Saturday 20 March
Sunny with a chance of oysters
From an observation platform overlooking Ise Bay, Toba, Snow and I are having a unashamedly modern Japanese tourist experience. The three female ‘ama’ drivers ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ama_divers ) dressed in white suits wave at us from the boat and we wave back, then one by one disappear under the water before bringing up shells, which they place in barrels floating on the surface. Ama only dive for tourists these days; when they used to dive for pearls, they did so only in loincloths. Fair enough; there are children in the audience.
We then visit an impressive museum which plots the chronology of Mikimoto’s life ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikimoto_K%C5%8Dkichi ), set against the course of Japanese history. It also exhibits a sea cucumber, I seem to recall.
Mikimoto’s story has me thinking of the outstanding animated film ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’, which I saw on the plane on New Year’s Eve. (Single-minded inventor doubted by his community neglects family business and pursues his dream; through the highs and lows he becomes the local hero, putting his home town on the map.)
Raised within a poor family, we learn that Mikimoto, gambling his funds and reputation on a new method for cultivating pearls, was ridiculed by doubters and beset by costly failures which placed his family at financial risk. Taught a lesson by the ‘red tides’ which killed off his oysters and almost drove him to ruin, he went on to successfully produce the first cultured pearl, just before tragedy struck and his wife died young. Mikimoto later travelled to America where he met his idol, Edison, and spread the Mikimoto name to major cities throughout the world, where his shops remain today.
A genuinely fascinating life story, even if it – following some Internet research (my sad addiction) - the suspicion lingers that the role of other scientists in his success is understated.
Films have been made of much less interesting lives.