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Minabe - The Shell Center of Japan by José Coltro

Since starting serious shell collecting, I received many shells from Japan, many of them labeled "Minabe, Wakayama, Japan". I always wanted to go there, but in previous trips to Japan never found time to get there.

Finally last November, the most noted Japanese shell dealer, Mr. Shingo Habu, invited me to visit his winter house between Minabe and Cape Hino, another place famous for shells.

Traveling to Japan is always very pleasant but presents difficulties because most Japanese only speak, read and write Japanese. On previous trips, I had help from locals such as Mitsuo Chino, Paul Callomon and Yoshihiro Goto in 1997. Then returning in 2006, it was at the invitation of Hirosuke Oshikata. Since then, Oshikata became a very dear friend and I have visited him several times. On every trip, Oshikata planned visits to local dealers and special places.

In 1997, Paul Callomon briefly introduced me to Mr. Habu at the Osaka airport and we traded some shells. It was quite funny because I opened my suitcase in the middle of Kansai Airport and unpacked the material right there. People around wondered what those crazy guys were doing.

2009 was very hectic with many trips around the world, but finally I was able to schedule a trip to Japan during the last week of November and first week of December. When I arrived at Narita Airport, Oshikata was waiting to go with me to Wakayama Prefecture. The next day, I flew from Haneda (Tokyo) to Shiharama and really felt like an alien ? I was the only Western person on the entire trip.

Mr. Habu was waiting for me at the gate. Having arrived in late afternoon, I did not see the view on the way to Minabe. After an hour and half we finally arrived at a hotel in Gobo - not fancy but with very large rooms, which is uncommon in Japan.

Next morning I was very excited and was already walking around the hotel area before 7 AM. Gobo is a very rustic place and people were staring at me wondering, "who is that??? Godzilla?" Habu arrived at 9 AM and we drove to his place near Cape Hino. On the way, I noticed that many spots had huge thick walls between the beach and the road or houses. Habu explained to me: It is because we have frequent tsunamis; my house was hit three times ? very scary!

I quickly went through Habu's warehouse and in a few minutes had a box full of great shells. Then we finally started out to Minabe. Our first stop was Minabe harbor where the fishermen clean lobster nets. They set the nets on top of offshore reefs and after one or two days go back to pick them up. Those nets sometimes or often hit the bottom and bring up pieces of coral, gorgonians and shells. The fishermen have to clean most of their catch offshore, but in some cases bring everything into port. Habu knows most of the fishermen and they save good specimens for him. But he also checks the trash dump next to the harbor. I did that also and found some good shells there - smelly but good!

After checking the harbor, we went to an exposed coral reef where I collected lots of species, such as Granata sulcifera; Monodonta labio confusa; Angaria rugosa; Lunella coreensis; many Littorinas; Cypraea errones; Thais savignyi and many other Thais; some Chitons, Neritas, Nassarius, bivalves, etc. In only two hours, I found about 60 different species.

On the next day we went to collect some land and fresh water shells around Gobo and Cape Hino. Our first stop was a very small area, no more than 10 square meters where Stereophaedusa goniopoma lives. According to Habu, there are only 3 such areas where this species is found - it is an invitation for extinction if someone decides to build there!

At Cape Hino we found Tyrannophaedusa aurantiaca; Mundiphaedusa pachyspira; Euhadra eoa communisiformis; Euhadra sigeonis; Semisulcospira reiniana; etc. On the way back to Gobo, we stopped at a secret shelling spot to collect very nice large Clithon retropictus.

The following day, Habu drove me to Cape Hino and I walked on the rocky beach to his house, about 4 km away. That took the entire morning and I probably turned over a thousand rocks and stones. I found plenty of material, especially Patellidae, Acmaeidae, Trochidae, Buccinidae, Neritidae, etc. It was a fabulous and productive day!

Still ahead was my trip to Yamagushi and Okinawa - TO BE CONTINUED.....

English checking by John Wolff


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