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Oct. 12, Sun.*This program was first broadcast on Nov. 15, 2012

Mushrooms

About 5,000 species of mushroom can be found in Japan, a quarter of the world's known species. The matsutake is the gold standard of edible mushrooms. And whether it's a broth of shimeji mushroom, or tempura-fried hen-of-the-woods, mushrooms are a quintessential autumn food in Japan, and have been for centuries. There are also some very rare mushrooms, like the caterpillar fungus - which grows on insects and which has been used medicinally since ancient times - or the glow-in-the-dark mushrooms of Hachijojima. In recent years, Japan has seen a decline in the number of wild mushrooms. Intense efforts have been made to revive matsutake harvests. Some efforts to stimulate mushroom growth are even using artificial lightning strikes - quite a shocking idea!

On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is mushrooms. We'll see how Japan's climate and culture have made it the nation that eats a wider variety of fungi than any other.