I am a graduate student at UC Berkeley studying the diversity and evolution of whelks. This summer I was sponsored by the NSF (USA) and JSPS (Japan) to work with Dr. Seiji Hayashi at Nagoya University in Japan to collect buccinid gastropod (whelk) tissue samples and examine whelk shell collections at musems throughout Japan. Sugoi! Some of the snails that I study are pictured to the right.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Given the theme of this blog, I thought it was about time to show some snails. So here they are!

This is Babylonia japonica. Historically, this snail was made into a toy top for Japanese childern by cutting off the apex (pointed coiled part) and filling the whorls with wax. It and the whole Babylonia genus, however, probably do not belong with other tsubu gai. That is, it and its closest relatives are different enough from whelks to be classified into another yet-to-be-determined snail family. Buccinum middendorffi is a smallish species that lives from the intertidal zone down to 20 meters off the rocky coast of Northern Japan.Neptunea intersculpta is one of many in the genus Neptunea. Sources say that its flesh is delicious!The color variation within Neptunea arthritica cumingii is pronounced as you can see from the following images. It is found in the Japan Sea.Neptunea polycostata is a heavy-shelled member of the Neptunea genus and is found in waters off of northern Hokkaido.Despite its small size, Buccinum tsubai is one of the most commercially important whelks in Japan.Neptunea constricta has a pretty shell, tasty flesh, and is found from central Honshu to Hokkaido.This whelk, Buccinum tenuissimum, holds the impressive title of "the most delicious of all Japanese molluscs" (Kira, 1972).The brown color on Japelion pericochlion is the pigment of a thin layer of tissue called the periostricum.On this specimen of Volutharpa ampullacea perryi you can also see the light brown periostricum.
One other note; if you look closely at the specimen labels you will see the last name of a person after the underlined name of the genus and species. This name indicates the person who described this species and the year that name was published. If the name is not in parentheses it means that the genus name and the species name have not changed since the species name was established by the person named. If the name is in parentheses it means that the genus name has been changed since the species was named. Fun with taxonomy and systematics!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ceramics and captive animals

Nagoya has a well-known ceramics factory tour at Noritake Garden and a sizable zoo and botanical garden. I visited these sites over the weekend and will tell you about them! First, Noritake.As you would guess, there was lots of fine china made by the Noritake company. In the mid-1900s, most Noritake china was designed with American buyers in mind, so much so that Japanese artists were sent to America to draw American landscapes, flora, fauna, nautical themed objects, and American Indian motifs, which were sent back to Japan and hand painted onto plates, serving dishes, cups, saucers, etc.Next, the Zoo. Sadly, most of the animals here have it pretty bad. The enclosers are small and many of the large carnivores had stereotypies like pacing and repetitive rocking. By far, the best part about the whole zoo experience was encountering this little friend, the Japanese racoon dog! I think it is the inspiration for the enigmatic bear-like animal in the picture with me in Arimatsu (see previous post). Amazingly, this zoo also had motionless, un-caged dinosaurs! They had huge eyes and were morphologically similar to those from the 1985 Sean Young movie, Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend. Mokele-Mbembe!The botanical garden was far more impressive (maybe except for the dinosaurs) and had a huge greenhouse as well as a Wollemi pine, a gift to Nagoya from Sydney, Australia. More information about this amazing tree is here.An insect collection was also housed nearby, and it was the highlight of the trip! First, it had beautiful displays of beetle biogeography in Japan.And what looks like a display of butterflies, but is actually...Cicadas!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

To produce amusement

Over the weekend I discovered the very creative use of English by some Japanese establishments. It is an interesting phenomenon. Here are some examples, first from the menu of a chain resaurant called Pastel.

Almond topping often does produce amusement!Mmm, famous Danish mozarella and delicious thick, threading daintiness.This dish is self-confident! But I still wonder if the cream sauce is spicy...The following are packaged sweets bought as souvenirs (called "omiyage") for family and friends.

Ah, chocolate cake healing time...and with a more straightforward approach.The next two photos are of businesses with (in the case of the first one) a very odd combination of services and (in the second) an unfortunate choice of name.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Arimatsu Shibori

Not far from Nagoya is an artisan community who practice the Japanese tie-dying art of shibori.There is even a shibori museum with a very long name (Arimatsu Narumi Shibori Kaikan) where you can make your own shibori! Over the weekend, my Japanese host Seiji and his family took me there. This (very bleached out) picture is from where we had lunch (cold udon with dipping sauce). I am standing next to my hosts daughter and what I thought was a bear, but was told was definitely NOT a bear. Hmmm.Shibori is sort of like 1960s American-style tie-dying, but an intricate pattern is stitched into the cloth, then the cloth is dyed and the stitching is removed. The artistry of doing this has passed primarily through women most of whom are now very old and totally mesmerizing to watch. Here is the one practical use of shibori (at the museum),and here is a shibori Nagoya shachihoko.After a shibori-making afternoon, we went to a museum of local festival floats. The festival happens once a year and the highlight is that the dolls on this float "perform" famous scenes from Japanese antiquity and write Chinese characters. These actions are controlled by mechanisms in the dolls as well as skillful puppeteers inside the float.Behind a glass case upstairs was a huge mask also worn during the festival. There was no English label so I asked my host what it was. He told me that it was a mask...then after a pause, continued that it is of a famous Japanese goblin called a yamabushi-tengu with facial features (big nose, blond hair, and large eyes) modeled after foreigners (!). After a little research I discovered that although the inspiration for this goblin could be the hairy, blond, big-nosed Westerner, the Japanese tengu history is long and complicated with so many versions and incarnations (tengu literally means "heavenly dog") that historians can not be sure of the big-nosed tengu origin, or at least they arent saying...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Facts and Figures

