Bipalium between the rains

16 Jul

Hi blog.

July started as a major disappointment – it rained every day for the first eight days of the month.  Our grand total of sunshine during that period was 24 minutes!  Temperatures dropped to the low twenties, and people were catching colds.

Then on July ninth, the rain stopped.  And we had no rain for almost a week.  Temperatures rose to the low to mid 30’s, and I laughed as the local population were struggling to cope.  (Someone even ventured that the Tokyo area must me the hottest metropolitan area in the world – I resisted the temptation to tell him of a week in Adelaide when the minimum temperature was above 30°C, or of an exercise I did with the army where it got up to 47°C!)

Problem: “It’s so hot!”

Solution: “Harden up!”

 

Anyway, it was on the morning of the 9th that I spotted this particular beastie.  I’ve written about its close relatives in a previous post, but I thought I’d better get a shot of this one just to give you some idea of the size.  (Note: this is not the biggest one I’ve seen – that particular individual would have been close to 60 cm!)

You could walk right past this and never notice it – and most people do exactly that.

No, I didn’t nearly put my foot in it – that’s for scale. My shoe is about 30 cm long, making that planaria about 40 cm.

Bipalium nobile (sorry, there doesn’t appear to be a common name in English) is known locally as omisujikogaibiru (大三筋笄蛭), and is an invasive species.

The business end of the planaria. You can see why they are sometimes known as arrow-head worms. You can also make out the three lines with give rise the the Japanese name for this species.

Being fairly aware of the problems invasive species can cause, as well as practical, I photographed it and then put in my eel tank.  Saving the environment AND reducing the costs of feeding my eel.  Practical indeed.

As I write this, typhoon number 11 is making its way towards eastern Japan, dumping an entire Adelaide annual rainfall in just a few hours, and we can expect more heavy rain during the next 48 hours or so.

Maybe I should build an ark, just in case…

 

Tiny Dinosaur Eggs Unearthed in Hyogo

4 Jul

Hi blog.

Just a quick find from the English language press, this time about the smallest known dinosaur egg ever discovered.  I need to visit the dinosaur museum in Fukui someday…

Article from the Asahi Shimbun http://ajw.asahi.com/article/sci_tech/science/AJ201506300041

New type of tiny dinosaur egg unearthed in Hyogo

By TAKESHI ITO/ Staff Writer

SANDA, Hyogo Prefecture–Fossilized fragments of very small dinosaur eggs dating back about 110 million years have been discovered.

The pieces are from a new, unknown type of dinosaur egg and were extracted from a strata in Tanba, Hyogo Prefecture, that dates to the early Cretaceous Period, the Museum of Nature and Human Activities announced on June 29.

“The finding shows various dinosaurs, including both small and large ones, inhabited areas around there,” said Kohei Tanaka, 29, a graduate student of the University of Calgary in Canada.

The scientists estimate the weight of each egg would have been 100 grams, slightly heavier than that of a hen’s. They said the size of the eggs is among the smallest compared with that of other dinosaur eggs.

The unearthed eggshells are double-layered and measure 0.44 millimeter thick. Based on a unique tree branch-like pattern on the surface, the prefecture-run museum concluded they are a new type of dinosaur egg.

The discovered egg was named Nipponoolithus ramosus oogen. et oosp. nov., which basically means branched Japan egg stone in Greek and other languages.

Although it is impossible to identify which species the dinosaur that laid the eggs belong to just from examining fossilized eggshells, the researchers said the fossils resemble eggs of a small bipedal theropod found in Asia and North America that weighs 15 kilograms.

Ninety fragments of fossilized eggshells were found in a four-year excavation that researchers at the museum in Sanda began in 2007. After an analysis of 70 of the 90 pieces, it was found that eight are of the new type of egg.

They were found within a short distance from the site where bones of Tambatitanis amicitiae, one of the largest herbivores found in Japan, were unearthed in 2006.

The other fragments are thought to be eggshells of three other theropods and an ornithopod, according to the scientists.

The findings have been published in the online edition of the earth science journal Cretaceous Research. The eggshells are to go on display at the museum from July 21.

