This was one of my slap-the-forehead “What are you people thinking? Were you thinking?” moments.
On May 11, a large (approximately 1000) swarm of honeybees settled on a building wall in the Takadanobaba area of Shinjuku, Tokyo. None of the local news reports I’ve found have mentioned if the bees in question were native Japanese honeybees （Apis cerana japonica）or European honeybees (Apis mellifera sp.), although I’m not aware of European honeybees having any negative effect on the environment.
Now, my response would be to call in an apiarist (that’s a beekeeper to regular folk) to remove (i.e. capture and relocate) the swarm. But, no, the authorities responded by calling in the police and fire department to “remove” the swarm – i.e. spray it with pesticides and clean up the dead bees.
This hasn’t made its way into the English language press, but feel free to watch it in Japanese.
My take: Stupid, stupid, stupid. The Ginza district has a thriving honey industry – there are fewer hornets in the metropolitan area – and I can’t see how spraying a swarm posed any less danger to the public (since bees are sensitive to chemical smells) than simply capturing the bulk of the bees and relocating them to a rooftop hive.
How about putting me in charge every now and then?
First, one from the BBC about dealing with raccoon dogs running feral in Sweden – too bad there is no Japanese language version of this to remind the locals that their native animals can be destructive outside their natural ecosystems.
They look cute and cuddly and are sometimes kept as pets – but raccoon dogs are a menace, threatening wildlife across Europe. Sweden is so worried about their impact that it has trained a team to hunt and kill the animals, with the unwitting help of creatures made to betray their mates.
It’s mid-April and on the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland, the ice covering the sea is still a metre thick.
It’s where Ludde Noren and Viktor Medstrom, two professional hunters from the Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management have switched off their snowmobiles and are using GPS tracking equipment to try to detect signals of an unwelcome visitor.
The animal they are looking for is a raccoon dog, a fox-like creature native to East Asia that has a similar face to a raccoon but is a member of the canine family.
The beeps coming from the tracking equipment are weak, so it’s back on the snowmobiles to roar across the vast expanse of the frozen sea towards a small island.
Per-Arne Ahlen who leads Sweden’s project to eradicate raccoon dogs, is with them too. He says the animals were first released in the European parts of the former Soviet Union by biologists as a source of fur.
“Economic success 80 years ago, today an ecological disaster,” he says.
An ecological disaster, he explains, because raccoon dogs feed on amphibians and ground-nesting birds in wetland areas.
“Amphibian species can go extinct in areas with a high raccoon dog population,” Ahlen says.
Along with the Arctic fox, they reproduce more quickly than any other canine species. A million are born every year in Finland, and there are thousands more in Germany. They have been sighted as far west as France and the Netherlands, Ahlen says.
Sweden’s plan to eradicate raccoon dogs began a decade ago, when they were first spotted in the far north of the country – now the animals are hunted to reduce the threat to biodiversity.
Some of the work is done from an office in Lulea, a city 900km (560 miles) north of the capital Stockholm. The staff there receive thousands of sightings from members of the public every year, which are then followed up by field staff.
There are also cameras on the main routes between Sweden and Finland which can detect raccoon dogs as they arrive in the country.
And from their computers they are able to track the so-called “Judas animals”.
These are raccoon dogs that have been caught, sterilised, tagged and released.
Raccoon dogs stay with a partner for life and as soon as the Judas dogs are released, they go in search of a new partner.
When one stops moving, the office dispatches one of the six full-time field workers to see if it has found a new partner.
Two hours north-east of the office, Noren and Medstrom, the two men on the snowmobiles, have tracked one of the Judas animals to a small uninhabited island still covered in snow.
Their tracking equipment now beeps at shorter intervals.
“You hear, the signal is more frequent, it’s a moving signal,” says Noren. He’s helped by his hunting dog, which can help sniff out the raccoon dog but is muzzled so it can’t do any harm.
There are paw prints in the snow. It’s hard to tell whether it’s from one raccoon dog or two.
Noren tells everyone to stop. There’s fur poking out from behind a tree.
Are raccoon dogs aggressive animals?
“I’m used to comparing it to a badger on sleeping pills,” Noren says.
Project leader Ahlen takes the lead and hooks the raccoon dog with a snare. It barely moves.
It is alone and hasn’t managed to find a partner for the team to shoot.
So it is weighed and released.
The system hasn’t worked on this occasion but Ahlen is convinced of its effectiveness.
