I’ll spare you the excuses, mostly because I have none.
We are into late March, meaning the end of the academic and financial years, unstable weather – one day’s minimum might be higher than the next day’s maximum, rain one day and dust storms the next – and cherry blossoms and the hype surrounding them.
Feeling somewhat low over the spring equinox long weekend – right after my 45th birthday, no less – I decided to take the plunge and go out in search of something to blog about.
This will be a mostly visual post. I cycled to Tokorozawa Aviation Memorial Park (it feels so strange to call it that – everyone I know uses “Kokukoen”) in the hope of seeing something worth photographing. And something I could photograph with my not-so-great smartphone camera.
A Trachycarpus palm, one of the evergreens found in this area. I should get around to writing about them some day.
Small bracket fungus growing on a tree stump.
Mississippi red-eared sliders vie for the best basking spot on what was the warmest day so far this year.
A yulan magnolia in full bloom. Avid followers might recognise this.
They smell better than those cherry blossoms too.
A mighty Japanese zelkova stands still bare of leaves. This is one of the most ubiquitous trees in suburban Japan.
A pair of brown-eared bulbuls and a pair of white-cheeked starlings acting a little wary of the bloke with the camera.
A brown-eared bulbul plays by the water.
A gorgeous pink camellia. The brown-eared bulbuls sometimes feed on the nectar.
On the way to the park, along the banks of the Azuma river. White, pink and red camellias under a cherry tree and palm.
Rape blossom, cherry and camellias under a street lantern. Comma placement is VERY important!
Sometimes a walk in the park is just what one needs.
It looked like I wasn’t going to get a post out this month. I was toying with one about the starlings in the area, but couldn’t get any decent photos – if I was running early for work, there would be no starlings close by; if there were starlings up close, I was running late.
Then a rather unusual article showed up on my newsfeed.
My encounters with Japanese macaques, or snow monkeys (Macaca fuscata), known locally as nihonzaru (日本猿), have almost entirely been limited to zoos, monkey trainers performing in public, or monkey parks. I did come across a wild mother and baby around Nikko some years back, but that is it.
The killing of 57 macaques due to genetic impurity – hybridization with the superficially similar rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) – has created a minor stir, but I will take a slightly different tack.
Most of the English news contains the same information as the BBC version, so I’ll leave that one here.
Japan zoo kills 57 snow monkeys due to ‘alien genes’
21 February 2017
A zoo in northern Japan has culled 57 of its snow monkeys by lethal injection after discovering they carried the genes of an “invasive alien species”.
Takagoyama Nature Zoo in Chiba said DNA testing showed the monkeys had been crossbred with the rhesus macaque.
The non-indigenous rhesus macaque is banned under Japanese law.
A local official said they had to be killed to protect the native environment.
The zoo’s operator held a memorial service for the snow monkeys’ souls at a nearby Buddhist temple.
Japanese macaques, commonly known as snow monkeys, are native to Japan and are one of the country’s major tourist attractions.
Japan prohibits the possession and transport of invasive species, including crossbreeds.
An official from the Office for Alien Species Management, part of the country’s environment ministry, told local media that the culling was unavoidable because there were fears they might escape and reproduce in the wild.
Junkichi Mima, a spokesman for conservation group WWF Japan told AFP news agency that invasive species cause problems “because they get mixed in with indigenous animals and threaten the natural environment and ecosystem”.
The Huffington Post UK gave some extra information
The zoo housed 164 primates which they believed were all pure Japanese macaques, AFP reports.
But it was later discovered that about one-third had been crossbred and they were culled. It is not clear when the crossbreeding occurred, or if the zoo is at fault.
And this is what I want to know: Why did the zoo perform DNA tests? Is it a standard procedure, or did they suspect something?
Did the hybridization occur in the wild (cue the Lost in Space robot “Danger, danger!”), or did it happen in (gasp!) captivity? And if the latter, what does that tell us about the laws regarding the possession of invasive species, or about zoo management?
Were the culled hybrids the first generation, or were they second – or even worse – third generation?
The articles pose more questions than they answer.
Sometimes I say to myself, “Andrew, you’re a genius.” And very occasionally, I prove it.
I sometimes get requests for information about various topics, or “Can you identify this?” Well, I recently received an e-mail from all-round good guy Ian G. “Goat” Fraser:
I instantly recognised the large character at the bottom, kai (界), usually meaning “world”. I wondered if it was some kind of Buddhist term – one would expect such things on a pilgrim route. Although on a marker like this the smaller characters would be read top-down, right-to-left, I decided to tackle the three on the left first, simply because I recognised them straight away. Well, recognised them individually, which is of little help when trying to read unusual vocabulary.
