Trees don’t just grow on trees…

2 Apr


I took advantage of some free time during a sunny and warm period to go for a little walk and look for wildlife.

Unfortunately, nothing except pigeons seemed to be on the out-and-about.

However, you don’t see this every day…

Growing in the fork of a coppiced oak were two seedlings, an oak and a maple.

The taller of the two appears to be an oak, and the shorter one a maple.

Spring has Sprung

19 Mar

Hi blog.

The first week or so of March was largely “Winter version 2.0″, but we’ve finally got to the point where most days have a maximum in the teens.

Apart from the increase in temperature – I no longer have to wear two layers of thermal underwear – and the ume and early cherry blossom, there are other signs of spring.

Such as ploughing the fields.  (Regular readers will remember the dust storms last year created by ploughing without sowing cover crops)

Seeding dust storms?

The north winds can be strong – particularly when I’m cycling to work.  And sometimes the unexpected happens…

Umm… I think that is supposed to be in your field, not in the power cables…

On March 17th, a much neglected birthday, I spotted my first turtle for the year.

A large Mississippi red-eared slider suns itself on a warm afternoon.

But, most importantly, the Bureau of Meteorology declared late last night that Haru Ichiban – the third-latest since recordings started in 1951 – had finally hit the Kanto region.

Spring has truly sprung.

Orange Crush

2 Mar

I see a orange
See a orange
Ooh, one or two

Orange Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

Welcome to March and the official beginning of spring.  February 28 gave us an unseasonably high maximum of 18℃, and finally put paid to most of the remaining snow from that heavy fall over two weeks ago.  Double digit maximums will be more common from now on, but we can also expect gloomy rainy days and high winds.

What to write about?  Finding topics is often a challenge.  They don’t just pass across your desk at work.  Or do they?

Every month, we get a list of the next month’s school lunches, some nutritional information, and some facts or quasi-facts about some of the food items.  Most of this escapes my notice – I’m usually only interested in when “curry day” is that month – and that page soon finds its way to the recycle bin.  Only, this time, the section on seasonal food caught my attention.

Of the five items, one was something I encountered a couple of years ago but couldn’t photograph, one was part of an idea for a post that floated around inside my head before being shelved in development hell, one has made a single photographic appearance in this blog before, and the other two are orange.

[slight pause]

OK, a cursory look has persuaded me to look at the orange ones: the Kiyomi orange and the dekopon.


Before we begin it helps to remember that, even though the Japanese like to make a big fuss over how “natural” their diet is, most fruit and vegetables we eat are not products of nature, but of cross-breeding and cultivation.  (As an example, think of the humble carrot.  You probably eat the root and throw away the leaves and stalk.  In the case of early carrot varieties, people ate the leaves and threw away the root, which was often woody and not suitable for eating.)

The Kiyomi is a tangor, a cross between an orange and a mandarin (often confused with the closely related tangerine, from which the name comes: tangerine  × orange).

Incidentally, the orange itself is probably descended from the mandarin via natural and artificial hybridization, which makes for interesting reading of the “family tree”!

The Kiyomi demonstrates the desirable traits of its parents, having a mandarin-like flavour and an aroma similar to an orange, in addition to being seedless.

Kiyomi oranges. Photo from Wikipedia.

The Kiyomi holds the distinction of being Japan’s first tangor, created in 1949 at an agricultural research station in Shizuoka.  It takes its name (清見) from the nearby temple Seikenji (清見寺) and lagoon Kiyomigata (清見潟).

Naturally, tangor development didn’t end with the Kiyomi, which is also used as a basis for new varieties.  One of these is the dekapon (actually a brand name), otherwise known as the shiranui/shiranuhi (不知火).

The dekopon™ takes its name from the protrusion on the fruit – “deko” (凸) referring to a bump or lump – and its other parent fruit, the ponkan tangerine.

“So, which parent do you take after?” Here you can see the bump that gave rise to the brand name Dekopon. Photo taken from Wikipedia.

March 1st has been officially declared Dekopon Day, although most people don’t notice.


It’s still the season for catching colds, so I’m grateful when the fruit comes with my lunch.  And I’ll keep an eye out for the occasional tree in gardens.

Snow – the saga continues

18 Feb

Well, we can forget about that earlier blog entry’s claim for the heaviest snow in 20 years!

