Eels and the Japanese: An Inseparable, Long-Standing Relationship

  • Mari KurokiEmail author
  • Martien J. P. van Oijen
  • Katsumi Tsukamoto
Part of the Humanity and the Sea book series (HUMSEA)


The Japanese nation has a long history of using freshwater eels as food, and these days up to ~100,000 t of eels per year are consumed there, about 70 % of the world’s eel consumption (Kuroki and Tsukamoto 2012). In this context, there is no doubt that Japanese have a closer relationship with eels than any other nation in the world, and therefore need to take a heavy responsibility for their conservation.


North Equatorial Current Yayoi Period Tokugawa Shogunate Watercolour Illustration 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank all the people who provided materials, artefacts, and information about the Japanese eel for this chapter, and gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Nico Korenhof (Naturalis) for scanning the originals of Keiga’s watercolours and Bürger’s description. We also thank Andrew Driver for his help in improving the English.


  1. Aoyama J, Nishida M, Tsukamoto K (2001) Molecular phylogeny and evolution of the freshwater eel, genus Anguilla. Mol Phylogenet Evol 20:450–459CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Chow S, Kurogi H, Mochioka N, Kaji S, Okazaki M, Tsukamoto K (2009) Discovery of mature freshwater eels in the open ocean. Fish Sci 75:257–259CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Fontaine M (1936) Sur la maturation des organes de l’anguille mâle et l’émission spontanée de ses produits sexuels. Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des Sciences, vol 202. Série I, Mathématique, pp 1312–1314Google Scholar
  4. Hagihara S, Aoyama J, Limbong D, Tsukamoto K (2012) Morphological and physiological changes of female tropical eels, Anguilla celebesensis and Anguilla marmorata, in relation to downstream migration. J Fish Biol 81:408–426CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ida T (2007) Unagi: Chikyū kankyō o kataru sakana (Eels: the fish that tell us about the global environment). Iwanami Shoten, Tokyo, 225 pp (in Japanese)Google Scholar
  6. Inoue JG, Miya M, Miller MJ, Sado T, Hanel R, López JA, Hatooka K et al (2010) Deep ocean origin of the freshwater eel. Biol Lett 6:363–366CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Kim H, Kimura S, Shinoda A, Kitagawa T, Sasai Y, Sasaki H (2007) Effect of El Niño on migration and larval transport of the Japanese eel, Anguilla japonica. ICES J Mar Sci 64:1387–1395CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Kimura S, Tsukamoto K (2006) The salinity front in the North Equatorial Current: a landmark for the spawning migration of the Japanese eel (Anguilla japonica) related to the stock recruitment. Deep Sea Res II: Top Stud Oceanogr 53:315–325CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Kimura S, Inoue T, Sugimoto T (2001) Fluctuation in the distribution of low-salinity water in the North Equatorial Current and its effect on the larval transport of the Japanese eel. Fish Oceanogr 10:51–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Kurogi H, Okazaki M, Mochioka N, Jinbo T, Hashimoto H, Takahashi M, Tawa A et al (2011) First capture of post-spawning female of the Japanese eel Anguilla japonica at the southern West Mariana Ridge. Fish Sci 77:199–205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kuroki M, Tsukamoto K (2012) Eels on the move – mysterious creatures over millions of years. Tokai University Press, Tokyo, 278 ppGoogle Scholar
  12. Kuroki M, Aoyama J, Miller MJ, Wouthuyzen S, Arai T, Tsukamoto K (2006) Contrasting patterns of growth and migration of tropical anguillid leptocephali in the western Pacific and Indonesian Seas. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 309:233–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kuroki M, Miller MJ, Aoyama J, Watanabe S, Yoshinaga T, Tsukamoto K (2012) Offshore spawning for the newly discovered anguillid species Anguilla luzonensis (Teleostei: Anguillidae) in the western North Pacific. Pac Sci 66:497–507CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Morse, E. S. 1879. Shell mounds of Omori. Memoirs of the Science Department, University of Tokio, 1: 1–36, plus 18 Plates.Google Scholar
  15. Satoh H, Nakamura N, Hibiya T (1962) Studies on the sexual maturation of the eel. 1. On the sex differentiation and the maturing process of the gonads. Bull Jpn Soc Scientific Fish 28:579–584CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Sugeha HY, Arai T, Miller MJ, Limbong D, Tsukamoto K (2001) Inshore migration of the tropical eels Anguilla spp. recruiting to the Poigar River estuary on north Sulawesi Island. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 221:233–243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Takayama J (2009) Mikuroneshia-jin ga Unagi wo Kinki suru Shūzoku no Kigen [Origin of the custom of eel taboos in micronesia]. Rokuichi Shobō, Tokyo, 220 pp (in Japanese)Google Scholar
  18. Tanaka H, Kagawa H, Ohta H, Unuma T, Nomura K (2003) The first production of glass eel in captivity: fish reproductive physiology facilitates great progress in aquaculture. Fish Physiol Biochem 28:493–497CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Tsukamoto K (2006) Spawning of eels near a seamount. Nature 439:929CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Tsukamoto K, Nakai I, Tesch FW (1998) Do all freshwater eels migrate? Nature 396:635–636CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Tsukamoto K, Chow S, Otake T, Kurogi H, Mochioka N, Miller MJ, Aoyama J et al (2011) Oceanic spawning ecology of freshwater eels in the western North Pacific. Nat Commun 2:179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Watanabe S, Aoyama J, Tsukamoto K (2009) A new species of freshwater eel Anguilla luzonensis (Teleostei: Anguillidae) from Luzon Island of the Philippines. Fish Sci 75:387–392CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Yamamoto K, Yamauchi K (1974) Sexual maturation of Japanese eel and production of eel larvae in the aquarium. Nature 251:220–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Yamauchi K, Nakamura M, Takahashi H, Takano K (1976) Cultivation of larvae of Japanese eel. Nature 263:412CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Zenimoto K, Kitagawa T, Miyazaki S, Sasai T, Sasaki H, Kimura S (2009) The effects of seasonal and interannual variability of oceanic structure in the western Pacific North Equatorial Current on larval transport of the Japanese eel (Anguilla japonica). J Fish Biol 74:1878–1890CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Japan 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mari Kuroki
    • 1
    Email author
  • Martien J. P. van Oijen
    • 2
  • Katsumi Tsukamoto
    • 3
  1. 1.The University Museum, The University of TokyoTokyoJapan
  2. 2.Naturalis Biodiversity CenterLeidenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.College of Bioresource SciencesNihon UniversityFujisawaJapan

Personalised recommendations