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Japan Battles Jellyfish Invasion

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Japan Battles Jellyfish Invasion

Environment

Japan Battles Jellyfish Invasion

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: That music means it's time to get back to our Climate Connections series. All year long we're exploring how the climate affects people and how people affect the climate.

CHADWICK: And we have to say, the news is really pretty grim overall. Not a lot of fun here.

BRAND: Well, I did manage to have a little fun with it on a recent trip to Japan. I met a guy who - get this - he is a jellyfish broker. He tries to get Japanese restaurants to buy and cook jellyfish.

CHADWICK: Ughh.

BRAND: Ughh, indeed, yes. This guy is actually being helped by climate change. It seems that warmer temperatures and more pollution in the oceans are leading to lots more jellyfish, especially around Japan, where global warming has shifted ocean currents, bringing in more jellyfish.

CHADWICK: Well, I've read enough of the science. The warmer waters mean a great spurt in the growth of the food that the jellyfish eat, so more jellyfish.

BRAND: More jellyfish and bigger jellyfish. Some of them are growing as big as washing machines. And when that happens, they get caught up in the fishing nets and literally crush the other fish.

CHADWICK: Bad, bad for the fish, but maybe good for this jellyfish broker you met.

BRAND: That's right, and this is actually what he calls himself.

Mr. KANEO FUKUDA (Jellyfish Broker): My nickname is the Jellyfish Fukuda.

BRAND: Jellyfish Fukuda. His real name is Kaneo Fukuda. He's trying to get us all to love us some jellyfish.

I met him with our translator, journalist Tim Horniak(ph) one night in Yokohama. That's a city near Tokyo with a big Chinatown. And you know, Alex, the Chinese have been eating jellyfish forever. So we decided to sample some at a Chinese restaurant in Yokohama.

(Soundbite of restaurant)

BRAND: Okay, we're now at the restaurant. Before we eat the jellyfish, we're going to go to the kitchen to see how the chef prepares it.

Mr. TIM HORNIAK (Interpreter): This is Chef Saito(ph).

Mr. SAITO (Chef): (Japanese spoken)

BRAND: Chef Saito?

Mr. HORNIAK: Yes.

BRAND: Okay, the chef's now brought out two bowls. One bowl...

Mr. SAITO: (Japanese spoken)

Mr. HORNIAK: This is jellyfish that has been processed. These are wide, thin sheets. They're kind of yellow, wrinkly and semi-transparent.

Mr. SAITO: (Japanese spoken)

Mr. HORNIAK: Please touch it.

BRAND: Touch it? Okay. Wow.

Mr. SAITO: (Japanese spoken)

Mr. HORNIAK: Smell it.

BRAND: Smell it? Ah, okay. It smells...

Mr. SAITO: (Japanese spoken)

BRAND: It smells like old cheese, and it feels like skin - rubbery, rubbery, thick skin.

Mr. HORNIAK: Fukura-san says this is the smell of jellyfish.

BRAND: Oh, it smells like old cheese?

Mr. HORNIAK: (Japanese spoken)

Mr. SAITO: (Japanese spoken) Yes. Yes.

BRAND: Yes?

Mr. HORNIAK: Yes. Old cheese.

Mr. SAITO: (Japanese spoken)

Mr. HORNIAK: First we cut it.

BRAND: So he's putting the pieces of jellyfish, the pieces that look like rubbery parchment or skin onto a cutting board. These are about, oh, a quarter of an inch wide and maybe four inches long strips of jellyfish he's cutting with his cleaver. Throwing them into a bowl.

Mr. SAITO: (Japanese spoken)

Mr. HORNIAK: Okay, well, first, we boil it and - in water and then we leave it in the water for about two days, and it becomes like this. And this plastic bowl here looks a bit different from the jellyfish that's been cut off. It looks more rounded, maybe...

BRAND: It looks like worms. It looks like...

Mr. HORNIAK: Okay.

BRAND: ...worms.

Mr. SAITO: (Japanese spoken)

Mr. HORNIAK: He's going to show us how we boil the cut off jellyfish.

BRAND: Yeah? Come this way? Okay.

Mr. HORNIAK: Okay, this is some serious fireworks happening here...

BRAND: Oh my God...

Mr. HORNIAK: ...right in front of the stove in the Chinese restaurant.

BRAND: Put all this water into the wok. And it's boiling fiercely. And then he just puts the jellyfish into the rapidly boiling water. Wow, and so within seconds it's done. It's cooked.

Mr. SAITO: (Japanese spoken)

Mr. HORNIAK: If you leave it in water for a day or two it becomes softer.

BRAND: Can I touch it?

Mr. HORNIAK: (Japanese spoken)

BRAND: Whoo! It's hot. It's hot and it's rubbery.

Mr. SAITO: (Japanese spoken)

BRAND: Yeah, and it shrunk.

