The other triangle

Hi blog.

I apologise for my lack of blogging – only one post last month, and this may be my only post this month.  Finding time and energy to locate, move and re-link the photos from older posts is not always easy.  I have managed about half at this point.

I’ve mentioned the Winter Triangle in a previous post, but now it’s time to feature its counterpart.

Two of the stars of this asterism are literally the stars of the Japanese Tanabata legend  – based on the older Chinese Qixi legend – Altair (the cowherd, most commonly known as Hikoboshi 彦星 in Japanese) and Vega (the weaver maiden, most commonly known as Orihime 織姫 in Japanese).

The pair of star-crossed lovers are separated by the Milky Way and can only meet one night a year.

The third star is Deneb, the tail of Cygnus.  This star doesn’t feature in the Tanabata story.

Finding the Summer Triangle is often part of summer holiday homework for kids.  My own son is supposed to go out with a parent and look at it five times during the holidays.  However, the weather has not been favourable at all!

Can you find it without help?

In case you were having trouble finding it, here it is.

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Under Repair

Hi blog.

Right now, much of Wild in Japan looks like this:

These are not the photos you are looking for. Move along.

When I first started Wild in Japan, I was (in retrospect, foolishly) concerned about the amount of storage on the free WordPress sites – I thought I would run out of storage very quickly and so instead uploaded my photos to an online photo hosting site I already had an account for.

The photo hosting site was often slow, its user interface was sometimes unresponsive, and it kept opening ads.  I was willing to overlook these simply because it was free.  Then, as of June 27th, that hosting site ceased to allow free third party hosting – i.e. displaying a photo stored there on another website (such as Wild in Japan).  For that, I would have to pay for one of their plans.

Wild in Japan is just a little hobby on the side – I can’t justify putting any real money into it.  I was maybe willing to pay a few hundred yen per month to keep it up and running.  However, the hosting site wanted US $399.99 per year to allow third party hosting!

I actually considered closing the site or deleting all my old posts and starting again from scratch – most of my posts represent and investment of only an hour or so.  However, a few are the result of considerable research and work.

The other option was the long and tedious task of relocating all the photos to another hosting site and re-linking them, one by one… and hoping that whatever site I hosted them on would not suddenly and arbitrarily change its terms of service.

WordPress currently offers 3GB of media storage on its free sites.  After some calculating, I have concluded that my best option is to move all my media content over to WordPress and keep everything on the one site.  If I run into storage issues, I can consider a low-cost plan.

So please bear with me as the images are moved and re-linked.  This will take some time.


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The Third Wave…

Hi blog.

Once again I thought a second post this month was going to be impossible.  Talk about being saved by the bell.

Just a word of warning:  I expect to be busy next month and can’t guarantee any posts.  Furthermore, my online photo storage provider has decided not to allow 3rd party hosting (e.g. linking my photos stored there to this blog) on its free service.

Anyway, another article about an invasive species.  From the Japan Times.

Third fire ant infestation confirmed at Nagoya port


 JUN 30, 2017

A third fire ant infestation has emerged at Nagoya port, following two similar discoveries last month in Kobe, the Aichi Prefectural Government said Friday.

The aggressive reddish-brown ants, highly invasive and native to South America, are feared for their painful stings. The pest, formally known as Solenopsis invicta, is commonplace in United States and reportedly in China and Taiwan.

Environment Minister Koichi Yamamoto said the ministry will conduct further inspections for the ant at the seven major ports — Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, Hakata and Naha.

Following the first discovery in Hyogo Prefecture, authorities inspected ports across the country but did not find any more.

According to the Nagoya port authority, seven fire ants were spotted on the wall of a container at the port’s terminal gate and were exterminated on Tuesday. It also said the container in question had stopped in Tokyo and Yokohama ports before reaching Nagoya.

The container arrived on June 23 from Nansha port in Guangzhou, China — the same port of departure as a previous container that was found with fire ants when it reached Japan.

