There are many kinds of scientists in the world and while some work in fields that are regularly in the spotlight, there are those that do important work and yet do not receive the popularity that they deserve. Shintaro Hirase is not as well-known as other scientists; however his works and research as a malacologist are very exciting and contributed to the study of shells and mollusks.
Shintaro Hirase and his father Yoichiro Hirase, also a malacologist, gathered an impressive collection of over 15,000 mollusks, though the Second World War took its toll, with bombings destroying around 70 percent of the specimens.
In 1934 he published his book “A collection of Japanese shells with illustrations in natural colors.”
The Early Life of Shintaro Hirase
Shintaro Hirase had an early start in the field of malacology (a branch of zoology that concerned with the study of mollusks) because he grew up under the influence of his father, Yoichiro Hirase another very well-known malacologist. Shintaro was born on February 24, 1884 on Awazi Island (at Hukura), the eldest son of Yoichiro Hirase, and his foray into the field of zoology and his study of malacology was inherited from his father who was very enthusiastic about his own interest in malacology.
He became a teaching zoologist at Seikei College. Aside from formal schooling, he had his father to help drive his interest and this is why together, the two managed to form an extensive collection of seashells that were found along Japanese islands and other islands near Japan. It has been said that the mollusk collection formed by father and son is one of the best to be found anywhere although today, only about 30% of the extensive collection remains.
Today, only about 5000 specimens are left. The reason for the demise of the majority of the collection, after his death, is because of the bombing in Tokyo during the Second World War. Incendiary bombs, dropped by US troops, ruined most of the collection which was stored partly at the house of Shintaro Hirase and also at the Research Institute for Natural Resources in Tokyo.
In 1948 the remaining collection was housed in the new Research Institute for Natural Resources; the remaining 30% still inspires awe in people and shows how dedicated they were to their craft.
While Shintaro Hirase spent much of his time and most of his life building the collection, he also published several works that proved to be valuable in the study of shells and mollusk found in Japan. One of his works, published in the Jap J Zool in 1932, was a review of Japanese oysters. In this work, he wrote about the breeding of Japanese oysters and went in-depth about their anatomic qualities.
Another work, a review of scaphopods (tusk shells or tooth shells), was published in the Journal of Choncology. He also published in 1934 a study of Japanese shells and this book included many illustrations of Japanese shells in their natural colors. All his works were praised to the highest degree and copies can be obtained today.
He made contributions to taxonomy including describing the mollusk, Oscanius testudinarius Hirase, in 1927 and Babylonia pallida Hirase and Berthella gotoi Hirase in 1936.
Shintaro Hirase died on September 9 in 1939, aged 55, after a short kidney disease and an obituary was published in the Macological Society of London. They gave a full review of his life, touching not only upon his works and his accomplishments but also giving an insight as to what he was as a person.
Shintaro Hirase, just like his father, was truly dedicated to his work and his books and collection are not only interesting to see but they have also been used in other studies, especially in conservation and breeding.