Fossilized fragments of a new type of dinosaur egg have been found in Tanba, Hyogo Prefecture. The egg is characterized by a unique branch-like pattern on the surface. The scale is graduated in millimeters. (Takeshi Ito)

Fossilized fragments of a new type of dinosaur egg have been found in Tanba, Hyogo Prefecture. The egg is characterized by a unique branch-like pattern on the surface. The scale is graduated in millimeters. (Takeshi Ito)

Fossilized fragments of a new type of dinosaur egg have been found in Tanba, Hyogo Prefecture. The egg is characterized by a unique branch-like pattern on the surface. The scale is graduated in millimeters. (Takeshi Ito)

An artist’s rendition of a fully-grown dinosaur that would have laid eggs unearthed in Tanba, Hyogo Prefecture ((c) Masato Hattori)

Thunderbirds Are Go!

1 Jul

Hi blog. Another news article, and it’s good news again.  Or, at least, some attempt to correct problems brought on by the usual reasons*. I’ve been at least vaguely aware of the rock ptarmigan for years, mostly thanks to an interest in climbing.  Not to mention a Japanese name -raicho (雷鳥) – which literally translates as “thunder bird”.  It also features heavily in souvenir cookies from Nagano, which I would occasionally receive. Anyway, read the article from the Asahi Shimbun. http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201506280029

Ptarmigan chick hatched successfully at Toyama zoo from egg collected in wild

June 28, 2015

By YU KOTSUBO/ Staff Writer

A ptarmigan chick was hatched artificially at Toyama Municipal Family Park Zoo on June 27, part of an effort to boost the numbers of the protected game bird in Japan, the Environment Ministry announced. The ptarmigan is a “special natural monument” classified on the Environment Ministry’s “Red List” as a species increasingly at risk of extinction. The chick is about 5 to 6 centimeters in length. Zoo officials will carefully observe the chick in raising it because the first two weeks after birth are a period when the birds, a type of grouse, tend to easily fall ill. Earlier in June, 10 eggs were collected from nests on Mount Norikuradake, which straddles Gifu and Nagano prefectures, and where the birds normally live. Five eggs each were delivered to Toyama Municipal Family Park Zoo and Ueno Zoo in Tokyo and placed in incubators. According to an Environment Ministry official, confirmation was made by 5 p.m. on June 27 that all five eggs at Ueno Zoo showed signs of the chicks tapping on the shell to break it open. It usually takes about an entire day for a chick to be hatched after it begins tapping on the egg.

A ptarmigan chick born at the Toyama Municipal Family Park Zoo (Provided by the Toyama Municipal Family Park Zoo)

A ptarmigan chick born at the Toyama Municipal Family Park Zoo (Provided by the Toyama Municipal Family Park Zoo)

Article Ends.

Good luck to the zoos with raising the chicks. *The usual reasons: Unsustainable exploitation and / or habitat destruction.  Also read as “human stupidity”.

Roadkill and Roadsigns

27 Jun

Hi blog.

The rainy season is well and truly upon us, with some frightful downpours scattered across the Kanto region.

 

Just recently, the Sayama zoo had its annual firefly event – the park breeds fireflies in a special enclosure and opens it to the public once a year.  Just ¥500 to get my family that and the night zoo option is pretty good value.

Unfortunately, the delicate nature of fireflies negates any possibility of photography – as do the rules – so you’ll have to take my word for it.

A rare photograph of the event, courtesy of the Sayama City Office Facebook page.

 

When it’s not raining I still try to commute to work by bike.  Firstly, I’m pretty tight.  Every day I ride, I save myself ¥400.  Secondly, I need the exercise, especially now that my budo activities have been put on hold.  Thirdly, encounters are better made on bike than on a train.

 

I had yet another encounter with a Japanese rat snake, and decided to get some simple video footage.  You’ll have to excuse the fact that it looks tiny through the phone lens – this particular individual would have been about 120 cm long.

Not all my encounters are in such good condition.  Earlier that same morning I spotted the carcass of an Asian palm civet – probably hit by a vehicle.  And the day before, I stumbled across a mole – an animal rarely seen – in much the same condition.

Warning: some readers my find the following photograph disturbing.

Probably the endemic small Japanese mole.

 

An idea that came to me during my last post was some of the road signs warning drivers to beware of animals on the road.  There are four main signs, with a few variations…plus a number of regional signs.

Sika deer

Japanese macaque / snow monkey. They’ll steal your car if you’re not careful!

A rather comical (drunk?) raccoon dog.

Hare. “What’s up, doc?”

…plus a number of regional signs.

The Okinawan rail. Okinwawa also has signs warning drivers to look out for the Iriomote cat, newts, turtles and toads. This and the four preceeding signs courtesy of Wikipedia.

