A Few Illustrated Mushroom Highlights

All text and pictures by Gary Lincoff


INTRODUCTION: Following our Mushroom Study Tour of China we decide to offer one to Japan. We know more about Japanese mycologists and mushrooms because the mycologists are publishing in English language journals, and their field guides show us mushrooms very similar to our own. We choose October, again, but this time we find references in English about the Japanese mushroom season extending throughout the month.  In all, 35 of us fly to Japan and tour the country for more than two weeks in October, 1984.

Tour Leaders: Gary and Irene Lincoff, Emanuel and Joanne Salzman, Andrew Weil; Special Guests: Dr. Rolf Singer and Wakako Yeager

Trip Participants: John Bergman, Jill Carver, Ken and Martie Cochran, John Donoghue, William Foster, Mel Furukawa, Morris Gordon, James and Maury Haseltine, William and Kathryn Hirsch, Steve Iwago, Helen Johnson, Sharon Kitagawa, Emil Lang, Sylvia Lee, Tanya McGovern, Margaret Morris, Esther Schrank, Amelia Schultz, Fred and Fran Shinagel, Darrell and Dorothy Strawn, Kevin Williams, Fred and Joanne Wright, Elizabeth Zeratsky, Joan Zeller.

Planned Itinerary: Our plan is to visit Sapporo, Tokyo, and Kyoto, with stops along the way to meet with our counterparts in Japan, to hunt mushrooms, and to see the sights, like Mt. Fuji.

Some of the mycologists we meet:

Tokyo: R. Imazeki, T. Hongo, Y. Kobayasi

Sapporo: Y. Murata

Fuji: K. Aoshima, N. Sagara

Kyoto: Kazue Marunishi


Gary in Kimono
Dr. Hongo

Dr. Rolf Singer & Dr. Imazeki
Rolf Singer & Emil Lang

Rolf Singer with shimeji mushrooms
artist with Ganoderma


          Following our arrival in Tokyo, we fly to Sapporo, the large, modern city on the northern island of Hokkaido, which is the most heavily forested, least developed part of Japan. Sapporo is about 150 feet above sea level and receives about 45” of precipitation a year.

          Our first foray is just outside of Sapporo, in the Tonebetsu Forest, a fall woods that looks oddly like the woods outside New York City: a predominantly deciduous hardwood forest with a number of trees with trunks covered with the yellowing leaves of a twining poison-ivy. The woods seem so familiar that John, one of our trip participants, leads a small group along a woodland path and gets lost. Our hosts, however, know where the group went and, in an hour or so after it seems they’re not returning on their own, go out and retrieve the group. Finding our group has been more important on this foray than our finding mushrooms. One beautiful collection we do find is a delicate Mycena (M. crocata) that stains saffron on bruising. It’s known in Japan and Europe, and though reported in the U.S., it must be very rare.

          In Sapporo, we find a market that is selling a matsutake look-alike, a species of Catathelasma. It is not expensive, and we take it to a restaurant where we get to cook it Korean-style on top of a hot coal heated small metal grill brought to our table.

          While in Sapporo we visit a shiitake cultivation farm, a center where the shiitake are coddled to increase production.

shiitake cultivation netting


          MT. FUJI FORAY: People go to Mt. Fuji for many reasons. Many Japanese go there for spiritual reasons and climb the mountain at night, with lanterns, so that they can be at the summit at dawn. We go there for mushrooms because it might just be the best place in Japan to find the largest diversity of mushrooms in the country. The rainfall is plentiful, and the elevation ranges from less than 3000 feet to almost 10,000 before the trees give out. The trees change as you ascend the mountain, and red pines, oaks and birch give way to fir, larch and mountain birch. As we would expect, the mycorrhizal mushrooms change with their tree hosts, offering us a diversity not easily seen elsewhere in Japan. The Mycological Society of Japan led forays here in mid-October of ’81 and mid-September ’82. Altogether they gathered more than 300 different mushrooms. We are hoping to find as many.

Mt. Fuji. Lodge. Map:

          We meet a large group of Japanese mycologists and their students for a one-day foray on the slopes of Mt. Fuji. We collect over 100 species of gilled and non-gilled mushrooms in just a few hours. These mushrooms, for the most part, are what we would expect to find in our northeastern North American woods. One attractive mushroom growing up the side of a tree, and seemingly restricted to Japan, is the Moonlight Mushroom, Lampteromyces japonicus. It looks like an almost black oyster mushroom, and it is called the Moonlight Mushroom because it glows in the dark. It is also poisonous and is sometimes mistaken for the oyster.

