The Shogun Cometh

When the Generals talk
You better listen to him
When the Generals talk
You better do what he say

When the Generals Talk, Midnight Oil

Hi blog.

Yes, I know, it’s been over a month since my last post.  Yes, I know, you don’t want to know why.

I will say that right up until last week we had some glorious weather.  Imagine a day in early winter topping the 23℃ mark!  I remember stating “I could get used to winters like this.”

Hokkaido had to wait until late November to receive its first snowfall of the season.  (When I was in Obihiro as an exchange student in 1989, it snowed on November 1st.  And Obihiro doesn’t receive as much snowfall as many other areas of Hokkaido.)

There were news articles about the kogarashi not coming this year.  Kogarashi (usually 木枯らし but sometimes 凩), meaning “tree witherer” is the first winter wind.

The Japan Meteorological Agency define it as a winter wind originating from high pressure cells in the west and low pressure cells in the east, leading to winds blowing from between west-northwest and north at speeds of more than 8 metres per second, in the period from late October to the end of November (for the Tokyo area)

This year it just didn’t occur.

In the first week of December we were hearing that ski fields couldn’t open because there was simply no snow.

But now the Shogun has arrived.

Fuyu Shogun (冬将軍) refers to cold, dry Siberian air masses that extend into Japan, bringing heavy snow to the Japan Sea side and alpine regions of the country and temperatures below 10℃.

Many Japanese are genuinely surprised to hear that the name is actually a translation of the English “General Frost” or “General Winter” and refers to weather that supposedly defeated Napoleon’s invasion of 1812.

The earliest English depiction of General Frost from December 1812. This is the origin of the name Fuyu Shogun.

Fuyu Shogun is often depicted on TV weather broadcasts as a cartoon-esque warring states era warlord.

Lovely weather presenter Yuriko Chikusa facing the Fuyu Shogun last winter. I chose this picture because I actually used to train in karate with Yuriko.

We will have to wait and see how long General Frost will stay.

Posted in Culture and Tradition | Tagged , | Leave a comment

They Might Be Giants

“What giants?” said Sancho Panza.

“Those thou seest there,” answered his master, “with the long arms, and some have them nearly two leagues long.”

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Hi blog.

Too long between posts, I know.  It seems that I don’t have time anymore, despite not being able (read: allowed) to go to aikido or karate.  With the ever shortening of daytime and the rapid approach of winter, encounters with anything seem unlikely.

However, I gave myself a good kick in the pants and decided to go out and find something.  The day was November 14th, Saitama Citizens’ Day.  Not only did I not have work, the rest of the family decided they wanted to go to a comic book cafe.  Time for me to take advantage of the weather and do some blog-related stuff.

Giants appear in folklore throughout Japan, particularly eastern Japan.  These are not the “Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum” variety, but by and large associated with the creation of the land, notably mountains (which they carried) and lakes and ponds (their footprints or where they sat to rest).  Ancient piles of clam shells (relics of the Jomon people) were also attributed to giants.

The most common name given to these giants is Daidarabotchi (大太法師 or 大多羅法師), although a plethora of other names exists.  Many of these (such as Deidarabotchi, Dairabo, etc.) are very similar.  These names have sometimes then become the basis of real place names – Daita in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo and Daitakubo in Saitama City are just two better-known examples.

My quest was to find a very specific well in Musashimurayama.  My Daidarabotchi was said to have carried a mountain in a basket made from wisteria vines.  When the vines broke, the mountain fell out.  The well I was looking for was, naturally, the giant’s footprint.

(Note: an almost identical story explains Mt. Fuji in this way, and the play on words – fuji also meaning wisteria – cannot be overlooked.)

Partway along my trip I stopped right after crossing over the border between Tokorozawa and Higashiyamato.  There is a statue of a Daidarabotchi’s head near the ruins of the old Keishomon Gate.

The statue – less than 2 metres tall – near the Keishomon Gate.

An explanation. Apparently the village that is now under Lake Sayama held that a Daidarabotchi was responsible for the creation of one of their wells.  It is said that after dropping his mountain, he tossed his basket to the north and wisterias grow there.