These signs have been documented by numerous bloggers in Japaneses (here, here and here, for example) and are worth looking at even if you can’t read the language.

I’ve saved one of my more interesting finds for last.  A page from the Hiroshima City Office notes a sign on route 191 warning drivers to look out for otters – an animal not seen since the early 1970’s and declared extinct in 2012!

From the Hiroshima City Office page. I would be much happier if this sign was actually necessary!

 

Oh, deer

14 Jun

Hi blog.

The Bureau of Meteorology has just announced the official start of rainy season in the Kanto area.  ‘Tis the season for washing not to dry.

The loquats at work have started to ripen, and I’ve managed to help myself to half a dozen.

 

On the geological front, Kuchierabujima in Kagoshima has been evacuated due to volcanic activity, and the some of the popular tourist hiking areas around Mt. Hakone have been closed for the same reason.  Plus, we’ve have a couple of quite noticeable tremors.  (Yes, the earth did move for me)

 

Not much else has happened on the wildlife front for a while, although there was an incident involving a male deer that had strayed into the area around the local railway line and airbase on a Friday morning.  It wandered onto the railway line and forced a train driver to make an emergency stop.

Efforts to capture the deer were unsucessful, and it was last seen on that day running into a wooded area.

Photo of the deer near Iruma Airbase, supplied by the city council, published in the Tokyo Shimbun.

The sika deer (Cervus nippon) is one of the few deer species that retain its spots through maturity, although the spots may be indistinguishable on some individuals, or depending on the season.  Despite its scientific name and local name – nihonjika (日本鹿), literally “Japan deer” – it is not endemic to Japan.  Its natural range extends up the Korean peninsula, China, parts of Russia, northern Vietnam, and Taiwan.

It is worth noting that the English name “sika” is a corruption of the Japanese “shika”, a generic term for deer.

Other names include simply ka, kanoshishi, or shishi.  The last one originally meant simply “beast” or “animal for hunting” and still exists in the names of the shrine deer dances (shishimai) and in the shishi-odoshi in Japanese gardens.

 

Reaching a length of 170 cm or so, the sika deer is one of the largest animals in mainland Japan, although the seven subspecies show a huge range in size.  Bergmann’s rule applies to the sika deer.  The subspecies in Hokkaido reaches weights of up to 140 kg, whereas the Ryukyu sika deer grows to just 40 kg.

Diorama at an Ainu centre near Lake Shikaribetsu, Hokkaido, 1989.

They feed on grass (especially sasa bamboo), fruit and bark.  They mate in autumn, and fawns are born between May and July.  With the extinction of the Japanese wolf, they have few natural enemies.

Their relationship with humans is a mixed bag.  Deer were long considered agricultural pests, but also held status as messengers of the gods, leading to various temples and shrines acting as sanctuaries.  Whilst deer have been hunted since ancient times, venison is now an unusual dish.

I remember a news story from a few years back in which members of the Japanese Self-Defence Force assisted hunters in culling deer in Hokkaido.  (Apparently they used their vehicles to drive the deer to where the hunters were, they didn’t actually shoot the deer themselves)

Deer leather was an important material for samurai armour in old times and is still used in kendo armour today.

 

Deer are typically forest animals, but most people’s contact with deer is at temple or shrine parks.  Most school trips in eastern Japan include Nara, and the (essentially domesticated) deer around the Todaiji Temple feature largely in schoolkids’ minds.  Deer also wander the streets on Miyajima.

 

“Domesticated in Japan”, anyone?

 

I admit that one of my first experiences of (live) sika deer was in the parks of Nara – complete with the buying of shika-senbei (“deer crackers”) to feed them with –  but I have also seen them – wild, I should add – on my hikes in the Chichibu-Okutama area.

A deer in Nara, October 1989.

 

Unfortunately, the deer I mentioned at the beginning of this post was hit by a train the following Sunday…

Swallowed

22 May

Hi blog.

Looking through my stats, I have found that search terms for snakes top the list of views for this site.

Clearly, it is time for another serpentine-themed post!

Wada Heita Tanenaga killing a giant snake by a waterfall, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, c.1834.

 

I was going to do something about the cryptozoological giant snakes of Japan – I’d even found a folk story which fitted in nicely to my post about sweet flag and mugwort – when I found a site citing an old New York Times article from 1891.

