Archive | April, 2017

Serow

22 Apr

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 ♪

 

Not Just Another Walk in the Park

7 Apr

Hi blog.

April is upon us, which means the beginning of the financial year and academic year, cherry blossom parties, and the end of the end of the extremely short spring holidays.  (I don’t get why the last day of third term and the first day of first term are separated by less than two weeks while first and second terms are six weeks apart)

April 1st was a bit of a joke weather-wise.  The heater didn’t get turned off all day, and rain was persistent.

April 5, however, gave us sun and basically the most glorious day so far this year.  I was to do something with my son, and decided an outing was in order – partially for blog reasons.  My initial suggestion of a walk around Hachikokuyama was rejected immediately, but when I offered Inokashira Park as an option, interest sparked.  A quick internet search of the small zoo within the park sealed the deal.

*Note: The English page for the zoo currently mentions Asiatic elephants.  This is no longer true as Hanako, the oldest elephant in Japan, died in May 2016.  Her enclosure was small and concrete floored, and Hanako had not seen another elephant in decades.

Leaving that sour note behind us, lets take a mostly visual wander around the zoo.  I’ll focus on the native wildlife here, mostly from my son’s attempts at photography…

Before entering the zoo we encountered the “source”…

The spring that feeds the lake and ultimately the river system. There is no longer enough pressure to bring water to the surface and so it is pumped.

The zoo is divided into the main zoo park and the aquatic life park.  My son wanted to visit the latter first.  As we entered the sun was out in all its glory and bush warblers could be heard calling out.  We actually spotted one up a tall tree, but we could make out its movement better than its shape.  Still, I managed to get a recording of its voice.  Turn your sound up for this video.

The outdoor section of the aquatic park houses waterfowl, and the park makes note of is breeding program for Mandarin ducks.

A pair of Mandarin ducks. The bright and gaudy one is the male.

 

A Japanese crane.

 

A little egret. I can never get them to hold still for a shot in the wild.

We also spotted people checking fish traps in the lake – I assume they were either surveying the fish population and/or removing alien species.

Checking fish traps. I think this would be a great activity to join.

Most of the shots of the birds are not worth showing, so let’s take a look at the aquarium section.

One of the highlights of the aquarium – a giant salamander. The Japanese giant salamander is the world’s second-largest amphibian.

 

The head of the giant salamander.

 

A water spider in a bubble of its own making.

One enclosure was particularly interesting – it contained a pair of little grebes which actively hunted for fish, a large soft-shelled turtle, a Japanese pond turtle and a crested kingfisher.  Only the last one is not normally found within the confines of the larger park area.

A Japanese pond turtle wandering around on dry land.

 

A soft-shelled turtle. These animals rarely leave the water, making this a rather unusual shot.

 

High up in a hard-to-see point in the enclosure, a crested kingfisher.

But being able to see those little grebes hunt was something special.

I finally got some pictures of Japanese keelbacks.

A pair of Japanese keelbacks.

 

A Tokyo salamander. Although they rarely enter the water outside of breeding season, this one was in the water.

Charr and seema. The “kiss marks” on the rocks is where the fish have been feeding on the red algae.

After we had finished in the aquatic park we crossed over to the main zoo.  While this zoo houses a variety of animals from around the world, it boasts a collection of native Japanese mammals and birds.

A Japanese serow. I might get around to writing about these someday…

 

A Ural owl.

 

A Tsushima leopard cat.

 

A pair of Japanese badgers at play.

 

A copper pheasant. These birds tend to live in the deep mountains.

 

There is a squirrel enclosure which visitors can enter and experience squirrels running around them.  My memories of Hokkaido include seeing wild squirrels in the large park, but they are a different species.  People around Tokyo rarely, if ever, see wild squirrels.

A Japanese squirrel foraging in the enclosure.

 

While my son was keen for the civets to wake up, they didn’t.  However, one the Japanese martens became active later in the afternoon.

At just ¥400 for adults and free admission for kids under 12, Inokashira Park Zoo is possibly one of the cheapest and best value days out in Tokyo.  And that doesn’t include the rest of the park!

 

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