MUSHROOM STUDY TOUR OF JAPAN: October 1984
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. Rolf Singer & Dr. Imazeki
Rolf Singer & Emil Lang
Rolf Singer with shimeji
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
outside New York City: a predominantly deciduous hardwood forest with a
of trees with trunks covered with the yellowing leaves of a twining
The woods seem so familiar that John, one of our trip participants,
small group along a woodland path and gets lost. Our hosts, however,
the group went and, in an hour or so after it seems they’re not
their own, go out and retrieve the group. Finding our group has been
important on this foray than our finding mushrooms. One beautiful
do find is a delicate Mycena (M. crocata) that stains saffron on
known in Japan and Europe, and though reported in the U.S., it must be
In Sapporo, we find a market that is
selling a matsutake look-alike, a species of Catathelasma. It is not
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
MT. FUJI FORAY: People go to Mt. Fuji for many reasons. Many
Japanese go there for spiritual reasons and climb the mountain at
lanterns, so that they can be at the summit at dawn. We go there for
because it might just be the best place in Japan to find the largest
of mushrooms in the country. The rainfall is plentiful, and the
ranges from less than 3000 feet to almost 10,000 before the trees give
trees change as you ascend the mountain, and red pines, oaks and birch
to fir, larch and mountain birch. As we would expect, the mycorrhizal
change with their tree hosts, offering us a diversity not easily seen
in Japan. The Mycological Society of Japan led forays here in
’81 and mid-September ’82. Altogether they gathered more than 300
mushrooms. We are hoping to find as many.
We meet a large group of Japanese
mycologists and their students for a one-day foray on the slopes of Mt.
We collect over 100 species of gilled and non-gilled mushrooms in just
hours. These mushrooms, for the most part, are what we would expect to
our northeastern North American woods. One attractive mushroom growing
side of a tree, and seemingly restricted to Japan, is the Moonlight
Lampteromyces japonicus. It looks like an almost black oyster mushroom,
is called the Moonlight Mushroom because it glows in the dark. It is
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
find another Amanita, A. pseudoporphyria, however, that seems to be
to Asia and, we are told, is very poisonous. We collect a number of
boletes, including one, Suillus bovinus, which has an Asian-European
distribution; another, Suillus grevillei, which occurs wherever larch
and a third, Suillus asiaticus, also a larch associate, which seems to
to east Asia (Japan and the Russian Far East).
An edible tooth fungus,
Mycoleptodonoides aitchisonii, is found from Japan to Himalayan India,
further west. These curious patterns of distribution raise more
they can answer. Pholiota (Kuehneromyces) mutabilis, for example, is
Japan, Europe and western North America, but not in our Northeast.
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
have been discovered to be growing preferentially about the skeletal
animals. They have been nicknamed in America “corpse finders.” Dr.
found that some of these mushrooms grow near the nests of particular
spotting the mushrooms, he can predict that mammal remains can be found
underground. The nitrogenous matter given off in the decomposition
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
like the secotioid fungus Kobayasia nipponica. Another mushroom we are
Kyoto is an unfamiliar stinkhorn, Asaroe arachnoidea. While we have so
our mushrooms in common, it’s exciting to see something that we don’t
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
wife will cook them for us. We jump at this not just for the chance to
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
many times that amount. The mycologist’s wife makes a meal for us with
courses containing matsutake. When we leave, she shows us that she has
only two of the five mushrooms, and yet has been able to offer all ten
of us a
TOKYO and environs
A short ride from Tokyo is the Mori
International Mushroom Hall, a permanent center for mushroom culture in
It houses a museum, a cultivation area, where we see the cultivation of
frondosa, a “mushroom park,” featuring trails for hunting mushrooms, as
a restaurant and spa that promotes the use of medicinal mushrooms, like
shiitake and reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) in both food and beverage. It
shiitake wine and reishi soda and teas.
|Mori International Mushroom Hall
||Irene Liberman Lincoff
|Mori Park map
||Mori mushroom photo display in
|mushroom goddess with Gary and
||ad for Ganoderma beverages
|Grifola frondosa cultivation
grilled shiitake for lunch a Mori Hall
SUMMARY 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
arts and crafts, a mushroom park leading to cultivation sites, hunting
and a museum, and a spa with a restaurant serving different mushroom
mushroom-based beverages, erases any line between fantasy and reality.
understand that we are visiting a people, an entire country, as fond of
mushrooms as Americans are fearful of them.
||Tokyo: Dr. Imazeki & Dr.