The Keishomon Temple Gate.

A multi-lingual explanation of the Keishimon Gate.

After some difficulty with what appears to be a road block, I find my well.

Well… it’s a hole in the ground…

The mandatory explanation. The small black and white photo from the mid- 1970’s shows water in the well.  Apparently, the well was once used for drinking water.

Today, it is little more than a shallow pit. The bottom is dry.

I spend a little time in the area to take in the quiet – the only sounds I can hear are the rustling of leaves in the wind and the knocking of a woodpecker somewhere.

Two subjects I’ve written about before – a jorogumo in the foreground and a bright orange gourd in the background.

I also just catch sight of what are probably Chinese partridges, but can’t accurately identify, before deciding to head back for home.

En route, I decide to take a detour to the ruins of Yamaguchi Castle.  What I am shocked to discover is that I am already standing on the old castle site!

You are here… The intersection where this sign stands was actually the centre of the castle grounds.

That will have to wait for a post of its own.

Posted in Folklore and Mythology, Suburban wildlife | Tagged | Leave a comment

I’m just a fun guy

All fungi are edible. 

Some are just edible only once.


Hi blog.

We are experiencing some glorious autumn weather.  The early mornings may be chilly, but once the sun is out things warm up.  It is a pity to be stuck indoors all day.

Plus my annual battle with Halloween.

Here is a brief article by C.W. Nicol, one of the heavyweights of wildlife writing in Japan.

All hail Caesar’s wild mushrooms

OCT 28, 2018

When I was growing up in postwar Britain, most people had a very narrow view of mushrooms. Even my own family just thought they grew in fields where horses left their poo, and they were white with pink gills that turned dark brown as they got older. We called them “field mushrooms,” or “horse mushrooms” if they were bigger.

Actually, those field mushrooms (known as meadow mushrooms in America) were Agaricus campestris, while their larger cousins were A. arvensis. We ate both, but called any other fungi “toadstools” and believed they were dangerous to eat.

Many people make that distinction between “good” mushrooms and “bad” toadstools, though there’s no scientific difference between the two — as I learned from Peter Driver, my school biology teacher with whom I went on my first expedition to the Canadian Arctic in 1958.

There, I realized that one of those fungi we’d branded as a toadstool was actually quite delicious. Brown on top with thick stems, and known as penny buns (Boletus edulis; a.k.a. ceps or porcini), they were common in the summer tundra along with white puffballs (Calvatia gigantea), which are also edible when young.

However, it was coming to Japan at the age of 22 that really opened my eyes, and alerted my taste buds, to the wonderfully diverse world of edible wild fungi.

Here, this summer’s heat broke records, and it was even sweltering in our Afan Trust woods, 700 meters up in the Nagano Prefecture hills. For three weeks it hardly rained too. Then it started pouring, the temperature dropped and, lo and behold, up sprouted many kinds of mushrooms — some poisonous or just inedible, but several appetizing sorts as well.

The first ones I picked were penny buns, which don’t have gills on the underside but small tubes like a sponge, though their flesh is firm and they’re good for all kinds of cookery. This year there were plenty to feed lots of guests.

However, my favorite wild fungi are Caesar’s mushrooms (Amanita caesarea). If I didn’t know they were edible, I would presume they were poisonous like the rest of the Amanita family — most of which, including the psychoactive fly agaric (A. muscaria) and the deadly death cap (A. phalloides) and destroying angel (A. bisporigera), also grow in our woods.

Caesar’s amanita first shows itself out of the ground like a white egg, which gives it its Japanese name tamago dake, which means egg mushroom. Very soon, a bright, orange-red head protrudes, growing into an orange parasol on a long stem. It is a delicate fungus and has to be picked fresh and cooked, or dried, as soon as possible.

Usually I use them in a meat sauce, or serve them in miso soup, but my greatest culinary triumph with tamago dake was when I kept drying, vacuum-packing and freezing those I collected until I’d saved up enough to feed all our woodland staff and a few friends.

On that occasion, I steeped them in water until they became soft and the water turned saffron yellow. Then I drained them and cooked spaghetti in the water while I fried the mushrooms with butter, salt, black pepper, various herbs and lots of sea urchin roe. All who ate praised the dish.

