A Walk in Heirinji

It was a cloudy but warm Saturday afternoon in February.  I was feeling the effects of not going out the previous weekend and then having a week filled with too many unpleasantries.  I had made up my mind to go out, walk, encounter and hopefully photograph.

My destination had been chosen, a temple surrounded by forest.  Madoka had told me about it several years ago.  She had said that raccoon dogs lived in the forest, and I decided that even around this time of year my chances of having an encounter with some wild animal were better than zero.  They were infinitely higher than what I could expect staying at home.

A little after midday I stepped out the door with just a tiny backpack, a light jacket, a bottle of alcohol gel handwash (several years out of date, but probably better than nothing) and a couple of masks (I get mild hayfever, plus it is flu season.  I’m not particularly worried about Covid-19, but it’s better to be safe than sorry)

My initial plan was to take the train to Niiza, walk to the temple, then either go back to Niiza, or maybe walk to Kiyose.  On my way to the station it dawned on me: why not just walk to the temple?

So I did.

I passed this Jizo in Kiyose and decided that I should photograph things on the walk to the temple.

Various Jizo, Kannon, Koshin deities and other roadside markers outside a housing complex.

I liked this three-faced character.

The Mitsumine Shrine at the Suitengu Shrine complex in Kiyose.

The Suitengu Shrine.

The Hie Shrine at the Suitengu complex has an unusually shaped torii.

Opposite the Suitengu complex is a Jizo for safe childbirth and protection of children.


Jizo statues are frequently adorned with red bibs and caps.

Another temple en route.

Apparently, this hall houses some important statue.

I liked this bell tower.

On the right is a stone marker dedicated to Gyuba Kannon, the guardian deity of animals, particularly cows and horses. On the right is a grave marker with the names of what appear to be pet dogs.  I spotted this at a family grave.

A Koshinto stone marker in Niiza.

A Jizo just outside the Heirinji grounds, next to a water channel. You can see some of the construction work going on inside the maple forest in the background.


The main entrance to Heirinji.

Heirinji is a Rinzai (Zen) sect temple, and the current temple complex dates from 1663, when the temple was moved from its original location under the orders of Matsudaira Terutsuna, the second Lord of Kawagoe.  (Kawagoe was ruled directly by relatives of the shogun.)

From the pamphlet that came with my entrance fee. This print dates from 1909.

The temple gate with the Buddha’s Hall behind.

Admission to the temple complex is ¥500 for adults, and some parts of the complex – such as the main hall – are off-limits to visitors.  The temple is also a training centre for monks.  The forest area –  a mixture of maple, red pine, oaks, cypress and cryptomeria – is designated a national natural asset.

The Nio statues are said to date from the original temple before it was relocated in 1663.

He’s doing alright for an old guy.

The Buddha’s Hall.

The interior was dark, but I stuck my lens through the window and got this shot.

A close up. I like the way the halos reflect the light.

A hall off to one side. It was dark inside, and I wasn’t able to get a decent shot.

The bell tower in the off-limits section.

The main hall. I couldn’t get any closer without entering the off-limits area.

A Jizo. Apparently there were once two facing each other.

Golden carp in the pond.

A nesting box. I found one numbered 53.

Unfortunately, the only wildlife to be seen were birds, and most of those were too far off to photograph.  I spotted some green woodpeckers, but the majority of birds were jungle crows.

The Kannon of Peace.

A monument to placate the souls of those who died in the Shimabara Rebellion. The monument is here because Matsudaira Nobutsuna is interred in the main cemetery.

Nobitomezuka. Nobitome is the name of this area of Niiza, and probably dates back to times when earthern embankments were used to control the fires that were lit to clear fields. It is believed that a fire watch tower once stood here.

The stone marker at the top of the mound.

The afore-mentioned Matsudaira Nobutsuna’s grave.

An mume tree in full blossom in the Matsudaira cemetery.

The white and the pink.

A photograph can’t capture the scale of this cemetery. The graves are identical, which makes finding certain people more challenging.

Just one of several rows of stone lanterns. There are over 170 graves in the Matsudaira cemetery.

The temple closes at 4:30; at just before 4:00 I felt I had seen everything that I was going to see and headed back for home.  The forest must be look fantastic in summer and autumn, and I will probably make a return trip someday.



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Don’t Count Your Dishes (Before They’re Smashed)

A shudder went through both at the sight. Wan, frail, the beautiful anguished evil face of a girl could be seen through the long tangled hair framing it. Slender to the emaciation of great suffering she knelt before the pile of plates she was counting—”One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine….” The wild chilling scream froze man and woman.

Bakemono Yashiki (The Haunted House)
Tales of the Tokugawa, Volume 2

James S. De Benneville

Hi blog.

Here we are in the depths of winter.  We have had some truly cold weather just recently, including mornings of sub-zero temperatures.  On a clear day, one can see into the Chichibu mountains and notice less snow on the peaks than usual.

I hope the lack of snow now doesn’t lead to water shortages later.

