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September 22, 2017

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Curious, mysterious oddities of jellyfish

The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network--Round, bell-like bodies drifting and dancing through the water — a most relaxing sight that also carries an air of mystery. Jellyfish are aquarium idols that attract many people as soothing, umbrella-shaped creatures.

At Enoshima Aquarium in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, jellyfish illuminated in dark blue light swim amid relaxing music in a jellyfish exhibit hall that was renovated last year. The aquarium started exhibiting jellyfish on a permanent basis in 1973 and is now known as a pioneer of raising jellyfish for exhibitions.

It currently exhibits about 3,000 jellyfish from about 40 species in Japan and elsewhere.

"Some studies show that viewing jellyfish can ease mental stress. Their healing effects attract people's attention," said Aya Adachi, a curator at the aquarium in charge of keeping jellyfish. Asked which jellyfish species are popular these days, Adachi showed me a species called aurelia in an eye-catching globe-shaped water tank that was installed last summer. Aurelia are often seen in waters around Japan.

"It's not showy. It just swims along with the current, opening and closing its umbrella. Many visitors to our aquarium say they feel healed after watching them," Adachi said. She also said the shape of the water tank was intended to give visitors an impression of gentleness, just as the jellyfish do.

Adachi's next suggestion was the Pacific sea nettle, which has an umbrella more than 30 centimeters in diameter. It inhabits the Pacific coastal area of North America and is one of the largest jellyfish species in the world. Seeing them drift through the water is compelling with their more than one-meter tentacles trailing softly behind.

Meanwhile, the blue jellyfish actually comes in various colors such as blue, brown and white — hence its other nickname, color jellyfish.

"Its chubby shape is cute. It's also agile. These jellyfish are popular among children," said Adachi.

The brown jellyfish matches its name with brownish tones. Its umbrella is 10 to 15 centimeters in diameter, but its tentacles are about one to two meters long and slowly retract after they snag prey.

"We occasionally feed them during the aquarium's opening hours. So if you're here at that time, you can see it," she said.

Visitors are allowed to take photos as long as they don't use a flash, so many jellyfish lovers come to Enoshima Aquarium to snap pictures, Adachi said.

A cafe on the second floor sells a custard bun and a jelly dessert both designed after jellyfish. The bun is 260 yen and the dessert is 410 yen, including tax.

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