It was very different some years ago when I was filming a wildlife documentary on the Kamchatka Peninsula way north of Hokkaido across the Sea of Okhotsk in the Russian Far East.

Out in the woods one day I spotted some of those orange-colored delicacies, which I took back to camp. There, our Russian guide insisted they were poisonous and I would die if I ate them. Though he convinced the Japanese film crew not to touch them, I bet him 100 rubles I’d come to no harm. Then I toasted three over our campfire after he refused to let me use the frying plan, and washed them down with tea, beer and vodka.

When I got up hale and hearty in the morning — and demanding my 100 rubles — our guide just shook his head and refused to pay up. Despite all my protestations, he insisted the bet was off because I must be some kind of shaman as those mushrooms would kill any human being.

The guide probably confused Caesar’s amanita with the red, speckled caps of fly agaric. Those can definitely make a person very ill and have hallucinations, though some locals there used them to get high. Not for me, thank you!

What this little Russian recollection does highlight, though, is how difficult it can be to identify wild mushrooms. So anyone thinking of eating any of them must really (really!) know what they’re doing, or take the advice of an expert.

Article ends.

The advice at the end of the article is very sobering – every few years there are reports on the domestic news of people being poisoned from fungi collected from the mountains and sold at local markets.  Apart from being superficially similar, some of the Japanese names are fairly close.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, some 214 cases of poisoning by mushrooms occurred in the 2012-17 period, with over 600 victims and one known fatality.

Posted in Suburban wildlife | Tagged , | Leave a comment

One Flew Over the Hornet’s Nest

Hi blog.

I can’t believe that it has been nearly two months since my last post.

I started writing one near the end of August, but got stuck on the direction to take it… and then the typhoons hit.  And term 2 started, which meant sports day and my position as the oldest – but by no means the slowest – runner in the staff relay team.

And more typhoons.  Not to mention up and down temperatures – some days not reaching 20℃ while others got up to 30℃.

We had our city English Speech Contest and I am pleased to say that my students won all three divisions.  (As much as I would like to take credit, that belongs firmly in the hands of my students)  The winner of the speech division would go on to the prefectural round of the Takamarunomiya Cup.  Mari, unfortunately, didn’t make it through the qualifying round.  I am proud of her, nonetheless.

More up and down temperatures.  Rain, sun, wind – and sometimes all on the same day.  And still nothing to write about.


Then this morning at the staff meeting, it was announced that a hornet nest, about the size of a honeydew melon, had been found near the staff car park.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t really justify going outside and looking for it.

Then a closely related article showed up on my news feed.

I have trouble thinking of this autumn as being dry, since we’ve had so much rain (probably due to those typhoons – did I mention the typhoons?), unless that refers to the weather in the Nagoya region.  And the only people who care about Nagoya weather – or, indeed, anything about Nagoya – live there.

Warm, dry spring seen aggravating Nagoya-area hornet threat


OCT 15, 2018

As the nation enters the autumn tourist season, concerns are growing over hornets, whose nests and number of workers are larger than usual this year because of the warmer spring and limited rain during the rainy season.

Hornet stings have been reported in Gifu and Nagano prefectures since August. Experts warn that worker hornets tend to become more aggressive when there are more of them, and in autumn when they need to protect the larvae that will become their new queens.

Hornet stings can cause anaphylaxis, including shortness of breath and vomiting, and at times can be life-threatening. Twenty-three people died due to bee stings in 2015, 19 in 2016 and 13 in 2017, according to the health ministry’s demographic statistics.

Experts say someone stung by a hornet should wash the wound with cold water and seek medical attention. Someone who feels dizzy, whose body starts itching, or those stung on the head or neck, or multiple times, are urged to call an ambulance right away.

In late September, yellow tape warning people to keep out were placed around trees at three locations in Nagoya’s Meijo Park, which surrounds Nagoya Castle, with signs urging visitors to watch out for hornets.

Kumiko Hattori, 47, who was walking through the park to take her daughter to a swimming school, said: “We avoid walking near the signs because my child is scared of hornets.”

