Never a Boar and the Bear Mountains

Hi blog.

I’m in the midst of a ridiculously busy period at work.  Winter is just around the corner, and all the signs are there –  more leaves on the ground than on the trees, sunset arriving early and sunrise coming late, plus the cold.

Apart from sighting some birds that I haven’t been able to identify yet, the wildlife front has been pretty quiet.  Although the news of a wild boar running wild through Kyoto and injuring a man in the process did spice things up a little…

(from the Asahi Shimbun)

Tourists terrified by wild pig can testify it’s never boaring in Kyoto


November 27, 2017 at 18:55 JST

KYOTO–A wild boar ran riot at Heian Jingu shrine, the Kyoto Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle here Nov. 27.

The berserk beast panicked sightseers and sent them fleeing for safety at about noon.

“Boar alert!” spat a security guard of Heian Jingu shrine in the city’s Sakyo Ward in an emergency call at 11:55 a.m.

The frantic hog took a man in his late 50s from behind to knock him to the ground in front of Heian Jingu shrine, according to the prefectural police and Kyoto City Fire Department.

The man broke one of his arms.

Other people also suffered minor injuries, sources said.

“The animal was about 1 meter long and was injured on its nose,” said another man in his 50s who spotted the muscular mammal near Nijo Castle.

The dogged hog sprinted for about 3 kilometers through the main sanctuary of Heian Jingu shrine, galloped around the Kyoto Imperial Palace in Kamigyo Ward and also clocked a speedy sojourn at Nijo Castle in Nakagyo Ward.

The dramatic scenario came to a close when the boar dived into the moat surrounding Nijo Castle at 12:30 p.m.

This latest wild boar episode follows another of the decisive creature that suddenly appeared in a pedestrian-packed area in the middle of Kyoto on Oct. 1 and sped around furiously for an hour before being tackled.

Article ends.

According to the TV news, the dive into the moat proved fatal.

The other article I want to share, courtesy of the Japan Times, echoes some of my thoughts from years ago about how rural depopulation and the neglect of old farms and gardens will increase the incidence of unpleasant encounters between humans and bears.

As Akita deals with surge in bear sightings, some point to a human cause



Far from Tokyo’s bright lights and noisy streets Kaori Kawashima walks cautiously on her way to the nearest convenience store in rural Akita Prefecture, where danger might be lurking in the shadows.

“I don’t think bears come close to where I live, but there’s no way to be sure,” the 42-year-old housewife says.

Together with her husband, they take no chances. Every morning they drive their 12-year-old daughter to junior high — breaking the age-old norm that children should walk to school.

And they’re not alone. This past spring, a black bear was spotted just 20 meters from a high school in Yokote, the second-largest city in the prefecture. Kawashima has lived her whole life in Akita, but stories of bear encounters outside the mountains used to be few and far between. Now they are becoming common.

Sightings exploded in 2016, shooting to 868 from just a couple of hundred in previous years, according to the Akita Prefectural Government. From 1979 to 2015, only eight deaths from bear attacks were reported in Akita. Since then there have been five.

Behind the headlines, experts say, is a silent transformation in the countryside that is setting the stage for greater numbers of wildlife encounters.

When a string of bear attacks caused a national stir last year, residents hoped it was just an anomaly and that things would soon return to normal.

The official explanation was that the supply of beech nuts in 2015 that helped more cubs survive was followed by a shortage last year, which led them down from the mountains in search of food.

But Kazuhiko Maita, chairman of the Hiroshima-based nonprofit Institute for Asian Black Bear Research and Preservation, says a more long-term factor is at work: the disappearing satoyama, a term referring to traditional rural landscapes of carefully maintained forests and farmland.

Part of Japan’s rapid economic development in the late 20th century involved an aggressive urbanization that changed it from a principally rural country to one of the most urban populations in the world. Prefectures far from major cities began to wither, but on a rural level, the satoyama all but vanished.

“The buffer zone has disappeared,” Maita said. When forests previously chopped down for firewood grew back, and farms and fruit trees were left unmanaged, the bears left the mountains and moved in to stay, he explained.

Predominantly rural Akita has the fastest-shrinking population in Japan. This year, the prefectural government reported that it had dipped below 1 million for the first time since 1930, with over a third of its residents aged 65 or older. But it’s not alone.

Across Japan, wildlife is becoming a menace in places it never was before.

Akita, known for the bear-hunting dogs that carry its name, has always had bears around, but experts warn of boars and deer overrunning the countryside as the human activities that once held them back — such as hunting — fade due to depopulation.

