1. TOP>
  2. Sea snails


  • Major Food

Hokkaido is home to a large number of sea snail species with varying names

The spiny dye-murex, or collectively known as tsubu, is a sea snail widely enjoyed throughout Hokkaido in sashimi and robatayaki that belongs to the buccinidae family. Starting with the whelk, which is commonly known as aotsubu, this species of sea snail contains countless subcategories, including the Neptune whelk, brother Neptune, and Verkruze’s Whelk.


Known for its palatable chewy texture, these sea snails also offer a strikingly refreshing scent of the sea when served fresh. Generally, sea snails are either boiled or stir fried in butter, and when slow cooked they produce a softer texture and added sweetness.


■Widely marketed as a specialty item of the Hidaka region
The Hidaka region boasts a large catch of sea snail, particularly in Erimo Town and Samani Town. This region accounts for one-third of Hokkaido’s sea snail catch, and the very large Neptune whelk is widely marketed as the true sea snail of Hidaka.


These sea snails prefer cold water, so most are caught in the Doto region of Eastern Hokkaido. Since the Neptune whelk can withstand environments with comparatively higher temperatures, it is believed to inhabit all of the waters surrounding Hokkaido.


■ Map / Main municipalities with fishing grounds
Erimo Town, Akkeshi Town, Kushiro City, Hiroo Town, Samani Town, Shiranuka Town, Kushiro Town, Shikabe Town, Nemuro City, Hamanaka Town

Compare the different tastes of Hokkaido's sea snails

More than 50 types of sea snail are caught in the waters off Hokkaido and it is fun to travel to different regions to compare the taste of the local variety.


Sea snails are mainly caught using cages, with squid, Okhotsk atka mackerel, Alaska pollock and other fish used as bait. Sea snails go inside the cage placed on the seafloor in search of the bait and are trapped.


Tetramine contained in the salivary glands of sea snails can cause dizziness or headaches if eaten in too large a quantity. You should remove the salivary glands when preparing a sea snail in its shell by yourself.

Sea snails Family

  • Whelk
    The shell of this sea snail is around 8cm in length, making it the smallest in the Neptunea family. Also called the aotsubu in Japan, the whelk is often caught in Southern Hokkaido. Some regions also call it the ma-tsubu. Whelk are enjoyed grilled with the entire shell and soy sauce is poured in through the mouth. They are also eaten in simmered dishes that are seasoned to be spicy but sweet.
  • Neptune whelk
    The Neptune whelk is a very large sea snail called ma-tsubu or A-tsubu. The shell is quite stiff and rigid, and it has a large number of filet shaped spikes. Typically served as sashimi, the Neptune whelk offers a sweet taste and rich flavor.
  • Brother Neptune
    At markets in Japan whelks not in the Neptunea family are called B-tsubu. Brother Neptune is one such variety. It offers a slightly softer texture than Neptunea sea snails and is also called akabai in Japanese. It is eaten many different ways, including as sashimi, grilled, and boiled.
  • Verkruze's Whelk
    Mainly caught in the Doto region of Eastern Hokkaido near Akkeshi and other places, Verkruze's whelk is also known by the slang name lighthouse tsubu. Its meat is tender and won't harden when cooked, so it is often used in simmered dishes. Larger Verkruze's Whelk can be prepared and eaten as sashimi, as well.
  • Hairy triton
    Hairy triton is a sea snail related to the Tonnoidea Ranellide family and not the Neptunea family. It is considered a type of sea snail in Hokkaido and caught in the Hidaka region. As indicated by the slang term, hairy sea snail, the entire shell is covered in hair. It is most often prepared as sashimi or in simmered dishes.


Sea snails are caught along nearly every coastline in Hokkaido and salt water lakes such as Lake Saroma. This makes it possible for sea snails to be enjoyed throughout the year, depending on the season set in each respective region.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12


Processed Foods

In addition to boiled, sea snails are also simmered in soy sauce or Japanese rice wine and then sold in vacuum packs, which make great gifts. Wasabi marinated canned sea snails are a favorite side dish enjoyed with alcohol. Recently, sea snail products seasoned using garlic butter have emerged, mimicking the French delicacy escargot.