“We placed the tape to prevent bee attacks after receiving reports from visitors that they saw large bees,” said an official who manages the park. “We confirmed a couple of what appear to be hornets near tree sap.”

According to Mai Mitsubayashi, an official in charge of pest inspections with the Nagoya Municipal Government, 1,714 hornets were captured in August using traps installed at 10 parks in the city — roughly 30 percent more than the average of 1,276 during the month over the past decade.

Numbers of black-tailed hornets — the type commonly seen in residential areas — have increased to nearly five times more than in an average year, Mitsubayashi said. “They are not so aggressive, but they can attack people,” she said.

To avoid angering hornets, Mitsubayashi advises people not to wear black clothes or wear perfume when they go into the woods or go near their nests. Japanese giant hornets sometimes build their nests underground, so people might be disturbing them without knowing it, she said.

Suzumebachi 110-ban (which roughly translates as “emergency hornet handlers”), a company in Minamiise, Mie Prefecture, that removes hornet nests in the Tokai region, said the number of requests to remove nests of aggressive Japanese yellow hornets has nearly doubled between June and August compared with an average year.

Hidehisa Nishi, who heads the firm, said the size of nests is also larger this year. “Usually the nests are about the size of a dodgeball, but this year there are more nests about the size that fits in the arms of an adult,” Nishi said.

Experts attribute the increase in hornets and the larger nest size to the change of climate this year.

According to Masato Ono, a professor of applied entomology at Tamagawa University who has written a book about hornets, the temperature during early spring was higher this year, making queen hornets come out of hibernation and start building nests earlier.

The amount of rain that prevents nest-building during the rainy season was also less than usual, resulting in bigger nests, he said, adding that bigger nests mean there are more of the worker hornets that become more aggressive in autumn when they have to protect larvae.

Ono said hornets show alarm, such as buzzing around, before going into attack mode, and advised people to slowly back away because sideways movements can irritate hornets.

If people find nests, they should ask experts to remove them, Ono said, adding that the best time to remove the nests is during the night.

Article ends.

I should have mentioned that I am also my school’s self-appointed hornet chief.  I have removed more hornets from classrooms than anyone else, and without resorting to insecticide or swats.

I think back to the time I used to keep honey bees and I got stung seven times one afternoon while collecting honey.  There is nothing quite like having a bee, intent on murder, crawl up your sleeve and emerge inside your bonnet, with no escape for either party!

I think whoever did the translation work for the above article got lazy and translated the Japanese word hachi (蜂) as bee, when it actually covers all bees, wasps and hornets.  People who mix insect names really bug me.

(Pun intended)

Maybe I will find this nest and get a photo.

Posted in Suburban wildlife | Tagged | Leave a comment

Bear No Grudge

Hi blog.

The summer holidays are almost over.  The weather has cooled down somewhat, especially at night – at least for now.  Those typhoons can really affect the temperature as well as rainfall, and Japan has been experiencing an average of two typhoons per week this month.  Luckily for me, the effects in this region have been minimal.  Other areas were not so fortunate and experienced a full August rainfall in just a couple of days.

Different cicadas can be heard now too.

This thoughtful article from the Japan Times appeared on my news feed, and I would like to share it with you.

*Be warned that some of the links in the article may be behind paywalls or require registration, or may have already expired.

Japan’s bears are widely vilified and little understood



AUG 18, 2018

On Aug. 6, the BBC aired a story about four Ussuri brown bears being successfully transported from a museum in Hokkaido to a wildlife park in England. In the story, a British organization called Wild Welfare said it had become “concerned” about the animals’ living situation at the Ainu Museum, where they had been kept in old, cramped cages for most of their lives, which one member said is “sadly reflective of the conditions that many captive bears in Japan are in.”

The BBC treated the story as breaking news, but in Japan few news organizations covered it. Jiji Press, which reported the story from the United Kingdom, mentioned that Ussuri bears are “endangered,” and explained that the museum was incapable of caring properly for them. The Hokkaido Shimbun reported that foreign visitors to the facility had complained about the small enclosures for the bears, and that the museum decided to give them to the wildlife park because it has a “better environment.” The newspaper also mentioned that the museum was closed in March for long-term renovations, and NHK said the bears would not be part of the new exhibits. They also pointed out that Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido, look on bears as a kind of deity.

