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 ♪

 

Advertisements

6 Responses to “Serow”

  1. GOAT 山羊 April 25, 2017 at 10:11 am #

    That final pun was serow bad.

  2. TonyJ2 April 22, 2017 at 8:13 am #

    Thank you. I had seen a photo and now I know much more

  3. camper April 22, 2017 at 7:43 am #

    The Yamaha 250 cc is called Serow also.

    • wildinjapan April 22, 2017 at 10:53 am #

      Thanks for the tip.
      I was wondering if that was a result of the serow/antelope translation issue, but the Serow is an off-road bike.
      Interestingly, the Serow is written in Japanese as セロー, a direct transliteration from the English word, and so most Japanese won’t connect it with its animal namesake.

      • camper April 22, 2017 at 12:49 pm #

        Yep! That is my next bike to buy. I want to travel Japan on it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: