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Nature Aquarium World

by Takashi Amano

Book review by Neil Frank

The new force on the Japanese aquarium plant scene is Takashi Amano. Anyone who has seen his new book, Nature Aquarium World (1994, TFH Publications, Inc, ISBN 0-7938-0089-7) will surely agree that he has a skill uncommon in North America and maybe in the world. The unbelievable pictures in this book are true proof of his special powers. In addition to being an expert photographer, Amano is able to create and maintain many unique and exciting underwater aquascapes. I know this first hand, because I had the good fortune of visiting with Mr. Amano at his aquarium shop in Niigata Japan and was able to see his fantastic aquariums first hand. TFH has performed a valuable service to English reading aquarists around the world by translating and publishing this amazing 190 page book in May of 1994.

Takashi Amano reading The Aquatic Gardener
Mr. Takashi Amano reading The Aquatic Gardener at his aquarium store in Niigata, Japan

Overview of the Book

The large format (9 1/2″ x 12 1/2″) TFH book precisely duplicates the original Japanese edition by providing the identical high quality photos and even adds an interesting dimension by printing the glossy photos on matt black paper. The only change to the presentation is TFH’s introduction of advertisements of American aquarium equipment, which is not found in the Japanese edition. Yukio and I found this amusing for a specialty book on Freshwater planted aquaria, especially the picture of a marine tank. One big difference between the English and Japanese versions, however, is the price: TFH has a suggested retail price of only $29.95, while the Japanese sells for 6800 Yen (approximately $68.00).

To those not yet familiar with the book, allow me to provide a brief overview. The first 150 pages are mostly a collection of gorgeous photos of planted aquaria. There are 61 tanks in all, presented in ascending size order from 12 liters (3 gallons) to 2900 liters (750 gallons). More than one view of each tank is generally displayed. The accompanying text provides a brief poetic description of the aquascape together with a table of data which summarizes important conditions such as lighting, filtering, CO2, fertilization, and water chemistry. Unfortunately, the descriptions are far from complete. Important details such as plant and fish listings are not fully provided and information on lighting duration, substrate additives and type of fertilizer is also lacking. Clearly, the value of the book lies in its beautiful photos which depict a style of aquascaping different than that previously seen in the literature.

The last 40 pages are mostly valuable how to text covering layout (composition, use of driftwood, rocks, aquatic plants, tools and other materials) and raising aquatic plants (CO2, filters, lighting, substrate materials, fertilizer, maintenance, algae and snails). They are filled with much useful information, but unfortunately these pages as well as some earlier ones contain many inadequately translated or untranslated Japanese phrases.

Translation of Japanese Phrases

With the help of AGA member Yukio Asaoka, I now offer the proper translations. First, the book discusses some plants for which the Japanese name is used. Two are plants native to Japan. On page 48, the plant amamo is mentioned. This is a sea plant that looks like Sagittaria. On page 50, mizuoobako is discussed. This is a lotus plant, native to Japan. Next there are some which are more commonly known. On page 51, tanukimo is Utricularia (bladderwort). On page 62 & 166, the plant called Kurinam is Crinum natans (African onion plant).

One of the potentially, most useful features of any book which talks about growing aquatic plants are the techniques used and how they may be employed in one’s own aquarium. Unfortunately, a good description of technique is somewhat skimpy in this book, but this complaint is also common to most other books written on this subject. In this case, however, the inadequate translation compounds the matter.

In the section on water plant growing techniques, there are several literal translations from the Japanese that require further elaboration. On page 176, the term top filter is introduced. Amano mentions that this type of filter has several disadvantages, including blocking of the light. I now know that the top filter is a wet-dry filter which is very popular in Japan (and elsewhere in Asia). It is conceptually similar to Aquarium Product’s System 2 or Gemini filters (available in America) which sit directly on top of the aquarium. While this type of filter is very advantageous for a fish tank, such an arrangement is undesirable for a plant tank which may need its entire surface free for placement of electric lighting. While this style of filtration is also great for providing good gas exchange and high O2 levels, it can also cause the water to lose CO2, critically needed for good plant growth. Even with extra CO2 provided with special injection systems, more CO2 would be needed when used with a wet-dry filtration system.

Trying to duplicate his aquascaping instructions are also difficult when Amano talks about certain types of gravel. On page 179, Fuji sand is mentioned. It turns out that this is a coarse texture volcanic sand from Mt. Fuji, which doesn’t stick together like other sands. He uses this for the lowest level of the substrate so that the flow of nutrients and gases can take place. A smoother material is used for the top layer, so that the roots will not be damaged during initial planting. He also believes in relatively large 5-10mm size gravel which makes it easy for the roots to penetrate.

The use of Japanese terms is particularly frustrating in the section on THE CAUSES OF OUTBREAKS OF ALGAE (p. 182). Norijou-soo is blue-green algae (Cyanobacteria) and aomidoro is soft green filamentous algae.

One of the many gems from Nature and Aquarium which can be discovered first on page 111 and again in this section is the Yamato-numa-ebi whose literal translation is Japanese-marsh-shrimp. This small shrimp (Caridina japonica) is commonly used in Japan for algae control and replaces the Loricariidae commonly seen in European and American aquaria. Native to Japan, these shrimp are collected in brackish water or rivers, but can’t be raised in the aquaria. Growing to 2 inches in size, they are actually eaten in Western Japan as a snack food. A close examination of the pictured layouts reveals large numbers of yamato-numaebi in photo number 42. Instead of claws, yamato-numaebi have feather like devices which are extremely effective at scraping algae without harming the macrophytes. The book mentions the Japanese names for 6 other species of shrimp native to Japan (Neocaridina sp.), but Amano had determined these to be less effective than the yamato-numaebi. Another shrimp mentioned is the Bee shrimp. These smaller shrimp (less than 1 inch) were imported from East Asia and were easy to breed in aquaria. Although they are sensitive to high temperatures (i.e. greater than 30 degrees C), they were very popular in Japan. For the last 2 years, however, their importation stopped and no one knows why. Also mentioned on page 182 is Otamajackshi or tadpole, another animal used to control algae.

The Japanese marsh shrimp can only be kept with smaller fish that will not try to eat them. But even in tanks with carnivorous fish, the shrimp may be used as utility cleaners by introducing large numbers at night. By the next morning, the tank is clean. These shrimp are different than the glass or ghost shrimp that are indigenous to the U.S. Upon return from the Orient, I immediately put some in my aquaria. I have not yet drawn any definite conclusions about their utility for algae control.

Summary

Despite some minor flaws, this fantastic book is highly recommended. It is made to order for AGA members, but also deserves a space on the bookshelf of any aquarist who is interested in beautiful freshwater aquaria. Indeed, it is one of the best bargains among aquarium books available today.