Of the top 10 search results for the word “bear” recently seen on the Hokkaido Shimbun website, nine are articles that present the animals in a more or less negative light. Bears are the largest land mammals in Japan and have been known to attack humans and pets, although experts insist they instinctively avoid people and only become aggressive when their cubs are threatened or they are cornered or attacked themselves.

Bear attacks are always big news in Japan — even sightings of bears are worthy of national attention. In the past few weeks there have been several reports of bears possibly killing domestic animals in eastern Hokkaido. A dairy farmer in the coastal town of Rausu said one of his goats was missing, presumably dragged away by a bear. A fisherman in the same town told police he saw a bear “burying” his dead dog. A different bear entered a village in southern Hokkaido earlier this month and wouldn’t leave even when authorities “shone floodlights on it.” Eventually, they used fireworks to scare it back into the woods.

That bear was lucky. Usually, if one shows up in a populated area it is summarily killed. According to the Japan Bear and Forest Society, 3,779 bears were killed nationwide last year. In contrast, 108 persons were injured in bear attacks and two killed.

A July 26 article in the Hokkaido Shimbun reported on an “emergency meeting” in Sapporo where various local governments discussed the sightings. Apparently, bear sightings have increased in and around Sapporo, although it’s possible that everyone is seeing the same bear. As one participant pointed out, a local ordinance in 1990 made it illegal to kill bears that were just coming out of hibernation, so since then it’s possible that bear numbers have increased. Or maybe these are juvenile bears who are trying to avoid adult bears. Or maybe they are attracted by human refuse, even if bear droppings found in the mountains indicate that there is enough food in the wild — bears almost never come to town when they have enough berries and acorns and salmon.

In the end, no one could answer these questions definitively because no proper studies of bear activity had been carried out and no dedicated bear experts were present at the meeting. Nevertheless, a representative of the Hokkaido Research Organization recommended that the city “regularly exterminate” bears, while also suggesting that measures be carried out to “prevent bears from raiding garbage stations.”

The point of the meeting was to collect information in order to come up with solutions to the perceived bear infestation problem and enlighten the public about it, but it may have had the opposite effect. Anyone who reads the article will come away thinking that bears are a menace, and, as a matter of fact, the media seem to have a stake in keeping it that way. The only good bear is a dead or captive one, and in the latter case the state of captivity doesn’t seem to matter, as the situation at the Ainu museum showed.

The Japan Bear and Forest Society is dedicated to fighting these prejudices, starting with the fact that certain species of Japanese bears are on “vulnerable” or “endangered” lists, something the press rarely talks about. The group polices the media on these matters. Last month, they sent a letter to Fuji TVabout its long-running variety show “Unbelievable,” which dramatizes and analyzes shockingly true tales. The Japan Bear and Forest Society read a preview of a segment to be aired on July 19 about a famous 2009 bear attack in Gifu Prefecture that left nine people injured. The group feared that the segment would “spread bias and misunderstanding” about bears and asked the producers to either cancel it or ensure that the content was balanced and complete.

The segment was ominous in places, with newspaper accounts of bear attacks and footage of enraged, caged animals. And the reenactment of the incident itself was dramatic and violent — more like “Jaws” than an episode of “BBC Earth.” A clumsily rendered CGI bear is shown viciously attacking one tourist after another at a remote mountain lodge before being trapped and killed by hunters. Celebrities watching the drama in the studio made distressed, fearful noises throughout.

To its credit, the segment did end with an expert theorizing about this particular bear’s unusual behavior, saying that its panic was caused by a unique cascade of factors. And the celebrities, in the end, expressed more sympathy for the bear than they did for its human victims, all of whom survived. The bear, as one of them said, acted according to its nature. The trouble is, so were the show’s producers.

Article Ends.

Yes, bear sightings by themselves often make the news.  Even this:

Meanwhile, in Hokkaido, a university student encountered a wild animal while he was playing the game [“Pokemon  Go”] Friday night.