Mr. SAITO: Yeah.

BRAND: So I guess this jellyfish then will sit in water for a few days to soften up.

(Soundbite of commotion)

Mr. HORNIAK: Okay, so we have just come down from the kitchen upstairs, and we're seated at our round table.

BRAND: So here are the jellyfish that we saw upstairs, and they've been seasoned.

Mr. SAITO: (Japanese spoken)

Mr. HORNIAK: If you chew it, if it's chewy, it's good jellyfish.

BRAND: Okay. Crunchy, very crunchy.

Mr. HORNIAK: (Japanese spoken)

BRAND: Well, I really could be eating anything.

Mr. SAITO: (Japanese spoken)

BRAND: A bamboo shoot or a - some kind of radish maybe, flavored nicely with sesame oil and salt. The future of our cuisine right here (unintelligible).

Mr. HORNIAK: We're all going to be eating this around the world.

BRAND: I know. No more fish. Say hello to the giant jellyfish dangling from my chopsticks.

Mr. FUKUDA: Last year, September, me go to China.

Mr. HORNIAK: You went to China last September. Okay.

Mr. FUKUDA: To catching jellyfish.

Mr. HORNIAK: Catch jellyfish?

BRAND: You went on the boat?

Mr. SAITO: (Japanese spoken)

Mr. HORNIAK: It's kind of scary.

Mr. FUKUDA: (Japanese spoken)

BRAND: Oh, pictures.

Mr. HORNIAK: Look at these photos from the trip.

BRAND: Pictures of the jellyfish.

Mr. HORNIAK: It looks like they're pulling something out of the water, and this one...

BRAND: Oh, my gosh. Look at that thing. It looks like a giant beach ball.

Mr. SAITO: (Japanese spoken)

Mr. HORNIAK: Well, this photograph shows how giant jellyfish has been consumed in China for a long time, raw, and served in a kind of soup. And Fukuda-san would like to popularize this form of jellyfish cuisine in Japan served raw, because if he does manage to do that, this will help out a lot of the fishermen - Japanese fishermen in the Sea of Japan - whose nets are being flooded by a deluge of giant jellyfish. You know, they'll be able to harvest these creatures as something they can sell in Japan if this becomes popular.

BRAND: How big a problem is it for Japanese fishermen, these giant jellyfish?

Mr. HORNIAK: (Japanese spoken)

Mr. SAITO: (Japanese spoken)

Mr. HORNIAK: Of course, it's a really big problem for the fishermen on the Sea of Japan, because these giant jellyfish get into the nets and you can't get any more fish. You know, the fish die in the folds of these jellyfish.

Mr. SAITO: (Japanese spoken)

Mr. HORNIAK: It's become so that these fishermen aren't able to fish, really. You know, they're just pulling up all these jellyfish all the time.

BRAND: And yet it's a good thing for you, because you have made it a business opportunity.

Mr. SAITO: (Japanese spoken)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HORNIAK: That's right. It is a good chance for me, even though it's an environmental problem.

Mr. SAITO: (Japanese spoken)

Mr. HORNIAK: I'm creating jellyfish makeup and skin products, which are very good for ladies with dry skin.

BRAND: I'm looking at a picture of his - he has made an alcoholic drink - Vodka, soda water and jellyfish. What is it - what is your drink called? Does it have a name?

Mr. HORNIAK: (Japanese spoken)

Mr. FUKUDA: Jellyfish sour.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Jellyfish sour?

Mr. FUKUDA: Yes. Yes.

BRAND: There you go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Mm. So what are those things floating? Is it just bits of jellyfish?

Mr. FUKUDA: Jellyfish.

Mr. HORNIAK: There's jellyfish...

Mr. FUKUDA: American jellyfish.

Mr. HORNIAK: American jellyfish.

Mr. SAITO: (Japanese spoken)

Mr. HORNIAK: I'm making a lot of different dishes with jellyfish.

BRAND: What about jellyfish cake?

Mr. FUKUDA: Jellyfish (Japanese spoken)

Mr. HORNIAK: (Japanese spoken)

Mr. FUKUDA: (Japanese spoken)

Mr. HORNIAK: I'm making it, yes, indeed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HORNIAK: Of course, I'm making...

Mr. FUKUDA: (Japanese spoken)

Mr. HORNIAK: I'll show you.

BRAND: Oh, and you have a picture of some jellyfish cake.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: So Alex, that is Jellyfish Fukuda. And if global warming continues, if Jellyfish Fukuda is successful, we could all be eating jellyfish cake and a lot of other delicious jellyfish dishes.

CHADWICK: Peanut butter and jellyfish sandwich. Mm. Okay, when are we going to get our next taste of your climate change trip to Japan?

BRAND: Alex, we're aiming for Tuesday. And for more on this series, pictures of some of the jellyfish delicacies you just heard about, go to our Web site, npr.org/climateconnections.

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