Recently I was impressed by two books, The Canon by Natalie Angier and Nature: an Economic History by Gary Vermeij. The following are some facts, factoids, and simply wonderful things that I learned from them. I thought that they were amazing enough to share.

1. In the sky at night you are seeing only about 2500 of the 300 BILLION stars in our Milky Way galaxy, and there are maybe 100 BILLION other star-studded galaxies in our universe. (More information is here and here.)

2. Electron comes from the Greek word for amber, which is readily charged when rubbed with a cloth. (NOVA did a program on amber with David Attenborough discovering the history of his own piece of amber. Priceless! It is here.)

3. Thalassocnus is a genus of marine sloths from the Pliocene of Peru (5.3-1.8 million years ago). Marine sloths!

4. There used to be an North Atlantic sea mink, sort of like a Altantic Ocean kind of otter, but it was hunted to extinction.

5. Amphibians and reptiles (and their ancestors) cannot run and breathe at the same time. As the body flexes the lung on one side of the body is compressed, making breathing impossible. So these animals must do one or the other; walk/run or breathe, because they cannot do both at the same time.

6. After the Arctic Oceans and North Pacific were joined when the Bering Strait became a seaway (5.5 million years ago) marine animals began to move from the North Pacific to the North Atlantic. Today, 22% of the marine animals on the North American east coast are Pacific in origin. These animals include periwinkles, mussels, kelp, seastars, sea urchins, hermit crabs, and barnacles.

7. Campanile was a herbivorous marine snail in the Eocene (50 million years ago) that could grow to a meter long!

8. One group of caddisfly larvae (freshwater invertebrates) make protective cases for themselves that are shaped like marine snail shells!
9. Not all marine crabs are each others closest relatives. That is, the "crab form" has evolved multiple times within crustaceans. More here. And to bring the theme back to Japan, here is a fascinating story about the Japanese samurai crab.

Incidently, samurai armor included a helmet and mask that you can see below.This armor was, presumably, the inspiration for the costume of the Star Wars character, Darth Vader.{All facts have been paraphrased from their source and all emphases (e.g. ! and BOLD) and additional comments are mine}

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

July 22nd

Today was a banner day in Nagoya for buccinid tissue sampling! I unpacked the snails that I collected and froze (*thank you for donating your lives to science*) from Rikuzen-Takata, Sendai, Joetsu, and Nagoya and put small slivers of their tissue into alcohol for DNA analysis back at UC Berkeley. My goal was to sample 25 different species and I already have 17. Conclusions, (1) Japanese people demand fresh tsubu gai at their fish markets and (2) species sold are not the same throughout Japan. This is very good for my research! Here is my hand holding one of the snails.Rather than regale you with images of frozen snails, I thought that I would take you instead on a journey from one subway stop (Nagoya University) to its nearest neighbor, Motoyama. I went there today to buy apples and specimen cases (thrilling, really) and I thought to chronicle that little adventure might be more interesting than displaying a dozen or so frozen snails. Thrilling indeed! Here is one of the million+ vending machines in Japan being refilled. It was like seeing your parents put Christmas presents under the tree.Skipping then to Motoyama station...Many buildings surround Motoyama Station, most interesting perhaps is this one containing "LOOP, the place where you can realize your future."There is also a KFCand place for Pachinko as well as a Mister Donut (not pictured).The primary reason I went to Motoyama was for the "Matsuzakaya Store".In the basement is the grocery store, the first floor has imported food (where I bought a bag of pretzels that I just finished), the second floor has "Fashion" and the 100¥ store, then the third floor is for "Living." The 100 Yen store was my first stop. It is the equivalent of the dollar store in the U.S. (100 Yen=$1) All these things can be YOURS for just one hundred yen!Next I went to the basement to buy some apples. Japanese grocery stores are pretty much the same as American ones, except for; bento boxes,eel fillets (unagi),
one unfortunately named (and shaped) brand of snack,a diverse selection of cold coffee,and a curiously named creamer for said coffee.Some notworthy sites on the walk back to campus included, Beverly Hills Chicken, which of course sells...clothing, 7 Eleven,Mos Burger,and a pretty typical gas station that sells its cheapest gasoline for 158 yen per liter, which converts to a whopping $5.98/gallon, and you thought U.S. gas was expensive!Finally, the journey was capped off by cicada exuvia!Sugoi!