          Rolf Singer tells the story that, when escaping from Germany in the late 30’s, he went east, across the Soviet Union and, landing in Japan, en route to the United States to accept a teaching position, he saw a mushroom in a display case in Kyoto. It was named Pleurotus japonicus. Although it was oyster-like, he knew it was not a Pleurotus. After the war, he wrote to General MacArthur, asking if he could be sent the mushroom he saw on display. It was, and he studied it and renamed it Lampteromyces japonicus, a luminescent mushroom that is related to our Jack O’lantern mushroom, Omphalotus illudens.

          We also find the Destroying Angel, Amanita virosa, looking like we would expect it to look in our own woods. We find another Amanita, A. pseudoporphyria, however, that seems to be restricted to Asia and, we are told, is very poisonous. We collect a number of interesting boletes, including one, Suillus bovinus, which has an Asian-European distribution; another, Suillus grevillei, which occurs wherever larch grows; and a third, Suillus asiaticus, also a larch associate, which seems to be restricted to east Asia (Japan and the Russian Far East).

Amanita virosa
Amanita pseudoporphyria

Suillus grevillei
Suillus bovinus

Suillus asiaticus
Mycoleptodonoides aitchisonii.

collecting Laetiporus
Pholiota mutabilis

         An edible tooth fungus, Mycoleptodonoides aitchisonii, is found from Japan to Himalayan India, but not further west. These curious patterns of distribution raise more questions than they can answer. Pholiota (Kuehneromyces) mutabilis, for example, is found in Japan, Europe and western North America, but not in our Northeast.

Display table, Mushroom ID, Mushroom arrangement:

          At dinner, we discover that while both we and the Japanese are interested in eating mushroom, what mushrooms the Japanese like and don’t like is very different from our own preferences. The Japanese, we learn, don’t care for morels, boletes, or chanterelles, three of our favorite groups of edibles. Nor, like us, do they care for the wood-ear jelly fungus Auricularia auricula that the Chinese love. Instead, some of their favorite mushrooms are the gilled mushrooms shiitake (Lentinula edodes), matsutake (Tricholoma matsutake), enoki (Flammulina velutipes), hiratake (Pleurotus ostreatus), nameko (Pholiota nameko), shimeji (Lyophyllum spp.) and the polypores maitake (Grifola frodosa), mannentake (Ganoderma lucidum). Unlike our preference for cooking mushrooms in butter or oil, the Japanese seem to prefer either steaming or grilling their mushrooms, and dipping them in a variety of sauces or consuming them in a stew-like soup. Another difference, and an important one, is that while we rate mushrooms on their taste and texture, with no thought given to their nutritional or medicinal value, the Japanese, like the Chinese, value most highly those mushrooms that are thought of as medicinal foods. It seems to us that everyone in Japan drinks Ganoderma lucidum tea, while no one does in America who is not of Japanese origin. Dr. Imazeki, who is the same age as Dr. Rolf Singer, explains that the reason he thinks he looks so much younger than Dr. Singer is because he drinks Reishi tea (Ganoderma lucidum) daily.

          One mycologist that we meet, Dr. Aoshima, the president of the Mycologicl Society of Japan, shocks us by telling us that his favorite mushroom is Amanita pantherina! We know it as a poisonous mushroom that reportedly causes uncontrollable repetitive behavior and nightmare visions of insects and snakes crawling about the body. Dr. Aoshima laughs at such stories and tells us that it is prepared like Amanita muscaria. That is, it is dried, soaked in brine for 3 months, rinsed until it is alabaster white, and then enjoyed, and he says it is delicious.

          Another mycologist that we meet, Dr. N. Sagara, has been researching a most interesting phenomenon. Some mushrooms have been discovered to be growing preferentially about the skeletal remains of animals. They have been nicknamed in America “corpse finders.” Dr. Sagara has found that some of these mushrooms grow near the nests of particular rodents. By spotting the mushrooms, he can predict that mammal remains can be found underground. The nitrogenous matter given off in the decomposition process is the very source of the nutrition needed by these fungi.