In Akita, depopulation is only one part of the equation. The rest simply has to do with the subsequent increase in hunger, another expert said.

“The depopulation of rural villages is connected, but it’s not the root cause,” said Mariko Moriyama, president of the nongovernmental organization Japan Bear and Forestry Society.

“The root cause is that food has disappeared from the mountains.”

Moriyama points to research showing that trees have been growing weaker across the world, with a dramatic decrease in leaves and fruit.

The culprit, she said, is us.

“Global warming, acid rain, air pollution — all caused by human activities,” she said. In Japan, the effects have been particularly noticeable with the Mongolian oak (mizunara).

For years, Moriyama has been tracking the progress of Japanese oak wilt, a fungal disease brought on by climate change, as it creeps northward into southern Akita. Busy with their lives in the city, newly urbanized Japanese are no longer going up into the mountains like they used to. “They don’t realize how devastated it has become.”

This is particularly damaging for Akita’s black bears.

“They rely on mizunara, not beech,” for nourishment, she said.

With the mountains bare of food, no matter how skittish they are, returning to the woods might not be an option for these animals. “If nothing is done to help the mountains, the bear attacks will continue.”

Today, officials put the number of bears in the prefecture at roughly 1,000, but the primary data derive from reports about encounters — a statistic likely to get warped as sightings become more commonplace.

Here, wild mountain vegetables have been a spring delicacy for as long as anyone can remember.

Perhaps that is why residents remain eager to ignore the figurative and literal signs telling them times have changed. This has led the police to close off mountain trails and patrol popular entry points instead.

Others think back to when they were young, when the matagi (traditional bear hunters) would supply the wild animals’ tough and gamey meat to restaurants and school cafeterias. Today, the ranks of the matagi are aging and dwindling, and the meat is shunned even by residents as it can be poisonous if not properly cooked.

Meanwhile, Kaori Kawashima stays at home, getting her meat and vegetables from the supermarket. Perhaps attracted by Kumamoto Prefecture’s popular bear mascot Kumamon or Winnie the Pooh, she still hopes someday to see a real live wild bear in the flesh — as long as it’s from the safety of her car.

She laughs, saying: “I don’t want to die, but … they seem cute, don’t they?”

Her husband, Kazunori, agrees. “My first impulse would be to take my phone out and snap a picture.”

Article ends.

I had never considered the role of hunters in this before, and I suspect most urban Japanese haven’t either – the national narrative goes along the line that “Japan is a Buddhist nation and the Japanese people are descended from rice farmers and not hunters.”

What is certain is that wildlife will continue to push down into the villages, towns and even cities to survive.  If humans don’t want this to happen, they’re going to have to restore the mountains to their original state.

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Cold and to the Nth Degree

Hi blog.

Just a quick post.

November 20th produced the coldest November morning in over 30 years in the Tokyo metropolitan area, and here the maximum was in single digits – weather we could reasonably expect at the end of the year.  The ride to work led to very cold fingers, even with gloves, but I was in high spirits.

I may have mentioned a project that was keeping me busy.  The truth is I was trying to focus on my aikido grading. 

Under a certain agreement with a certain person, I am only able to train once a week, which is not anywhere near enough to make any real advancement.  Moreover, I hadn’t trained for a period of nearly two years until March of this year.  So it was with less than eight months of practice that I hit the mat for the test.

The syllabus for the test basically was:

  • A thesis on either “What I have gained from training in aikido” or “How I would teach aikido to beginners”. (I was allowed to write this in English)  I elected to write on the first topic;
  • The 10 shin-kumijo paired jo exercises;
  • The body variations of the five kumitachi paired sword exercises; and
  • Any technique from the syllabi from 8th kyu to 3rd dan as selected by the grading panel.

I’m pleased to say that despite some issues – my timing and blending were criticised by the grading panel – I passed the test for 4th dan.  This is a particularly important grade, as it is the last promotion grained through testing.

I would like to include a couple of photos taken on my way home from work on the 21st – another cold day.  Unfortunately, the mobile phone doesn’t do justice to the actual scene – having to use maximum zoom and shaking with the chill doesn’t help.

About 5:00 on the evening of the 21st

The waxing moon – literally three days old -over Mt. Fuji.

Just as a piece of trivia, the Japanese word for crescent is mikazuki () and literally means “three day moon”.  The new moon was on the 18th, making the moon on the 21st three days old – and a perfect crescent.

