since the 8th century. In the late medieval and early modern periods, they came to be prized as medicinal products, used to alleviate high fevers, as well as being used by the courtesans of the licensed districts as "French ticklers." It was not until the turn of the 19th century, though, that sea cucumber came to be widely eaten in Japan; in contrast to the love of fresh raw abalone which developed at that time, sea cucumber was preferred dried.


  • Robert Hellyer, Defining Engagement, Harvard University Press (2009), 123-124.