New York Times 13 August 1891

Swallowed by a Snake A Japanese Story of a Woman-Eating Serpent San Francisco Aug 12, 1891 The steamship Oceanic, which arrived last night from Hong kong and Yokohama brings copies of a native Japanese paper called the Kokkai, which publishes a remarkable story of a monster serpent.

It says that on the 17th inst. a man called Neemura Tahichi, twenty-five years of age, went out with his wife Otora, who was forty-eight, to pursue his usual avocation of tree cutting in Koshitamura Province of Lamba. The husband and wife separated at a place called Matsu Yama. Shortly afterward, while engaged felling a tree, Tahichi thought he heard his wife cry out. Running to the place he was horrified to find that a huge snake, described as being three feet in circumference had Otora’s head in its mouth and was engaged in swallowing her despite her struggles. Tahichi ran off to the hamlet and summoned seven or eight of his neighbors, who when they reached the scene of the catastrophe found that the snake had swallowed the woman as far as her feet and was slowly making its way to its home. They were too much terrified to touch it, and it finally effected its escape unmolested.

The Province of Lamba is one of the most desolate in Japan and monster reptiles and wild animals are frequently killed there.

The article as it appeared in the New York Times in 1891.

OK, there is no place called Lamba in Japan… nor could I identify the newspaper Kokkai…  Neemura seems an unlikely surname, unless they meant Niimura… and no luck with Japanese internet searches….

The lack of information was astonishing.  This allegedly took place at a time when collector of Japanese stories Lafcadio Hearn was based in Japan.  Yet none of his writings mention giant snakes.

And then I stumbled upon this one from the Brisbane Courier, dated September 9th, 1891:

The Japan Mail translates the following wonderful snake story from the Kokkai, a Tokio paper:-It says that on the 17th July a man called Nomura Tahichi, 50 years of age, went out with his wife Otora, who was 48, to pursue his usual vocation of tree-cutting in Koshitamura, province of Tamba. The husband and wife separated at a place called Matsu-yama. Shortly afterwards, while engaged in felling a tree, Tahichi thought he heard his wife cry out. Running to the place, he was horrified to find that a huge snake, described as being 3ft. in circumference, had Otora’s head in its mouth, and was engaged swallowing her, despite her struggles. Tahichi ran off to the hamlet and summoned seven or eight of his neighbours, who, when they reached the scene of the catastrophe, found that the snake had swallowed the woman as far as her feet, and was slowly making its way to its hole. They were too much terrified to touch it, and it finally effected its escape unmolested.

As it appeared in the Brisbane Courier.

 At least the age of the husband seemed more in line with that of the wife (50 and 25 aren’t that hard to differentiate, are they?), we have a real province (Tamba), a real surname (Nomura), and a citation of the secondary source.  Not to mention no hyperbole at the end.

A search shows no results for a place called Koshitamura in Tamba, but there was a Kashitamura in the former province.  I still have not been able to find any results in Japanese searches.  My final hope is that the Japan Mail was later absorbed into the Japan Times.  Perhaps this paper has the original locked away somewhere in its archives…

It is also worth noting that the old Tamba province is the setting of old stories about monsters.  There are several legends and folk stories involving giant snakes in Tamba, and it seems likely that the hyperbole at the end of the New York Times article was referring to this.

 

I will continue my hunt, but the chances of anything turning up seem quite slim.  Whch is a pity – the story is a little hard to swallow.

Heard But Not Seen and Victory Is Mine

9 May

Hi blog. 

You could be forgiven for thinking that I had given up Wild in Japan.  I’ll spare you the excuses, except the climatic ones.

April brought some shocking weather, especially after the glorious conditions we experienced at the end of March.

Temperatures plummeted to February averages, cloud and rain were the order of the day for a couple of weeks, and I had to drag out my winter jacket from storage.

It even snowed on April 8th!!

Not only was the weather miserable for most of the first three weeks of April, I was miserable and had no motivation to write anything. (A unilateral decision for me to quit all budo activities until further notice – notice which is unlikely to come for several years – didn’t help, either)  Nor was there anything to write about.

 

Finally, the weather warmed up, sunny days and cool – not cold – nights have the norm.  Glorious weather for cycling to work, with the wisterias coming into full bloom and the occasional call of the bush warbler.

 I’ve mentioned this bird before, and how it is usually heard and not seen.  I’ve paused and searched for the source of the call, but to no avail.

“One day, bush warblers.  One day.”