Google to the rescue. I entered the characters individually – actually, the 々 symbol is like a ditto mark, meaning the previous character is repeated. As it turns out, 久百々 is read “Kumomo” – a phonetic combination that it hardly likely to be a native Japanese speaker’s first choice. It is the name of a district within the city of Tosashimizu, Kochi Prefecture.
The set on the right turned out to be more challenging. First, I used a stroke count application to get the reading for the second character, 岐, ki. The angle of the photo and the particular writing style made it difficult to pick out straight away. The first character looked like 六, so I tried searching under the reading “Rokki”, but to no avail. However, when I tried the search term in conjunction with Kumomo, I got links to Oki no hama. The first character was actually 大, not 六!! (A Japanese friend said that she agreed with me as to how the character appeared due to the style of the engraving)
“Of course it says 大岐 久百々 界 What did you think it said?”
A search for Oki gave location just south of Kumomo. That was when inspiration struck – I recalled the word kyokai (境界) meaning “boundary” or “border” – and tried a map and then street view search of the border between Kumomo and Oki.
From Google street view. That bluff looks familiar…
As it turns out, 界 by itself can also mean the same.
So Ian’s mysterious marker was marking the boundary between the old villages of Kumomo and Oki, which were incorporated into the city of Tosashimizu in 1889.
OK, hardly anything to get excited by – not marking a battle or shipwreck, but I’m nevertheless congratulating myself on a job well done.
Japan’s push to reintroduce endangered white storks into the wild pays dividends
JAN 8, 2017
KOBE – White storks, a government-designated special natural treasure in Japan, are being released into the wild here in increasing numbers.
Feral white storks are believed to have gone extinct in Japan in 1971. But attempts to breed storks and release them into the wild began in Hyogo Prefecture in 2005.
Similar efforts began in two other areas of Japan in 2015 and the number of wild white storks in the nation is believed to have topped 100 this year.
White storks once inhabited paddies and marshy areas of the country, feeding mainly on loaches and frogs, but the population fell due to postwar overhunting.
The white stork is now designated as an endangered species, with only some 2,000 of them living in the entire Far East.
Hyogo Prefecture’s Park for the Oriental White Stork in Toyooka, a former breeding location, has launched a project to rebuild the population of wild white storks.
The park started a breeding program mainly with pairs of wild white storks provided by Russia. It has released 41 of the birds since 2005.
For outdoor nesting, the park has been installing towers with net plates of iron on top, in and outside of Hyogo Prefecture.
“White storks can now give birth and raise chicks in the wild in Toyooka,” said Yasuo Ezaki, research head of the park. But they “eat about 1 kg of food a day. We need to increase populations of freshwater fish and other living things as feed.”
According to the park, around 90 white storks, including those released from the park and those hatched outside, are living in the wild.
“White storks have been confirmed in 45 prefectures in the country so far,” a park official said.
In 2015, the Fukui Prefectural Government and the city of Noda, Chiba Prefecture, launched similar projects, aiming to use white storks as a symbol of restoring the nature to its former glory.
“We want to leave a rich natural environment for the future,” a Noda official said.
Fukui has released four white storks and Noda five, and a total of eight now live in the wild. Both governments say they plan to continue the projects.
Meanwhile, the Tokushima Prefectural Government aims to attract white storks flying to the prefecture to settle there.
Some 20 white storks have flown to Tokushima in the past few years, with one observed laying eggs in the city of Naruto. Tokushima plans to establish feeding sites by preparing a more eco-friendly environment.
I disagree with the use of the word “feral” in the second paragraph, as the Oxford English Dictionary defines it:
…in a wild state, especially after escape from captivity or domestication
Apparently, Korea and China have similar breeding programs, but ultimately it will take a concerted effort on environmental protection and restoration to bring these birds and other species back.
2017 is here. Winter is being its typical cold self, and the worst is yet to come. Did I ever mention that I don’t particularly like winter?
Just recently we visited the Tamarokuto Science Center, home of the world’s 4th largest planetarium and the most advanced projector – said to be able to reproduce the night sky to some 140,000,000 stars. (I lost count, so I can’t confirm this!)
The planetarium displays change with the seasons, and the focus of this season’s display was Orion. Most Japanese kids are familiar with Orion, as they do some elementary astronomy at school and often have homework over the holidays to observe the night sky and locate several asterisms, constellations or individual stars or planets.
