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Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011
"Eel Expo Tokyo"
By YUHEI WADA
The University Museum, The University of Tokyo
What kind of images or memories does the word "summer" evoke in your mind? If you were to ask Japanese people, a large portion of them may say that they associate summer with the fragrant flavor and mouth-watering smell of unagi (eel). This year, the result of research into the popular but mysterious fish by the University of Tokyo comes under the spotlight.
While eels have been strongly connected with human life in both the East and the West, their biology has been little understood. A team at the university has spent 40 years and an enormous amount of effort researching eels in order to manage the food resource. This exhibition explores the fascinating (and tasty) fish, in accord with the research from three different academic perspectives: natural science, social science and cultural science.
The first part of the expo, the natural science area, shows an ocean survey of eels and focuses on finding eel spawning sites by tracing their physical growth. By watching the progress of an eel's metamorphosis, viewers learn how the fish grows — moving an incredible distance over the course of its life. Actual live young and adult eels are also on display, swimming in water cisterns.
As well as the natural science area, the social and cultural science exhibits will also interest visitors. These describe how the fish was treated in human communities around the world and became a part of people's lives. The relationship between human beings and eels is explained via displays of fishing equipment and panels on fish-resource-saving activities. The ukiyo-e pictures and goods with eel motifs, such as dishes and shoes, also show how important the eel was to the culture of the Edo Period (1603 — 1867).
The University Museum, the University of Tokyo at Hongo is the first university museum in Japan and has held outstanding exhibitions from a variety of fields on the front line of academic research. (Yuhei Wada)
The University Museum, The University of Tokyo is open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m., closed Mon., admission free. For more information, visit www.um.u-tokyo.ac.jp.