“You should go to the Pearl Miki. They have a pearl harvesting experience and you can make your own jewelry.” This was the most intriguing bit of travel advice I received on my first trip to Mie. I returned a year later with my girlfriend and the experience blew us away.
The first pearls (non-round pearls) from Ago Bay, in Mie Prefecture’s Ise-Shima City, were first cultivated in 1893. The area’s first round pearls were successfully cultivated in 1905. The father of the Pearl Miki’s owner founded a pearl culture in the Pearl Miki’s location at the beginning of the Showa Period (1926-1989). A sharp decline in the price of pearls, mass oyster die offs due to viral infections, and other setbacks throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries greatly reduced the number of pearl cultures. The current owner established the Pearl Miki and its pearl harvesting experience ("shinju toridashi taiken" in Japanese) in 2013 to restore a portion of that practice to its original home, and to share that experience and its beautiful environment with visitors.
The owner of the Pearl Miki, Ms. Yamaoka, met my girlfriend and I upon our arrival, gave us a brief explanation of the history pearl cultures in the area, and then led us through the old factory out to where the experience takes place: an oyster pad floating in some of the clearest blue water I’ve ever seen. The abundance of sea urchins, colorful fish, and other sea life visible around us made me very glad of my underwater camera.
Ms. Yamaoka gave each of us a tray, some work gloves and a special oyster knife and then pulled up a pot of oysters. Her demonstration and explanation of how to open the oysters and made the process very simple for my girlfriend and I. We quickly found 4 pearls in 5 or 6 oysters. Ms. Yamaoka was gracious enough to cut out the edible part of the oyster for me!
We then returned to the main building where we selected the accessories, all silver (gold and other options are available), on which to mount our pearls. We also selected 4 more pearls from her stock to make some additional pieces. Ms. Yamaoka professionally drilled and mounted our pearls in our selection. At the time of this article's writing, the pearl harvesting experience costs ¥1,700 per pearl a guest finds, plus the cost of the accessory that they choose to mount it on (varies with the product). My girlfriend and I left with 8 pearls, white, black, and pinkish, on 3 pendants, 1 pair of earrings, and a keychain for just ¥16,000! It remains, far and away, my favorite Japan cultural experience.