Dormant Dormice

`You might just as well say,’ added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, that “I breathe when I sleep” is the same thing as “I sleep when I breathe”!’

The Dormouse, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carol

Hi blog.

Well, technically, spring is here (February 4th brought double digit temperatures and a maximum more than twice as high as the previous Friday), the cold weather is far from gone.  As I finish typing this post, we are expecting a maximum of 1℃ and possibly 5cm or more of snow!

This blog entry was born from one of those “diamond moments” on TV. (Japanese TV can be like looking for diamonds in a sewer.  There are diamonds to be had, but you have to go through a lot of… well, you get the idea)

Unfortunately, that particular item did not make the English language media.  The news was about a rare Japanese dormouse that was found to have made a nest inside a futon to hibernate in.

From the Nishi Nihon Shimbun:

As the item appeared in the Nishi Nihon Shimbun on January 30th.

In fact, the only news item in English relating to the Japanese dormouse was over a year old!

This Asahi Shimbun article gives you an idea of what the Japanese dormouse looks like as well as its behaviour.

The Japanese dormouse (Glirulus japonicus) is the sole member of its genus found in Japan, where it is also endemic. It’s local name is Yamane (山鼠), although many urban dwellers are largely unaware of its existence.

Measuring around 7 – 8 cm in body length and a tail of 4.5 – 5.5 cm, the most distinguishing feature of this mouse-like rodent is the hair on the tail.

Apparently, if the tail is tightly gripped, the skin and hair may be pulled off, allowing the animal to escape.

Japanese dormice are omnivores, feeding on insects, fruit (typically not eating the skins), seeds and occasionally birds eggs.

Dormice are best known for their hibernation habits.  Japanese dormice typically build nests of moss and bark inside tree hollows, although nests built in rock fissures or abandoned hornet nests have also been observed.  When the maximum temperature drops to below 12℃ or so, the dormice go into hibernation.  In some areas, this may mean remaining largely inactive for six months of the year.  Their body temperature may drop to just a few degrees and their pulse will slow considerably – although a hibernating dormouse’s pulse may be higher than mine as I type this!

Apparently, Japanese dormice were once considered protective forest spirits, and there seems to be no tradition of eating them, unlike in ancient Rome and modern Slovakia.

The species was removed from the IUCN Red List category of Near Threatened in 2007.

The Japanese dormouse is an animal one seems very unlikely to encounter in the wild.  Some zoos have them on display – Ueno Z00 being a prime example – but I will keep my eyes peeled anyway… once the weather has warmed up!

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Do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish that is best served cold?

Khan, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan


Hi blog.

I shall take a break from wildlife for this post and talk about something that has been of interest to me for decades.  I am timing this post to match the historical date for the incident.  The incident in question is the act of vengeance by forty-seven ronin (masterless samurai) against Lord Kira.

A basic synopsis:

On the 14th day of the 3rd month of the 14th year of Genroku (April 21st, 1701), Asano Takumi no Kami, the Daimyo of Ako domain was insulted by Kira Yoshinaka (Yoshihisa), master of protocol, during preparations for the emperor’s visit to Edo Castle and attacked him with his wakizashi.

Drawing a weapon within the castle grounds was itself an offence and Asano was sentenced to seppuku that very day.

Kira was not seriously injured.

Asano’s retainers now found themselves masterless and therefore unemployed.  The chief retainer, one Oishi Kuranosuke Yoshio, gathered a group together and plotted revenge.

Nearly two years after Asano’s death, Oishi and 46 other former samurai of Ako made an assault on Kira’s mansion in Edo, killed him, took his head to the Sengakuji Temple to place at the grave of their lord.  They then peacefully surrendered to the authorities.

The ronin of Ako were entrusted to four daimyo until a decision could be made regarding what should be done with them.  It is said that they were treated more like guests than criminals.

The eventual decision was seppuku and the sentence was carried on March 20th.  The ronin were buried at the Sengakuji Temple alongside their lord, and the graves are still in place to this day.

A photo of the graves of the forty seven ronin from 1893. Apart from the spelling mistake, it is also noteworthy that the Japanese caption uses the term Chushingishi (忠臣義士).