The student reported seeing a brown bear, but given the absence of any bear paw prints, police say the animal could have been a deer.

(Create meme: Knows all 807 Pokemon; Can’t recognize a real animal at six paces)

The two Mainichi articles mentioned and linked to in the Japan Times article above are interesting reading.  Unfortunately, the Mainichi Shimbun doesn’t archive articles permanently, so I have preserved photo images of these.

“even sightings of bears are worthy of national attention”


“despite officials using floodlights”


I am rather curious about the bears held at the Ainu museum – just what was their purpose?  I have heard of Ainu ceremonies that actually involved killing a bear cub, but it seems that these bears were almost a tacked-on afterthought.  Certainly, the conditions the animals were kept in were not appropriate for “a kind of deity”.

Another part of my brain wants to put this down to a kind of victim mentality, from the Hokkaido Shimbun article reporting complaints about the bears’ conditions by foreign visitors (because “Japanese people never complain”) through to the dramatized-for-TV segment on “Unbelievable”.

Ultimately, when you put two animals with strong territorial instincts together – bears and humans – there will be conflict.


Posted in Suburban wildlife | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Well spotted

Hi blog.

This post is another “stumbled upon” or, more accurately, “flown into” event.

Another day topping 35℃.  I escaped left work a little early to go and see an evening screening of Solo: A Star Wars Story with Mat, continuing our tradition of going to see all the new Star Wars releases together.

I thought the movie was excellent.  Although little was added to the titular character’s character (and, to be honest, who wants to try to fill Harrison Ford’s shoes?), quite some depth was added to Chewbacca, and there were plenty of subtle and witty references to the original trilogy.

And, yes, Han did shoot first.

We arrived at the station for the return train at about 9:40.  At some point I noticed an announcement that due to an accident further up the line trains would be delayed. (It turns out that it was either a fatal accident or suicide)

Killing time, Mat noticed  and pointed out a longhorn beetle on the side of the train on the opposite platform.  (At least the people heading the other direction could wait inside an air conditioned train – the air outside was humid and muggy).  Wondered out loud if it was one with the white spots or the bright blue one.

And almost as if it had been summoned, it took off, flew across the tracks, and landed on the platform very close to where we were seated.

The beetle itself was about 3 cm long, its antennae were about half as long again.

As it turned out, it was the former, the white-spotted longhorn beetle (Anoplophora malasiaca).  Finding a common name in Japanese was easy -it’s the gomadarakamikiri (胡麻斑髪切).  Finding a common name in English was harder due to this species closeness to other longhorn beetles, including the citrus long-horned beetle and the Asian long-horned beetle.

People who confuse etymology with entomology bug me in ways I can’t find words for.


Like other longhorn beetles, this beetle lays its eggs in the bark of host trees.  The larvae take up to two years to become adult beetles, in which time they can consume up to 1000 cm3 of wood.  The white-spotted longhorn beetle has a preference for citrus, willow, chestnut, mulberry and other commercial crops, making it something of a pest.

Adult beetles feed on leaves and young bark.

Certain light conditions bring out a blue hue in the beetle.

Up close and personal. You can see the powerful jaws with which the adult bores holes into the bark. I admit I got a couple of strange glances as I was taking this shot.

Our train did eventually arrive – just after 11:00.

Posted in Suburban wildlife | Tagged | Leave a comment

Fill in the blanks

Hi blog.

I see it has been a month since my last post, and even now I have essentially nothing to write about nature-wise.

You would have read in your news about the massive flooding in western Japan (particularly Hiroshima and Okayama) that claimed over 100 lives, the heat wave that produced Tokyo’s hottest ever recorded temperature (over 40℃ in Chichibu) and the typhoon that went the reverse course (east-west) and caused quite a bit of damage along the coast.

As for me, we’re still undergoing renovations/repair work (don’t get me started on the quality – or lack thereof – of Japanese housing!)

We’ve had our own set of bad luck.  The air conditioner in the living room started making strange sounds, and we decided that it was too risky to use – and we can’t afford a new on this year.  We had to move the newts for the work to be done, and they overheated, and one died.  Then, just two days later, Kabachan, my pet eel for seven years suddenly died.  Then I was banned from aikido (again!) until exam period is over.  So you’ll forgive me if I seem to be in a sour mood.