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A Bundle of Cuteness

Hi blog.

This is just a short post based around a single picture.
I have been ridiculously busy recently, and the weather hasn’t been conducive to wildlife blogging either – a frequently cold and wet October (with several days of December temperatures, typhoons on consecutive weekends, 12 consecutive days of rain) combined with lots of school events plus preparation for an up-coming task (which shall remain secret for the time being) didn’t leave me with much time or energy to direct toward my blog.

So I decided to take advantage of a sunny day at the beginning of this month to get out of the house, away from the annoying TV – Trump and Abe were playing golf that day – and head into Chikozan Park Zoo in Sayama.

Zoo trips with the youngest are quite relaxing – just hand him the camera and he’s quite happy to run around and take (often blurry) photos of every animal he can. He wanted to feed the waterfowl and the monkeys (¥100 each) and ride on a pony (¥200), but that still makes this kind of outing cheap.

He did manage to get what I consider a decent photo that was relevant to Wild in Japan. The zoo’s raccoon dogs were huddled together to keep warm.

Raccoon dogs huddled together.

Fortunately for you the reader, a photograph cannot capture the smell – raccoon dogs defecate in a set spot, and it stinks!  This behaviour is probably related to marking the animals’ territory, but also helps attract certain insects which the raccoon dogs supplement their diet with.

But, hey, they’re cute, right.

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The Black Fox

Hi blog.

This first came to my attention several days ago, but no English language version seemed forthcoming.  Then, on a whim, I did another net search today.

From The Asahi Shimbun:

Video captures rare black fox in Hokkaido; origin still a mystery

By AYA AMANO/ Staff Writer

October 9, 2017 at 14:55 JST 

SHARI, Hokkaido–Experts identified a black fox in a video taken in this mountainous town in northeastern Hokkaido, but they could only guess at the origin of the extremely rare animal.

A motion-activating camera shot the video of the completely black Ezo red fox walking on a road around 3 p.m. on Sept. 23.

“At first, I thought it was a dog,” said Takahiro Murakami, 47, curator of the Shiretoko Museum, which set up the camera. “(But) I thought its tail was far too fluffy for a dog and found out later that it was a fox.

“It was the first black fox I have seen in my around 10-year career at the museum.”

Murakami said the rare color of the fox could be a result of a genetic mutation.

He also noted that black foxes were imported for their fur during the Taisho Era (1912-1926) and Showa Era (1926-1989) from Canada and elsewhere, and they may have become feral and passed down their genes.

Koji Uraguchi, 59, a senior medical zoology researcher at the Hokkaido Institute of Public Health, said there are several Ainu words referring to “black fox.”

“Black foxes could have existed (in Japan) since ancient times, but they are very rare,” Uraguchi said. “I have been observing foxes in the wild for about 30 years, and I have seen only two (black foxes) so far.”

Article ends.

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The Very Green Caterpillar

Hi blog.

We are well and truly into autumn.  The cicadas stopped singing long ago, the crickets taking their place as nature’s muses.  The red spider lilies have fallen, and my scant crop of persimmons is nearly ready for harvest.  Not to mention the chilly mornings and the early arrival of night.

This is a brief post, just a whim, about some caterpillars on our mandarin tree.

A very green caterpillar, after its final moult.

These are the larvae of swallowtail butterflies, several species of which specialise, or nearly specialise, on citrus trees.

As the larvae develop and reach their final moults, it becomes possible to identify the species of butterfly they belong to.

In this case I think I can safely say that they are the caterpillars of the spangle (Papilio protenor) – kuroageha (黒揚羽) in Japanese –  a common swallowtail with a large range across Asia.  There is a possibility, however, that they may be the closely related Papilio macilentus, long tail spangle – onagaageha (尾長揚羽) in Japanese.

Either way, the adults of both species are fantastic to watch in flight, and I’m sure you’ll agree that the larvae have a certain charm about them too.

Their pattern is rather attractive, isn’t it?

Nearly ready to metamorphose.

The other day we found that one had climbed down the tree, crawled under out air conditioning unit, and morphed into a pupa.


This one may overwinter, so we’ll see what happens.

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The Red Rodent

Hi blog.

No, Wild in Japan hasn’t died a sudden death.  September has been a ridiculously busy month – the new school term is dominated by preparations for sports day, the music festival and – for me at least – the English speech contest.