          NAGANO: We visit an Enoki cultivation center in what is known as the Japanese Alps, in Nagano Prefecture. The industrial scale production of Flammulina velutipes is a stunning assembly-line event to watch. Not only do people who live in this part of Japan grow this mushroom, but they eat it in significant quantities; and there is reportedly a significant reduction in a variety of cancers in this part of Japan, compared with the rest of the country.



       KYOTO: We continue west to Kyoto, a lowland city surrouded by 3000 foot mountains. It only has an average rainfall of 20” but we are assured that it has plenty of mushrooms for us to see. We join a local mushroom society in Kyoto for a mushroom foray on the slopes of a nearby mountain. During lunch on the mountain, we picnic near a group of teenage girls who are climbing the mountain. We learn that they are all drinking Reishi tea, something we find puzzling because it’s not something that would appeal to American teens (or adults either). The girls say that by drinking this tea they will still be able to climb mountains like their grandparents, well into their 80’s.

          We find a number of mushrooms on the foray, including some that we wouldn’t have been able to identify on our own, like the secotioid fungus Kobayasia nipponica. Another mushroom we are shown in Kyoto is an unfamiliar stinkhorn, Asaroe arachnoidea. While we have so many of our mushrooms in common, it’s exciting to see something that we don’t share.

Kobayasia nipponica
Aseroe arachnoidea


          We are invited to go on a “matsutake seeing foray.” We assume that the letter we received was a translation that meant simply “matsutake foray.” We discover that it is just a foray to “see” matsutake growing, not to pick any, not even one. We hike up through a red pine forest (Pinus densiflora) to the area being studied, with yellow and blue stakes in the ground where matsutake mushrooms (Tricholoma matsutake) have come up in previous years. We see lots of fresh matsutake. There is at least one guide for each one of our mushroom study tour participants, and we are watched all the time. There can’t be anything more frustrating than being mushroom hunters led to a mountain side full of matsutake and told not to touch any.

          Afterwards, about 10 of our group make a deal with a local mycologist. If we purchase matsutake in a Kyoto market, his wife will cook them for us. We jump at this not just for the chance to eat matsutake, but for the opportunity to be invited inside a Japanese home. Up to this time, we have been eating all our meals in restaurants. The box of matsutake we buy, 5 in all, cost $200.00 U.S., something that today would cost many times that amount. The mycologist’s wife makes a meal for us with seven courses containing matsutake. When we leave, she shows us that she has used only two of the five mushrooms, and yet has been able to offer all ten of us a matsutake experience.

matsutake sold in the market in Tokyo, as well as a box of oysters and nameko in Kyoto


TOKYO and environs

          A short ride from Tokyo is the Mori International Mushroom Hall, a permanent center for mushroom culture in Japan. It houses a museum, a cultivation area, where we see the cultivation of Grifola frondosa, a “mushroom park,” featuring trails for hunting mushrooms, as well as a restaurant and spa that promotes the use of medicinal mushrooms, like shiitake and reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) in both food and beverage. It offers shiitake wine and reishi soda and teas.

Mori International Mushroom Hall
Irene Liberman Lincoff

Mori Park map
Mori mushroom photo display in the woods

mushroom goddess with Gary and Ken Cochran
ad for Ganoderma beverages

Grifola frondosa cultivation


 grilled shiitake for lunch a Mori Hall

of the mushroom part of our tour:

          The Mt. Fuji foray is the highlight of the collecting part of our mushroom study tour. Not only do we find the most mushrooms on our trip, but we get to meet and work with some of the most interesting mycologists in Japan. We also learn first-hand the difference between Western and Eastern cuisine, at least when it comes to choosing which mushrooms to eat and how to prepare them. The visit to Nagano to see the scale and scope of enoki cultivation surprised many of us, considering how little enoki means in America. The Matsutake lease-mountain foray near Kyoto, where we are allowed to see matsutake but not collect any, is equally surprising, but some of us are able to have a matsutake dinner made for us by a Japanese mycologist’s wife, and it is as good as it has been claimed to be.

          Certainly, the visit to the Mori Mushroom Hall, where there is a gift-shop full of mushroom images on various arts and crafts, a mushroom park leading to cultivation sites, hunting areas, and a museum, and a spa with a restaurant serving different mushroom dishes and mushroom-based beverages, erases any line between fantasy and reality. We understand that we are visiting a people, an entire country, as fond of mushrooms as Americans are fearful of them.

Cordyceps painting
Tokyo: Dr. Imazeki & Dr. Kobayashi