Shelling in Japan by John, Jenny Whicher

Kyoto Golden Temple

While Japan might not seem the obvious destination for a shelling holiday: think again. Flights are competitive and the economy has still not recovered from the Asian fInancial collapse of 10 years ago, so it is no more expensive than the UK. Car hire is reasonable and all hire cars have a built in GPS, so click the cursor on your chosen beach and follow the red line! There is virtually no crime and everyone you meet is very helpful whether they speak English or not. Almost anything from the sea is on the menu so many different types of shell are on sale in fish shops and restaurants. We bought Buccinum tsubai Kuroda, 1953 and Omphalinus Pfeiffer Dunker, 1844 at food counters in Kyoto, cooked them in the kettle provided in the hotel room, and ate them as snacks.

Our first destination was the Noto-Hanto Peninsular, chosen from the description in the 'Lonely Planet Guide' as an unspoilt rural area not touched by modern Japan, comprising a rugged hilly interior with a coastline studded with sleepy little fishing villages- it sounded good for shells. The peninsular juts into the Japan Sea on the north side of the main island, Honshu. Its western coast is rocky and spectacular battered by rough seas and prevailing winds. The east coast is quiet with shallow seas and deep inlets. The Japanese coast takes a bit of getting used to as more than 80% of it is covered with concrete sea walls or protected by sea defences of one sort or another. At first we were concerned that this might have eliminated good collecting grounds but the reverse was the case. Behind the defences there are protected areas in which shells are trapped and pile up in large numbers. A good example was the very fIrst place we stopped south of Nanao on the east side of the peninsular where we found piles of Babylonia japonica Reeve, 1842 and Anadara subcrenata Lischke, 1869, many worn and broken but among them good specimens. Further along this coast we found a succession of small fishing villages inhabited by Glycymeris albolineata Lischke, 1872, Lunella cinerea Born, !778 and Turbo cornutus Lightfoot, 1786 on the shallow mud flats. Wajima the main town has a fascinating morning market where all sorts of fish are on sale including piles of Turbo cornuta and Haliotis gigantea Gmelin, 1791. The latter are eaten smoked. The rocky west coast is very different and we collected in the pouring rain, lashed by strong winds and surf. However in one rocky cove we found a profusion of broken Pomaulax japonicus Dunker, 1844, some the size of dinner plates! -we did however collect some smaller specimens together with a fine selection of different species of Gibbula. At the south west extremity of the peninsular, late in the afternoon we came upon a strange little fishing harbour off the shore and accessible only on the low tide. Here we stumbled upon Nirvana. ... The Japanese are very neat and tidy and the cleanings from the nets tend to be piled in one or two places in each harbour.

Phalium Bisulcata

The first pile we found had been burnt because, as we later discovered, the nets catch huge amounts of polythene bags and bottles as well as shells. From the edges of the fire we collected Cancellaria spengleriana Deshayes, 1830, Ceratostoma burnetti Adams & Reeve, 1849,Cryptonatica janthostomoides Kuroda & Babe, 1961, Doxander japonicus Reeve, 1851, Fulgoraria rupestris Gmelin, 1791, Fusinus longicaudus Lamark, 1810, Fusinus perplexus A Adams ,1864, Fusitriton oregonensis Redfield, 1848, Glassaulax didyma Roding, 1798, Hemifusus tuba Gmelin, 1791, Kelletia lischkei Kuroda, 1953, Phalium bisulcata Schubert & Wagner, 1829, Pteropurpura adunca Sowerby, 1834 and Tugurium exutum Reeve, 1843 unfortunately there were several large specimens of Hemifusus colosseus Lamarck, 1816 charred beyond hope. The rain drove Jenny back to the car but I decided to search the remainder of the jetty and just as I was turning back I found a huge pile of Cancellaria nodulifera Sowerby, 1825, Fusinus perplexus A. Adams 1864, Phalium bisulcata Schubert & Wagner, 1829 and Glassaulax didyma Roding, 1798. I collected as many as I could carry but left many behind. This was certainly some of the best collecting I have ever known and with more time I have no doubt that the many other small harbours along this coast would have produced similar rewards.

Our next collecting stop was nearly 1000 kilometres away in the south of Kyushu, Japan's most southerly island. Here on a small spit of sand we saw a wonderful spread of Umbonium costatum Kiener, 1834 and Umbonium moniliferum Lamarck, 1810. Other beaches in this area yielded a wide range of shells. Returning up the west coast of Kyushu we wanted to visit the fishing town of Minimata, somewhat of a pilgrimage for anyone interested in environmental medicine. In the mid-1950s, fishermen living around the bay began suffering from a mysterious disease. The illness attacked the nervous system, causing convulsions, tremors, loss of speech and hearing, often severe mental disability, madness and an agonizing death. The first case ofwhat came to be known as Minimata disease was officially diagnosed in 1956, but it took another three years to identify the cause as organic mercury poisoning. A little surprising in view of the classical symptoms, well known in the last century amongst felt workers making hats using mercury salts, hence the expressions 'hatters shakes' and the better known 'mad as a hatter' popularised in the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland. Tragically it was nearly another decade before Chisso, a local chemical company, stopped pumping their mercury-Iaden waste into the sea. The victims battled for years against the local authorities, the company and the national government to win recognition of their suffering and adequate compensation. Eventually, a number of families took the company to court in 1969, by which time a nationwide support movement had evolved. Four years later, Chisso was finally judged liable -too late for many, of course. To date, although the government recently declared the bay mercury-free, nearly 2000 people have died of Minamata disease, while around 13,000 have been certified as afflicted. Though the true extent of the tragedy will never be known, some estimates put the total number of people affected as high as 100,000.

