By Koji Shintani / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterNAKA, Ibaraki — About 5,000 mushroom species are estimated to exist in Japan, but only one-third of them have been categorized — little is known about many of the varieties. You can delve into the mysterious world of mushrooms at the Ibaraki prefectural Kinoko Hakase-kan (Mushroom doctor’s museum).
The inside of the museum is designed to resemble the log cabin laboratory of a fictitious “mushroom doctor.”
An about 10-meter-tall tree welcomes visitors at the entrance of the museum, and well-known mushrooms are displayed at the base of the tree, including hiratake oyster mushrooms, commonly known as shimeji in Japanese, and tamagotake Caesar’s mushrooms, which are popular for their unique flavor.
The tree is surrounded by eight exhibition rooms in which visitors can learn about mushroom species that grow in strange places, an artificial mushroom cultivation system, and other fungal-related issues.
Through a small window on the wall of an exhibition room, you can see an about 15-centimeter-tall white mushroom called nagaenosugitake, or rooting poison pie. In Japanese, the mushroom is also called “mogura no secchin take” (mole’s toilet mushroom) because the toadstools often appear on parts of the ground where mole excrement is found.
The museum also introduces rare mushroom species such as honetake, or horn stalkball, which grows on the horn and bone remains of animals, and poisonous species as well.
One example is dokutsurutake, or destroying angel, named for its strong toxicity. If a human eats a destroying angel mushroom, their liver will be damaged, causing diarrhea, abdominal pain and even death in some cases.
The mushroom resembles another edible mushroom called shiromatsutakemodoki in color and shape. Because of their similar appearance, there have been fatal cases in Japan when people have mistakenly eaten the poisonous variety.
The museum also introduces how to cook with mushrooms. When cooking mixed rice with maitake mushrooms, for example, the dish tastes best when the mushrooms are grilled, so they become aromatic, before adding them to the dish.
For “mushroom sashimi,” which is a great way to enjoy the original aroma and flavor of edible varieties, you should heat the mushrooms first — you can use a microwave oven, or any other heating appliance — and then let them cool before serving.
In autumn, when many people enjoy mushroom hunting, the museum holds a lecture to learn how to identify mushroom species.
Due to the effects of the nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the popularity of mushroom hunting in the region declined. However, it has started to become popular again in recent years, and the museum received about 700 inquiries last year.
“We hope visitors will come here to enjoy eating, watching and learning about mushrooms,” said museum official Junichi Aramaki.
■ Kinoko Hakase-kan
The museum opened in the Ibaraki Botanical Garden in 1998 as a facility for visitors to learn about mushrooms, wild vegetables, lacquers and bamboo, as well as the role of forests. It also holds a variety of events such as mushroom and fungi observation.
Address: 4603, To, Naka, Ibaraki Prefecture
Open: From 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed on Mondays. (When Monday falls on a national holiday, the museum is open but closed on the following day.)