“I stole it from the Spanish and Ecuadorian governments, their way of eradicating goats on Galapagos,” he says. “[They] didn’t succeed until they started with the Judas goats.”
Ahlen says it’s a technique being used a lot now in conservation biology to eradicate invasive species. There are Judas rats in Mexico, Judas pigs in North America and Judas camels in Australia.
At one time, there were between 100-130 raccoon dogs in Sweden, Ahlen says. But in the past 10 years they have killed about 2,000 in Sweden and on the bordering areas of Finland and they’re now finding and killing fewer and fewer.
The raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides)
Sweden has a relatively small population of raccoon dogs – now probably fewer than 100, says Ahlen. He estimates there are up to 1,000 in Denmark and hundreds of thousands in Germany and Poland. In Finland the population is rising and in spring is approximately 250,000 – although about a million cubs are born each year, most die from starvation, hunting and road accidents. In Norway, there are “hopefully zero – we try to keep it that way”. In France a few sightings and some road kills have been reported. The creatures could soon establish themselves in the wild both there and in the UK where escaped pets pose a potential problem, he says.
It’s illegal to keep them as pets in Sweden, Denmark and Norway but Ahlen says he has seen evidence that people in the UK do have them as pets.
“The thing if you have them as pets is that they will escape and then you will endanger your native fauna if you release them in England,” he says.
“Both from Ireland and the UK, I’ve seen several cases where people have lost their pets and I’m quite sure that if you have not already, I think that you will have your first feral emerging population by reproduction of escaped pets.”
Ahlen says the project to eradicate raccoon dogs in Sweden hasn’t faced any opposition.
“Not even the animal rights groups are against what we’re doing because we are protecting our grandchildren’s nature, we are protecting the animals that will disappear if we have raccoon dogs in southern Sweden,” he says.
“Conservation biology is not always nice, it’s not beautiful all the time.”
My take: That final quote is quite telling. Cuteness should not be an excuse for not controlling feral species that pose a threat to local wildlife.
Next is a local approach to deal with the predators that may endanger Japan’s only native rabbit species.
Kagoshima isle neutering 3,000 cats in bid to protect rare rabbits
MAY 9, 2016
TOKUNOSHIMA, KAGOSHIMA PREF. – Three municipalities on a remote island in Kagoshima Prefecture are midway through an unprecedented project to neuter all 3,000 resident felines in order to protect native rabbits. The rare bunnies are designated as a special national treasure.
Only around 200 Amami rabbits are thought to inhabit the island of Tokunoshima in Kagoshima Prefecture, which has a human population of 23,000. The rabbits are at risk of being attacked and killed by stray cats.
“Domestic cats have a hunting instinct, and they hunt when they become feral,” said Harutaka Watanabe at the Environment Ministry’s nature conservation office on the island.
“There are no carnivorous mammals on the island, so native rabbits are not so vigilant,” said Watanabe, 30.
Culling the strays is not a realistic option for the island, which is part of the Amami and Ryukyu islands. The area is seeking recognition as a World Natural Heritage site.
Osamu Minobe, a 60-year-old islander from the town of Isen, said the isle would not qualify as a heritage site if the slaughter of thousands of cats takes place.
As a solution, the three municipalities on the island launched the project in November 2014 in collaboration with an animal protection organization based in Hyogo Prefecture.
Municipal officials set traps to capture stray cats. Veterinarians from Doubutsu Kikin (Animal Fund) neuter the cats and notch their ears before they are released.
Meanwhile, the Environment Ministry has also started a project to capture cats in the mountains that prey on the island’s rabbits. The ministry also neuters the cats and temporarily keeps them in a shelter run by the three municipalities on the island until new owners are found. The owners are required to keep the cats indoors.
“I hope we can change the residents’ mindsets, encouraging them to keep their cats indoors,” said Hikaru Akiyama, 29, who is in charge of the shelter.
So far, some 2,200 cats have gone through the process, and Amami rabbits are being seen in greater numbers already. A staff member at Doubutsu Kikin said it is important to continue the effort or the situation would revert to that five years ago, as the cats reproduce quickly.
Under the project, cat owners can have their pets neutered for free, as many are reluctant to pay for the operation.
My take: There are two telling quotes in this article. One is about cat owners being reluctant to pay for neutering, which I find a bit rich considering the exorbitant prices people are willing to pay for cats. (Note: People in Japan tend to buy cats from pet dealers – typically for well over one hundred thousand yen – rather than adopt)
It reminds me of the woman who refused to neuter her female cat on the grounds that it was “cruel”, but proceeded to drown the unwanted kittens. Go figure.