 

Then came Golden Week, and I was too busy doing family stuff to even think about wildlife (Activities during this time can be more taxing than actual work)

It was after I came home on May 5th that an idea for a post.

 

Every year, our kind elderly neighbours give us some leaves for one of the Children’s Day festivities, shobu-yu, a bath infused with certain leaves.

Leaves bundled for the bath.

 

One type of the leaves is readily identifiable as Japanese mugwort (Artemisia indica var. maximowiczii).  This plant has a plethora of common names in Japanese, the most significant being mochigusa (餅草), a reference to its use in mochi rice cakes; mogusa (艾) – the origin of the English “moxa”; and yomogi (蓬), the most common of its common names.

Close-up of the mugwort leaves.

 

The Japanese mugwort is known for its medicinal properties, but it is not considered necessary for shobu-yu.

Stumbled upon. A mugwort growing wild within the grounds of one of the schools I work at.

 

The vital leaf for shobu-yu is a complicated matter.  The leaf in question is the sweet flag (Acorus calamus var. angustatus), known as shobu (菖蒲) in Japanese.  The leaves of this plant not only have reputed medicinal properties, they bear a slight resemblance to sword blades (to cut through evil spirits) and the name shobu is a homophone for a word meaning martial spirit (尚武), or even an allusion to victory (勝負).

[Check boxes for 1) lucky shape and 2) fortunate homophone.]

 

That should be a simple matter, but nothing ever is.

 

You see, there are  two other plants with similar shaped leaves and similar names, just to confuse the situation.

One of these plants is the Japanese iris (Iris ensata var. ensata) which goes by the Japanese name hanashobu (花菖蒲) – literally “flowering shobu”.

The other culprit is the Siberian iris (Iris sanguinea), which goes by the local name ayame, which can be written in kanji as 文目, but is more commonly rendered as 菖蒲 – the same as shobu!

As a result, a lot of people think that shobu-yu is a bath with iris leaves… I admit that I was included in this group until very recently…

I realised that I needed to talk to my neighbours about the identity of the leaves… given that they have no pond, sweet flag seemed to be out of the question… leading me to suspect one other plant… 

Bingo!

The plant in question is the Japanese sweet flag (Acorus gramineus), alias Japanese rush, alias dwarf sedge.  Its local name is sekisho (石菖), a reference to it being a flag with a tendency to grow on or around rocks.  While this plant prefers to grow in water, it will survive (but not flower) on “dry” land.  It also has medicinal properties similar to the sweet flag, as well as the sweet smell.

 

Shobu-yu – bath of champions!

No Albatross around my neck…

6 Apr

And a good south wind sprung up behind;

The Albatross did follow,

And every day, for food or play,

Came to the mariners’ hollo!

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Hi blog.

Japanese TV news is notoriously poor.  One is lucky to catch a genuine news item in between the sports, weather, reports about food and fashion, and celebrity gossip.

Fortunately, I happened to be paying attention when an item about the short tailed albatross breeding program came up.  A quick internet search came up with a couple of relevant recent articles – bless the Japan Times – so sit back and enjoy.

 

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/02/18/national/conservationists-aim-to-nurture-population-of-endangered-albatross-on-torishima-island/#.VSJMybkfrIU

Conservationists aim to nurture population of endangered albatross on Torishima Island

Feb 18, 2015

On uninhabited Torishima Island, in the Pacific Ocean about 600 km south of Tokyo, every day is hard physical work for the Environment Ministry officials trying to conserve an endangered albatross population.

Ranger Koji Nitta, 54, joins researchers in traveling to the island in the Izu Island chain every summer after albatrosses have bred and departed on their annual journey to the North Pacific.

His job is to cut down the shrubs that could obstruct the birds when taking off, and place sandbags around their breeding ground to keep mud out.

“What we do is to support their breeding, and that’s the only thing humans can do,” Nitta said.

“It’s a series of simple tasks,” he said. “Our conservation work is substantially physical work.”

Some call albatrosses “queens of the sea” because of their white feathers and ability to fly for hours without flapping their wings.

Hundreds of thousands are believed to have lived on islands in the Northwest Pacific, but over-hunting for their feathers pushed them to the verge of extinction. Conservation efforts, however, have helped the population to recover to an estimated 3,500.

In Japanese, albatrosses are known as “aho dori” (stupid bird), a moniker that belies their true nature.

