When I was recently married, my husband and I were offered to live and work in Tokyo, Japan for 3 years. I have so many wonderful memories of our times there and consider the Japanese people to have some of the kindest hearts to be found anywhere in the world.
Almost as abundant as sushi shops, the city of Tokyo and areas throughout the entire country are loaded with pearl merchants. No matter whom you ask, you will most likely get advice to visit Mikimoto Pearls or Tasaki Pearls in Ginza but there are literally hundreds of shops throughout the city. Both specialize in cultured pearls.
I admittedly, went a bit pearl crazy and purchased beautiful necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, at a fraction of the price. Little did I know, until recently, the complete story behind how those millions of pearl necklaces are made.
I always assumed that a small piece of sand naturally entered the oyster’s shell and it formed a substance around it to coat it and make it less irritating. This is true, but little did I know that only 1 in 10,000 oysters naturally form pearls and the process itself can take up to 3 years. That means one pearl necklace, which can average 50+ pearls, translates to a LOT of oysters.
For cultured pearls, pearl manufacturers use a process called culturing or cultivating that, in essence, places an irritant inside of the oyster’s shell to get the pearl-making process underway. Freshwater pearls insert the mantle tissue from another oyster and saltwater pearls insert mollusk tissue. Fewer than 50% of the oysters survive this process.
In addition, the pearl manufacturers suspend the oysters in cages and continually move from one water temperature to another, which, consequently, causes stressful fluctuations in their body temperatures. Only one third of the oysters survive.
My mom has dementia and the pearl necklace I gave to her several years ago has been handed back down to me. What I love about that necklace is remembering the joy on my mom’s face when I gave it to her. However, today I struggle with the suffering that went behind those pearls and I honestly do not know if I will ever be able to wear them again.