For this post I shall be taking another break from wildlife and taking a quick look at a ghost story.  It is most commonly known as Sarayashiki – literally “dish manor”, for reasons that will become obvious.

This story has been told and retold countless times – one scholar counts no fewer than 48 versions, although they can all be linked by the motif of a well and a tragic heroine named Okiku.

A depiction of a Okiku’s ghost by Yoshitoshi.

Sekien’s depiction of the ghost of Okiku.

It was first told in English by Mitford in his 1871 book Takes of Old Japan thus:

About two hundred years ago there was a chief of the police, named Aoyama Shuzen, who lived in the street called Bancho, at Yedo. His duty was to detect thieves and incendiaries. He was a cruel and violent man, without heart or compassion, and thought nothing of killing or torturing a man to gratify spite or revenge. This man Shuzen had in his house a servant-maid, called O Kiku (the Chrysanthemum), who had lived in the family since her childhood, and was well acquainted with her master’s temper. One day O Kiku accidentally broke one of a set of ten porcelain plates, upon which he set a high value. She knew that she would suffer for her carelessness; but she thought that if she concealed the matter her punishment would be still more severe; so she went at once to her master’s wife, and, in fear and trembling, confessed what she had done. When Shuzen came home, and heard that one of his favourite plates was broken, he flew into a violent rage, and took the girl to a cupboard, where he left her bound with cords, and every day cut off one of her fingers. O Kiku, tightly bound and in agony, could not move; but at last she contrived to bite or cut the ropes asunder, and, escaping into the garden, threw herself into a well, and was drowned. From that time forth, every night a voice was heard coming from the well, counting one, two, three, and so on up to nine—the number of the plates that remained unbroken—and then, when the tenth plate should have been counted, would come a burst of lamentation.

Mitford’s version contains a third motif common to most – but not all – versions: a missing or broken plate.  These tend to revolve around the unfortunate servant girl Okiku being accused of losing or breaking a priceless plate and either committing suicide by jumping into a well, being thrown into a well, or being killed and the body disposed of in a well.  (Desperately resisting the temptation to insert a bad pun here)

In most popular versions, the tormented ghost of Okiku rises from the well, counting to nine and then screaming at the realization that one of the plates is missing.  Some retellings have this nightly haunting eventually driving the wrongdoers mad and causing them to take their own lives.

This picture by Hokusai depicts plates as part of the ghost.

Some versions also have a priest placate Okiku’s soul by shouting “Ten” after her ghost reaches the count of nine, thus tricking the tormented spirit into believing the tenth plate has been found, and freeing her soul from anguish.

Before… Okiku’s ghost counting…

…And after.  Okiku’s ghost upon reaching the count of nine, from a game by Bandai.

Yet despite all the locations that claim to be the home of the “true” version – including a grave in Myogi in Gunma, plates at a temple in Shiga, shrines to Okiku dotted around the country and dozens of Okiku wells – including one in the grounds of the Canadian embassy – none have managed in the field of public relations quite like Himeji Castle.

Himeji Castle is the setting for one of the best-known rendition of the story, in which Okiku is the object of desire of a treacherous samurai by the name of Aoyama (Yes, another Aoyama.)  This Aoyama has an infatuation with the servant girl Okiku, who refuses his advances.  Aoyama hides one of the ten priceless plates and blames Okiku, but is willing to forgive her if she will let him have his wicked way with her.  Okiku refuses and finds herself dead at the bottom of a well.  The alleged well still exists today.

Okiku’s well in the grounds of Himeji Castle. Photo from Wikipedia.

Interestingly, the story of Okiku predates the 1601-1609 construction of Himeji Castle and may be even older than Himeyama Castle, which stood on the same from the mid- 14th century.

Now to tie the folklore in with nature.

The pupal stage of the Chinese windmill butterfly (Byasa alcinous) is said to resemble a woman with her hands bound behind her back.  In 1795, a large number of such chrysalids appeared in the grounds of Himeji Castle.  Rumours spread of Okiku taking the form of insect coocoons.  While the actual name for this butterfly in Japanese is jakoageha (麝香鳳蝶 or 麝香揚羽), the pupae are commonly called Okikumushi, almost certainly named for Okiku.

The pupa of the Chinese windmill. If you use your imagination, you might be able to make out a courtly lady. From Wikipedia.

Okikumushi is also the name of a yokai spirit creature consisting of the lower body of a caterpillar and the upper body of a woman, typically with her hands bound behind her back.  No doubt this ghostly creature came into existence after the legend of Okiku, and possibly the afore-mentioned 1795 infestation.

An 1841 print showing Okiku in the form of an okikumushi.

The Chinese windmill is now the official butterfly of Himeji, and the pupae were (if not currently) sold as a lucky item at the Okiku Shrine in the castle grounds.

Just another reason to visit Himeji Castle…



It has come to my attention that I completed this post without committing any bad puns.


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The Salamander, the Bug and the Law

Hi blog.

Here we are, in what should be the coldest part of the year.  Well, the 18th provided snow and single-digit temperatures.  Meanwhile, the 20th – Dai-Kan and nominally the coldest day to the year – topped out at over 14 degrees, weather normal for mid-March.

