Japan is more than just temples, tea ceremonies, sushi, Hiroshima, Mt. Fuji and Tokyo. Most people are unaware that the oceans around Japan are home to beautiful coral reefs and the most diverse marine life in the world.
One of the main reasons for this is the merging of hot and cold currents in waters around Japan's islands, the rich variety of coastal environments, changing weather and varied underseas topography. The ocean currents provide water temperatures that can range from 30°F to 85°F, creating such a variance that you can find sea ice off Hokkaido and coral reefs off Okinawa.
The Census of Marine Life, released in 2010, counted 33,629 species of sea creatures, the widest diversity of species in 25 oceanic regions, in waters around Japan. Even though these waters count for only 1 percent of the world's ocean, 15 percent of all sea creatures live there, including 8,658 species of mollusks and 6,393 species of arthropods.
Japan’s Unique Sea Creatures
In addition to the large quantity and diversity of marine life, some pretty interesting sea creatures can be found in Japan’s waters too, like the giant squid, the Japanese roughshark and the Japanese giant spider crab.
Giant squids are one of the world's largest and most mysterious animals, giving rise to legends of sea monsters, stories of sailors being pulled into the sea and ships being overturned. The first giant squid sighting was filmed south of Tokyo at around 3,280 feet. The largest of all invertebrates, the giant squid can reach 60 feet in length (twice the length of a bus) and weigh up to half a ton. They have eight short tentacles like other squids as well as a 1½-foot-wide, parrot-like mouth, two long tentacles with sucker-cover clubs and the largest eye of any animal in history---at 15¾ inches it is the size of a human head.
Giant Squid found in the waters of Japan
The Japanese roughshark typically resides in the deep depths of the Northwest Pacific waters off Japan. Researchers have only found a handful of specimens of this rare shark species. Measuring on the smaller side, the larger females grow up to 25 inches long. The roughshark has a mouth full of teeth, but only the lower jaw is functional.
Japan’s giant spider crabs are one of the world’s largest crustaceans and have the largest leg span of any arthropod. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the biggest giant Japanese spider crab, named Big Daddy, had legs that measured up to 4 feet and 8.5 inches. Big Daddy lived to be 80 years old, but many can live for up to 100 years. Due to fishing, their population is suffering, but efforts are being made to protect them.
Japanese Giant Spider Crab
Giving Thanks to the Ocean
To express gratitude for the ocean’s bounty and pray for the prosperity of Japan as an ocean country, Ocean Day, or Marine Day was established in 1996 as a national public holiday. Every year, on the third Monday in July, the Japanese have a day off work to celebrate Umi no Hi. This year, the holiday will be observed on Thursday, July 23, a one-time move to coincide with the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics’ opening ceremony. Although the Olympics are postponed due to COVID-19, the holiday will still be observed on July 23rd.
Despite its newness, Marine Day’s history dates back to the Meiji period. In 1876, 23-year-old Emperor Meiji went on a cruise on an iron steamship named Meiji-maru. It was his first time at sea and was seen as a dangerous expedition. He ended his trip through the Tohoku region in Yokohama on July 20th. Since 1941, July 20 was established as “Ocean Memorial Day” to commemorate the Emperor’s journey and safe return. It wasn’t until 1996 that it became a national holiday celebrated as Umi no Hi, the day of the sea, the ocean and the navy.
Umi no Hi Celebrations
As the July date roughly coincides with the end of the rainy season and the official beginning of summer, the Japanese celebrate by gathering on the sunny beaches of coastal cities, attending festivals and aquarium special events. Residents may also participate in an event called ‘mud-ball throwing’, where they throw purifying balls of dried mud into the water. The balls’ effective microorganisms help remove contaminants from the sea bottom.
Another attractive seaside celebration is the Odaiba Lantern Festival in the Tokyo Bay. Lit after dark, paper lanterns illuminate the beach with tiny pink, blue, yellow and green spots with the Tokyo skyline and Rainbow Bridge as a colorful backdrop. Umi no Hi ends with a firework display above the Tokyo harbor – in the place where Emperor Meiji finished his famous journey.
Odaiba Lantern Festival
The Ocean Drives Our Purpose
As a brand that supports sustainability and health, we believe that when we take from the earth, we need to replenish. To honor the importance of the Japanese oceans where we harvest Mekabu Wakame seaweed, the botanical ingredient in our products, we set up The MASAMI INSTITUTE. Our team in the Iwate Prefecture works with the local fisherman and coastline preservation groups to research, monitor, and document each season’s growth of Mekabu. Our goal is ultimately to preserve and restore the fragile ocean ecosystem in northeastern Japan, an area that is still recovering from the devastating 2011 tsunami and the effects of climate change every day.
Join us in celebrating Umi no Hi and recognizing the amazing diversity of life that comes from the ocean. The ocean gave us life and it’s our responsibility to honor it.