Written by Patricia MacLeod-Kishi
A Fresh Look At Jellyfish - Visiting The Kamo Aquarium In Tsuruoka
The Kamo Aquarium in Tsuruoka, Yamagata prefecture, houses the greatest variety of jellyfish of any aquarium in the world, and now breakthrough research on jellyfish bioluminescence has put this aquarium firmly on the map.
You may have painful memories of being at the beach and getting the tentacles of a jellyfish wrapped around your ankles, or surprise at finding yourself swimming amidst a smack of jellyfish drifting along with the current.
A visit to the Kamo Aquarium - Jellyfish Dream Theater (or Kurage Dream Theater) in Tsuruoka, Yamagata prefecture, will delight, and enhance your image of these mysterious creatures.
Located on the rocky coast road (Route 50), along which Benkei (*1) and Matsuo Basho (*2) traveled in centuries past, the Kamo Aquarium houses the greatest variety of jellyfish of any aquarium in the world, and now breakthrough research on jellyfish bioluminescence has put this aquarium firmly on the map.
*1... Benkei - A warrior monk who lived in the 12th century, nowadays a popular figure in Japanese folklore and legends related to the hero Minamoto no Yoshitsune.
*2... Matsuo Basho (1644 - 1694), haiku poet whose work was decisive for the establishment of haiku as a poetry form.
Kamo Aquarium - Welcome to the World of Jellyfish!
Kamo Aquarium had been an aging facility with the charm of unassuming neglect where locals stopped in for the seal lion show and otter feeding while researchers got on with their work.
However, rumors of bankruptcy spread and the possibility that the somewhat run-down facility might have to be closed permanently was discussed. The Director, Tatsuo Murakami, boldly threw all his eggs into the jellyfish basket and decided to focus on what was special to Kamo.
In 2014, money to finance a renovation was quickly raised through a surprisingly emotional sale of municipal bonds. Tsuruoka City arranged an unusual procedure. Eligibility to buy the “Jellyfish Dream Bonds” was determined by a lottery at which jellyfish participated in the random selection process. A tank was bought to the 6th floor conference room of the municipal office and 16 numbered cages set in the tank for correspondingly numbered groups of bond purchase applicants.
Then, twenty-five blue jellyfish were released into the tank and the numbered cages first entered by the jellyfish determined the initial winners of the lottery. The remaining eligible investors were selected in a later lottery. The plight of the well-loved Kamo Aquarium resonated with the public and 3.5 billion yen was raised. Earlier, in April 2013, 300 million yen worth of “Jellyfish Dream Bonds” was issued and the bonds sold out within 20 minutes.
Serendipitously, in 2008, Osamu Shimomura, along with Martin Chalfie and Roger Tsien, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work on bioluminescence, specifically Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP). The research on GPF sparked the development of a variety of medical and technical applications. At the time, Kamo was the only aquarium in Japan breeding Aequorea Victoria, the tiny jellyfish that enabled the GPF breakthrough.
Highlights of the Jellyfish Dream Theater
The Jellyfish Dream Theater, re-opened in 2014, showcases the suddenly famous jellyfish in a huge, 5-meter-wide tank. There are seats so that visitors can sit and watch the beautifully mesmerizing floating movements backlit against colored light.
In spite of the fact that they are delicate and do not live long, jellyfish have emerged from the ocean and can now be seen in tanks at the local library or other public facilities. Their rhythmic movements are calming and therapeutic and they create engaging environmental design elements.
Jellyfish on the Menu
Jellyfish is eaten by many people and particularly appreciated in Asian countries. It is very healthy, being high in protein and collagen with zero cholesterol.
Smitten by a craving for unusual foods, or for those willing to try anything once, the Kurage restaurant menu offers crunchy jellyfish in various forms - in ramen, and even ice cream.
Education and Outreach
The Kamo Aquarium has active educational programs to engage a wider public in knowledge of sea ecology. There are other fish and sea creature exhibits, including sea lion shows four times a day. It is open all 365 days of the year, so any day is a great day for a visit!
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