The warmer than usual winter has resulted in bears not hibernating, meaning there are unfortunate encounters between these animals and humans.  I can see this leading to trouble in the immediate future too, with normally hibernating bears competing with boars and other animals for already limited food.

Last week some interesting developments made the domestic news, but it looked like no English language version was coming soon.  However, my search landed me on an article from May of last year which shows that even Japan’s normally glacial legislative system can change quickly IF THE RIGHT PEOPLE want it to.

From the Asahi Shimbun


Online sales exacerbate threat to endangered species in Japan

By YU KOTSUBO/ Staff Writer

May 16, 2019 at 08:30 JST

Salamander eggs and rare animals are increasingly being sold over the Internet, drawing warnings from environmentalists that ecosystems in Japan could be irreparably damaged by the trend.

Japan’s endangered species conservation law prohibits trade in especially rare animals and plants.

But freshwater fish species, amphibians and other creatures not listed in the law or covered by regulations can be sold.

And the Environment Ministry’s Red List has no legal basis to stop individuals from selling species that it considers endangered.

Some local communities and Internet shopping sites have introduced restrictions to protect endangered species and the environment.

But overhunting and online sales continue, and experts say that if nothing is done soon, it may be too late.


The Tokyo salamander, which inhabits mountain areas near human settlements, is one of the species recognized as endangered on the ministry’s Red List.

But that did not stop someone from offering many Tokyo salamander eggs on an online shopping site in March.

A Twitter user criticized the seller, posting: “Don’t be ridiculous. Collecting so many eggs must have caused fatal damage to the local ecology.”

The post was retweeted more than 9,000 times and drew many comments, such as, “The seller has gone too far” and “Even just seeing them on sale is pitiful.”

In an interview with The Asahi Shimbun, the Twitter user said, “It is really regrettable that some people engage in overhunting of endangered animals for their own benefit, destroying local ecosystems in mountain regions.”

Yoichi Kawakami, an official of the secretariat of the Tokyo salamander study society who is involved in the protection and research of the species, views online sales of salamander eggs as problematic.

“As people in nearby communities enter mountain areas less frequently, more raccoons and other non-native predators now live in the (salamanders’) habitat, making their situation even worse,” Kawakami said. “Overhunting of eggs would deliver the final fatal blow to them.”

Kawakami said that around 10 years ago, many salamander eggs were frequently taken from the Yokosawa Irisatoyama preservation zone in Tokyo’s Akiruno, where Kawakami engages in conservation efforts.

But the situation for the amphibians improved after an ordinance was introduced to penalize those who collect many eggs and citizen patrols started in the zone to protect the environment.

“Cooperation between authorities and citizens has been established, lowering the risk of eggs being stolen,” Kawakami said.

But few regions have taken such countermeasures.

Kawakami said many egg masses are still collected for sale in Chiba Prefecture and elsewhere.

He warned that excessive egg hunting could wipe out the amphibians.

Another problem that is already affecting local ecosystems are online sales of non-native species.

If purchased alien species are set loose or escape from their owners, they could crossbreed with native species that may have different genetic characteristics.

And if nonnative species have no natural predators in Japan, their populations could explode and wreak havoc on local animals.

For example, an invasive freshwater fish species called the rosy bitterling that can easily be bought online has now spread across Japan.


The Asahi Shimbun asked four leading shopping site operators about how they handle sales of animals.

Mercari Inc. said it bans trades of any living creature on its website.

Yahoo Japan Corp., Rakuten Inc. and the Japanese subsidiary of Amazon.com Inc. said they prohibit trade in mammals, birds, reptiles and other animals whose sales are banned by law.

However, endangered amphibians and alien freshwater fish were confirmed available on their sites.

Asked whether the company’s animal sales policy will be revised, a Yahoo Japan official said, “We will work with relevant ministries and agencies to consider countermeasures, taking into account the effects on species preservation and ecosystems.”

Rakuten also vowed to “weigh various steps, including the introduction of guidelines (on animal sales).”

Amazon simply noted that “almost all living creatures are prohibited from sales.”

Online sales of living creatures have drawn harsh criticism around the world at a time when conserving biodiversity and meeting the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are increasingly viewed as important global challenges.

Portugal in 2017, for example, enacted a law that bans online trades of wild animals.

Jun Nakajima, a researcher at the Fukuoka Institute of Health and Environmental Sciences, said shopping site operators should take further measures.

“Companies need to actively display a definite stance toward the handling of endangered species and invasive alien animals, such as voluntarily stopping sales of those species,” said Nakajima, an expert in loaches and biodiversity preservation.

He said consumers should also do their part.

“Buying endangered animals without due consideration is not good from the viewpoint of moral and natural conservation because it leads to overhunting in their habitats,” Nakajima said. “In addition, buyers of the living creatures must continue keeping the animals until they die.”

Article ends.

