Photo: The Pearl Globe, which had its pride of place in Kokichi Mikimoto's office. When guests would come to see him, he would often spin the globe and say, "I go around the world everyday!'' Credit: Mikimoto Company. - Photo: 2016

An Island Where World’s First Cultured Pearls Were Created

By Ramesh Jaura and Katsuhiro Asagiri

TOKYO (IDN) – To adorn the necks of all women in the world with pearls: this was the “humble ambition” of Kokichi Mikimoto, who died in September 1954 at the age of 96, says Noboru Shibahara, Manager of the Mikimoto Pearl Island, as we stand in front of a bronze statue of the man after whom Japan’s famous island is named.

Mikimoto was fully aware that “in order to realize his ambition, peace and trusted relations among nations have to exist based on democratic principles as advocated by Yukio Ozaki”, adds Shibahara.

Also remembered with his pseudonym ‘Gakudo’, Ozaki served in the House of Representatives of the Japanese Diet for 63 years (1890–1953), and is still revered as the “God of constitutional politics” and the “Father of the Japanese Constitutional Democracy”.

Mikomoto was one of the ardent supporters of Yukio Ozaki. Both Mikimoto and Ozaki were born in 1858 and died in 1954.

“We at Mikimoto Pearl Company will continue to play a part of popular diplomacy in cooperation with organizations and groups concerned while succeeding the wills of the two gentlemen,” assures Shibahara.

Mikimoto Pearl Company donated the ceremonial Mikimoto Crown placed since 1957 on the head of a newly selected U.S. Cherry Blossom Queen during a National Cherry Blossom Festival. Mikimoto has also been welcoming the Cherry Blossom delegations at the island, and presenting pearls to the Cherry Blossom Queen.

The Gakudo Kofu, a not-for-profit organisation (NPO) launched in 2006 and tasked since 2010 with administration of the historic Ozaki Gakudo Memorial House supported by the Ise City, coordinates all such activities.

In fact, Gakudo Kofu’s President Takako Doi arranged – and accompanied us on – our visit to the Mikimoto Pearl Island, located off the coast of Toba City in Mie Prefecture, some 150 kilometres west of Nagoya.

The island – connected to the mainland by a bridge – belongs to Mikimoto Pearl Island Co., Ltd., which runs it as a tourist attraction, exhibits pearls and pearl craft goods, and holds shows featuring women divers’ performance.

It was an important item on Partners’ Programme during the May 2016 Ise-Shima Summit of the Group of 7 (G7) heads of state and government comprising the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

A few days later, Shibahara treated us to the fascinating performance of women divers famed for their underwater feats and for their diving prowess. The few true remaining ‘Ama divers’, as they are traditionally known, provide year-round demonstrations of their skills. The island is said to be the only place where they continue to wear the original white that covers the body from the feet to the head.

The Women Diver or Ama San Pearl Diver Stand is one of the island’s four main pavilions, which include the Pearl Plaza, Pearl Museum, and the Kokichi Mikimoto Memorial Hall – all set amongst lush greenery and the beauty of Toba Bay.

The Memorial Hall depicts Kokichi Mikimoto’s life full of hardships and achievements, and underlines his close relationship with his hometown through exhibits, such as the replica of the house where he was born, displays showing his “footprints” which remain in Toba, and a panoramic model showing a complete view of Toba during the Meiji Period, which extended from October 23,1868 through July 30, 1912.

Born as the son of a noodle restaurant owner in Toba City in 1858, he recognized the beauty and value of the pearls from his local Shima region at an early age and after first trying to increase the number of pearl oysters, turned his hand to creating cultivated pearls. In 1893 he finally succeeded in determining the best method to cultivate pearls, the patent of which was awarded in 1908.

Shibahara shows us some of the intricate artworks on display in the Pearl Museum that include the five-storied Mikimoto Pagoda, a scale model of the ancient Pagoda of the Horyuji Temple of Nara, using 12,760 pearls, which was made for display at the 1926 Philadelphia Exposition.