Leaving home each morning at least 15 minutes earlier than normal in order to give my candidates some practice for the speech contest cut into my computer time.  Not to mention arriving home later than normal too.  I was also doing my own sports day preparation for the staff relay team – by running with the ekiden squad.   This gave me muscle pain which lasted several days each time, but built up strength to sprint the 100 metres without damaging myself.  (The average age for the team was 35, twenty-one years older than the kids we were to race against.  My own age is another ten years on top of that…)

Opportunities for encounters with wildlife dropped, as did my energy levels.  I’m sneaking in this post on a day off, in between writing a minor thesis.

This post takes me back to my days working part time at Shichiku Garden in Obihiro, Hokkaido in the spring and summer of 1991.  The garden was still largely under construction then and admission was still free.

I was was dismantling a pile of blocks one day when what appeared to be a small rat dashed out.  The pile contained a nest and several babies, still pink.  I assumed the mother would abandon the young, but my supervisor told me to leave things alone for a while and watch.

The mother, to my pleasant surprise, did in fact return and collected each of the babies to take them to a safer place.

Fast forward to a September morning in 2017…

Drizzle and forecasts of rain had made me decide to take the train to work.  As I neared the school I saw one of the students up ahead looking at something near the side of the road.  I approached to see what was holding her attention, and saw a reddish-brown rodent.  This one didn’t seem to be particularly afraid of the two humans watching it.  I was even able to get close enough to get some (shaky) video footage on my mobile phone.

This time, I inherently knew the Japanese name of the rodent in question.

“Akanezumi” (赤鼠)

What I didn’t know, just as I didn’t know on that day in 1991, I was looking at a mouse.  (I was caught out by the size – only being used to house mouse sized mice – and by the Japanese language’s failure to distinguish rats from mice – both are loosely termed “nezumi” (鼠)

The large Japanese field mouse (Apodemus speciosus) certainly lives up to the “large” part of its name, reaching a body size between 80 and 140 mm and a tail almost the same length.  This mouse lives in a variety of environments from river banks, lowland forests, grasslands and alpine areas.  It is mostly nocturnal, and feeds mostly on seeds and bulbs.  They are known for storing acorns in rock crevices and holes.

A tell-tale sign of this endemic species is the presence of walnut shells with two holes gnawed through them.

Several subspecies exist, and it is likely that the one I saw in Hokkaido was in fact A. s. ainu, which tends to grow slightly larger than the ones in Honshu.

Interestingly enough, its Japanese name translates as “red mouse/rat”, which, given the colouring of the animal, is perfectly apt.  Now, if I can just get the Japanese to come up with a term to distinguish a rat from a mouse!


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Poison Holidays

I got the poison, I got the poison
I got the poison, I got the poison

The Prodigy


Hi blog.

As summer draws to a close, I’d just like to take a moment to reflect over the summer holidays.  On a nature front, news over the last 42 days has been dominated by either typhoons –  some both very slow moving and destructive –  or news reports following poisonous or venomous wildlife.

The continuing saga of the fire ants gave the media plenty to talk about even when there were no new developments.  And when that finally ran out of steam, they resorted to warning us about regulars such as hornets and less common venomous denizens such as the red stingray.  (A dead specimen washed up on the beach we were playing on in Chiba)

A dead red stingray which washed up soon after we left the water.

A story that didn’t make the mainstream English language news was the one about a group of men in Nagoya having a barbeque in a park who decided to cook and eat some mushrooms they found growing in a grassy patch.  It turns out that the mushrooms were Chlorophyllum molybdites, or false parasol, but which also has the common name vomiter – not by accident.  Within an hour, all three men were suffering from diarrhea, and needed to be hospitalised for several days.

But the one that did make the English press was a snake story, one that involves the tiger keelback.

From the Japan Times:

Hyogo boy, 10, passes out after being bitten by a venomous snake


 JUL 31, 2017

A 10-year-old boy in Hyogo Prefecture lost consciousness after being bitten by a venomous snake Saturday, police said.

The boy, a resident of Itami, was with a friend on a path to a temple in neighboring Takarazuka when he was bitten on the wrist by what appeared to be a tiger keelback, the police said Monday.

After returning home, the boy’s mother called an ambulance a few hours later because the bleeding wouldn’t stop and he complained of having a headache. After arriving at the hospital, he passed out but later regained consciousness.

His symptoms suggest the snake was a tiger keelback, the police said.

The snake was captured by the boy’s friend and handed over to the police.

Article ends.

Stay safe.


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Back from extinction?