Salamanders sit on the higher maintenance end of Japanese amphibians.  One book I have shows keeping salamanders in a modified refrigerator to maintain a constant temperature of 15℃.  Some species of salamander can’t live at temperatures above 26℃, and they also don’t tolerate high humidity well.

(As you can probably guess, there was a time when I seriously considered keeping Tokyo salamanders; a pet shop in town sometimes stocked them.)

Anyway, it seems that this trade, along with a trade in giant water bugs (Kirkaldyia deyrollei or Lethocerus deyrollei, depending on who you listen to) didn’t escape the attention of the new high-profile Minister for the Environment, one Shinjiro Koizumi, son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

An NHK article quotes a figure of some 1500 known cases of trading giant water bugs on the internet alone.  (I have also seen these in pet shops)

An article from NHK, January 19th.

Earlier last week, the Ministry for the Environment announced an upcoming ban on the trade of these animals for money, possibly as early as February 1st.  My inner cynic suggests it was Koizumi trying to flex some political muscle in his new posting.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun, January 17th.

As it turned out, an English language version of the Mainichi article came out on the 17th, but I used the wrong search term.  Had I tried “giant water bug” instead of “Tokyo salamander”, I would have hit it earlier!


Japan to ban buying, selling of giant water bugs

January 17, 2020 (Mainichi Japan)

TOKYO (Kyodo) — The Japanese government decided Friday to prohibit the buying and selling of giant water bugs, as well as catching them for commercial purposes, amid declining habitats for the insect.

The measure to protect the endangered bugs, one of the largest aquatic insects in Japan and which are popular among enthusiasts, will take effect Feb. 10.

Collecting the bugs and giving them away for hobby or research purposes will still be allowed.

The species has been threatened by water pollution in paddy fields and changes in their habitat, as well as overhunting for commercial purposes. The Environment Ministry believes that if the overhunting continues, the bugs may go extinct.

Giant water bugs, 48 to 65 millimeters in length, are currently traded at about 3,000 yen ($27) per insect.

Along with the water bugs, Tokyo salamanders and golden venus chub, a rare freshwater fish, were also added to a list of endangered species for protection.

Article ends.

The English version of the Mainich Shimbun article.

I’m glad that there is no total ban on collecting in the upcoming law.  Genuine enthusiasts and researchers won’t be affected, and the lack of monetary motivation should remove most of the threat of over-collecting.

Now we just have to protect these creatures’ environments.

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Fossil Hunt

Hi blog.

We are in the middle of what seems to be a warm winter.  Well, by warm I mean not utterly freezing.  (I am well aware of the wider implications of a warm winter and what it means to various ecosystems)  There are ski fields unable to operate due to insufficient snow.  On the other hand, the price of some vegetables has come down because of the reduced cost of growing them.

This will be a short post, just a simple report of an event run by the Sayama City Museum.  Way back in November a batch of information sheets crossed my desk at work  One particular flyer caught my eye – a fossil hunt.  I asked our youngest if he would be interested in joining.  He said he would, so we applied for two of the 20 or so positions.  We got an affirmative reply in late December, and today was the day of the event.  A senior member of the museum staff and some volunteers took a group of us on a short tour and fossil hunt at two points along the Iruma River.

We started at Motokaji Station in Hanno, walked to the river and were introduced to the Bushi loam layer.  This contains a number of fossils, including dawn redwood, which is now extant only in parts of China.  Fossil shells may also be found, along with lignite, walnuts, and – possibly the highlight – traces left by Stegodon aurorae elephants.

Actually, there are two known elephant trails on this stretch of the river, and we were able to see some footprints, although they were little more than depressions in the clay.

A an elephant footprint.

Those hollows filled with water are footprints.

A “cutaway” of a footprint.

Another footprint in the strata. The brownish horizontal line is a strata and the depression on the left side of the picture is where the weight of the elephant pushed into the ground.

The organisers handed out several geological hammers and told us where to look for fossils.  Some people found pine cones, and someone found some shells.  My son and I weren’t so lucky, but it was an interesting experience.

The impressions left by shells.

Further downstream we tried a point that is known to reveal fossilised shells.  Some hunters really did get lucky.  While all I was able to dig up were the impressions of shells and clay that had filled them – resulting in perfect, but very fragile replicas – some other people excavated several large bivalve fossils.  These were shells in which minerals had replaced calcium from the shells and turned them into stone.

A clay “cast” of a bivalve shell.

While we didn’t find anything of significance, it was a fun experience, and we were able to take our finds home.  One little boy was very keen to show his finds to his mummy.

If you ever get the chance to go on even a simple fossil hunt, by all means, take the opportunity.


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I hate to be a boar…

Hi blog.

Winter is well and truly upon us – I a had my first persistent cold in years, and I’m feeling the cold more than usual.  I’ve also noticed my attention span has become shorter, and I’ve really had trouble getting behind the keyboard.

Not to mention a lack of encounters with nature.  I need to get outside more.

On the bright side, I just saw The Rise of Skywalker with workmate Mat.  Sure, it had its cheesy moments, but it was Star Wars cheese.