The other pertinent quote is the one about the island not becoming a World Heritage site if the slaughter of cats takes place. It certainly won’t become a World Heritage site – a status symbol Japan craves beyond belief – if its rabbits become extinct.
It’s that time of year again – too many family, social and work obligations, not enough sleep and the sun coming up early.
This is just a quick post and a reminder of what can happen if you keep your eyes open.
… a little egg lay on a leaf.
Even if I had only found the egg, I would probably have guessed that the parent was a Chinese peacock – as in the swallowtail butterfly, not the bird! Chinese peacocks (Papilio bianor) are large butterflies with mostly black or extremely dark wings, leading to its Japanese name of karasuageha (烏揚羽), literally “crow swallowtail”. We occasionally spot them flying around our mandarin tree, and sometimes see their larvae. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a pupa – I suspect the larvae have fallen prey to various spiders and wasps.
In this case, I saw the butterfly land on the leaf for a few seconds and deposit a single egg.
I pointed this out to a certain little boy, who wanted to collect the egg to observe it. I guess we’ll let it hatch and return the larva to the tree. Hopefully, we’ll get to see a complete life-cycle in our garden some time.
We’ve had some glorious weather, perfect for cycling to work. The home trip is not quite as satisfying, mostly because of the tiny flying insects that swarm under the trees in the late afternoon and collide with my face.
I’ve spotted pheasants, both male and female, a masked palm civet, seen the feeding habits of crows, heard the cries of thrushes and bush warblers… pity that the ride ends at work!
I’ve seen the Mississippi red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) too. I’ve mentioned them in an older post, and have often wondered why the local governments don’t seem to be doing anything about them.
Alien invasion! Walk for you lives!
Then this article from the Japan Times made its way into my news feed:
Alien red-ear sliders greatly outnumber Japan’s own turtles
BY DAISUKE KIKUCHI
APR 26, 2016
Invasive red-ear slider turtles now vastly outnumber endemic Japanese turtles and are causing significant stress to the ecosystem, the Environment Ministry said Friday.
A study has put the number of red-ear sliders at 8 million, eight times the total population of endemic species.
Originally from the United States, the animals are widely kept as pets. However, they can grow to a considerable size and are often dumped in ponds and rivers when they outgrow their lodgings.
The species is known in Japan as midorigame and in some other countries as the red-ear terrapin.
“The growing population of red-ear slider turtles would mean the depopulation of insects, fish and other turtles that live on water weeds,” Masato Morikawa, an official in charge of monitoring alien species, told The Japan Times on Monday. “The population has gradually but continuously been increasing over the years.”
The species is believed to have been introduced after World War II. From the 1970s, the animals were widely sold at matsuri (festivals) and pet shops.
It is only one of several invasive turtle species now displacing local species.
The ministry said red-ear slider turtles have mainly colonized waterways in Kanto, Chubu and the Inland Sea areas. The entire population is estimated to consume up to 320 tons of water weeds each week.
Morikawa conceded that the need to control other alien species is more pressing as they can cause harm to humans: the poisonous red-back spider and the snapping turtle, which can bite off a finger, are among the priorities.
“At this point, the red-ear slider turtles are exterminated only in areas that are extremely overpopulated, but we are strengthening measures against them,” he said.
The ministry plans to restrict imports, crack down on the abandoning of pets and step up culls.
The writer did make a noticeable mistake in the article – baby red-eared sliders are known as midorigame whereas the species is known as akamimigame or, more correctly, mishishippi akamimigame.
Many people are unaware that it is not a native species. Others simply take the dichotomal view that it is “foreign” as opposed to “Japanese” – rather than the infinitely more accurate and helpful “introduced” or “feral” as opposed to “native”- and therefore has some natural advantage. (Much the same way foreign-born sumo wrestlers somehow have an unfair natural advantage… because… er… reasons)
Red-eared sliders do have certain advantages in this case. Firstly, they mature at an earlier age than the native turtles they compete with. They also grow larger, enabling them to successfully compete for basking and nesting space, plus acting as a deterrent against would-be predators. Thirdly, they are omnivores – the young have a tendency towards carnivorous habits while older turtles prefer plant material – and will feed on either plant or animal matter as need dictates. Finally, the Japanese suburban and semi-rural environments lack predators that significantly impact their population. The Mississippi red-eared slider’s natural enemies include alligators, raccoons, and skunks, all missing from the Japanese ecosystem. Foxes and badgers may prey upon young turtles, but these are noticeably absent from most suburban environments.