The operator of the terminal in Nagoya submitted two samples of the insect to the port authority and the ministry’s regional office because the color and other features matched those of red imported fire ants — another name for the species.

The ministry sent the samples to a specialized institute for examination.

The reddish-brown ants have a blackish-red belly and range from 2.5 to 6 mm in length. They are known for a sting that can cause anaphylaxis in some people, leading to breathing problems.

The venomous ants were first discovered in a container that arrived at Kobe port before being unloaded at Amagasaki, also in Hyogo, in May. They were confirmed as fire ants the following month.

They were discovered a second time in a container yard in Kobe port and exterminated.

Article ends.

I noticed that some of the TV news coverage failed to mention that the fire ant is also an invasive species in China.  (Again, China must be the bad guy.  Not to mention the failure (again!) to distinguish invasive vs. native instead of Japanese vs. foreign)

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University Boar

Hi blog.

Although the rainy season is officially upon us, the rain has been noticeably absent.

I have been at a loss for things to post about.  I thought I was going to strike it lucky when I spotted a woodpecker in a tree, but I wasn’t able to get a photo or video.

Then this article appeared on my newsfeed.  I still have to encounter a wild pig, although I hear that they make regular appearances in Kobe.

From the Japan Times:

Man injured after wild boar enters Kyoto University dorm grounds


 JUN 14, 2017

A wild boar entered the grounds of a Kyoto University dormitory in Kyoto’s Sakyo Ward Tuesday where it caused a minor injury to the leg of a bike rider in his 60s before being captured.

According to police, the roughly 1-meter-long wild boar appeared to be a female. Before it entered the Kumano dormitory grounds, a passer-by saw the animal running on a street at around 4:40 p.m. and reported the incident to the police.

The wild boar ran around the dormitory grounds for about an hour before hunters shot it with a tranquilizer gun.

“I have been living around here, but I’ve never seen it before,” said a surprised man in his 20s.

Another wild boar entered a hotel in May in the city’s Higashiyama Ward.

Elsewhere, in Kobe on the same day, a 70-year-old woman was bitten by a wild boar on the buttocks on a street in the city’s Higashinada Ward, suffering a minor injury.

The police said the woman saw the animal on her way home and tried to take a picture when it suddenly turned around and attacked her. The wild boar ran away toward the mountains, the police said.

Article ends

And from Japan News:

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Do not pass Crow (do not collect $200)

Hi blog.

Here is an interesting article from late last month.

Crows have a poor reputation, but I think part of the problem is that humans don’t know how to deal with a vastly intelligent animal that is using that vast intelligence to survive in a world we keep changing.

I’ve seen crows pick up the yellow netting used to cover garbage – they don’t have to be able to see through the netting to know that there is garbage under it.  (Apparently crows can not see the yellow spectrum well and the net is supposed to disguise the garbage)

But here is a case where people make use of the birds’ behaviour to avoid conflict.

‘Crows do not enter’ signs keep the winged pests at bay in Iwate


May 23, 2017 at 10:00 JST

Photo/IllutrationKatsufumi Sato hangs “Crows Do Not Enter” signs from a pipe in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, on April 12. (Yusuke Hoshino)

OTSUCHI, Iwate Prefecture–Since the “crows do not enter” signs went up at a university research center here, the pesky birds have quit raiding it for nest material.

Katsufumi Sato, a professor of ethology, put up the first set of signs in 2015 after taking advice from his friend Tsutomu Takeda, a researcher of environmental medicine and “crow expert.”

Takeda suggested putting up the warning signs at the International Coastal Research Center (ICRC) of the Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, the University of Tokyo.

Sato first thought his friend was kidding, but he gave it a try. In no time at all, the crows stopped targeting the research center in northeastern Japan.

The professor expected the lull was perhaps temporary and down to luck, but, no, the crows continued to stay away.

In mid-April, Sato was hanging the new warning signs for the spring that prohibit crows from coming into the building that were written on sheets of paper. They were hung on broken window frames and pipes on the ground floor of a research center building that was inundated with water after the tsunami spawned by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

This year was the third “round” of his so-far successful war against the bothersome birds.