Earlier this month, wild pigs were making the news on an almost daily basis, with some individuals making their way into residential areas of Tokyo.


Wild Boars Run Loose in Tokyo, Saitama



Wild boar spotted in Tokyo

Wild boar spotted in Tokyo

Sunday, Dec. 15, 20:55
Wild boar spotted in Tokyo

Police in Tokyo are searching for a wild boar that has been spotted in residential areas in the western part of the metropolis.

Police received the first reports of sightings in Kokubunji City on Sunday morning.

The wild boar was later seen in the neighboring cities of Kunitachi and Tachikawa in the afternoon.

Witnesses have posted photos and videos of the animal on social media. Dashboard camera footage shows the boar suddenly appearing in front of a vehicle on a street in Tachikawa.

Police are warning residents that they should not approach the animal.

Article ends.

I was still toying with this as material for a post, right at the end of the year, when I recalled that this year is the year of the boar!  And next year is the year of the rat.

You are probably familiar with the most common tale of how the rat became the first in the Chinese zodiac.  If you aren’t, this BBC article sums it up nicely.

I once read a version that went something like this;

The ox and the rat vied for the position of first in the zodiac.  They went to a deity for adjudication.  The deity declared the winner would be the one who was most able to impress the people with his size.

The rat asked to be made bigger, since the ox had an unfair advantage.  The ox agreed, “You could be twice as large but you will never be as big as me!”

The ox proudly strutted through a village, where few people paid any attention to him.

The rat, his size doubled by the deity, followed the ox.  Everyone was amazed to see such a huge rat.  The rat was declared the winner.

Whether or not that particular story is an authentic tradition is unknown, but I like it as another example of the rat’s cleverness and without the element of cheating.

While some cultures have made changes to the Chinese zodiac, such as the rabbit being replaced with a cat in Vietnam, the Japanese have kept the Chinese version virtually intact.  The wild boar in the Japanese version may actually refer to semi-domesticated pigs.  The sheep/goat (undistinguished in the Chinese zodiac) remains the same, even though raising these animals never took off in Japan.

People born in the year of the rat are supposed to possess cleverness.  I can’t vouch for this, even though I am also of rat vintage.  The Japanese have expressions, toshiotoko (males) and toshionna (females) for people who were born under the Chinese zodiac matching the one of that particular year – i.e. people who turn 12, 24, 36, etc.

Have a good year in 2020.




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The Right to Bear Arms

Hi blog.

With the coming of winter (the last week of November provided some typical late December weather) there has not been much to report at Wild in Japan.  The days are becoming very short, so there is no daylight to shoot in after work.  Assuming it’s not to cold anyway.  (Did I ever mention how much I hate the cold?)

I have also found myself busy with certain projects.  I volunteered to do a presentation on human rights from a foreigner’s perspective, only to find that the organisers wanted a pair of us to do it, and for a group of about 90 people, and for about 90 minutes.  Mat (photographer for much of Her Ladyship) gladly offered to help, and I was glad to have him with me.  The good thing about working with Mat is that we have similar ways of looking at the world and we can blend our ideas easily enough.  The not so good thing about working with Mat is that we can both go on and on,  and go off on tangents that we intend to bring back to the main point much later down the track.

We also found ourselves hampered by the organisers insisting that we didn’t say anything bad about Japan.  In other words, they wanted us to talk about human rights without actually talking about them!  So much for that as a Wild in Japan topic.

TV to the rescue.  Morning TV in particular is like looking for diamonds in a sewer.  (I often find myself swearing at the TV in the morning while I’m getting ready for work.)  On Monday morning, however, I picked up two words – “bear” and “Obihiro”.

Bear is self-explanatory.  Obihiro is the city in Hokkaido where I found myself as an exchange student 30 years ago and is the very root of my Japan experience.  The two combined could only mean a Japanese brown bear.  Or, more correctly, an incident involving a brown bear entering an urban area.

From NHK World:


That is some serious shooting. I sometimes wonder why the police are not tasked with this instead of civilians.  Particularly when the number of licenced hunters is on the decline.

and from the Asahi Shimbun:


Brown bear shot dead in Hokkaido schoolyard after 4-hour standoff


December 2, 2019 at 16:40 JST

OBIHIRO, Hokkaido–Licensed hunters shot a brown bear dead in the grounds of an elementary school here Dec. 1, hours after the animal wandered into the central city’s residential area.

The bear was shot after it took refuge in a tree in the schoolyard of Obihiro Municipal Elementary School. Police officers and hunters decided to kill it after a four-hour standoff.

No one was injured during the incident.

The task was performed by three members of a local hunting association.

The female bear measured about 1.5 meters and weighed about 130 kilograms, city officials and police said.

Bear sightings are rare in Obihiro as the city is located in a central part of the sprawling Tokachi Plain and far away from mountains. The bear is thought to have made its way into the city by walking along the banks of a nearby river.

“The hibernation period is approaching, so the bear might have wandered into the urban area looking for food,” an expert said.

Police and others started searching for the bear after it was first spotted on a road in the city a little past 1:50 a.m.

