Jellyfish Revives Aquarium in Yamagata クラゲで起死回生!


On April 18 this year, 300 million yen worth of bonds issued by Tsuruoka City in Yamagata Prefecture were sold out only 20 minutes after they were put for subscription. The municipal government floated the “Jellyfish Dream Bond” to make money to refurbish the city’s aging Kamo Aquarium. Why was that old and tiny aquarium so popular?




Kamo was founded in 1930 by a group of local volunteers as the sole aquarium in the northern prefecture. But, due to the emergence of rival aquariums and growing diversification of people’s leisure, it fell into a slump, with the number of visitors dropping to 100,000 a year in the 90s from a record-high 210,000 previously. It became so run-down at one point that it couldn’t even pay bonus to the staff. Then in 1994, Curator Tatsuo Murakami introduced sea otters, thinking that they might work miracles in turning around his aquarium’s waning popularity. Sea otters were quite popular then across the country. But few people took pains to travel to the remote Sea of Japan city to have a look at sea otters, which by then were seen everywhere in the country. “There’s nothing much to recommend here. You can skip this aquarium. My impression is that sea otters are in here too,” commented an aquarium specialist who visited Kamo at the time.


加茂水族館は戦前の1930年、地元有志によって設立された山形県唯一の水族館だったが、他水族館の台頭やレジャーの多様化などで、年間で最高21万人もいた入場者が  90年代からは10万人と低迷が続いた。経営も行き詰まり、従業員にはボーナスも払えない状況に。館長の村上 龍男さんは1994年当時、その愛くるしい姿で全国で人気を博していたラッコを、起死回生の起爆剤として同館に導入したが、どこにでもいるラッコをわざわざ訪ねに来る人はいなかった。


Two years later in 1996, the number of visitors fell below 100,000. “So, we came to a dead end,” Murakami murmured to himself then. Just at that time, he noticed that there was a water tank where every visitor stopped during a tour of the aquarium. The tank exhibited moon jellyfish taken from coral reef. The jellyfish swimming slowly and softly in a dim tank were mysterious and beautiful. Looking at the scene, Murakami thought they have an effect to relax people. He felt jellyfish perhaps can save his aquarium and decided to take his last chance.



 Jellyfish generally live for only three to four months. The staff at the aquarium had to breed them by themselves in order to display them constantly. But they found it far from easy to control the temperature of water in the jellyfish tank. In those days, there were few laboratories in the world that had established the know-how needed to breed jellyfish. Kamo set up “Tsuruoka Jellyfish Laboratory” in a bid to develop methods to breed various species of jellyfish. Three years later in 2000, the aquarium started exhibiting 12 species of jellyfish, the biggest number in Japan.




 This sent the number of visitors rising again. Kamo has earned the Guinness World Record for the greatest number of jellyfish species. Incidentally Dr. Osamu Shimomura who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2008 helped the aquarium spring into fame. The award was for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein (GFP), which was first observed in Aequorea Victoria, a species of jellyfish. Kamo was the only aquarium in Japan that bred Aequorea victoria at that time. Backed by this tailwind, the number of visitors renewed the past record in 2010. Today, it still keeps increasing.




Sir Francis Bacon said, “It is in life as it is in ways. The shortest way is commonly the foulest.” He might have meant that getting a chance to success is important but there is no need to hurry. Indeed, Kamo Aquarium has revived after its long history of success, failure and hardship. The aquarium, refurbished with the Jellyfish Dream Bond, will reopen for business in 2014. A recent research finding says that looking at jellyfish can reduce people’s mental stress. If you have a chance, why don’t you have a look at the world of jellyfish?




(Written By: Yuxi Luo)