The foul avians target the insulation material covering the pipes, tearing it off and flying away with their “loot.”

“Crows take it for their nests,” said Sato with a bitter smile.

The predecessor of the current research center opened in 1973 as a base for international marine research, but on March 11, 2011, the tsunami hit, reaching even the top floor of the three-story building.

The third floor was later repaired for temporary use, but the first and second floors were not and after debris was cleared, they became warehouse space.

The crows’ first full-on invasion took place in the spring of 2015, according to Sato.

The insulation material on the pipes along the exposed ceiling of the first floor were torn away but there was tell-tale evidence of whom the guilty party was–crow feathers and bird droppings scattered about.

The houses around the research center were all destroyed, and the residents have moved to other areas.

As the ICRC building’s windows and doors had been left without glass panes on the bottom two floors, it was easy pickings for the airborne marauders.

Sato was consulted by research center staff, but could not provide a decisive solution.

In a flap, he turned to Takeda, who works at the Center for Weed and Wildlife Management at Utsunomiya University.

So, have the crows been reading books and studying written Japanese? Not quite.

Takeda said the crows are actually scared off by ICRC staff and students looking and pointing their fingers at them after seeing the strange signs.

“People gaze up at the sky (looking for crows), you know,” said Takeda.

This year, Sato put up a few dozen signs. There are few crows flying around. People coming to and going from the center see the signs and look up to the sky.

“The effectiveness will increase if there are more people looking at the crows,” said Sato. “So please feel free to visit us!”

Article ends.

TV news was a little more forthcoming with information in that wild crows don’t like being pointed at or stared at – gosh, they’re just like me – and will avoid areas where they a the centre of unwanted attention.

Avian psychology wins!

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Badgering On

Hi blog.

Sometimes I am genuinely surprised at how little the locals know about their native wildlife.

A point in case was during Golden Week and my family went camping near Shomaru Pass.  The campsite was very much unknown and we had the whole place to ourselves for one of the two nights spent there.  Deer could be heard at night and even left their calling cards (although we did not actually see any deer), we saw what I believe was the same Japanese rat snake on two consecutive days, heard and spotted a couple of kites and caught two freshwater crabs (which we released the following day).  However, the highlight – for me, at least – was during our hike up to Shomaru Pass.

There is a well known cafe/restaurant at the top of the pass, and we were walking up to have an early lunch.  I tried to encourage the kids to keep their eyes and ears open – I spotted several lizards by noticing the rustling of leaves on the ground.  At a point not far from the top I could hear dripping water and paused to find the source.  At that moment a small head and pair of feet popped out from a covered gutter.  The animal was the size of a small dog, and had dark rings under its eyes, it had round ears and a pointed face.  Both my son and I recognised it instantly. (Those hours spent at Inokashira Park Zoo had paid off.)

A badger!

Unfortunately, I had no time to squeeze off a photo before the badger disappeared back into the darkness and refused to show its face again.


The Japanese badgers at Inokashira Park Zoo

A wild badger is something the vast majority of Japanese will never see.  What’s more, I was surprised at number of people who drew a blank when I told them about my encounter with a badger.  For many – even the good wife who caught a glimpse of its paws – the animal known as the badger simply fails to register.

One reason, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, are the superficial similarities between badgers and the much better known raccoon dogs.  This is not a recent phenomenon, as even the Wakansansaizue contains no mention of badger at all.

Tokyo Zoo Net has some nice video images of raccoon dogs and Japanese badgers which really highlight the differences between them.

Racoon dog

Japanese badger

Another reason is the similarity of the names in Japanese.  As my avid followers would know, the Japanese name for badger is anaguma (穴熊) – literally “hole bear”.  Because of the bear in its name, too many listeners automatically assume the animal is a kind of bear.

Others simply confuse the name for that of the introduced raccoon – araiguma (洗熊 or 浣熊, but usually written in katakana) in Japanese.  Furthermore, the raccoon was the star of a Japanese animated series, but Japanese badgers have never had that kind of publicity.  In fact, I have not found them mentioned in any traditional children’s stories and, indeed, I couldn’t find any pre-modern references to badgers at all.