Around 7 a.m., the bear was seen near the elementary school, prompting police and members of the hunting association to rush to the scene.

The school is located about 1 kilometer northwest of JR Obihiro Station.

Police cars patrolled the area while city officials called on residents to stay inside their homes.

Police blocked off access to the area around the school in the meantime.

“I’m very surprised a bear appeared in such a central area,” said a 77-year-old man who lives nearby.

When hunters with rifles are called in, you know things are serious. Getting a firearms licence in Japan is a long, complicated and expensive process. One then requires to have held a shotgun licence for at least 10 years before getting a licence to own a rifle.


I am preserving these as photo images since neither of the sources keep a permanent achive and the links will be useless in time.

In neither the year I spent in Obihiro as an exchange student or the six month working holiday in 1991 did I see a bear.  I saw foxes on the edge of town, I saw squirrels in the big park, but bear sightings even in the country areas surrounding Obihiro were rare.

It was unfortunate that the bear needed to make her way into the city to forage for food.  And it was dumb luck that it was a Sunday.  Imagine what could have happened if she had wandered into the school 24 hours later.


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A Walk in Koma

Hi blog.

It was high time I did some serious blogging; I needed to get outside and away from the phone, the TV (and the family?); it was a holiday Monday; and the weather was right.

I decided to take a walk through Koma, part of nearby Hidaka.  I chose Koma for a few reasons: I had been there for a walk quite a few years ago (2001, if my memory serves me correctly); it is not far away and so I wouldn’t be spending thousands of yen on train fares just to get to the start of a walk; I could see – so I believed – everything in a few hours and so wouldn’t have to leave home early; and it is all an urban walk – I could invite the kids or anyone else in good conscience that they could do the walk without even hiking boots.

As it turns out, I went alone.  Probably for the best, but I would have liked to share some of those moments with someone else.

Actually, I almost didn’t go myself.  I woke up after a late night with sniffles and thought I was coming down with a cold.  But the sun was out and the sky was so clear it would be a crime to spend the day indoors – not to mention that sunshine and fresh air would do me more good than harm.  So, although somewhat later than I had originally planned, I was on the train to Hanno, and a little later on the train bound for Chichibu.  Koma Station is just two stops on from Hanno.

Koma (高麗) takes its name from Goryeo, another name for Goguryeo (高句麗), one of the three kingdoms of Korea, which lasted from the 1st century BCE to 668 CE.  One Prince Yak’gwang (若光)* was sent to Japan to bolster support for Goguryeo, which was under attack from the Silla Kingdom and Tang China.  Goguryeo collapsed and Yak’gwang was forced to remain in Japan with some 1798 other refugees.  (My inner cynic suggests that this is probably more refugees than Japan has taken in total ever since)

*The Japanese render Yak’gwang as Jakko.

The Japanese government of the time arranged for the Koreans who had settled in seven of the eastern provinces to relocate to an area in Musashi, which became Koma.  (My inner cynic also suggests that the government was trying to keep the Koreans in some backwater away from the capital)

Yak’gwang is credited with bringing a new type of silkworm to Japan and introducing new agricultural techniques.  At any rate, he was deified after his death, and his descendants became priests of the shrine dedicated to him.

Anyway, that is all in the past.  What you do notice as soon as you leave the station is the pair of jangseung totem poles standing outside.  There is also a significant amount of signage written in Korean; I suspect that this dates from the early 2000s following a boom in Korean soap operas, K-pop, and the joint hosting of the 2002 FIFA World Cup (shudder)* with Korea, and the local government was trying to push the Korean connection to attract tourists.

*The lead-up to the 2002 FIFA World Cup was a media circus.  Convinced that Japan would be overrun with soccer hooligans – the word “hooligan” actually entered the Japanese language at this time as “furigan” – we were subject to six months of almost nightly reports of how the riot police were preparing.  Then, when none of the hooligans actually showed, the media decided to fill time with reports on player’s hair styles.  And once the Japanese team was out of the running…

Sorry, I seem to have lost myself.  Oh, yes.  Stepping out of Koma Station.

The jangseung totem poles standing literally just outside Koma Station.

A multilingual sign explaining the history of the area…

… which are never complete without one or two characters…

… and the insistence on writing Chinese or Korean words in Roman letters as if they were Japanese…

… and questionable English grammar.

However, my first destination was to be the Daitaki Fudoson, a quaint little temple built literally right on the side of what used to the main thoroughfare and with a garden ont the opposite side.  We used to pass by this temple every time we passed through on the way to Kinchakuda or further on, until the new, wider, smoother and safer route bypassing it completely was completed.  I remember seeing some near misses between visitors to the temple and heavy trucks.

As seen from the south. Until very recently, this was the main arterial route.

Anyway, the temple was even smaller than I had realised, with a large section of the structure being for the sale of amulets and charms.

As seen from the garden. What one doesn’t realise when passing by in a car is that the actual temple is that structure to the right.

The Jizo shrine is adorned with… er… stuff. Lots of stuff!

The statue inside the temple building.