OK, just to add some photo content (and which matches my mood right now) here are some photos I took around this time last year but didn’t write about.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Japanese thistle (Cirsium japonicum).

A large Japanese thistle by the roadside. I was surprised that no-one had pulled it up before it got this big.

The flowers themselves are not unattractive at all, and are occasionally used in flower arranging and gardening.

These plants flower from spring until summer.  These and related plants are sometimes eaten.

Hopefully, my next post will be soon and not so dark.

Posted in Suburban wildlife | Tagged | Leave a comment

Don’t pick up chicks!

Hi blog.

I’m sorry about my lack of posts, but I am busy with a few things at home and work that require my attention.

The rainy season has officially ended, the earliest ending ever announced by the bureau of meteorology, and we have definitely felt the heat and humidity over the last few days.

This is a short post.

I had just left home for work when I spotted a fledgling standing on the side of the road.  The mother was in the vicinity, so I got close enough to get a couple of photos and quickly left, pausing only long enough to confirm that the mother was attending to the chick.

No, I wasn’t stopping to pick up chicks.

I suspect the chick was a which cheeked starling or grey starling (Spodiopsar cineraceus), although I could be wrong – I didn’t positively identify the mother.

The poor thing just stood there motionless. This may be a survival trait.

If you find a chick or fledgling on the ground, the basic rule is leave it alone.  Chicks should only be moved if they are clearly at risk from traffic or predators.

Good luck, little bird.


Posted in Suburban wildlife | Tagged | Leave a comment

A man’s fortress is his castle

Hi blog.

The rainy season has arrived.  That means temperatures ranging from just below 20℃ to upwards of 30℃ – all in the same day – along with high humidity.  And rain.  Lots of rain.

Last month I took the opportunity to attend the Tokorozawa Takinojo Festival held at one of the old castle sites in Tokorozawa.  The festival was good fun, and it has been getting bigger each year since its inception.

I mentioned working at a new school, and, as it turns out, this one is also near some ruins.  In this case, the structure was a fortress rather than an actual castle.  It’s official name is Shiroyamatoride (城山砦), although is is also known as Uesugitoride (上杉砦).  Some people, however, just call it Kashiwabara Castle.

No, it does NOT read “Abandon all hope, ye who enter”

The fortress ruins stand – I use this term loosely since there is actually nothing left standing – on a fluvial terrace overlooking the Iruma River.  It was surrounded on three sides by dry moats averaging three metres in depth and between three and seven metres wide.  It is believed that lookout towers would have been erected, giving a commanding view across the river and towards Kawagoe.

An informative sign.

The view into Sayama and Kawagoe.

No ruin is complete without a shrine constructed on top…

… this one being an Inari shrine.

I remember visiting the Sayama City Museum several years ago when they held a display about the fortress, including both a diorama and a near life-size display showing how difficult it would have been to attack the fortress.  Unfortunately, I have no pictures of that display.  (This blogger did get some good pictures)

The path leading up to the ruins.

Remnants of one of the moats.

Some people believe that the site may originally date back as far as the Kamakura Period, and that it was the residence of one Kashiwabara Taro, a retainer of the Genji Clan.  What we do know is that the fortress was controlled by the Uesugi Clan in the Warring States Period, and was used as a base in the Uesugi’s attempt to recapture Kawagoe Castle from the Hojo Clan.

You can start to appreciate the depth of some of the moats even today.

The siege of Kawagoe lasted from October 31st, 1545 to May 19th, 1546.  An army of some 80,000 from the Uesugi and their Ashikaga allies faced a garrison of a mere 3000.  A relief force of around 8000 Hojo soldiers was brought up and was able to coordinate a counter-offensive with the garrison at night which resulted in huge losses (estimated between 13000 and 16000) for the Uesugi with only minimal losses to their own forces.  The battle secured Hojo supremacy in the region until 1590.

The fortress at Kashiwabara would have naturally fallen under Hojo control.  It is thought that the Hojos used it as a walled manor.

