Cross the causeway known as Pearl Bridge to be transported to a theme park for adults, the Mikimoto Pearl Island! Just off the coast of Toba City in Mie Prefecture the island is where the world’s first cultured pearls were created. The island features 4 main pavilions, the Pearl Plaza, Pearl Museum, the Women Diver or Ama San Pearl Diver Stand, and the Kokichi Mikimoto Memorial Hall, all set amongst lush greenery and the beauty of Toba Bay.
Kokichi Mikimoto was born in Toba City, Mie Prefecture in 1858. The son of a noodle restaurant owner, 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. Mikomoto’s life and achievements are celebrated in the Kokichi Mikomoto Memorial Hall.
The Woman Diver stand offers a look at the traditional Ama San, woman divers famed for their underwater feats and for their diving prowess. The few true remaining Ama divers provide year-round demonstrations of their skills and the island is said to be the only place where they continue to wear the original white diving wear.
Some of the intricate artworks on display in the Pearl Museum include the 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 noted piece is the 1/90th scale model of Himeji Castle. The replica of the national treasure is encrusted with 19,000 pearls, 447 diamonds, 36 sapphires, and completed in gold, platinum and iridescent lacquers. The Pearl Crown 2 was completed in 1979 and modeled after European crowns of the Middle Ages. This crown took 14 months of fine workmanship using ancient Egyptian gold filigree techniques, and 796 meticulously chosen Mikimoto Pearls and 17 fine diamonds. American visitors will be particularly interested in a reproduction of the Liberty Bell, made with 12,250 pearls and 366 diamonds. 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”.
Pearls are composed of many thousands of layers of crystalized calcium carbonate and a hard protein called Conchiolin. Size, shape, color, luster 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 jewelry and accessories and pearl products in the Pearl Shop, while the second floor restaurant provides a fine view of Toba bay as well as a fine menu.
In the words of Kokichi Mikimoto, “I would like to adorn the necks of all women in the world with pearls.” You can help him achieve that dream with a trip to the Mikimoto Pearl Island.