We’ve arrived at our third installation of our Osaka recount and if you’re still following, then thank you, and we hope you’ve enjoyed parts 1 and 2. We visited one of our favourite aquarist in Osaka, and we’ve featured his fish and his collection here a few times before but never in its entirety as a single post. We’ve showed snippets here and there but this time we’re dedicating a whole story towards Dr. Shimokobe and his wonderfully illustrious treasure of deepwater fish.
Dr. Shimokobe is a general practitioner by day, deepwater fish connoisseur by night. Moonlighting as one of Japan’s foremost authority in deepwater fish collectors, Dr. Shimokobe and his less than humble assemblage is no stranger to publicity. If you are a regular window shopper that browse through Japanese catalogues and magazines, you’ll know just how extensively featured this man is.
Being a customer of Koji Wada’s, many of his fish have passed through BlueHarbor in the past. We’ve been to this place two times now, and each time it’s the same feeling of amazement. When you recognise every fish in that tank and know where it came from, which magazine edition it appeared in and how many times, you know you’re either crazy, or in need of some serious therapy. Some might say to go outside, play in the grass and get a life, but I defer.
Dr. Shimokobe lives just along the outskirts of Osaka, in Nara Prefecture. At less than an hour’s drive away from BlueHarbor, it’s a convenient and easily accessed location for Koji to tend to maintenance needs or just to pay a visit. His collection is not in a house, but instead in his clinic. Everyday so many people visit him for consults and check ups, blissfully unaware of what treasures lie just in front of them. If I lived in Nara, believe me I may eat dirt just to get a stomachache as an excuse to see this man daily. An apple a day as they say, but i’ll be having none of those.
There are five distinct set ups each housing their own set of occupants. It’s surprising really, how something so superficially simple on the outside is actually done with pinpoint precision and finesse. Every one of the tank set ups are carefully catered to their occupants. The custom built tanks and equipment are novel and were from Koji Wada, but because of sensitivity regarding the replication of such models, we decided against taking photos.
A picture paints a thousand words, but since we don’t have those, then maybe a thousand words would well….look like a thousand words. I’ll try to describe it in person. The majority of the photos you see here belong to the first and main set up. A long tank divided into three portions, the first and last are cubed while the centre remains a long rectangle. A rough estimate would put the whole thing at fifteen feet in length probably.
Each panel of glass is not only incredibly thick, but double panelled with a layer of air sandwiched between each pane. Think of it as a tank within a tank, for lack of better phrasing. The thickness of the glass and the insulation between it helps prevent fogging, and allows Dr. Shimokobe to reduce his temperature way down to low 60s F. Since many of his fish are exclusively deep water, this is a necessary criterion.
The sump is kept very clean and simple, uncluttered. The sump system is the heart and soul of any aquarium, and personally i’ve always preferred a clean, spacious and well maintained sump. I wish I could practice what I preach though, because mine looks like baby poop. Each piece of piping is wrapped in insulated foam to prevent condensation again, and the doors of the cabinets are also layered with foam to prevent heat loss. You could keep a polar bear in this tank and it’ll probably request for a parka.
While this tank is split into three, with each ends forming a cube, there really is nothing different in selection of fish or the way they’re housed. Essentially if he were to remove the panels, nothing will change much. Perhaps a few fishes didn’t get along and so this called for separation.
Every species in here is deepwater, or at least moderately deep. Some like this ridiculous Liopropoma aberrans and that Gonioplectrus hispanus really well and truly set the standards for the species. Especially the golden basslet. I don’t think there’s any other like this with the sheer size, coloration and health. You may remember this exact piece from two years ago, in August of 2012. We visited Dr. Shimokobe for the first time and during that trip, this L. aberrans had problems swimming and required needling to relieve itself of the build up of air in its swim bladder. Fast forward to today and this is the same fish, kicking DCS in its butt and looking like an absolute king.
The iconic and comical Dr. Seuss Fish (Belonoperca pylei) makes an appearance not once, but twice here. Really, if you have the set up and the cash, why stop at one? Why even stop at two? Look at this thing. The pink foil and cherry spots connected to that big cartoony head? This is one of the most charming and beautiful species of the deep and it’s unbelievable how the other species in this genus, B. chabanaudi looks practically like the satanic anti-christ version of this fun chap.
B. pylei is pretty predatory, and like the other species it should not be kept with tiny little bait fish. Other than that it’s pretty chill, and the two we saw just spent most of their time cruising around looking like god’s gift to fish kind. Which they do *btw*, they can do whatever they want because they worked it, and they owned it. The pink foil is really magnificent in person.
This tank is also home to a pair of Pseudanthias mica. P. mica is Indonesian in distribution and was recently split from P. leucozonus, which is now found in Japan. All Indonesian caught P. leucozonus in the past should therefore now be amended to P. mica. The fish unfortunately didn’t hold its colours very well, and in the male above the markings are barely evident.
Like Yuma Yasuda, Dr. Shimokobe also has an O. katayamai. This specimen is many years in age and painfully shy. I didn’t get a photo on my previous trip but i’m glad it showed up this time round, even if it was just for a second. This bruiser isn’t as ornately coloured and patterned as the younger one in Mr. Yasuda’s place, but by no means is it boring. The sheer size, grace and appearance commands attention in a manner most undivided.
But of all the deepwater fish, as amazing as they all are, none made more of an impact than this. Liopropoma aurora was the highlight of my trip this time round, and a fish that I did not see on my previous visit. This is the first time for me seeing this species in person, and my god did it take my breath away.
