Marimo is the Japanese name for balls of Cladophora algae that form at the bottom of lakes. In English they are known as Moss Balls, though this is technically incorrect. Normally the algae grows either attached to rocks or as free-floating filaments, but under certain conditions, the filaments form into balls. The ball form is quite rare and is only found in a few lakes in Japan, Northern Europe and the U.S.A.
Marimo are particularly cherished by the indigenous Ainu people of Japan, who call them torasampe or Lake Goblins. The largest colony of Marimo in the world grows in Lake Akan, in the Ainu heartland. The adorable little fuzzy balls first came to wider attention in Japan in the early 1900s, and people started to take them home for their aquaria and to keep in jars as 'pets'. Over the next few decades, the colonies declined so much that they became endangered. In the 1950s, Ainu elders decided to celebrate Marimo and promote their conservation by inaugurating a Marimo Matsuri. These days, the festival not only serves to highlight Marimo conservation, but also wider Ainu culture in general, and is an important source of tourist revenue.
And of course, it wouldn't be Japan without a creepy mascot!
I can certainly see the appeal of Marimo. For a non-descript green ball of algae, they're absolutely freakin' adorable. I find watching videos of them almost mesmerising. I did consider purchasing some, but in my research I found conflicting information about whether it's legal to import them into Australia. I would also hate it if I weren't able to take care of them properly and anything happened to them. So I decided to leave Marimo 'breeding' to the experts. If you are considering Marimo ownership, some being sold online are fakes, so be careful!
It would be amazing to visit Japan and take part in the festival, but I'm not in a position to travel right now. I will just have to admire them via the magic of the internet. Although Australia does seem to have a Marimo connection -- a bunch of them washed ashore north of Sydney last year! They don't seem to be true Marimo as the expert in the article mentions they were make of seaweed, not algae, but it still must have been a magnificent sight.
I asked myself, not having any Marimo, and being on completely the opposite side of the earth from where they live, how will I celebrate the Marimo Festival? Like I celebrate any occasion or holiday in my life -- with food and craft, of course! At first I thought to make a meal of traditional Ainu food, but, as interesting as it sounds, I don't have access to ingredients like wild deer and Hokkaido garlic. So I contented myself with coming up with a 3-course meal made entirely of ball-shaped foods. For the appetiser I made mini cheese balls:
For the main, there was Swedish meatballs in milk gravy, baby potatoes and brussels sprouts. At the supermarket, Husband also found some Thai green curry balls and pomme noisettes (mashed potato balls, I'm not sure what these are called in other countries?). We made the gravy from the pan juices left over from cooking the meatballs and it turned out very thick, but trust me, the meatballs are under there somewhere!
Dessert consisted of rum balls and peanut butter snack balls. Husband can make rum balls with his eyes closed. I made the peanut butter snack balls from this recipe. I ignored the wierd selection of cereals I'd never heard of and just used rice bubbles. If I was going to make it again, I would probably add some spice or vanilla.
With the feast underway, I turned my mind to what else I could do to celebrate the Marimo. Making some craft or doing a drawing didn't seem like enough. The festival has a strong component of conservation, so I decided to do some research and see whether there's anything practical I can do to protect and improve our waterways. I have already started this and I will write up a blog post with my findings in a couple of weeks.