It seems that Orion, or at least Orion’s belt is one of the oldest known asterisms in the world. The ancient Chinese, for example, knew of Orion’s belt and named it Shen (參). Incidentally, 参 is sometimes used to mean the number three. In classical Japanese, asterism is known as karasukiboshi (唐鋤星), literally “Tang spade star”. Modern Japanese uses the name Orion – however, they pronounce it not as /əˈrʌɪən/, but as /ɒrɪɒn/ and write it as オリオン座 (Orion-za).
Orion and some of the nearby constellations. Image taken from Stellarium (a free virtual planetarium for your PC)
It is hard not to mention Orion without covering the Winter Triangle, which had a co-starring role (bad pun intended) in the display. Formed from the three brightest stars in the winter sky, it is sometimes used as a reference point for finding other astral formations. It is hard to find a Japanese kid who is not familiar with this asterism.
Sirius (the brightest star in the night sky), Betelgeuse (Orion’s armpit), and Procyon (the brighter of the two stars that make up the constellation of Canis Minor) form the three vertices of this approximately equilateral triangle. It can be seen high in the sky over Japan at this time of year.
The above image with the Winter Triangle drawn in.
My son has expressed an interest in seeing the stars some clear night, so I’ll see what I can do.
This post involves a mistake I never got around to correcting. You may possibly remember a post from several years back in which I mentioned obtaining a pair of tadpoles that metamorphosed into what I thought were kajika frogs.
The first one to morph died soon afterward, but the second is still with us. However, I have consulted several books on the subject and come the the conclusion that it is not a kajika frog but in fact a Japanese brown frog (Rana japonica), or Nihon akagaeru (日本赤蛙) – literally “Japanese red frog” in the local language.
(There is a very slight chance that it the physically similar montane brown frog (Rana ornativentris), but this will require time to get a good look at it – the frog tends to spend a lot of its time hiding.)
You may be wondering why I’m writing about a frog in winter – it should be hibernating, right?
Normally, yes. But frogs will become active even in mid-winter if the weather is warm enough. And December 22nd and 23rd brought us that kind of weather. The forecast for the 22nd – incidentally the last day of term 2 at school – was for temperatures topping out at about 17℃ before moist air brought rain. The warm temperatures didn’t come although the rain did. It rained heavily late in the night – trust me, I was walking through it – through to the early hours of the morning. The 23rd, however, brought that warm change, and the frog became active in the warm (-ish) humid weather.
“Get that camera out of my face!”
You can see some of the stripes on the legs and the yellow on the underbelly.
They have beautiful eyes, eh?
I might not see this little chap again until spring.
Just a very quick post as today marks the earliest sunset for the year. I remember hearing about this last month, and made a mental note to post something on it today.
We still have 10 days until the solstice, and sunrise will occur later. In fact, sunrise will continue to be increasingly late for the next month or so, even though the total number of daylight hours will slowly increase.
As it is, I will be arriving home in total darkness! (It is dark outside as I write this; in six months the sun will be up at this time)
“Where does all the concrete come from?”That was my first thought, back in 2000, as I gazed, dumbstruck, through the (hopefully extremely thick) glass of the observation deck of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, 45 floors and 202m above the streets of the western side of Shinjuku station.
View of the twin towers of the Tochō from the courtyard.
I don’t remember which deck it was, North or South — the building, 48 storeys tall, splits into identical twins from the 33rd, with a viewing deck (the whole floor) at the same height in each. Both are free to visit.
There’s not much that will take me to the western side of the tracks in Shinjuku. It’s mostly offices, government departments, and what the tourist guides like to call “skyscrapers”, really quite tame in size when compared to, say, New York. Oh, and a couple of camera-gear megastores which are quite irresistible to geeks of a certain style and undeniable handsomeness.
The Tochō from one of the alleys at its feet.
It’s the eastern side that has the crowds, youth, restaurants, bars, sleaze (again, tame by world standards; this is a polite society) and, if you’re not in the mood and just want to grab that last train home at midnight to your futon on the tatami mats, annoyance. Because every other drunk bastard in Shinjuku wants to share that last train with you…
But let’s stay on the far more sedate west side for now — and resume pondering all that concrete. You remind yourself that this city, the world’s largest conurbation, with more people than my entire country, was all but obliterated in WWII.
At any point on the perimeter of the deck, you’re afforded a similarly limitless (haze permitting; cooler months are best) vista:
Fellow spectator on the observation deck. A special prize (enduring fame) awaits those who can translate the German on her bag.
On the extreme right, you can see fellow Tochō spectators in the next tower.
Suitable for framing.
