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Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2002

Artificial jellyfish find niche market with aquarium hobbyists

Staff writer

NARA -- Jellyfish swimming up and down inside a water tank may be a comforting sight to see, but keeping them alive is another matter entirely. Help, however, is on the way, said Hideaki Okuda, a maker of artificial jellyfish.

News photo
Hideaki Okuda watches artificial jellyfish that he made at his gallery in Nara.

Okuda, a 37-year-old engineer who runs Fuyu Dairiten, an art gallery-cum-cafe in Nara, was so attracted to jellyfish that he decided to make one himself.

The product, which is made of special plastics, looks and moves just like the real thing and rides on water currents emanating from a pump.

"When I went to the (gallery) and saw the jellyfish floating in a water tank, I thought they were real," said musician Titi Matsumura, who keeps Okuda's jellyfish for his house. "As I travel a lot, it is good that I don't have to worry about taking care of it when I am away."

In response to the growing popularity of jellyfish, Osaka Kaiyukan Aquarium created a spot for them near its entrance in July 1999. Kaiyukan's Dai Niino said the display attracts many visitors.

"Some customers send us e-mail, saying they want to keep jellyfish themselves," Niino said.

Nisso Co., a Tokyo shop that sells aquarium goods, began selling a kit for jellyfish in 1998. Kunihiro Fuchigami of Nisso said many of the people who buy jellyfish are young women who have never had an aquarium. "But since jellyfish are delicate sea creatures, many have found them difficult to keep."

Okuda used to work for a small electrical equipment manufacturer. He liked watching jellyfish and started making artificial ones as a hobby. He soon found himself embracing the flowery sea creatures to make a living.

Okuda left his firm 2 1/2 years ago when a business slump prevented him from continuing his research.

"I quit the company because I wanted to continue making things I wanted to make," he said.

The opening of the gallery in April 2000 provided a good place for his artist friends to get together, but Okuda was still in need of money.

He decided to create an artificial jellyfish that people would want as pets and tried different materials to make the product look and float like the genuine article.

He debuted his first jellyfish in October 2000. Although it takes a few days to make one, he has so far crafted 1,000, some of which give off a dim light due to the fluorescent paint on their bodies.

In December 2000, he started selling artificial jellyfish for 15,000 yen over the Internet and found them popular with hospitals and restaurants as well as former owners of live jellyfish.

"I want to continue developing the product by expressing my artistic interests," he said.

For more information, call the gallery at (0742) 27-9551 or visit Okuda's Web site at http://huyuu.com.

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