The garden was more interesting.  It was also not so well maintained, and had suffered some damage during the typhoons.

A set of Buddha’s footprints in the garden.

The view from the footprints.

A stone marker just in front of the overgrown hill in the garden. There were a number of statues on the hill.

Daikoku has fallen. There were statues of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune spread around the hill. A couple were being covered by the undergrowth, and this one had collapsed.

As I was about to leave the garden area, I noticed something hanging from a tree and realized it was the remains of the fruit of a chocolate vine.  I have wanted to blog about these for some time now, but was unaware that it was too late to see them.  Live and learn.

Casing of the chocolate vine fruit. I really want to write about these someday.

Next on my list was a roadside placard dating from the Edo Period, announcing a reward for reporting Christians to the authorities and that those caught aiding Christians would be punished.  Apparently, such signs were located in central locations and raised high, indicating that the laws were above the people.

Dai no Kosatsuba. The rules are written on the placard just under the roof.

The rules.

From there it was just a short walk to a stone monument erected in honour of the guardian deity of water.  It was erected in order to prevent disasters from flooding and to protect those who used the river as a means of transporting goods on rafts.

The monument to Suiten.

Mt. Hiwada in the background, and I was sure that was a shrine near the top.

My zoom lens confirmed that it was.

Then it was a walk through Kinchakuda – which I actually could have bypassed – and a quick hook back to the old Arai residence.  Entrance to the residence is free, but the only part of the house that one can enter is the earthen floored entrance and kitchen.  Interestingly enough, in the garden behind the house I heard some rustling and for a split second caught sight of a racoon dog.

The old Arai residence looks quite imposing from street level.

One of the storehouses on the grounds.  This is the one from the previous photo.

The front garden and main building. That is the guesthouse in the centre.

The entrance to the main building with its earthen floor and the hearth.

The old style kitchen.

The storehouse to the rear of the main house.

Leaving the Arai residence behind, I headed for the Jizo Hall of  the Manzoji Temple.  This is a small hall, seemingly sealed shut.  It is said to house a sacred treasure – of course, never seen by any member of the public.

I approached the hall from the rear, passing a cemetery, and couldn’t resist getting a photo of these Kannon statues.

The Jizo Hall.

Some old Jizo and Kannon statues next to the Jizo Hall.

The temple is in a district which produced a several great swordsmen of the Kogen Itto Ryu, including a certain Hiruma Hanzo.  There is a cemetery behind the hall, and I found the graves of a number of Hirumas.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find Hanzo’s.  I suppose he could have been buried elsewhere.

The cemetery.  All the graves on the left belong to various members of the Hiruma family.

Goodbye, Jizo Hall.

The day was advancing rapidly, and I wanted to get to the Koma Shrine.  The original shrine is said to have been dedicated to Yak’gwang, and his descendants have served as priests ever since.

A stone marking the worshippers’ route to the shrine.

The outer torii gate.

Koma Shrine marker.

Apart from the jangseung erected by the carpark and the Korean language signage, there is nothing about the shrine to indicate any Korean heritage.  I guess 1300 years will do that.  Unfortunately for me, Culture Day meant that there were quite a lot of visitors to the shrine for the Seven-Five-Three celebrations, so I couldn’t really get a good photo of the main shrine building, which although is build in the traditional style, is a recent structure.

Concrete and very modern-looking jangseung.

The inner torii.

A multi-lingual sign. Again, it treats Korean names as if they were Japanese.

The actual shrine building. Ceremonies were taking place, so I decided to photograph from a distance.

Behind the shrine is the old Koma house where the priests used to live.  This building dates back over 400 years and is considered national heritage.  This is little more than an outdoor museum piece, unfortunately.

A sign showing the layout of the house.

The front of the house.

The rear of the house.

The rear gate.

I took one more round of the Shrine grounds and noticed that there was a pathway leading up a hill towards a smaller shrine.  The walk was steep but short, and the shrine itself was small and uninteresting.  I did notice, however, some temple structures on the next hill.

Like I said, small and uninteresting.

It’s up that hill.

The next stop on my list was the Shotenin Temple.  I had already spotted this on my way to the shrine, as it is a large temple complex on a hill.

The temple gates. They look very old and quite impressive.

A sign near the shrine also indicated Yak’gwang’s grave in the same direction.

The temple complex was large indeed.  The gate was impressive, and there were also several small gardens.  A short detour right brought me to what is believed to be Yak’gwang’s grave marker, since it was erected in the Kamakura Era, several centuries after his death.

The grave marker.

One of the sections of garden near the gates and the grave marker.

Stone markers and statues in various states of repair near the entrance gate.

I was tempted to climb the stairway beyond the gate and have a quick look (if that was possible) at the main temple building, but 1) entrance beyond the stairs was not free; and 2) it was getting late in the day in terms of sunlight, and I still wanted to visit one more point.  The temple will have to wait for another day.

A sign showing the layout of the temple grounds. That is the gate right at the bottom of the picture, and this was at the stairway immediately behind it.

I couldn’t resist taking photos of some of the stone markers and statues I encountered on the way.