The mountains ringing the city, many of which you might have hiked, are there beyond the rooftops. Outside Summer, you may well enjoy the privilege of a view of snow-capped Fuji-San herself, startlingly close to all this humanity (just 60m south-west), especially when you ask yourself if and when she’ll blow her top again.
“Hey, that’s a coincidence. I think I went to school with that guy down there.”
The building, known colloquially as the Tochō, opened in 1991. It was designed by Kenzo Tange, apparently to approximate the look of a computer chip, and as that description would imply, it doesn’t exactly radiate warmth and welcome. It also feels, whenever I return there, remarkably quiet and uncrowded for a structure presumably jammed tight with bureaucrats.
As for all that concrete: numerous walks through rural and off-the-beaten-tarmac Japan have provided at least part of the answer. Little concrete plants (is that the term?) on some backwater road, standing silent amid mountainous piles of gravel. Fleets of trucks waiting politely for their next load. The monster must be fed.
Another monster, Godzilla herself, trashed the building soon after its opening in a 1991 movie, which seems rude and petulant even by Godzilla’s standards. Fortunately the Japanese exhibited their standard genius in the art of reconstruction, and nowadays you’d never even notice any signs of his/her handiwork.
Worker found carcasses dumped in nearby river, police say
HOKKAIDO (TR) – Some 200 salmon cut open with their eggs removed were dumped in a river near a salmon hatchery, police said on Monday, amid rising salmon roe prices due to a poor fishing season.
The slain fish were found by a worker at the Shibetsu River Hatchery on Sunday morning in Shibetsu City, Hokkaido, TV Asahi reports (Nov. 21).
The stomachs of about 200 to 300 female salmon containing a total of some 100 kilograms of eggs were cut out and stolen, hatchery officials said, in what police are investigating as a case of suspected theft.
Police suspect the crime occurred sometime between 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at the hatchery, which raises salmon on fenceless grounds accessible by anyone, NHK reported.
Yoshifumi Shimoshi, vice president of the hatchery, said he was “frustrated because those salmon were being raised for the hatchery business. I hope the culprit is quickly caught.”
“We have to do something so people can’t get in here,” Shimoshi said.
The hatchery was planning to hatch the eggs and raise them before releasing them next year.
Ikura salmon roe prices have been on the rise this fall, stemming from a poor salmon fishing season.
Comment: Fish farming is probably the only sustainable form of fisheries. My family participated in a project to re-establish salmon populations in a local river by hatching salmon eggs and releasing the fry into the river.
I hope the culprits get caught and get whatever is coming to them…
The second article has been doing the rounds, mostly because it falls into the “crazy Japan” category, something which should always be approached with caution. (If you have recently read that roadworkers fixed a sinkhole in just two days, you’ve been reading a lie – it took just over a week)
Fukuoka theme park draws ire over 5,000 fish frozen into ice skate rink
By Roland Shichijo on November 27, 2016
Fukuoka theme park draws ire over 5,000 fish frozen into ice skate rink
Billed as ‘not only a Japan-first, but undeniably a world-first’
FUKUOKA (TR) – A theme park in Kitakyushu City is facing a growing tide of criticism over its educational attraction featuring some 5,000 sea creatures frozen into an ice rink in what it boasts to be a world-first — and possibly Japan’s last.
Space World, described as a “theme park all about space” by the Japan National Tourism Organization, launched the “Freezing Port” event for its existing ice rink on November 12 as a limited winter and spring exhibition to educate visitors about marine life.
Park visitors can rent ice skates and glide over a wide variety of fish and shellfish frozen into the ice in different zones, according to the official web site, including a section featuring enlarged photos of bigger creatures such as whale sharks that some mistook to be real.
Many of the fish used for the attractions were unfit for retail sale and sourced from public fish markets, a Space World official said.
‘Attraction both unseen and unheard of’
The theme park promised in October that visitors would have a “chance to enjoy skating under unreal conditions at an attraction both unseen and unheard of” in what is “not only a Japan-first, but undeniably a world-first.”
But an initially cautious reception quickly turned to dismay and anger after the theme park began posting preview photos of the ice rink on its Facebook page on October 26, accompanied by what many criticized as inappropriate captions.
Netizens were particularly vocal about a caption for a “Part.7” November 7 photo showing bodies of fish half-frozen into the ice rink that read “I’m d..d..drowning…It h…h..hurts…,” with one comment saying the park shouldn’t “make life into a toy.”
In another photo post dated November 8, visitors urged others to boycott the park while others condemned the attraction as an “insult to life” and urged the park to “go out of business.”