Another eminent artwork is the Pearl Crown made in 1978 to commemorate the 85th Anniversary of the discovery of the method of producing cultured pearls.. The design is similar to the State crown of Queen Mary, which was made for the consort of George V at his coronation in 1911. The Crown is made of 18-carat gold studded with 872 lustrous Mikimoto Cultured Pearls.

Pearl Crown II with its delicately dangling pearls of grandeur is designed similar to the medieval crowns. A sixteen millimetre silver coloured pearl adorns the peak of the crown. Some select dainty pink coloured pearls resting lightly on the red velvet potion of the crown, give a sense of cheerfulness. This crown is comprised of 796 meticulously chosen Mikimoto pearls and 17 lustrous diamonds.

A reproduction of the Liberty Bell, made with 12,250 pearls and 366 diamonds is yet another fascinating artwork on display. The famous bell’s crack has been reproduced using blue pearls. The bell caused a sensation when displayed at the 1939 World Exposition in New York, where it was titled “The Million Dollar Bell”, Shibahara tells us.

Then there is the Pearl Globe, which as we are told, had its pride of place in Kokichi Mikimoto’s office, and when guests would come to see him, he would often spin the globe and say, “I go around the world everyday!” Thus, the globe symbolizes his philosophy; his global view of the pearl industry.

Shibahara tells us that the Pearl Globe was created to enhance human awareness of the concern about environment. It is an example of Mikimoto’s finest workmanship. “This globe with its unique design and ornamentation makes it like no other globe ever made before.”

At first glance, the globe appears unstable, but when viewed from different angles, it reveals different aspects. The arm connecting the Pearl Globe to the base is made of bronze and inclines at the same angle as the earth’s axis. It displays the twelve zodiac constellations inlaid with pearls and pure gold through a technique called the high relief inlay. This effectively gives them a three dimensional appearance.

The base is made of bronze. Each side of the twelve-sided base displays a different Japanese flower embossed in copper and set into the base, signifying the twelve months of the year.

At the Mikimoto Pearl Hall, we also come across a 1927 letter from famous American inventor and businessman Thomas Edison, to Kokichi Mikimoto, written after they visited together Edison’s West Orange, New Jersey home.

Addressing him as “Dear Kokichi”, Edison remarked: “It is one of the wonders of the world that you were able to culture pearls; it is something that is supposed to be biologically impossible.” Mikimoto responded: “If you were the moon of the world of inventors, I would simply be one of the many tiny stars.”

Pearls are composed of many thousands of layers of crystalized calcium carbonate and a hard protein called conchiolin. Size, shape, colour, lustre and degree of imperfection determine the value of each individual pearl. Most important however, is nacre thickness. For items such as necklaces and multi pearl brooches, consistency for matching purposes is also very important.

The Pearl Plaza offers a rich selection of pearls, pearl jewellery and accessories and pearl products in the Pearl Shop, while the second floor restaurant provides a fine view of Toba bay.

Kokichi Mikimoto’s ambition to adorn the necks of women around the world with pearls has meanwhile become a reality. Mikimoto stores stud not only Tokyo and other cities in Japan, but also Paris, New York City, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Shanghai, Singapore and Mumbai. And the historic company’s manager Shibahara is on his toes exploring new buyers and markets around the world.

Mikimoto is fully aware of its environmental responsibility and the Mikimoto pearl culturing operations have achieved zero-emission status, with all akoya oyster waste and residue from the culturing process recycled or reused. [IDN-InDepthNews – 02 December 2016]

Top photo : The Pearl Globe, which had its pride of place in Kokichi Mikimoto’s office. When guests would come to see him, he would often spin the globe and say, “I go around the world everyday!” Credit: Mikimoto Company.

Second Photo: Kokichi Mikimoto. Credit: Mikimoto Pearl Island.

IDN is flagship of the International Press Syndicate.

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