Hi blog.
It looks like I will get a second post in this month.
As the greater Tokyo area was experiencing its 18th consecutive day with rainfall, a short but hopeful article popped up on my newsfeed.
The Japanese river otter was declared extinct in 2012. Now there is a very slim chance that natural history will be re-written.

From the Japan Times:

Wild otter filmed alive in first Japan sighting since 1979


 AUG 17, 2017

A wild otter was caught on film on Nagasaki Prefecture’s Tsushima Island in February, marking the first sighting of the mammal in Japan in 38 years, a University of the Ryukyus team said Thursday.

It is not known whether the observed otter was a Japanese river otter — which was once found across Japan but is believed to have gone extinct — according to the team of researchers. A river otter was last spotted in 1979 in the city of Susaki, Kochi Prefecture.

Hunting for otter fur and pollution in river habitats had caused a sharp decline in the animal’s population.

The Environment Ministry said an analysis of excrement samples collected on Tsushima Island in July suggested the presence of two Eurasian otters. One is believed to have come from South Korea or Russia’s Sakhalin island, but the origin of the other animal remained unknown.

The team said a camera set up for an ecological survey of the Tsushima leopard cat captured the otter. In the footage, the otter is of adult size and appears to be in good health and nutritional status, the researchers told a news conference at the ministry.

The team said the animal could either be a Japanese river otter that has survived, a Eurasian otter that has crossed the sea from South Korea about 50 km away, or a species that has been brought by humans.

There are more than 10 species of otter in the world. Records show that Japanese river otters lived all over the country until the Meiji Era (1868-1912) and on Tsushima Island during the Edo Period (1603-1868).

Article ends.

And from ANN News:

I am not holding my breath just yet – it could well be an individual that somehow swam across from the Korean peninsula, an escaped or abandoned pet, or one unintentionally brought to the island.

We can only hope.  In the meantime, I’ll be eagerly waiting to hear the results.

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The other triangle

Hi blog.

I apologise for my lack of blogging – only one post last month, and this may be my only post this month.  Finding time and energy to locate, move and re-link the photos from older posts is not always easy.  I have managed about half at this point.

I’ve mentioned the Winter Triangle in a previous post, but now it’s time to feature its counterpart.

Two of the stars of this asterism are literally the stars of the Japanese Tanabata legend  – based on the older Chinese Qixi legend – Altair (the cowherd, most commonly known as Hikoboshi 彦星 in Japanese) and Vega (the weaver maiden, most commonly known as Orihime 織姫 in Japanese).

The pair of star-crossed lovers are separated by the Milky Way and can only meet one night a year.

The third star is Deneb, the tail of Cygnus.  This star doesn’t feature in the Tanabata story.

Finding the Summer Triangle is often part of summer holiday homework for kids.  My own son is supposed to go out with a parent and look at it five times during the holidays.  However, the weather has not been favourable at all!

Can you find it without help?

In case you were having trouble finding it, here it is.

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Under Repair

Hi blog.

Right now, much of Wild in Japan looks like this:

These are not the photos you are looking for. Move along.

When I first started Wild in Japan, I was (in retrospect, foolishly) concerned about the amount of storage on the free WordPress sites – I thought I would run out of storage very quickly and so instead uploaded my photos to an online photo hosting site I already had an account for.

The photo hosting site was often slow, its user interface was sometimes unresponsive, and it kept opening ads.  I was willing to overlook these simply because it was free.  Then, as of June 27th, that hosting site ceased to allow free third party hosting – i.e. displaying a photo stored there on another website (such as Wild in Japan).  For that, I would have to pay for one of their plans.

Wild in Japan is just a little hobby on the side – I can’t justify putting any real money into it.  I was maybe willing to pay a few hundred yen per month to keep it up and running.  However, the hosting site wanted US $399.99 per year to allow third party hosting!

I actually considered closing the site or deleting all my old posts and starting again from scratch – most of my posts represent and investment of only an hour or so.  However, a few are the result of considerable research and work.

The other option was the long and tedious task of relocating all the photos to another hosting site and re-linking them, one by one… and hoping that whatever site I hosted them on would not suddenly and arbitrarily change its terms of service.

WordPress currently offers 3GB of media storage on its free sites.  After some calculating, I have concluded that my best option is to move all my media content over to WordPress and keep everything on the one site.  If I run into storage issues, I can consider a low-cost plan.

So please bear with me as the images are moved and re-linked.  This will take some time.


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