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Saturday, May 14, 2005


Japan's wildlife: domesticated and lazy

When I first came to Japan, I thought, "Where are all the animals?" Japan doesn't seem to have the small urban-adapted wildlife like we have in the United States, such as squirrels, raccoons, chipmunks or even very many birds. Other than the City Mouse, animals just don't seem to move to the cities here. Less opportunity, I guess.

Even in the countryside, there is a distinct lack of road kill. At home, common road fare is rabbits, possums and prairie dogs. Even on the small island where I live in the countryside, the wildlife is limited to stray cats and aquarium fish. After 12 years of living in Japan, the only animals I've seen in the wild are weasels and crows. A few years ago some deer swam out to our island from the mainland, but apparently the accommodations weren't good enough, as they didn't stay long.

I've also heard that wild boars used to swim from island to island off Onomichi in Hiroshima Prefecture. The wild boars swam out to steal "mikan" oranges from the orchards on the islands. They'd leave a path of rinds where they had peeled the oranges before eating them. But now the wild boars no longer swim out to the islands. Instead, they walk across the new bridge. What wildlife Japan does have is getting lazy.

The truth is that you won't find many wild animals in urban areas of Japan unless they've escaped from the zoo. This lack of animalia is perhaps what has caused the Japanese to create new kinds of "captive wildlife."

Crickets : It's no wonder people keep crickets as pets in Japan. They are the most convenient form of wildlife and can be ordered straight from the post office. In the post office on my island, a flyer shows a giant cricket standing in front of Mount Fuji: "Listen to the refreshing sound of crickets from your home! Easy instructions. Food included. One set of five crickets 800 yen."

Deer : Most people are familiar with the deer in Nara. I'm not sure where these deer came from, but I imagine they rounded them up from the forest with promises of a lifetime of free food and beer. No longer shy, flighty creatures, these deer are a little too domesticated, if you ask me. They are the most raucous bunch of misbehaving wildlife I've ever seen. No longer happy with a handful of tourist peanuts, these deer are now hitting tourists up for a night of karaoke. I worry that by domesticating these deer, we have ruined their morals.

Monkeys : Wild Japanese monkeys are plentiful in forested areas, which are, no surprise, also tourist areas. You can bathe next to the monkeys in hot springs in Nagano, and on Shodoshima Island in the Inland Sea, they'll come and greet you in front of the ropeway station. In these cases, however, I'm not sure who is coming to see who. Be careful if you see monkeys in sunglasses or jewelry on Shodoshima -- they're known to steal shiny metal things off unsuspecting tourists. More evidence of man ruining the morals of wildlife.

Edible wildlife : If you still can't spot any wildlife, you can usually find it in the restaurants. Skewered sparrows and wild boar can be found in the countryside. The only wild boar I have ever seen was in Shikoku at a restaurant specializing in boar cuisine. I couldn't miss the sign on the road a few kilometers before the restaurant, because it was made from the real animal. They had cut the boar in half, straight down the middle, and put the entire right side of the body, fur and all, on the sign. I couldn't help but wonder where the left side of the boar had gone.

I did not stop at the restaurant, but upon passing it a few kilometers down the road, I saw where the left side of the boar had gone: to make another sign, of course!

Maybe those mail order crickets aren't such a bad idea after all.

Get Amy's "Guidebook to Japan: what the other guidebooks won't tell you" for 10 percent off at www.mooooshop.com/MooooBooks/order/index.htm

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