Around Tokorozawa station on Friday afternoon

Digging out paths around Tokorozawa station.

The snowfall on Friday was not only heavier here, it was followed  by a few hours of rain on Saturday, which makes the snow piled up on roofs etc. denser.  Locally, several carports and verandas collapsed under the weight of the snow – my bike park at work also fell in.

And, to make matters worse, it looks like more snow is on the way…

Over 9,000 people in Japan cut off due to heavy snowfall

TOKYO (Kyodo) — More than 9,000 people remained cut off Monday after heavy snowfall on the weekend, with roads blocked in some mountainous areas of Yamanashi, Saitama and Gunma prefectures as well as western Tokyo.

People traveling in vehicles in parts of Yamanashi, Nagano and Gunma prefectures were stranded as some highways were closed, and some Chuo Line train passengers were taken to hotels and other facilities as the trains were stuck in snow in Yamanashi.

The number of deaths related to the snow, excluding people involved in traffic accidents, has risen to 19 in eight prefectures, mostly in the Kanto-Koshin region centering on Tokyo, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

In Yamanashi Prefecture, 1,200 people in the town of Hayakawa and 1,300 in the villages of Kosuge and Tabayama were cut off, while at least 1,600 people were isolated in Kofu and other parts of the prefecture.

Helicopters airlifted food supplies in Yamanashi as main roads were closed in the prefecture.

East Japan Railway Co. on Monday suspended all 60 of its limited express services on the Chuo Line to and from Tokyo.

The Japan Meteorological Agency expects further snow along the Pacific coast of western to eastern Japan from Wednesday to Thursday.

February 17, 2014(Mainichi Japan)

If it’s cold, white and not vanilla ice cream, I don’t need any more of it.

It’s very pretty, but you don’t want to be IN the picture!

Snowed Under

11 Feb

Hi blog.

It’s a public holiday today, but I have a feeling that I’ll be doing more of what I was doing on the weekend – shovelling snow!

It seems hard to believe that we had March/April maximums at the end of January (18℃ at one point) before temperatures plummeted to 4℃ maximums and then the heaviest snow fall for over a decade.

5 die, over 600 injured as heavy snow hits eastern Japan

          A man walks on snow-covered tree-lined road in Yokohama on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014. The Japan Meteorological Agency issued the first heavy snowfall warning for central Tokyo in 13 years. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

A man walks on snow-covered tree-lined road in Yokohama on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014. The Japan Meteorological Agency issued the first heavy snowfall warning for central Tokyo in 13 years. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Heavy snow hit eastern Japan on Saturday, disrupting transportation systems and leaving five people dead and over 600 people injured in snow-related accidents, a Kyodo News tally showed.

The Japan Meteorological Agency issued the first heavy snowfall warning for central Tokyo in 13 years. Snow accumulation reached 26 centimeters there, the heaviest snow in the Japanese capital since February 1994 and the fourth largest snowfall since World War II, the agency said.

Several universities in Tokyo delayed the starting times of their entrance examinations for the new academic year that begins in April.

Snowfall marked a record 30 cm in Chiba and 16 cm in Yokohama.

Temperatures in many cities in the Kanto region centering on Tokyo stayed below zero during the day and the agency issued a blizzard warning for Chiba Prefecture and parts of Kanagawa Prefecture.

At Tokyo’s Haneda airport, Japan Airlines Co. and All Nippon Airways Co. suspended all domestic flights from noon and 3 p.m., respectively, affecting about 98,000 people.

The Tokaido and Sanyo bullet trains operating in central and western Japan fell behind schedule as they operated at reduced speed, affecting about 180,000 travelers, the operators said.

Sections of expressways, including the Shin-Tomei and Chuo expressways, were also closed due to the snow. Tokyo Electric Power Co. said 48,000 households in the Kanto region were without power Saturday night due to heavy snow.

Tokyo Skytree, the world’s tallest broadcasting tower at 634 meters, was closed from 11 a.m. due to strong winds, its operator said.

February 08, 2014(Mainichi Japan)

Another Piece in the Puzzle? – Alligator Fossil Found on Oki Island

29 Jan

I saw on the TV news the other day that a near-complete fossilised head of a sea turtle had been discovered in Hyogo.  Hoping to find something about it in the English language press I did a web search, but to no avail.  I did, however, come across an article from late last year which adds another layer of possibility to the origins of the wani in the tale of The White Hare of Inaba.

