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Marimo: The cute furry round plant that took Japan by storm

Posted on January 21, 2021

Far up north, on the remote island of Hokkaido, there is a deep, dark, and beautiful crater lake called Lake Akan. The lake is home to thousands of little (and sometimes huge) spherical algae balls which the Japanese call ‘marimo.’ These mysteriously round aquatic plants are so rare and unique, only known to grow in a tiny handful of fresh water lakes dotted around the globe. Though on the verge of extinction, most of the marimo you find today from souvenir shops and other sellers in Japan are not from Lake Akan but are rather farmed from sustainable methods using marimo filaments. They are truly the perfect plant for anyone who has ever been afraid of killing their plants as they require very little care, with the main point being to avoid exposure to direct sunlight and to replace the water every few weeks. Keep scrolling to learn more about marimo and for fun and unique ideas to store your marimo balls at home!

marimo terrarium

photo by @masahi_rock1972

Marimo gets its name from ‘mari’ which means a bouncy ball and ‘mo,’ the term that is given for aquatic plants. It is common to keep them at home in a water terrarium like this one!

marimo inside a lightbulb

photo by @marimosdiary

These fuzzy green balls are so well-loved and cherished by Japanese people that many owners of marimo even think of them as pets. The nickname ‘marimo-chan’ is often used to talk about marimo plants.

birds eye view marimo

photo by @marim0gram

Since 1921, marimo has been protected as a national treasure. In Hokkaido, you’ll even hear of the three-day ‘Marimo Matsuri,’ or marimo festival that has been held since the 1950s and led by the Ainu people.

big and small marimo

photo by @seul.73

There is a legend about marimo from the Ainu people that has been passed down as lore till today. As the legend stands, there were once two lovers who were forbidden to be together. They then drowned in the lake with their hearts turning into marimo. Nowadays, it is said that marimo is a symbol of love and romance.

big marimo

photo by @cha27ma

Able to live for over a century, these cute little fuzzies are known to grow up to the size of a whopping great soccer ball, or 8-12 inches in diameter! The balls are just algae through to the core and have been observed to grow very gradually by rolling around to naturally form a spherical shape. Growing outwards from the middle, their annual growth averages an increase of just 5mm.

marimo keychain

photo by @my_xbbxgd

Marimo keychains are also very popular so that you can carry your little marimo friends around with you on the go!

marimo marimokkori character shop

photo by @marimokkori2005

The plant balls even have their own character, “Marimokkori,” that has been widely popularized in Hokkaido. At the souvenir shops, you’ll be able to find a wide array of keychains, socks, pens, and other accessories dedicated to marimo and his personified counterpart!


Written by: Maya Kimura Watts