The incident was first made known in English via the translation of Isaac Titsingh’s works in 1822.

Isaac Titsingh’s account of the affair translated into English in “Illustrations of Japan; consisting of Private Memoirs and Anecdotes of the reigning dynasty of The Djogouns, or Sovereigns of Japan; a description of the Feasts and Ceremonies observed throughout the year at their Court; and of the Ceremonies customary at Marriages and Funerals: to which are subjoined, observations on the legal suicide of the Japanese, remarks on their poetry, an explanation of their mode of reckoning time, particulars respecting the Dosia powder, the preface of a work by Confoutzee on filial piety”

I first learned of this affair back when I was 15 or 16, after reading about it in a martial arts book.  My next encounter was during my first stay in Japan in 1989.  I used to watch period dramas (some were quite good, some were pretty corny, and some were just awful).  It was a night in December when my host family suggested some TV special that night.  The language was mostly too difficult to for me to follow, but at some point during the screening it clicked that this was a story about the 47 ronin!

As it turns out, there are tele-movies produced almost annually to coincide with the date, although they tend to be broadcast on December 14th – the attack took place on the 14th night of the 12th month of the old calendar.  These productions are fleshed-out works with a considerable amount of artistic licence.  Still, this has been going on since the earliest kabuki and bunraku versions of the tale.  Most Japanese are unaware that the name “Chushingura” (忠臣蔵) refers specifically to retellings while historians use the term “Ako Incident” and call the ronin “Ako Roshi” (赤穂浪士) or Shi-ju-shichi-shi (四十七士).

A very readable  – albeit fictional – version of events has been written by John Allyn under the title The 47 Ronin Story. I bought a copy of this back in 1992, and this third encounter with the tale remains a favourite.  Allyn doesn’t claim historical accuracy, but states:

This novel is intended to give an account in English of what might have happened in those colorful days when Japan was secluded from the rest of the world and the old traditions still governed the lives of men.”

The cover from the 1992 edition. The book has been published since 1970. While it is sometimes criticized for lacking character development, the use of Japanese sayings and proverbs rendered into English give a folkish feel to the overall work.

Perhaps the definitive work in English is the version told by A. B. Mitford in Tales of Old Japan, 1871.

                          THE RÔNINS INVITE KÔTSUKÉ NO SUKÉ TO PERFORM HARA-KIRI.                             The opening illustration from Mitford’s book.

The exact cause of strife between Asano and Kira is a subject of debate.  Popular wisdom portrays Kira as greedy and arrogant and Asano as noble, if hot-headed.  I tend to take these depictions with a grain of salt – I can easily imagine both as having a sense of entitlement.

Another point of contention is the mysterious disappearance of one of the Ako ronin.  Only 46 ronin surrendered and were sentenced to death.  The 47th, Terasaka, a foot soldier, disappeared.  He was eventually pardoned by the Bakufu, lived to a ripe old age, and his ashes were interred alongside the 46 others.  A number of theories exist – he was a coward and ran away, he was rejected on account of his rank, or he was sent off on a secret mission to inform Asano’s brother of the mission’s success.  In the popular mind, however, any class or status differences have been erased and he has been elevated to an equal with the other Ako ronin.

Grave marker of the ashigaru Terasaka Kichiemon. Photo taken from Wikipedia.

Interestingly, some sources say that seppuku had undergone a change and it was only necessary to touch one’s abdomen with the tip of the sword before being beheaded.  One of the ronin, however, did in fact impale disembowel himself.

In addition to the participants being sentenced to death, any sons over the age of 15 were exiled to Oshima Island, and sons under that age would be exiled upon reaching 15.  Amnesty was granted upon Shogun Tsunayoshi’s death.

I can hardly believe that I still haven’t made the trip into Tokyo to visit the Sengakuji.  I will amend this situation some day.

Sengakuji in 1911. The lower picture uses the term shi-ju-shichi-shi (四十七士) in the caption.