Exerpt from The Japan Times

MATSUE, SHIMANE PREF. – Shigenori Kawano, 32, found last summer what was later identified as East Asia’s oldest fossil of a giant alligator, dating from around 20 million years ago, on Oki Island in the Sea of Japan.

In mid-July, the researcher at Shimane Nature Museum of Mount Sanbe found a 30-cm rock on the Shimane Prefecture island’s shore while studying local animal and plant life.

Kawano said that when he saw part of a bone exposed on the surface of the rock, he instantly knew it must be that of a reptile.

“The size was nothing compared with that of a turtle or a soft-shelled turtle,” he said.

After carefully examining the rock, he learned that the bone, which measured 21 by 18 cm, was a fossilized portion of the backbone of an alligator estimated to be up to 7 meters long.

Full article here:



Masked Palm Civet – Newcomer, Oldcomer, or Native?

23 Jan

Hi blog.

We’re experiencing some of the coldest weather for years.  Snow has been forecast on a few days but hasn’t fallen to any real extent.  Instead, we’ve experienced days of single digit maximum temperatures – including at least one when the maximum outside converged with fridge temperature, and another when the pipes froze up enough to stop all water to our kitchen until after 11!

Apart from birds – and we know the logistical problems of photographing those with a mobile phone – the possibilities for finding interesting wildlife to write about are quite limited.

I thought I’d take a break from nature and look at some folklore and mythology, and borrowed some books about ghosts and supernatural creatures from my local library.  But an apparently real historical account with a strange animal grabbed my interest.

According to the Kikaishu, a pair of strange animals were sighted at a shrine in Edo in the summer of 1799.  The larger one escaped, but the smaller one was struck with a stick and brought to the home of the land owner.

The actual description is quite vague.  The animal revived, and was observed to eat chicken, fish, and fruit, but ignore grains.  It was about the size a small dog, but looked like a weasel.  Its colour was black with a yellowish-red patch from its chest to its jaw, interspersed with black spots, but no information is recorded as to the number of toes, whether or not it could climb trees, and the like.  What is certain is that the observers were familiar enough with weasels to recognise it as something other than a weasel, ermine or marten.

The illustration is not particularly helpful either – we have no idea as to whether the artist even saw the creature in question.

The creature described in the Kikaishu

However, I believe the mystery animal is a civet.

A masked palm civet, courtesy of Wikipedia

I’ve mentioned the masked palm civet (Paguma larvata) in other posts, and there are arguments as to whether or not it is a native species, a species introduced centuries ago, or a late-19th century or early-20th century import, or possibly even a combination of the above.

I personally suspect its official status as an invasive species and unofficial status as agricultural pest are interlinked – it is easier to declare an animal a pest if it is perceived to not be native.

So, if the masked palm civet (or possibly other civet species) existed in Japan pre-1869, where is the evidence?  There appears to be no fossil evidence of viverrids in Japan.  However, there are regional variations in Japanese civet’s coat patterns, and differences in skull measurements between Japanese and overseas specimens, suggesting the existence of a native sub-species.  And while there are no old records specifically of civets – there was no Japanese name for them at that time – it is easy to imagine them included under the old names of mujina and mami.

Furthermore, there are dozens of cryptids in Japanese folklore.  Some believe the civet to be the basis of (at least some of) the legends of the raiju.  Raiju (雷獣) – literally “lightning beasts” – were believed to live in the skies but occasionally fall to earth during thunderstorms.

Raiju in an 1841 print by Takehara. These creatures bear more than a passing resemblance to masked palm civets, don’t you think?

The raiju has many regional –and often bizarre – variations, including appearing like a six-legged, two-tailed wolf, a crab that walks on four claws, and a seahorse-like beast.  The ones relevant to this post, however, are typically described as: being the size of a dog, cat or mujina; possessing a racoon dog-like coat; having five eagle-like claws; having sharp teeth; and being racoon dog-like in appearance.  More about the raiju can be found here.

Masked palm civets are sometimes confused with racoon dogs, badgers, raccoons and even cats to the extent that pest control companies, local governments and NPO groups publish pamphlets on how to distinguish and identify the animals in question.  If semi-rural people in the internet age have trouble telling a racoon dog from a civet, imagine how much harder it would have been for an urbanised Edo-ite.