My take: The reason for these turtles damaging the environment can be put down to human irresponsibility. No kind of permit is required to buy the babies sold at shops or even stalls. A lack of understanding of the responsibilities involved (“What? I’m supposed to look after this for the next 30 years?”) plus a complete absence of any understanding of the biology of the sliders – like that they don’t remain babies forever.
They start off small, cute and green… but grow to be not small, not cute and not green.
I really have a disdain for killing reptiles, but I feel that culling will be the only way to control their numbers, in addition to banning further imports and restricting ownership.
Sea-borne invasion of wild boars on Japanese island leaves residents in despair
BY NAZUNA NAGAI
KARATSU – An increase in wild boars has upturned the balance on a small island in the Genkai Sea, with the animals outnumbering residents three-to-one.
Over 300 boars are now living on the 2.8-sq.-km Kakara Island, which lies off the coast of Saga prefecture.
While there have been no injuries so far, “People will be forced off the island if the current situation continues,” said a resident of the islet, population 100.
The boars arrived about 15 years ago. They are thought to have swum the 3 kilometers from Kyushu.
Even today, boars are occasionally seen swimming off the island. Teruki Kawasaki, 27, a local Japan Coast Guard official, saw a pair of boars swimming while he was aboard a patrol boat. They were “good swimmers,” he said.
Boars have thrived on Kakara due to an absence of natural predators and an abundance of crops, including pumpkins and sweet potatoes, said a an official of Karatsu city, Saga Prefecture, which the island belongs to administratively.
Islanders had hopes of producing cosmetics from camellias growing in clusters on the island to generate revenue and promote tourism, but the boars have inflicted widespread damage.
The island has steep cliffs, making it difficult to hunt the boars with dogs. So islanders set up traps in bushes and capture around 50 boars a year, but they are unable to keep up with the growing population. A sow can give birth to five or six piglets each year.
At night, islanders are forced to use cars when they go out because the boars roam close to their homes. The two children on the island are driven to and from the local elementary school by their parents.
An increasing number of villages in Japan sell boar meat as a specialty, but most households on Kakara rely on fishing. “We cannot become hunters. . . . We have our hands tied,” said Toshiyuki Tokumura, a 66-year-old squid fisherman.
Hmm… an interesting problem. It sounds like an inability to adapt that is driving the island to extinction rather than wild boars alone…
Sorry things have been too quiet for too long at Wild in Japan. I’ll save you the excuses and get on with this quick post.
Unfortunately, between me starting this post and now that series of large earthquakes struck Kumamoto and Oita, leaving dozens dead and thousands homeless. My thoughts are with the people trying to put their lives back together.
I’ve actually had this on the back-burner for several years, waiting for a suitable opportunity to photograph and research some statues.
Well, I have changed schools, and in an attempt to avoid the heavy traffic of route 50, my chosen route takes me past this particular statue.
Apparently, this Jizo was erected in 1685, some 20 years after the land development of the village of Mizuno began. It is thought that the statue is to the placate the souls of those who died during that period. Some also claim that it cures children’s illnesses.
This particular Jizo has the names of 48 people associated with its construction carved into it. Interestingly, the descendants of some of those very people work the very same fields that they opened some 350 years ago.
Many Jizo statues have a nickname, and this one is no exception – it has no fewer than three names: Bake-Jizo (化け地蔵), Yonaki-Jizo (夜泣き) and Bakku-Jizo (抜苦地蔵).
The Jizo. That is Sanskrit on the bib and the post to the right. The Kanji at the top of the post links it to the Shingon sect.
The most common of these is Bake-Jizo – basically “Ghostly Jizo” – and it is said to have stemmed from a prank involving a face carved into a watermelon with a candle placed inside and strung from a tree near the statue. A traveller at night reported seeing the ghostly spectacle and the name stuck.
Others, however, say the name simply comes from its remote location. I’m also willing to believe it may simply be a corruption of Bakku-Jizo (bakku being derived from the Buddhist term bakku-yoraku (抜苦与楽) about the release from suffering).
Keeping my eyes open on the trip、 I noticed at least three stone markers on the same stretch of road. The area also has several private cemeteries, so it is a haven for stone monument fans. Pheasants are also sometimes to be seen, and I have spotted a male there several times in the last week or so.