Official: Live fish not used
Space World continued to preview the attraction despite mounting criticism with a final “Part.11” photo on November 11, which drew over 100 comments expressing varying degrees of shock and shame –– including a claim that the attraction was gaining attention in China as “Japan’s vulgar theme park.”
An official from Space World’s public relations department confirmed to news site Netlabo that the park has “received lots of opinions on sites like Twitter, and some have even contacted us directly.”
The official denied allegations that the park used live fish for the ice rink.
“The real fish we used were provided wholesale from public fish markets, and these fish sellers are all aware of the purpose of this project,” the public relations department official said. “Many of these fish don’t meet standards for selling to customers. And the big fish like whale sharks, sharks, and rays aren’t real, they’re simply photos that were blown up and embedded in the ice.”
When asked to explain what the project is about, Space World said it “wanted people to interact with the creatures of the sea…The attraction is divided into multiple zones, including a ‘deep sea zone,’ with accompanying explanations about the kinds of fish on display.”
The official said reactions from visitors “have been favorable. It seems like children are having a particularly good time.”
Reports of blood in ice
Regarding reports that blood was seeping into the ice and bodies of fish were sticking out, the official said the cause was “probably ice melting when the attraction launched.”
“As for the exposed fish, we believe it’s not a case of ice skate blades scratching and damaging them, they wouldn’t be damaged unless there was intentional digging of the ice or kicking of the fish,” the official said. “But this is the first staging for us as well, so we think there was a lack of experience there.”
Asked if the theme park thought the “drowning” caption had any issues, the official replied: “Another employee wrote that hoping people would find it funny. But I do feel that not enough caution was taken. I apologize.”
There are “no current plans” to shutter the attraction, the official said. “For me personally, I believe people will understand if they come visit, so I would ask them to please visit the link when they have a chance.”
‘Memorial service for the fish’
Regarding the fate of the fish in the ice, the official said the company is “investigating what we’ll do with them afterward. The whole purpose of the project is to have people experience the world of the ocean, including the lives of the fish within, so it’s also been proposed to hold a memorial service for the fish who worked hard for us.”
The official concluded by saying that people would “understand the intention of this project if they actually came to visit. This is a first for us as well so there was some lack of experience in some areas, but if people would have a correct understanding of the purpose of the exhibition…”
A user questioned the official’s remarks in the November 11 photo by saying: “A PR official from Space World said, ‘This project is based on wanting people to interact with the creatures of the sea,’ but just how many people did they expect would say, ‘Wow! I’m right up close with the creatures of the sea!’ when they’re gliding over bodies of frozen fish? I’m having trouble understanding this. All of these comments reflect what society thinks about this event. I would appreciate this message getting across even a little to the organizer.”
Comment: Once we digest (yes, pun intended) the information that the fish were already dead and were unsellable rejects from the market (caveat: Japanese food markets tend to be very particular about appearance, and perfectly edible products are often rejected on grounds of appearance), I’m still baffled. How does freezing thousands of dead fish in a skating rink educate people about marine life? There was a VERY good reason this kind of attraction had never been seen before – it was an utterly stupid idea!!
I find the trend of actual aquariums using projection mapping to project images of blossoming cherry trees and fireworks onto aquaria odd (and annoying), but this is simply bizarre.
Typical of officialdom, there is the standard attempt to explain the complaints away as a misunderstanding on behalf of the people who were offended…
As a final thought, the comment that the park was gaining infamy in China (gasp!) was probably the killing blow.
And I wonder if the theme park ever got around to that memorial service…
UPDATE: Space World management has announced that the park will close on the last day of December, 2017.
The closure is probably unrelated to the fish in the rink.
I usually try to get out at least two posts per month, but it just wasn’t going to happen this particular November.
More roller coaster weather, sunset arriving earlier and earlier each day, persistent colds and then secondary infections, laziness, general disgust at certain election results have all sapped my energy.
But November 24th will go down in history as the first time this area has recorded snow piling up in November.
Snow is not particularly common in the metropolitan areas in and immediately surrounding Tokyo, and often melts on contact with the ground or at least on contact with asphalt roads. Some snow does manage to build up and may remain for several days, but this only happens in the depths of winter. Except for this time.
The last recorded snowfall in this area in November was over 50 years ago, and it apparently did not pile up to any significant depth.
My phone’s weather app from the night of the 23rd. Those single digit temperatures were looking pretty ominous…
I’m not a big fan of snow. Sure, it’s pretty to look at, but you don’t want to be stuck in it.
On my way to work. The trains were not quite running on time due to the weather, and were more crowded than usual.
From the warmth of the staffroom, about 90 minutes before it finally stopped snowing.