Masked palm civets are partially arboreal and generally nocturnal.  However, it is not hard to imagine individuals being knocked out of or forced down from a tree during a thunder storm.  Growing to a body length of around 60 cm and a tail of 40 cm, it is significantly larger than a weasel and matches the size of some of the cryptid animals described above.  Equally important, civets have five toes on each foot, distinguishing them from cats and racoon dogs.  They are omnivores, and like fruit with high sugar content, in addition to small prey.

Now, nothing I’ve said proves anything about the origins of Japan’s masked palm civets.  I personally believe that they were most likely introduced – possibly unintentionally – several hundred years ago.  I’d be even happier, though, if solid evidence could point to a native population.  Hopefully, research will throw more light on the subject.

The Great Gonzui

11 Jan

Hi out there.

The New Year celebrations have come and gone, and things have settled back to their usual routine.

We have passed the solstice, and I notice the days getting longer – it’s not dark at 4:30 any more, but we are still only in the shokan* part of the calendar.  This means that we still haven’t entered daikan*, the coldest period of the year – although we’ve already had days with frozen puddles and ice needs, and one morning when the pipes had frozen enough to cut off water from our kitchen until after 9 o’clock.


I’d like to make this a quick post about a little critter we saw at the Sunshine Aquarium on January 6th.  While this is not exactly suburban wildlife for us in Saitama, it is certainly a realistic possibility for people on the coast.


Today’s guest is the Japanese eel catfish (Plotosus japonicus).

A rather poor shot of the eel catfish (flash photography wasn’t permitted, and they were darting all over the place)

Known mostly by the name gonzui (権瑞), although it has a plethora of regional names including ugu, yurube, urube, gingi, gigime, gugu, gyugyu, and gui.


Growing to around 20 cm long, this fish looks like a smaller but more colourful version of the Amur catfish, but lives in a marine environment.  Another noticeable difference is their schooling behaviour – the fish (particularly juveniles) swim in closely-packed schools, often in a ball-shape.  This is known as “gonzui-dama” (gonzui ball), and is caused by pheromones the fish release.  Adult fish tend to swim alone or in pairs.

Regular readers will remember that, by contrast, the Amur catfish is a solitary animal.


Japanese eel catfish breed in the summer months, laying between 200 and 600 relatively large eggs.  Apparently, the male protects the nest.


Another important point (no pun intended) about the Japanese eel catfish is that it has poisonous spines on both its dorsal and pectoral fins.  While reliable information about this poison is sparse (various internet sites claim potency levels ranging from low to lethal), avoiding getting barbed sounds like good advice.

Actually, a former workmate of mine got barbed on our wharf fishing antics during a staff trip to the Izu Peninsula a few years back.  He reeled in the fish and, not knowing what it was, grabbed it… oops!

Another workmate recognised the fish and had him visit a doctor.  Needless to say he survived and was drinking like a trooper that evening.


Despite being well known to fishermen in the Izu area and even in Tokyo Bay, but has never been considered a table fish.  Some web sites claim that it was virtually unknown to the general Edo populace because it was never sold at fish markets.

While the Japanese eel catfish is eaten in some areas, most fishermen consider it a junk fish.  In fact, there is a tree (Euscaphis japonica) which is also called gonzui – possibly because it too is widely considered worthless.


As for myself, I see them as beautiful fish (in the water, not on the table).


*see my post 24

2013 in review

3 Jan

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,600 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

A bit of a surprise for me was that four out of my top rating posts for 2013 were written in 2012.

I would like to thank WordPress for giving me a platform (soapbox?) to do my blogging, the people who actively follow my blog (my stats show 20 followers), my referers – especially Facebook (my FB friends know who you are),, Ian, and even Wikipedia (yes, my obscure blog is referenced in a Wikipedia article); and of course you, the reader.

As for 2014, I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears open, and see what I can find to blog about.

I hope to “see” you again soon.

Kill Something and Eat It

26 Dec

Hi blog.

I ran across this article the other day and would like to put it up here for comment.  Whale is hardly suburban wildlife here in landlocked Saitama, but I’ve seen whale meat in supermarkets, sushi bars, advertised on TV shopping, etc.  I also believe that “research whaling” as conducted by Japan is nothing more than a front for commercial whaling (why else would it get government assistance as a “reconstruction” measure following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake?)