A late 19th century Bato Kannon stone.
A stone marker.
Another Bato Kannon.
Finally, I was recently stopped by police in that area. A patrol car passed me and pulled me over. The officer asked for some ID. When I asked what was up, he replied that it was a security measure for the local transformer station ahead of the G7 Summit – several hundred kilometres away!!
Well, much of March was was mediocre at best – by the mid-point of the month we had experienced our coldest March for some 32 years. Rain and cold was the order of the day. Then we had some splendid weather, and then winter’s revenge.
I’ve been busy with work functions, and the lack of wildlife was really going to keep me away from the keyboard – until an early-morning call from the in-laws.
“Do you want to go to the Oarai Aquarium?”
(I don’t care if that question was aimed at the kids. You know what my answer is.)
Aqua World in Oarai, Ibaraki, boasts the largest number of shark species of any aquarium in Japan. It managed to find its 15 minutes of fame a couple of years ago, thanks to one of its sand tiger sharks.
Staff at Aqua World in Oarai, Japan, witnessed the brutal hierarchy of the sea when a large nine-foot sand tiger shark attempted to eat a smaller white tip reef shark with whom it shares its tank.
The attacker attempted to eat his intra-species prey for 40 minutes, until giving up due to it being too chewy.
A caretaker on an early morning shift caught the star attraction predator attempting to swallow the smaller fish whole after failing to puncture the reef shark’s tough skin.
The sharks in the tank tend to ignore each other as they are fed regularly to avoid such incidents.
The sand tiger shark in question had not been eating for weeks, leaving staff worried about its lack of appetite.
The reef shark was finally rescued by staff members but was too badly mauled and later died from its wounds.
The New York Daily News had a similar article, but managed to get the species of shark wrong!
A female also expelled a still-born foetus in December last year, the first time one of the species has been confirmed pregnant in captivity in Japan. The official web page (in Japanese only) can be found here.
The sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus) has several other English common names – in Australia, for example, it is usually known as the grey nurse shark. The Japanese name is, as some of my regular followers may remember, shirowani (白鰐).
The business end of the sand tiger shark.
Sand tiger shark patrolling its tank.
Apart from the sharks, there was plenty of other marine life on display.
Japanese spider crabs
Green turtle with a school of Japanese pilchards in the background.
A whirlpool of Japanese pilchards. Unfortunately, some people think that the tank label should include a recipe!
Unfortunately, the dolphin and sea lion show tends to also draw crowds. I never really feel entirely comfortable watching animals perform, especially when they are purely for entertainment purpose (the names of the species were not even mentioned). I might be a little more forgiving if there was less emphasis on music and lights and more of “this is a bottlenose dolphin…”
The signs of spring are well and truly here – cherry blossoms have made their appearance, I’ve heard the call of bush warblers, daffodils are flowering, turtles can be seen on warm days, and the graduation/entrance ceremony double-punch preparations are underway. That doesn’t mean the cold is over, however; the minimum temperature one day might exceed the following day’s maximum.
Unfortunately, I have developed mild hay fever, specifically to cryptomeria. All those years of mocking the Japanese “allergy to nature” have come back to haunt me…
The 27th anniversary of my first arrival in Japan is approaching, along with my seventeenth year of teaching English. I’m feeling a tad cynical again, so I think we’ll look at some of the silly things that I have experienced over the years.
Amazingly, I can still remember the first thing any student ever said to me on my first day at Ryokuyo High School, Obihiro, Hokkaido in April 1989.
“Hi, I am baseball player. You like Bon Jovi? You like sex? You teach me sex?”
So at school barely five minutes, and I already wanted to punch someone in the face. (It probably also helped establish baseball’s status as my mortal enemy)
During my first month, I was subjected to meeting Tom Cruise at least a dozen times…
Seriously, this happened several times a day for weeks on end.
And, of course, I was the subject of much curiosity – remember, we are talking about a school in a remote city in Hokkaido in the 1980’s that had never hosted an exchange student before – so there were what seemed to be a billion questions. The most frequent questions or exchanges that I found myself on the receiving end of were of the the “Blah, blah, blah, America, blah” variety.
“You speak English well. Have you been to America?” (Err, I’m a native speaker…)
[Typically as a conversation opener] “I have never been to America.” (No? Well that makes two of us.)