“Albatrosses are very cautious,” Nitta said, noting that they are clever enough to be wary of humans. “They are absolutely not ‘aho.’ “

In an effort to further boost the wild population, Nitta is also creating a new breeding site on Muko Island on the Ogasawara Islands, further south. The team tries to attract the birds by deploying static albatross decoys and playing a recording of their cries.

Last spring, a suspected albatross chick was recorded on a neighboring island in the first sign of their successful nesting in the Ogasawara chain.

Nitta grew up in Azumino, a mountainous area in Nagano Prefecture.

He undertook a significant career change after years serving with Japan National Railways. His interest in climbing led to a job as a park ranger at the ministry, Nitta said. He joined it in 2007.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2015/03/27/environment/rare-albatross-breeding-ogasawara-island-chain/#.VSJLxuHLLLc

Rare albatross found breeding in Ogasawara Islands

Mar 27, 2015

The endangered short-tailed albatross is breeding in the Ogasawara Islands south of Tokyo for the first time since the end of the war.

The finding on Nakodo Island, announced Thursday by the Environment Ministry, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology, is considered significant for a species that once faced the threat of extinction.

The DNA of a feather from a baby bird found on the island last May has been confirmed to come from a pair of albatrosses on the island.

Previously, the seabird’s breeding areas in Japan had been thought to be confined only to Torishima Island in the Izu chain, also in the Pacific, and the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

The Ogasawaras used to be a habitat for tens of thousands of the seabirds and a major albatross breeding site, but it disappeared in the 1930s due to overhunting caused by demand for its feathers.

The institute transferred 70 young birds from Torishima Island to Muko Island in the Ogasawara chain from 2008 to 2012 to reintroduce the species. The 6-year-old female of the pair that produced the chick whose feather was tested is one of the birds that was transferred during that period, they said.

 

You can find more about Operation Decoy at this website.

 

Toadworks Ahead

21 Mar

 

Hi blog.

Just another “stumbled upon” events. (Aren’t those the best?)

A pair of Japanese toads “at work”.

Fortunately, this road doesn’t get much traffic.

“If you want a prince, you have to kiss a lot of frogs” – Well, being a frog yourself makes it a little easier.

 

“I’m not sure I’m ready to Kermit”

 

“Let’s go to the hop” – actually, Japanese toads don’t hop, they crawl.

 

How to Kill Your Elephant

16 Mar

Hi blog.

It’s well into March, and not a single post.  Spring has finally arrived – we’ve reached the stage when the days with double digit maximums outnumber those with only single digits.  I’ve even seen turtles basking in the late morning sun.  Winter’s claws haven’t gone altogether, however.  Cold rainy days are to be expected, and the Japanese have a term for this kind of weather – sankan-shion (三寒四温), literally “three cold, four warm”, meaning that three days of cold weather will be followed by four days of cold weather.

 

Some time back I said that I would get around to talking about the killing of the elephants at Ueno Zoo during the war, and its horrible re-telling in the Sunshine textbook.  I’ve been feeling more than a little cynical lately about Japan’s selective memory of events 1905-1945, so that time has come.

I’ll give you the full text first, then my analysis. 

 

Faithful Elephants
Many years ago, there were three wonderful elephants at the Ueno Zoo. The elephants were John, Tonky, and Wanly. They could do tricks. Visitors to the zoo loved to see their tricks.
Japan was at war then. Little by little the situation was getting worse. Bombs were dropped on Tokyo every day.
If bombs hit the zoo, dangerous animals will get away and harm the people of Tokyo. So, the Army ordered the zoo to kill all the dangerous animals such as lions, tigers, and bears.
Before long, it was time to kill the three elephants. The zookeepers did not want to kill them, but they had to follow the orders. They started with John.
John loved potatoes, so they gave him poisoned potatoes together with good ones. But John was so clever that he ate only the good potatoes. Then they tried to give him an injection. But John’s skin was too hard for the needles to go through. When this did not work, they decided to give him no food. Poor John died in seventeen days.
Then the time came for Tonky and Wanly. They always looked at people with loving eyes. They were sweet and gentle-hearted.
However, the elephant keepers had to stop giving them anything to eat. When a keeper walked by their cage, they stood up and raised their trunks high in the air. They did their tricks because they were hoping to get food and water.
Everyone at the zoo said with tears, “If they can live a few more days, the war may be over and they will be saved.”
 Tonky and Wanly could no longer move. They lay down on the ground, but their eyes were beautiful.
When an elephant keeper came to see them, they looked so weak. He became too sad to go back to see them.
Bombs continued to drop on Tokyo. And a few days later, Tonky and Wanly died. Later, when the bodies of the elephants were examined, nothing was found in their stomachs — not even one drop of water.
Today, the three elephants rest in peace with other animals under the monument at the Ueno Zoo.