Take note: not all of Japan has traditionally eaten whale meat.  In fact, some coastal villages considered whales to be sacred animals.  Unfotunately, these voices were drowned out in the process of nation-building and consumerism.

There is more to this issue than meets the eye, but I’ll just deal with the article as it stands.

Have a read.  My comments in bold black.

Whale meat imports set after 23 yrs

December 21, 2013

The Yomiuri Shimbun

A Japanese firm that has played a central role in research whaling will soon launch full-scale whale meat imports after a 23-year hiatus as a result of a drop in hauls due to obstruction by the Sea Shepherd antiwhaling group, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

Right off the bat we have a company (read: profits first organisation) playing a central role in “research whaling”.  And it appears that the “research” doesn’t require the whales to come from any specific area…

Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha, Ltd., a Tokyo-based shipping company, is expected to import about 30 tons of minke whale meat from Norway early next year, sources close to the deal said.

… or come in any form other than “meat”.

Antiwhaling countries are most certain to file a strong protest against the planned whale imports by Japan, as the International Court of Justice is expected to issue a ruling early next year on a case filed by Australia calling for Japan to stop such whaling, observers said.

Experts said the planned import would mark a turning point for research whaling.

Minke whales are designated as a species threatened with extinction under Appendix I of the Washington Convention. Signatories to the convention are banned from commercial transactions of these species. However, deals between Japan and Norway are possible because neither country is a signatory to the agreement.

Isn’t it nice to not be a signatory to international agreements?  (But only the inconvenient ones)

Since commercial whaling was suspended in 1987, Japan has managed to secure whale meat through research whaling. However, the Sea Shepherd has ramped up its obstructive activities in the Antarctic Ocean since the mid-2000s, leading to a huge drop in hauls to 103 in fiscal 2012, far below the mandatory ceiling of 935 catches.

Incidently, if whaling is a “traditonal cultural activity”, when did the “tradition” of hunting in the Antarctic Ocean begin?

Koichi Matsumoto, 44, the proprietor of a whale specialty restaurant in Tokyo’s Tsukiji district, hailed the whale meat import plan. “If whale meat can be obtained cheaply as a result of imports, it will become possible to spread whale through the dietary culture,” he said.

Of course a perveyor of whale meat will welcome these plans.  It’s not exactly rocket surgery…

Currently, the red meat of minke whales sells at relatively high retail prices of ¥3,000 to ¥4,500 per 100 grams.

One point of concern, however, is that the importer is Kyodo Senpaku. Along with the Institute of Cetacean Research, the shipping company has played a pivotal role in research whaling, as it not only prepared vessels for research whaling, but also was involved in selling of whales.


“Research whaling for the year is funded by sales profits from the previous year, so the sale of imported whale meat will be necessary to continue conducting research whaling,” the company said.

Because their main research is discovering the most profitable retail price for whale meat?

However, it is feared that Australia and other antiwhaling countries will criticize the whale meat import plan as signaling that Japan has been conducting commercial whaling under the pretext of research whaling, observers said.

In other words, they’re worried that the rest of the world aren’t as stupid as they hoped.

In 2010, Australia filed a lawsuit with the ICJ calling for Japan to stop its research whaling, arguing that Japan was actually doing commercial whaling. Japan and Australia made oral pleas in the case in June and July this year. The ICJ’s ruling, expected as early as next year, will “have no direct impact,” said Masayuki Komatsu, a former official of the Fisheries Agency. However, he expressed concern about a possible backlash, saying, “Australia and other countries oppose whaling as such, so they will make political announcements opposing the import plan.”

“Japan’s decision to import whale meat means it has become impossible to earn profits from research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean. This marks a major turning point for research whaling,” said Ayako Okubo, an instructor at the School of Marine Science and Technology at Tokai University.

“If the volume of imports rises, it will be necessary to reexamine state subsidies for research whaling,” she said. “I’m afraid sales will not expand if prices are set at a high level for whale meat from research whaling.”

Again, the whole point of this so-called research whaling  seems to be profits.  Just come out an say it – “We’re only in it for the money.”

The planned whale imports by Japan pose no problems regarding international law and will not be affected by the ICJ’s decision, an official of the Fisheries Agency said.

In other words, “We’ve found a back door.”


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