Total stranger: “Excuse me, are you from America?”
Me: No, I’m from Australia.
Total stranger: “Oh.” [Walks off]
Total stranger: “What part of America are you from?”
Me: I’m not from America. I’m from Australia.
Total stranger: “…”
Total stranger: “Where are you from?”
Me: I’m from Australia.
Total stranger: “What part of America is that?”
As you can imagine, it could get quite frustrating at times.
But the singularly most frustrating and single most frequent thing that kids (and sometimes adults) would shout out upon spotting me was “This is a pen”.
“But you don’t even have a pen!”
While we are now in the 21st century, some things never change. I can still expect that a pair of unknown school kids coming from the opposite direction will suddenly go quiet until we have passed each other, before shouting out something in (usually poor) English. It can still be quite harrowing…
This happens only with strangers.
Yes, I may be socially inept awkward. But I feel that my difficulties stem not so much from a lack of people skills as a lack of f***tard idiot skills.
Maybe that’s why I love wildlife so much. Wildlife doesn’t discriminate, other*, or make assumptions.
I hope to photograph some wildlife to blog about soon.
*View or treat (a person or group of people) as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself
March has arrived, and so have the battles between the high and low pressure cells across the Kanto, leading to gusty winds (often from the north when I’m cycling – northwards – to work, and then from the south when I’m cycling home), alternating warm-ish (I’m Australian, don’t forget) and cold weather, and increased humidity. At least my frostbitten toe should get better soon.
I first saw this article in Japanese on a news poster at work and waited to see if an English translation would come out. Although it is an archaeology article, it is relevant to Wild in Japan in that the sword in question was found in the old Inaba area and the shark image just may have some connection with the tale of the White Hare of Inaba.
Article from the Asahi Shimbun: http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201602260038
Image of shark found on ancient bronze sword
February 26, 2016
By KUNIHIKO IMAI/ Senior Staff Writer
Tests on an ancient bronze sword taken out of storage in the Tottori Prefectural Museum have surprised researchers.
The blade of the weapon from the second century B.C. bears an engraving of a shark, the first time an image of this kind has been found on a bronze object.
The problem is that the provenance of the weapon remains a mystery. It was donated to the museum 26 years ago by the family of a collector who lived in the prefecture and had died. Other than that, nothing is known of the sword. There are no records of where it was found.
Researchers are curious because earthenware vessels and wooden objects from the Yayoi Pottery Culture (300 B.C.-A.D. 300) have been discovered at sites facing the Sea of Japan with images of sharks, but never on a bronze object.
The artifact has been dated to the mid-Yayoi period.
The finding was announced Feb. 10 by the Tottori prefectural government and the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.
The sword is about 42 centimeters long.
The Nara research institute recently examined the blade and noticed the 2.3-cm-long etching of a shark. Based on its streamlined shape and the characteristics of two dorsal fins and other details, researchers concluded it is not an image of a dolphin or ordinary fish.
Researchers already know that Japanese people in ancient times were familiar with sharks as the fish feature in the mythological story of “Inaba no Shirousagi” (Hare of Inaba). Inaba is the old name for the eastern part of Tottori Prefecture.
Earthen vessels and wooden objects from the Yayoi period with drawings of sharks have been unearthed at archaeological sites such as Aoyakamijichi in Tottori, Hakaza in Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture, and Shiroedakojin in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture.
“In the Sanin region (primarily Tottori and Shimane prefectures) during the Yayoi period, a cultural unity existed through trade, and people there probably drew sharks as a symbol,” said Isao Yumura, a researcher with the Tottori Prefectural Archives. “Sharks repeatedly shed and replace their teeth. Shark meat also is rich in ammonia, which makes it difficult to go rotten. Perhaps sharks were a symbol of regeneration or longevity.”
Yumura’s office is currently engaged in compiling a book on the prefecture’s history. It had asked the Nara research institute to examine the bronze sword as part of that effort.
The shark engraving was probably applied with a sharp stone or metal tool.
“I suspect the bronze sword may have come from a different area and that the engravers etched their own mark,” said Yozo Nanba, director of the Nara research institute’s Center for Archaeological Operations.
The artifact will be exhibited in the Tottori Prefectural Museum in Tottori city until May 8.
This ancient bronze sword from the Yayoi Pottery Culture period bears an image of a shark. (Eijiro Morii)
I’m so glad they decided to put this one out in English. It’s certainly another piece in the puzzle in the origin of the tale.