In all the years as a fish writer, nothing has been more rewarding to me than travelling the world and seeing new things. The relationships that i’ve forged with people throughout my time is something that can never be taken away, and when life gets tough, and the world becomes bleak, these memories serve as a constant reminder of happier times. My profound interest in reef fish and the natural world has, to my greatest appreciation, opened the door to new sights and sounds. It is therefore only befitting that we finish our Japanese travelogue in Tokyo, one of my favourite, and greatest cities that i’ve ever been to.
I hold this country near and dear to my heart, and it really comes as no surprise that I absolutely adore this place. Japan is a place of escape, with a surreal mix of fact and fiction. The eclectic blend of space age, futuristic technology, juxtaposed against the zen and culturally rich tradition presents the intrepid traveller with a mind numbing sense of wonder. Heaven and earth as they would call it. Oil and water. So immiscible, but yet so homogenous. An oxymoron of an incomprehensible nature, but amidst the chaos is a cosmic serenity that works.
Things get even better for an ichthyophiliac here, for Japan is the true pantheon of reef fish culture. On a personal note, I like all fish in general. But like all people, i’m drawn towards the unobtainable. The intractable lust for the rare and the exotic. In some, this manifestation presents itself in a more physical form. The need to obtain and possess. I quench my thirst in a manner most different. Understanding the history, the story, the intoxicating, intangible emotions behind the human steering wheel. Was your languish quelled by that Angelfish? Why? To be filled with that mind controlling thought. The poison that drips from the very cosmos of the human brain. And yet, something so primeval in its core, has become something of endless fascination. Of a more anthropological nature, this need for understanding is just as important to me.
And yet again, Japan presents with a serendipitous arena where I can tick all my boxes. Rarity has always been a subjective term. This word, so casually strewn about. What’s rare for me, may not be for you. What’s rare in the trade, may not be in the field. What is it then? For all intent and purposes, rarity, in this context, refers to the availability or prevalence of a certain object (or species) in a defined industry. In simpler terms, our aquarium trade. And the arbitrary haze rears its ugly head once again, for distribution of species in the hobby is never fair. Something may be common in one country, but difficult to obtain in another.
Luckily for us, the fish in this article do not straddle those boundaries. They themselves sit in a separate echelon, way above your standard fare of rare. We’re talking about the fish collection of Mr. W, who chooses to remain incognito and unknown. Mr. W lives about an hour’s drive from the metropolitan Tokyo, in a quiet and normal suburb. His friendly nature and hospitable personality quickly dispels any trepidation and shyness. His dimly lit living room is illuminated by the soft, familiar glow of aquarium lights.
One large reef tank, and four smaller, conjoined set ups. For a fish lover like myself, words can never describe that initial feeling of overwhelming confusion. There’s always a short window where my mind races back and forth, trying to make sense of things. “Am I identifying every fish correctly? Am I seeing what I’m seeing? Those look familiar, i’ve seen them in some magazine before.”. The world stops spinning, and when I snap out of my mental high, with neurons still firing, I wield my camera and snap. Like my life depended on it.
That emotional high is something I’ve tried to convey with as much accuracy in my articles. And yet, disappointingly, I fail. Every time. I wish my readers could live vicariously through my eyes on another dimension besides 2D images. That’s simply not possible, and though I never succeed, I never stop trying.
Mr. W is famed for his fish collection. While almost everything here is of value, a few fish truly stand out. Mr. W’s Paracentropyge hybrid is one of the, perhaps the only living specimen of this hybrid anywhere today, and has been so for almost a decade. The complexities surrounding this genus is something of a marvel, but shall be reserved for a separate article. Over the years, a minuscule number of these hybrids have been collected, the most recent one in 2013. However, no news regarding their status have ever been released.
Another truly remarkable superstar in this collection is Centropyge nahackyi. C. nahackyi is the closest living relative to C. multicolor, and this species differs markedly in the extensiveness of its crown markings as well as the intensity of its body coloration. This species is endemic to a single atoll to the Southwestern Hawaiian Islands — Johnston Atoll. This tiny biogeography represents one of the smallest natural distribution ranges of any Angelfish species, rivalling that of Holacanthus limbaughi and Centropyge resplendens in the Clipperton and Ascension Islands respectively.
Being a former military base, no aquarium collection occurs there. The only time C. nahackyi is ever collected is when specimens waif onto the main Hawaiian Islands during juvenile recruitment. This occurs as an extreme rarity, with only a couple examples documented so far. You may remember Mr. Genda’s darkened C. multicolor from the previous article. Comparing it to the real C. nahackyi, the differences become immediately apparent.
Cephalopholis iragashiensis is an extremely deepwater grouper that is just as uncommonly seen in the trade. Less than 10 specimens have ever been offered for the aquarium trade. Like many deepwater fish, this species is more often seen in commercial trawlers and line fishing, where it is sometimes utilised as a food fish. C. iragashiensis is a luxurious saffron when juvenile, but will continue to develop bold red stripes as it ages. The common name Neptune Grouper is very fitting of this immaculate and kingly species.
Although Mr. W’s collection is overall something of amazement, the above three species are really in a league of their own. I’ve put together a short montage of clips and photos above for your enjoyment. Before I end off, I would like to give a huge thanks to Mr. W for opening up your lovely home to me, and for allowing me to photograph your fish collection. I’ve seen some incredible fish in my travels, but nothing quite like this. The Paracentropyge hybrid and C. nahackyi are my firsts, and it really has been awhile since something elicited such genuine excitement from me. Also, huge thank you to Mr. Kiyoshi Endoh, who so courteously accompanied me on my visit. Your photography is something I have looked up to for the longest time. And last but not least, thank you to Koji Wada, who have been so patient and kind in helping to arrange all the various visits.