The site has been excavated and surveyed several times, but filled in each time to protect the surrounding area.  I hope that one day more permanent excavations will take place, or even reconstructions. 


Posted in Culture and Tradition | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Furious in Japan

Hi blog.

This is an article on a truly “No, sorry, wrong!” affair.  It is doing the rounds of some major news outlets worldwide but seems to have been missed by Japan’s English language press.  (The BBC did release a Japanese language translation of its coverage)

Japanese whale hunters kill 122 pregnant minke

30 May 2018
File photo: Three minke whales dead on the deck of the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru inside a Southern Ocean sanctuary, according to anti-whaling activists Sea Shepherd, 5 January 2014Image copyright AFP
Activists have called Japan’s programme “an illegal whale hunt”

Japanese hunters caught and killed 122 pregnant minke whales as part of its Antarctic summer “field survey”.

A report sent to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) reveals hunters caught 333 minkes in total.

The team left Japan in November 2017 for the Southern Ocean and returned in March 2018.

Japan says its whaling programme is for scientific purposes, despite a 2014 UN ruling against its “lethal research” and widespread condemnation.

In a new research plan published after the UN ruling, Japan said it was “scientifically imperative” to understand Antarctica’s ecosystem through collecting and analysing animals.

How many whales did Japan catch?

The country’s New Scientific Whale Research Program in the Antarctic Ocean (NEWREP-A) sent a report to the IWC detailing the 333 minkes caught, 152 male and 181 female, during its “third biological field survey” in the area.

Japan cut down its catch by two-thirds under its new research plan, and has stuck to taking about 330 whales each year.

The data shows that in the 2017/18 hunt, 122 of the female minkes captured were pregnant, while 61 of the males and 53 of the females were not yet adults.

After a few weeks of surveys, the team caught all the whales within just 12 weeks before setting off back to Japan.

The whale meat is then sold to be eaten.

Whale sushi made with sliced minke meats and blubber, at a sushi shop in Japanese whaling town Ayukawahama, Miyagi prefecture, on 16 June 2010Image copyright AFP
Japan makes no secret of the fact that the meat resulting from its so-called scientific whaling programme ends up on the plate

Why does Japan hunt whales?

Under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, signed in 1946, countries can “kill, take and treat whales for purposes of scientific research”, and this is the rule Japan says it follows in its hunts.

Aside from its research claims, the Japanese government says whale hunting is an ancient part of Japan’s culture.

Coastal communities in Chiba prefecture and Ishinomaki in northern Japan have long practised coastal whaling, while Taiji in Wakayama prefecture holds annual dolphin hunts.

A dish of whale meat carpaccio, being served in a restaurant in Tokyo during the during Ebisu whale meat festivalImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Once a staple, now a novelty

However, expeditions to the Antarctic for whale meat only began after World War Two, when the devastated country depended on whales as its main source of meat.

While the meat is still sold, it is increasingly unpopular, with far fewer businesses selling it now than in the past.

Does anyone else hunt whales?

Figures from charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) show that many countries other than Japan still catch whales.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC), which regulates the industry, agreed to a moratorium on commercial whaling from the 1985, with exceptions.

Norway and Iceland still hunt whales for meat, the former rejecting the moratorium and the latter only partially agreeing.

A fin whale caught north of ReykjavikImage copyright AFP/GETTY
Iceland still hunts whales

So-called aboriginal subsistence whaling for local communities continues in Greenland, Russia, the USA, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

But Japan remains the only country to send ships to Antarctica to catch whales, under the scientific research exemption.

Is the hunting wiping out Antarctic whales?

Japan says it is conducting its research to show the Antarctic whale population is healthy and can be sustainably fished.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says there is insufficient data to determine whether the Antarctic minke whale is threatened.

While the number of minkes is “clearly in the hundreds of thousands”, they are investigating a possible decline over the last 50 years.

Depending on how significant the drop is, the Antarctic minke could be classified as Least Concern, or as Endangered.

Article ends.

I will refrain from commenting, following the adage “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Posted in Suburban wildlife | Tagged , , | Leave a comment