I have heard people claim that Shogun Tsunayoshi’s laws to protect animals and the establishment of official kennels to house thousands of stray dogs in Edo are proof of a long Japanese history of loving animals.  Sorry, I beg to differ.  Tsunayoshi’s enactments were guided by religious beliefs and superstition, and motivated by personal reasons.  His sons both died in childhood, and Tsunayoshi – born in the year of the dog – was advised that either he had been a dog in a former life or that he had done harm to dogs and this was his punishment.

I hope you have enjoyed this post and maybe will be encouraged to read more about the 47 Ronin of Ako.

But DON’T watch this tripe.


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Hi blog.

Here I am again after yet another long absence from the keyboard.

One excuse this time is that my old faithful 2011 model Dynabook suddenly died one morning in late December – I suspect a component on the motherboard.  Toshiba ceased manufacture of that motherboard in 2017, so a repair by the manufacturer is not an option.  I would have to find someone who could find the offending component, remove it and solder a replacement onto the motherboard, and all at a reasonable price.  But even then there would be no guarantees.

As things transpired, I was able to convince someone into letting me buy a new computer, explained why I didn’t want one of those cheap ones with the slow processors on sale, and now am behind the keyboard of a Lifebook sporting an 8th generation core i7 processor and a modest 256 G SSD.

I did have a few topics in hand to write about around the time my computer died, but unfortunately I lost all my files.  (I might be able to recover them at a later date, assuming that the manufacturer didn’t erase the hard disc when I sent the computer in for repair)

There was a jorogumo at school which was still alive on December 20th, long after the others (and my computer) had died.

It wasn’t easy getting a shot of this spider in poor lighing and having to use my phone at maximum zoom.

I won’t discuss the Japanese government’s decision to leave the International Whaling Commission, as that would involve mostly cursing and swearing and dissuading anyone from visiting Japan for the 2020 Olympics.  (But, do the world a favour and don’t come for the Olympics) 

My visit to Tama Zoo was another possibility, although not a lot can be said of zoo visits.  Tama is infinitely better than Ueno Zoo, mostly because of the space available and therefore the animal enclosures provide the animals with a better quality of life.  Not to mention a couple of novel ideas like the mole house, which allows visitors to see moles in action; and the butterfly house, which is also a wonderful retreat if you visit the zoo in winter.


Speaking of winter (have I mentioned how much I dislike winter in this post?), we have had some very cold mornings.  A few times I haven’t been able to open the bathroom window because it has frozen shut!

The only other blog-worthy topic was the partial solar eclipse on January 6th.  Of course, trying to photograph that with a mobile phone and a protective film that is curved and so doesn’t make contact with the lens is a nightmare!

Taken around 9:30, about half an hour before the peak of the eclipse.

This page has some excellent information on the eclipse.

Now that I am able to get behind a keyboard again, I shall try to finish off those editing tasks and rebuild my data for this blog.  Take care.


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The Shogun Cometh

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

When the Generals Talk, Midnight Oil

Hi blog.

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

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

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

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

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

This year it just didn’t occur.

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

But now the Shogun has arrived.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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They Might Be Giants

“What giants?” said Sancho Panza.

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

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Hi blog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Keishomon Temple Gate.

A multi-lingual explanation of the Keishimon Gate.

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

Well… it’s a hole in the ground…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I’m just a fun guy

All fungi are edible. 

Some are just edible only once.


Hi blog.

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

Plus my annual battle with Halloween.

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

All hail Caesar’s wild mushrooms

OCT 28, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article ends.

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

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

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One Flew Over the Hornet’s Nest

Hi blog.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Warm, dry spring seen aggravating Nagoya-area hornet threat


OCT 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article ends.

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

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

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

(Pun intended)

Maybe I will find this nest and get a photo.

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Bear No Grudge

Hi blog.

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

Different cicadas can be heard now too.

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

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

Japan’s bears are widely vilified and little understood



AUG 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article Ends.

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

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

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

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

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

“even sightings of bears are worthy of national attention”


“despite officials using floodlights”


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

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

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


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Well spotted

Hi blog.

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

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

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

And, yes, Han did shoot first.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Adult beetles feed on leaves and young bark.

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

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

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

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Fill in the blanks

Hi blog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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