Mikimoto Pearl Island | Travel Guide
Have you ever heard of Mikimoto pearls? This Japanese pearl cultivator grew to be a world-famous company because of its beautiful cultured pearls. Mikimoto is the name of the founder, Kokichi Mikimoto, who is regarded as the king of pearls. If you are in Japan, you can visit Mikimoto Pearl Island and learn more about pearl cultivation and traditional ama divers.
Life of Kokichiro Mikimoto
Kokichi Mikimoto was born in 1858 at the end of the Edo period. Japan was just about to open up to the western world in the Meiji Restoration. His father was an udon noodle manufacturer and loved to invent new machines, and his grandfather was a clever merchant. Their attitude towards business influenced Kokichi’s life greatly. He didn’t receive a high education, but he learned how to read and count using an abacus privately. At that time, he dealt with vegetables, rice, and sea products.
When he was 30, he learned that because of overexploitation, Akoya pearl oysters had become endangered. He thought it would be a good business chance if he would somehow be able to culture pearls. Two years later he started studying pearl culturing at two places in Mie Prefecture; Shimenoura and Ojima. Ojima is called Mikimoto Island now. In 1893, he finally succeeded in making half-circle cultured pearls. Once 1907 rolled around, his son-in-law Nishikawa got the patent to make a round cultured pearl.
In 1899, he opened a pearl shop in Tokyo then moved to Ginza, the most famous shopping district in Japan. Then in 1913, he opened a branch shop in London. In the beginning, cultured pearls were regarded as a false product in western countries, but they got used to them. He said, “I will decorate all the ladies’ necks with pearls” in front of the Emperor.
Visiting Mikimoto Pearl Island
Mikimoto Island was opened to the public in 1951. The whole island is like a museum. You need to pay an entrance fee to go onto the island. You can go to the island by crossing a bridge. In the museum, you can learn how cultured pearls are made and they exhibit different types of pearls from all over the world. You can also see many artistic works using pearls.
One of the highlights is the demonstration of how the women divers called Ama catch pearl oysters in the ocean. They don’t use an air tank or a wetsuit. They just bring wooden buckets to put the pearl oysters and train to hold their breath for a long time.
After visiting the museum, you have a chance to buy pearl products. They sell a wide variety of products from reasonable small souvenirs using pearls to expensive gorgeous accessories. Interestingly, they sell cosmetics using pearl powders. They say it is good for your skin.
Your Japan Tour
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Access from Nagoya Station: take the Express train of Kintetsu Line to Toba Station. It takes about 1 hour 40 minutes. Then about 10 minutes walk from the station to Mikimoto Island.
Entrance: 1,650 yen for adults / 820 yen for junior high school and elementary school students
Hours: From 9 am to 5 pm