The cartoon that encouraged the import of thousands of raccoons into Japan.

Other people responded to my story with the question, “Are there badgers in Japan?”  Either they were confusing badgers with raccoons, or had some vague background awareness that there is an animal known as a badger but couldn’t imagine it being a Japanese native.  Even when I specified “Japanese badger”…

Educating people about Japanese badgers has become part of my wider mission.

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I Shot the Stork…

Hi blog.

This is one of those “JUST WHAT THE **** WERE YOU THINKING?!” moments.

A hunter, culling herons (?) , managed to kill the only female stork currently nesting outside the Toyooka stork breeding program.  At 30 metres range and front on, he mistook the bird for a heron.  (TV news went to great lengths to show how front-on the two birds look similar.. I mean, they are both birds.  AND… they are both white, and…err…)

Protected white stork shot by mistake in Shimane


 MAY 20, 2017

Hunter shoots rare stork by mistake

KYODO — An oriental white stork, a species designated as a special national treasure, was mistakenly killed Friday by a hunter in Shimane Prefecture, the local police and education board said.

The education board said that a member of a hunting group shot the female stork after mistaking it for a heron.

The Unnan City Education Board said the 5-year-old stork laid eggs in March and that four had hatched so far.

Since Japan’s wild storks disappeared in 1971, this was only the second such hatching in the wild that was not part of the breeding project in and around Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture.

Since 2007, the large black-and-white birds with long beaks, necks and legs have been breeding in the wild around Toyooka, home to a major rearing facility called the Hyogo Park of the Oriental White Stork.

Satoshi Yamagishi, head of the park, said the accident was very regrettable.

“I can guess how local people waiting for the fledglings feel,” he said, adding that he hopes the chicks grow up safely.

Article ends.

The chicks have been taken the the Toyooka facility where it is hoped that they can be raised and released into the wild.

And, hopefully, they WON’T BE MISTAKEN FOR HERONS.

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Why did the pheasant cross the road?

Hi blog.

This is an example of one of those magic encounters, when one simply stumbles across wildlife and has time to get visual evidence.  Enjoy!

And I think the answer to the titular question was that the female was in the other field.

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Eats Shoots and Leaves

Hi blog.

Spring is in full swing, with the leaves out on virtually every tree.  Unstable weather is with us as storm clouds suddenly appear and disappear.

The first part of this post was seeded several years ago when we visited the wife’s family out in the countryside and her cousins went to harvest some shoots from what looked like a spiky sapling.  I wasn’t able to get a photo at the time and so the idea for the post went into hiatus.

That hiatus thawed when I was riding to work recently and spotted someone harvesting shoots from a spiky plant.  A couple of photos on the way home ensured the seeds of this post germinated.

You wouldn’t guess that this plant is the main star of this post, would you? The taller of the two trees was about 2 metres in height.

The plant in question is the Japanese angelica-tree or Korean angelica-tree (Aralia elata), known in Japan as the taranoki (楤木 of 桵木).   This tree can reach heights of up to 10 metres, but typically grows between two and four metres tall.  It is a slender tree covered with a rough grey coloured bark and spines.  The pinnate leaves grow to between 50 cm and 100 cm, with individual leaflets about 5 cm in diameter.  Each of these leaflets also have spines along the veins.  (This page has lots of close up photos of A. elata, especially of the individual parts)

With so many spikes, it is hard to imagine this plant being any use at all.  However, for a few weeks in spring it produces tender shoots with no spines, which may be harvested and eaten.  In Japan, the most popular way of eating the shoots – called taranome (楤芽) – is as tempura.

A shoot, too small to be harvested.

When harvesting from wild plants, especially those on public land, it is important to leave side shoots, otherwise the tree will die.

Some of the spines covering the trunk.


The second part was inspired by events last year when I helped harvest bamboo shoots.  I didn’t have any chances to take photos that day.  However, I was prepared this time around and managed to sneak in a couple of shots.