My final point was the excavation site of a stone age pit dwelling, believed to date from around 4500 years ago.  This was originally excavated in 1929, and subsequent research indicates that a second building overlapped the remains of the first.  All that can be seen now are the stones for holding the pillars in place and the hearth stones.

Signpost telling me I haven’t gotten lost.

Approach to the ruins.

An explanation of the ruins.

The ruins in the late afternoon sun.

Koma is well worth a visit.



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The Slippery Slope

Hi blog.

I can’t believe that the whole of October almost passed without a single post.  Well, to be honest, I had a lot of commitments for practically every weekend of the month.  And we had 20 consecutive days with rainfall – not to mention a couple of typhoons which caused flooding in multiple locations.

I could have blogged about that, except that it was all over the news anyway, and even more when Japan was knocked out of the rugby World Cup.

I was also tempted to rant over my misery of having to live through the local teams successes in rugby and volleyball, with every win generating about two hours of media coverage over the following day and probably another two hours over the following week.  I can well imagine life in a North Korean “re-education” facility.

At the same time I was also being bombarded with othering and stereotyping on a scale I haven’t experienced as an adult.  Essentially, the person sitting next to me at lunch probing me to see if I match her expectations of Westerners, based on the Hollywood films she watches…

Between the above, some of the poor attempts at English by my students that make me want to tear my hair out, and my annual battle with Halloween, I wasn’t going to have anything blog-worthy.

Then a quick message from Ian came to the rescue on the second-to-last day of the month:

Hiker falls off Mt. Fuji while live-streaming steps from summit, rescuers yet to find him【Video】

Oh dear.

Climbing Mt. Fuji in winter is not impossible, it is just EXTREMELY different from climbing it in summer.  It is not something you want to do solo.  Or unprepared – footage shows the man wearing what appear to be perhaps walking shoes or sneakers, and certainly no crampons.  Nor do you want to be distracted, which this particular climber certainly was.  Attempting to live-stream to Niconico – Japan’s own video site for attention seekers who lack the attention span of YouTubers – he slipped (something about crampons…) and fell.

On my third climb of Mt. Fuji (OK, out of season, but it was at least summer), Ian slipped on some snow and tumbled 20 metres or so.  Luckily, he wasn’t injured, but also we were certainly better prepared than this climber.

Police found a body on the 30th:


As the good wife said, luckily no-one was injured or lost on the search mission.

Ian and I are planning a base to summit hike of Mt. Fuji next year.  We will be sure not to repeat any of this individual’s mistakes.


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Spiders on the Storm (’19 version)

Hi blog.

This is just a quick post.  September, as you may know, is one of my busiest times of the year, with sports day (no staff event at my new school, however, so I didn’t have the opportunity to run some teenagers into the ground) and the city English Speech Contest.

September is also typhoon season, and we had a nearly direct hit here.  Parts of Chiba were badly hit, and a week later, tens of thousands of homes are still without electricity or water.  (I dread to think what will happen when “the big one” hits)

To add insult to injury, there have been a number of localized storms in between.  I got caught in a downpour on the ride home, catching some 17mm.

We have also been visited by a civet, who has proven to be excellent at avoiding being photographed.

Anyway, the star of this post has had a moment in the spotlight before.  Unlike last time, this was less of an accidental encounter and more of “Look what has moved into our back yard!”

This Araneus ventricosus has taken up daytime residence under our eaves and comes out at night to spin a web between our roof and our mandarin tree.

While not a great photo, this does give you a good idea of the size and shape of the web.

A near side-on shot.

With a little more zoom. She was well over two metres above ground level.

Not a bad photo for a dark night.

She has survived a couple of storms and I hope that some her offspring manage to stay.

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Hi blog.

This post comes courtesy of nature deciding to get in my face for once.

The wife discovered a large, green caterpillar positioned on the wall near the door.

By the time I saw it, it had reached this stage.

I knew that it was a kind of swallowtail butterfly, but I didn’t want to examine the larva too closely when it was starting to morph into a pupa.  I knew I could safely narrow down the species to the two that regularly visit out mandarin tree: Papilio xuthus or Papilio dehaanii.

P. xuthus, the Asian swallowtail, Chinese yellow swallowtail or Xuthus swallowtail, is known in Japan as namiageha (並揚羽), but because it is so representative of swallowtails it is often simply ageha or agehacho.

P. dehaanii, Common peacock or Chinese peacock black swallowtail emerald or Chinese peacock, is known as karasuageha (烏揚羽).  Avid followers of this blog may recognise the word “crow” in the name, and they get this because of their dark colour.  I couldn’t see any of the markings that would identify the caterpillar as the larva of the closely related spangle, which got its own post here before.

Well, the puzzle was solved.  I opened the shutters and saw that the butterfly had emerged.

And the winner is… P. xuthus!

The empty pupa. It was a greener colour when it was still occupied.

I was able to get a side-on shot here that shows the pattern on the underside of the wings.

“… and he was a beautiful butterfly.”

The wilds of suburbia, eh?

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