A painted clam shell from Japan in Malacology caught our imaginations and led to some creative story telling by DigiVol.

For over a year, volunteer digitisers have been busily digitising a range of molluscs, including chitons, mussels, snails, tusk shells and clams. We have seen some amazing shells from micro shells invisible to the naked eye to the beauty of large nautilus shells but when we came across a painted decorative clam shell nestled in amongst the standard clams, we were inspired to find out more about it.

Our starting point was to check the early Australian Museum register to see what information could be gleaned from it and then to drawer on anecdotal information from Museum staff if available. The specimen, identified as Meretrix meretrix was recorded in 1969 with Japan listed as its location. Unfortunately, we do not have any interesting anecdotal stories to tell about why this particular specimen is now a part of the Malacology collection.

Consequently, an interested volunteer researched its possibilities and suggested that it could have been part of a game called Kai-awase. Our half of the clam shell could indeed be one matching half of a pair from a Kai-awase set as it does show some a physical resemblance, admittedly to an untrained eye. We think it is a worthy possibility although lacking verification.

To those of us who have never heard of the game, it is a variation on the game “Concentration”. Kai-awase, which was enjoyed by the nobility during the Edo period in Japan was played with a game set consisting of 360 matching pairs of clam shells with each pair bearing the same image, such as noblemen, flowers, poetry, dance costumes. The winner was the person who collected most matching pairs. Today, 54-shell sets of real painted shells or shells with applied decals which are related rather than matching can be bought in Japan.