Now the analysis, with relevant pieces of text in quotations, and my comments in bold text.  Be warned, this won’t be pretty.

 

OK, let’s begin with the title: Faithful Elephants?  The original Japanese title translates as “Pitiful Elephants”, which is much closer to reality.  The story contains no acts of faithfulness.

 

“Many years ago, there were three wonderful elephants at the Ueno Zoo. The elephants were John, Tonky, and Wanly. They could do tricks. Visitors to the zoo loved to see their tricks.”

Comment: Actually, Jon, Tonki and Wanli.  Jon and Tonki were purchased from India, and Wanli was a present from the Thai State Youth Organisation, but was frequently referred to as “Hanako”.

It seems that Jon, despite being a trained elephant, started to ignore keeper’s commands and was becoming dangerous.

Also note that “they could do tricks” implies that the elephants were trained in a similar manner to circus animals.

Elephants at Ueno Zoo, from the zoo’s newsletter, March 20, 1938. More of a circus than a zoo display, I think.

 

“Japan was at war then. Little by little the situation was getting worse. Bombs were dropped on Tokyo every day.”

Comment: The events described in this story happened in August-September, 1943 – some six months before the Tokyo air raids.  Bombs were NOT dropped on Tokyo every day.  This is a straight out distortion of the facts.

A little kid in an air-raid helmet visiting the zoo in 1941. Japan had not been bombed at all in 1941.

 

“If bombs hit the zoo, dangerous animals will get away and harm the people of Tokyo.”

Comment: Notice the incorrect grammar in a textbook purporting to teach grammar?  To make matters worse, this is not the only instance of a type 2 conditional being used in place of a type 3 in the Sushine series.  If you don’t want to use a certain conditional because it is not taught at junior high school level, then use a different expression!!

 

“So, the Army ordered the zoo to kill all the dangerous animals such as lions, tigers, and bears.”

Comment: It was not the military who ordered the killing, but the governor of Tokyo – one Shigeo Odachi – who had, prior to this appointment, served as mayor of occupied Singapore.

Some 27 animals fell under the category of dangerous and were disposed of.  Yet, despite the zoo having two Winchester rifles, all these animals were poisoned, clubbed, stabbed, garrotted or starved.

 

“Before long, it was time to kill the three elephants. The zookeepers did not want to kill them, but they had to follow the orders. They started with John.”

Comment: Actually, the process for killing the bull elephant Jon was started on August 13th, 1943, before the order for disposing of dangerous animals was given.

 

“John loved potatoes, so they gave him poisoned potatoes together with good ones. But John was so clever that he ate only the good potatoes. Then they tried to give him an injection. But John’s skin was too hard for the needles to go through. When this did not work, they decided to give him no food. Poor John died in seventeen days.”

Comment: While the potato story appears to be true, the poisoned needle story is suspicious at best.  Zoo records show that the elephant Tonki had been given injections in the past, and that it was possible to take blood samples (presumably via needle) from the dying elephants later.  Critics are of the opinion that starvation was intended from the beginning.

Jon is dead.

 

“Bombs continued to drop on Tokyo. And a few days later, Tonky and Wanly died.”

Comment: The narrative repeats the falsehood about the air raids.  Furthermore, there was a memorial service held for the three dead elephants held on September 4th, 1943.  This is noteworthy because the two female elephants were still alive but slowly and painfully starving to death!  Wanli died a full week later, and Tonki (the most popular of the three elephants) lasted until September 23rd.

 

Analysis ends here.

 

It is also worth remembering that other animals were later starved to death – the hippopotamuses being a notable example.  The three giraffes were the only large animals to survive to the end of the war.

 

The zoo remained open throughout the war, and some enclosures were used to raise animals for meat.  Also noteworthy was the imprisonment and display of downed bomber pilot Ray Halloran in the old tiger enclosure in 1945.

 

For a fuller understanding of the situation, please read the excellent and extensively researched article Starving the Elephants: The Slaughter of Animals in Wartime Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo by Frederick S. Litten.

 

The elephants and other animals were more victims of a bloody-minded administration than innocent victims of war.

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