The history of the softshell turtle

The tortoise, from which the softshell turtle is descended, is thought to have appeared on the earth about 215 million years ago. The human race only goes back about four million years ago, so softshell turtles have inhabited the earth far longer than us.

The first evidence of people eating softshell turtles can be traced back to about 3,000 years ago, sometime around 1,000 BCE in China during the Zhou Dynasty.
According to Shennong Bencao-jing (a pharmacopoeia dedicated to the god of medicine Shennon), the softshell turtle not only delights the taste buds as a delicious and luxury ingredient, and just as the Chinese saying goes, "food and medicine share a common source," the turtles were also recognized for their medicinal value.
Shennong Bencao-jing, which is thought to be one of the oldest Chinese texts, says that the shells of softshell turtles were used to treat boils and fevers. As Chinese medicine evolved, many treatises came to tout the benefits of softshell turtles for the treatment of intestinal pain,back pain, and numerous other ailments.

In Japan, the bones of softshell turtles have been found in the Awazu Shell Mound site (in present-day Shiga Prefecture), which dates to the Jomon period. It may very well be possible that the Jomon people ate softshell turtles.
The oldest Japanese document to mention softshell turtles is thought to be the Shoku Nihongi.
In the Shoku Nihongi, it is recorded that in September of the first year of the reign of Emperor Mommu (697 CE), he was honored by the domain of Ōmi with "white-shelled tortoises".
Softshelled turtles became common fare for cuisine in Japan in the Edo period. The turtles were a particular favorite among inhabitants of Western Japan. In Koushoku Ichidai Otoko (the "sensualist"), for example, the author Saikaku Ihara mentions softshell turtles as prized gifts from the Tenmagawa area of Osaka. The familiar novel characters Yaji and Kita from Tokaidochu Hizakurige even buy them for their kin.

softshell turtle


Shennong Bencao-jing


Shoku Nihongi


Tokaidochu Hizakurige