Have you ever seen a ball of seaweed before? In Japan, it is a common sighting in Lake Akan in Hokkaido. These are algae which have grown into a large green ball popularly known as “marimo” in Japanese. They only grow in freshwater, thus, much is being done to conserve them. They have also been designated as Special Natural Monuments of the country.
“Marimo” is the name given by the Japanese botanist, Tatsuhiko Kawakami, to the bouncy ball of algae. Algae grow in three different ways: epilithic, free-floating and ball proper. Marimo undergoes the third growth form and can even grow as large as 20-30 centimeters. Its roundness is maintained by the waves’ gentle action in which it constantly rolls the ball around. This action helps them reach the light needed for photosynthesis.
One of the conservation practices of marimo is called “Marimo Matsuri” which is done on the shores of Lake Akan. It is held for three days in order to provide awareness of the unique nature of marimo. The festival features a lot of traditional dances and religious rites. These are particularly handed down by the Ainu, an indigenous group of people in Japan.
The first day of the festival is dedicated to educating people about marimo’s existence and importance in society. It can include field trips to their habitat. The Marimo Dance Parade is held on the second day, together with the Ceremony for Receiving Marimo. It will be followed by a prayer of gratitude to the gods of Mother Nature as a way of thanking them for last year’s blessings. The Closing Ceremony includes returning marimo to the depths of the lake by a person riding in a traditional Ainu canoe. At night time, the Pine Torch Procession is celebrated and there is also a fireworks display which is very enchanting to watch.
Preservation of endangered species is one of the responsibilities of all human beings and Marimo Matsuri is one great example of this.