Moss Ball Pets are referred to as marimo in Japan. Japanese botanist,Tatsuhiko Kawakami (川 上龍彦 Kawakami Tatsuhiko), noticed these mari (balls) in Lake Akan, Japan in 1898. Since their discovery, the plants have been an object of fascination all over the world.
This love for marimo became problematic when too many moss balls were being sold without allowing time for the algae to replenish itself (It can take hundreds of years for marimo to grow to 30 cm in diameter!).
Soon marimo became a protected species in Japan and the Ainu tribe, which is aligned closely with the lore of the marimo, began hosting Marimo Matsuri, a festival to celebrate their appreciation for nature and to teach others how to honor and conserve it.
Marimo Matsuri: Festival Details
In 1920, Japan took notice of marimo and decided to make them a Japanese National Treasure. This action actually caused more of the special balls of algae to be taken from Lake Akan by excited tourists and locals! The plants were also affected heavily by other environmental problems such as a diverted water supply and the logging industry in Hokkaido.
Almost 30 years later, Japanese citizens began to realize the damage that people were causing the national treasures. In an incredible act of kindness, many sent their marimo back to Lake Akan. To celebrate the return of these marimo to Lake Akan, the Ainu people decided to host a homecoming festival on October 7th,1950.
This festival is still held every year and has evolved into a three-day celebration, which takes place during the beginning of October. Each day involves different ceremonies and community discussions about the importance of conservation.
Welcoming of Marimo Ritual
The festival reaches its midpoint during the Welcoming of Marimo Ritual that takes place on the second night of the event. Festival attendees and the Ainu people gather on the shores of the lake as Ainu youth arrive in canoes to bring marimo to the elders. Over 400 people usually gather to participate in singing the Ainu folk songs and then march over to the Ainu Kotan square while carrying torches.
Once they reach the square, each regional group of the Ainu tribe performs their own dance. Most of these dances are designed to replicate the movements of living creatures like the Crane dance or the Grasshopper dance.
Returning of the Marimo Ritual
On the last day, tribal members and others gather in the morning to express their appreciation for Mother Nature. Also, after a special prayer called the Kamuinomi, another march begins to return the marimo to the lake. Dancing children gather around the elders as they row from the shores to deliver the marimo home one by one.
Ancient Tradition or Tourist Attraction?
The Marimo Matsuri event does receive some backlash due to it being a tradition that was started in more recent times. For this reason, some Ainu communities like to point out that there are no examples or stories of the Ainu people having a great respect for the marimo.
Despite the anger from some tribal members, others support the festival because they feel as if it is never too late to begin respecting nature or celebrating the conservation of an endangered plant. The supporters of the festival like to remind others that the event began as a way to honor the return of the marimo in 1950 and that at its core, this is what Marimo Matsuri is still about.
Moss Ball Pets Today
The Moss Ball Pets that you purchase with us are not the endangered species of algae that we’ve been discussing. These marimo are artificially rolled from free floating filaments. This means that small pieces of the algae is taken from the various lakes where marimo can be found and then maintained until it is ready to be sold. In this manner, people are able to appreciate these beautiful and special plants without endangering them or their habitats.
Interested in having your own little piece of the Japanese National Treasure? Visit our shop now to adopt your very own Moss Ball Pet!
Author: Tierra C. Watkins
Animal lover. Macaroni & Cheese enthusiast. Avid Bibliophile.
Language dilettante. Zany freelance writer. Part-time triceratops.