We’ll feature an entire post dedicated to this individual with a video as well, so we won’t dwell too much into this fish as of yet. But what we will say is that it, like many larger Liopropoma, is completely fearless in its element and not at all shy.
These yawning photos are actually of it displaying to its other tank mates. Like many basslets, they show their assertion by gaping their mouths to look intimidating. It’s really peculiar how vast the difference in behaviour is between the small reef-type Liopropoma and these larger ones, and in our follow up post highlighting this species on its own you can see its bold nature in a video.
The genus Bodianus is represented by three species in this aquarium, all of them are rare in the trade. The Hawaiian endemic B. sanguineus makes an appearance, but seem rather pedestrian beside the other two. An undescribed Southern Pacific Bodianus. sp “kimura” is also present, but it didn’t make for very good photos. Fear not, we will talk more about this fish in the next installation.
The star Bodianus in this set up has to be the ever gorgeous and ever beautiful Bodianus masudai. We did get pictures of this, and it was an absolute delight to photograph. B. masudai is one of the most beautiful in its subgenus Trochocopus, but gets to a rather large size. Fully grown specimens are also rather tall and stout as compared to other members in this complex. Deepwater and very rare, B. masudai is primarily found in Japan and the associated peninsular, although it also extends weakly into Taiwan, Coral Sea and the Celebes.
Not unlike other species in the genus, B. masudai has a juvenile coloration that is quite different from the adult. Juveniles are uniformly charcoal with yellow lines, but will quickly grow into the retina burning cherry red that the adults are famed for. The contrasting hues always remind me of MacDonalds, but really i’d rather curb my hunger pangs with this than McNuggets.
The sectioned cube at the far right of this immense set up features only anthias species, of which only one allowed me for photos. I apologise for this. You have to understand, it’s incredibly difficult to photograph these fish in the conditions that are presented. Because all the aquariums are unlit, the interior is very dim and the glass basically acts like a mirror. Reflection is very prominent, and turning on any supplemental lightings will scare the fish into hiding. To make things more challenging, there is not much space to manoeuvre a 105mm lens for photography. There are many species I would love to show you in photo, but perhaps another trip in the future would be curative.
This section is home to a ridiculously beautiful pair of Anthias anthias, Pseudanthias rubrolineatus and this ultra beautiful Pronotogrammus martinicensis. P. martinicensis is not an uncommon import from deepwater Curacao, and is actually quite a staple from Dynasty Marine. However most specimens enter the trade as small juveniles and they are vastly different from the one above. Juveniles are very drab, and smaller specimens are noted for the possession of a vertical brown blotch. It is only in the terminal phase like the one above that they develop a more colourful body that is decorated in metallic gold striations.
For an idea on what this deepwater set up looks like and how the sections work, this video taken by Digiman last year demonstrates it very well. Do note that not all the fish are updated. In the video, Liopropoma aurora is not present as it was a new addition, and the Tosanoides you see swimming in the tank have been moved to a separate system.
See if you can count how many different species are present in there that we did not photograph.
There are also two other coral set ups in the main room, just beside the main deepwater tank. Coral wise, the tank is dominated only by Montipora species, which is actually pretty unique. A “genus only tank”, that’s a first! Nothing really exciting in the fish department here sans a spectacularly healthy Apolemichthys kingi in world class condition. This fish is a small specimen, just barely 4 inches in length and is an absolute pig.
We took many photos of this fish, which we will include later on in the gallery at the end of this post for a more complete viewing. The tiger angelfish shares its home with a Cirrhilabrus cf. lanceolatus, Centropyge colini and Centropyge aurantia.
In the back room, two main systems come into play. A smaller reef tank houses a wild caught Ascension Island pioneer Centropyge resplendens, which we have already showcased here in the past. A second more elaborate system of connected tanks hold a myriad of deepwater fish, but because it is so crammed and tightly spaced it was impossible for me to get any photos. Centropyge narcosis, Genicanthus personatus, Pseudanthias calloura, Tosanoides filamentosus and an undescribed Plectranthias live here.
But the star of this set up has to be this Tosana niwae. We cannot get any photos with our macro lens because of the space restrictions, but this horribly low quality
iPhone potato video of it should give you a clue what it looks like. It’s still in quarantine, so it’s currently living in a bare tank with a PVC pipe.
Couldn’t see anything in the video? Yeah we don’t blame you. Here’s a photo of a wild T. niwae that looks just like the one in Dr. Shimokobe’s home. This is a peculiar species. In this monotypic genus, T. niwae is elongated with trailing ventral fins and threaded filaments on the caudal lobes. Juveniles and females are striped while terminal males possess a red blotch on their body.
T. niwae is not a reef fish in the strictest sense, and is found swimming in very open silty habitats, much like that in Lembeh Straits. It’s often found in association with Navigobius and Ptereleotris, where it shares the same preference for silty bottoms. It’s deep water and its preference for such a habitat makes it extremely challenging to catch. Tosana niwae is very agile and quick on the fin, and because of the lack of any landmarks to corner the fish in, many of them are collected only at night when the fish is asleep by shining a torch at them. This is another fish i’ve never seen in person so this was just as exciting for me as Liopropoma aurora.
We’ve provided a gallery above showing all the fish we’ve photographed and those we did not include in the post. Again, feel free to browse for your viewing pleasure.
Once again we’d like to extend a warm and sincere thank you to Koji Wada and Dr. Shimokobe for the warm hospitality, and for allowing me to come back for a second time. I hope in future to return again and hopefully get some photos of the fishes that i’ve missed this time round.
As promised, we’ll feature Liopropoma aurora in its entirety in the following post, and then finally keep watching this page for the final part 4 of our Osaka recount. Happy reefing!