Visitors to a museum in Hokkaido enjoy thrilling “shark bite” programs. (Video by Masafumi Kamimura)

SHIBETSU, Hokkaido--Roll up! Roll up! Come on in and get "bitten by sharks!"

This spine-chilling experience at a museum here allows visitors to get terrifyingly intimate with the voracious “chozame” (butterfly shark).

When an official at the Shibetsu Salmon Museum stretched out his hand to feed a meters-long chozame, the ravenous monster jumped out of the pool and snapped up the grub with its huge mouth, creating a loud bang.

The massive creature often bites the feeder's hand and sometimes attempts to swallow a whole arm, mistaking the human limb for a fishy morsel.

But the “shark bite” program is all about thrilling visitors, and there's no chance of them getting an arm severed or even ending up looking like a naughty yakuza by having a pinkie snapped off.

“These experiences are a world first,” said Masaki Ichimura, director of the museum. “They are only available here.”

Although the name of the fish includes the word “shark” in Japanese and it resembles the dangerous fish in appearance, chozame are a completely different species.

They are known as sturgeon in English, and they don't possess lethal razor-sharp teeth.

It's even safe for children to have the tips of their fingers nibbled by small chozame by thrusting their hands toward the voracious creatures.

Shinnosuke Funayama, 10, a fifth-grader at an elementary school in Shibetsu, was brave enough to feed an adult sturgeon by himself.

“It was terrifying,” he said. “I will never do that again.”

The facility has been keeping and studying sturgeon caught off Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido since 2000. It breeds them jointly with Hokkaido University and currently keeps the young in large water tanks.

As the staff studied them, they found the fish mistook fingers for food and bit them. Hence the idea of turning it into a visitor attraction.

Chozame is in the Acipenseriformes order, and 27 species of two families--Acipenseridae and Polyodontidae--inhabit rivers and seas in the Northern Hemisphere.

While eggs of sturgeon are famous for caviar, international trading of most chozame species is restricted as fewer of the wild fish exist in this day and age.

Chozame, called Huso dauricus, and Sakhalin sturgeon can be caught off Hokkaido, and both are believed to originate from waters near Russia. Sakhalin sturgeon is designated a species that has gone extinct in Japan on the Environment Ministry's Red List.

In 2008, the museum began offering two kinds of programs to raise visitors’ interest in chozame by fully utilizing the fish’s unique characters.

One of the programs allow people to have their fingers bitten by young chozame that show their faces as about 50 of them gather around food scattered in a tank.

Although they are young, the chozame measure around 1 meter long and can bite up to four fingers of an adult human at one time. That is a heart-popping experience for people, given the fact that they are so closely resemble sharks.

In the other program, a museum official holds food and has the nearly half of his upper arm "swallowed" by one of three 2-meters-long adult sturgeon kept in an outdoor tank.

A demonstration was held during the Golden Week holiday season from late April to early May, drawing screams as well as cheers from excited spectators.

Another program offered only on weekends enables visitors to feed adult sturgeon by themselves.

As large food is used in the show, participants’ hands will not be bitten. But many people’s hands become shaky at the moment the adult chozame’s huge maw emerges from the water and snaps away, creating loud bangs.

Tomomi Saijo, 36, a homemaker from Kushiro, also in Hokkaido, got her fingers bitten.

“It was very impressive,” she said. “I initially thought they were sharks and their bites would hurt like crazy. But it was a pain-free adventure.”