Japan from the inside out


Posted by ampontan on Sunday, October 21, 2012

SOME efforts to save endangered species are controversial, some are praiseworthy, and others approach the absurd. One citizen-led effort underway in the hot springs town of Yufuin, Oita, however, is quite reasonable and isn’t causing problems for anyone.

The endangered species in question is a rare variety of the stenothyridae shellfish. This particular variety is the only shellfish in the world whose natural habitat is a hot springs, and it exists only in Yufuin. It also was found in several nearby areas, including the well-known spa resort city of Beppu, until the mid-1960s.

But the shellfish started disappearing when some of the hot springs water was diverted to resorts — the exact cause and effect has never been identified —- and it now lives only in a water course near Lake Kinrin. The water temperature there is roughly 36° C (96.8° F) year-round.

Some local people formed a research group in February to expand its habitat. They succeeded in tripling the local population in just three months. They’ve also kept some alive in tubs of heated water to show school children. That was enough to convince the prefecture and city governments to provide a modest amount of funding, and the group is now conducting water quality tests in different locations to find the most suitable spots that might work as a new home.

Give them credit for even knowing about the creature to begin with. It’s naturally a bright gold color, but it eats moss and usually winds up covered in the stuff. It’s also only 4 x 2.5 millimeters in size, which works out to 0.15 x 0.09 inches. You’ve really got to be looking for it to find it.

If you’re ever in the neighborhood and enjoy soaking in hot water, by the way, Yufuin’s an excellent choice. I’ve been there twice and would find it very easy to live there year-round if it came to that. It’s a small town near the mountains, and it’s quite attractive as the picture above shows. (The photo is from a Japanese website called Muru’s Log.) The main street is perfect for walking, has excellent views, and is filled with the sort of shops that women like. And the stenothyridae are so small you won’t even notice them sharing space with you in the spa.

There’s also a song called Yufuin. It’s about a woman trying to recover from an unhappy love affair.

One Response to “Habitat”

  1. patfla said

    Lovely photo of what I assume is the main street in Yufuin. Couldn’t remember where Oita is so looked it up on google maps. NE coast of Kyushu. Interesting location. Nor am I sure of the distances in Kyushu so I did a google travel map from Oita City to Fukuoka (the largest city in Kyushu). When I first specified the map it routes you by train through Kitakyushu to the north and takes 2 hr and 45 mins. Interesting that the default means of transportation google gives you is train – although not at all surprising.

    You can switch the view to car and I find that there’s a major E-W highway running between Oita and Fukuoka, and that places close to Yufuin, that’s more direct. 2 hours and 18 minutes. Whatever the case 便利な所みたい。
    I think it’s possible to take a train directly from Fukuoka without going through Kitakyushu, or at least was. They had a special service with green cars. I took it the second time I went (about 10 years ago). That time we went to a place up in the mountains, had a terrific trad Japanese lunch in a trad Japanese room, and took an outdoor bath with a view across a valley to mountains in the near distance. It was a somewhat misty day this time of year.

    The main street looks less pastoral closer to the train station, but gradually filters out the farther away you get. This might not be the main street, but it’s not a big place.


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