Of course the victims consumed the mercury in fish but most particularly shellfish such as the abundant and widely eaten Anodontia edentula (Linne, 1758). So it was with some sadness that we plodded onto the mudflats at low tide and collected Anodontia edentula (Linne, 1758), Circe scripta (Linne, 1758), Dosinia japonica Reeve, 1850 and Lunella coronata(Gmelin,1791).

Miyajima shrine Courtesy of Japan Tourist Board

Finally we stayed on the famous island of Miya-jima in the inland sea, across a straight from Hiroshima. Here is the famous gate and temple set in the sea (or sand at low tide). Said to be the best view in Japan and certainly enhanced by the layer of pretty Tapes platyptycha Pilsbry, 1905 crunching underfoot at every step. Oysters are farmed on floats in the shallow water and this is the home of the 'Ravenous Voyager' Rapana venosa (Valenciennes, 1846) which abounds here and is served in local restaurants 'in the shell' on a bed of hot charcoal (thus ruining the shell) with soya sauce. Having lunched on this local delicacy I was presented with a splendid large (undamaged) specimen by the waitress after some difficulty in explaining what I wanted. The oysters were also delicious cooked in the same way. At the local harbour we found a pile of fine Turbo cornutus Lightfoot, 1786 of a completely spine-free variety .

There is no doubt that Japan has a huge potential for shell collecting. The coastline stretches from the coast of Siberia to the tropical islands of the Okinawa group and there are many endemic species. We had very little time and collected almost no live specimens but you could easily do so. Japan has a poor record for conservation and as far as we could tell there are no restrictions on collecting, in fact far from it as the Japanese collect so many different marine organisms for food


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Shelling in Japan


Anadara subcrenata Lischke, 1869
Anodontia edentula Linne, 1758
Architectonica maxima Philippi, 1849
Babylonia japonica Reeve, 1842
Barbatia cometa Reeve, 1843
Barbatia virescens Reeve, 1843
Batillaria zonalis Brugiere, 1792
Buccinum tsubai Kuroda, 1953
Caecella chinensis Deshayes, 1855
Cancellaria nodulifera Sowerby, 1825
Cancellaria spengleriana Deshayes, 1830
Cantharus cecillei Philippi, 1844
Cantharus undosa Linne, 1758
Cellana nigrolineata Reeve, t857
Ceratostoma burnetti Adams & Reeve, 1849
Chlorostoma lischkei Tapparoni-Canefri
Chlorostoma turbinata
Chlorostoma xanthostigma A Adams, 1852
Circe scripta Linne, 1758
Conus orbignyi Audouin, 1831
Crassostrea gigas Thurnberg, 1793
Cryptonatica janthostomoides Kuroda & Habe,1961
Cymatium parthenopeum von Sa1is, 1793
Cypraea gracilis Gaskoin, 1839
Dolmena marginata Sowerby, 1874
Dosinia japonica Reeve, 1850
Doxanda japonicus Reeve, 1851
Ficus subintermedia Orbigny, 1852
Fulgoraria rupestris Gmelin, 1791
Fusinus longicaudus Lamark, 1810
Fusinus perplexus A Adams, 1864
Fusitriton oregonensis Redfield,1848)
Gafrarium divaricatum Gmelin, 1791
Glassaulax didyma Roding, 1791
Glycymeris albolineata Lischke, 1872
Granata lyrata Pilsbry, 1905
Haliotis gigantea Gmelin, 1791
Hemifusus tuba Gmelin, 1791



Kelletia lischkei Kuroda, 1953
Littorina brevicula Philippi, 1844
Lunella cinerea Born, 1778
Lunella corona Gmelin, 1791
Macoma sectior Oyama
Modiolus difficilis Kuroda & Habe, 1961
Monodonta labio Linne, 1758
Monodonta neritoides Philippi, 1844
Nerita albicilla Linne, 1758
Niotha livescens Philippi, 1844
Nipponacmea schrenki Menke,1851
Notoacmea concinna Teramachi
Novathaca schenki (Nomura)
Nuttallia olivacea Jay
Oliva mustelina Lamark, 1810
Omphalinus nigerrimus Gmelin, 1791
Omphalinus pfeifferi Dunker, 1844
Omphalinus rusticus Gmelin, 1791
Paphia euglypta Philippi, 1847
Patinopecten yessoenensis Jay
Phalium bisulcatum Schubert & Wagner, 1829
Phalium flammiferum Roding, 1790
Pholadiaea kamakurensis YokoyaJna
Phos senticosus Linne, 1758
Pollia mollis Gould
Pomaulax japonicus Dunker, 1844
Pteropurpura adunca Sowerby, 1834
Purpura panama Roding, 1798
Rapanavenosa Valenciennes, 1846
Saxidomus purpuratus Sowerby,1857
Siphonalia cassidarieformis Reeve, 1843
Thais bronni Dunker, 1844
Thais clavigera Kuster
Thais luteostoma Holten
Trochus maculatus Linne, 1758
Trochus sacellus Dunker, 1844
Tugurium exutum Reeve, 1843
Umbonium costatum Kiener, 1834
Umbonium moniliferum Lamarck, 1810 ,



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