A partially dug bamboo shoot.

Bamboo shoots are best harvested just as the tip breaks the surface, but these can be hard to find.  There certainly weren’t as many as last year, and it appears that some wild pig had beaten us to some.  (I didn’t get a photo of the pig’s diggings as it was virtually indistinguishable from where the humans had been digging!)

The harvest wasn’t as good as last year.

Several kinds of giant bamboo are harvested in their shoot form, so I can’t tell you the species.  All I know is that the bamboo rice was pretty good!



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Hi blog.

The school year is up and running.  The first week of the school year is mostly administration and I don’t have so much to do, but now lessons are underway and I’m busy again.

Thinking back to March when the school year was drawing to a close and how some of the teachers filled in those “dead” lesson periods – assessment was over, there was nothing to be gained from trying to teach the kids anything, but…  Anyway, I noticed that one social studies teacher was showing his kids Princess Mononoke, and I was wondering if he had any questions up his sleeve to get the kids at least thinking.

One element of Princess Mononoke that has always confused me is Ashitaka’s mount.  It is clearly not a deer, nor does it resemble any Japanese mammal that I know of.  Furthermore, the creature is recycled from one of Miyazaki’s earlier works The Journey of Shuna.  Some sources, however suggest that the animal is (loosely) based on the Japanese serow.

Yakkul (spelling?) as he appears in Princess Mononoke. The horns of Japanese serow rarely, if ever, exceed the length of the ears.

The Japanese serow (Capricornis crispus), known locally as kamoshika (usually 氈鹿 or 羚羊 ) but correctly as Nihon kamoshika (日本 氈鹿) to prevent confusion with other ungulates.  An older name was niku (褥), basically meaning “mattress” or “rug”.

Perhaps because “kamoshika” can be loosely translated to mean “antelope”, one can see how a creature most closely resembling an eland of Africa appears in Miyazaki’s medieval Japan setting.

Rather than antelopes, Japanese serow are more closely related to goats.  Their stocky bodies are covered with thick hair which may range from white to black, the area around the neck typically being white.  The coat typically becomes a lighter colour in summer.  Both males and females grow backward curving horns, which continue growing throughout the animal’s life but almost never exceed the length of the ears.

Here you can compare the length of the horns to the ears.  The eyes are very goat-like

Japanese serow live in broad-leaf or conifer forest areas around deep mountains in northern and eastern Honshu, and parts of Shikoku and Kyushu.  They are sometimes spotted on the slopes of Mt. Fuji, although it is safe to say that the average Japanese person is not familiar with them at all – many people think that serow are a kind of deer due to the name.

Serow are foragers, feeding on sasa bamboo and other grasses, bark, nuts and fruit, shoots and leaves.  They live alone or in small family groups rarely exceeding four.  They are also territorial and mark their territory with scent glands.  Japanese serow defecate in set areas, which probably also helps mark territory.

Japanese serow have a long and complicated history with humans.  Their numbers dwindled for the usual reasons – over-hunting and loss of their natural environment, reducing the wild population to less than 3000 individuals by 1955, but they have also been labelled pests by foresters.  The serow has also been used as a symbol of conservation, and the animal now enjoys the status of “National Monument Species.

As it appears in the Wakansansaizue.

The Japanese serow has featured on Japanese postage stamps, once on the 1952 ¥8 stamp and again on the 2015 ¥50 stamp.

The 2015 issue ¥50 stamp featuring the Japanese serow.

Interestingly, in Japan, someone with long, thin legs is described as having “legs like a serow”.  This is another case of misinterpretation – the “serow” in the proverb actually being a an antelope or gazelle, not a Japanese serow!

My only confirmed encounters with Japanese serow have been at zoos (an animal spotted running along a road at night in the mountains of Fukushima may have been a serow, but I was unable to identify it), so I hope to correct this situation one day.

Up close and personal with a Japanese serow, Inokashirakoen Zoo. Que serow, serow ♪

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