The Big Chill

Hi blog.

I’m doing my best to avoid the Olympics without the option of fleeing to another country.  Luckily for me, Japan had not won any medals and was forced to fill news time with something else.

That something else was about hundreds of tropical fish found washed up on the beach at Shirahama, Wakayama prefecture.  (It helped that some of the fish were clown fish of Finding Nemo fame and therefore cute enough for media attention.)

It seems that tropical fish that ride the Kuroshio current can survive the winter around Wakayama because the temperature typically doesn’t drop below 12℃.  This year, however, has seen a shift in the current and also unusually cold weather.  (It seems that I’m not the only one affected by the cold)

I looked for some coverage in the English language press and found a closely related article.

Odd current route, cold water whitening corals off Wakayama


February 12, 2018 at 17:05 JST

TANABE, Wakayama Prefecture–Abnormal conditions have led to a drop in seawater temperatures near here, causing 30 to 40 percent of corals to whiten and sensitive fish to die.

Since autumn 2017, cold air waves have repeatedly hit the area, while the warm Kuroshio current, which normally runs northeast in a straight line along the Pacific coast, has taken a meandering route that veers south from the Kii Peninsula.

This combination has led to chilly water temperatures that are whitening corals and killing such fish as moray eels.

According to Tomoki Ri, 45, a local diving guide, it is rare for the seawater temperature in the area to fall below 16 degrees.

But on Feb. 9, the water temperature was 14 degrees around Okinoshima island, located about 2.7 kilometers off the coast of Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture, in the southern part of the peninsula.

In early February, the temperature of the sea area fell below 12 degrees.

In that area, part of “kushihadamidoriishi,” a coral that forms a table-shaped colony, has whitened. Phytoplankton, called zooxanthellae, that live together with the corals have fled due to stress from the low temperature, turning white the corals’ healthy colors of green or brown.

If the phytoplankton do not return to the corals, they will die.

A similar situation has been observed in sea areas off Shirahama, south of Tanabe, although on a smaller scale.

“Corals live in warm seas. They whiten and die in environments with temperatures lower than 14 degrees,” said Keiichi Nomura, 59, director of the aquarium at Kushimoto Marine Park in Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture.

“If the seawater temperature continues to be low, it will lead to a serious situation. If the seawater temperature rises, the corals could revive again,” he added.

Article ends.

All I can say about the situation is simply I’m glad it doesn’t immediately appear to be due to human activity.


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Its bite is worse than its bark

Hi blog.

It is still cold here in the mornings, with minus temperatures around 6:00 the norm.  The phenomena of needle ice, known locally as shimobashira (霜柱) is a daily occurrence – as is having my bike stand buried in ice and my front wheel frozen.

I have ranted on mentioned in passing my dislike of winter, a dislike that is going to increase a thousand-fold for the next 18 days or so as the Winter Olympics are held.  Should a Japanese athlete win a medal, expect to see the event replayed 64,000 times a day for the next three days, along with interviews with their parents, team-mates, fourth grade teachers, the bloke who installed their TV antenna… you get the idea.

And should the Japanese team fail to win a medal (gasp!), we can expect endless mindless coverage of the North Korean cheer squad to fill in time.

Anyway, this crossed my news feed, and I thought it was Wild in Japan worthy… and we are unlikely to see anything else relevant to this blog for the next 18 days.

Nara announces record number of deer bites as tourists flood in



FEB 8, 2018

Famed wild deer in the city of Nara appear to be growing increasingly frustrated with tourists who make them wait to munch on crackers while trying to frame the perfect photo.

The Nara Prefectural Government said Thursday that the number of injuries caused by the deer in Nara Park hit a record 164 cases between April 1 last year and January 31, exceeding the 118 cases reported in the previous fiscal year. Of the 164 cases, around 80 percent involved foreign tourists — most of them Chinese — it said.

Most of the injuries were minor, with tourists having their hands bitten lightly while feeding the animals, according to the prefectural government.

The rise is partly due to the increasing number of foreign visitors, prefectural government official Yuichiro Kitabata said. But he also blamed tourists’ increasing eagerness to stage good pictures with the deer.

According to Kitabata, many tourists lure the deer with shika senbei (deer crackers), which are sold in Nara Park. But once the deer approach the tourists hide the snack, making the animals wait as they try to snap the perfect shot. And that makes for some irritated deer.

“Such cases are increasing greatly. … Some people think the deer are tame and trained not to harm people,” Kitabata told The Japan Times on Thursday. “But they are wild animals.”

Some tourists also anger the deer by climbing on their backs, he said.

The prefectural government has tried to advise tourists about how to behave around the animals, releasing informational videos and posting 40 signboards in several languages around the park. But the effort appears to have fallen short.

“The deer basically won’t attack people unless we do something to them,” Kitabata said. “They are used to people. So, it’s OK for tourists to feed them shika senbei in a normal way … but please keep in mind that they are wild animals.”

The park — home to nearly 1,500 wild deer as of July last year — is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Nara. According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, the number of foreign visitors to Nara Prefecture surged to 1.65 million in 2016 from 285,000 in 2012. Of the 1.65 million, 42 percent were Chinese, followed by 18.3 percent from Taiwan, and 10.3 percent South Korea.

Article ends.

Ah, semi-wild deer.  Add tourists (often with fewer inhibitions than the locals) and who tend to lose their common sense while trying to take selfies.  Trouble won’t be far away.

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Hi blog.

As you probably know, I am not terribly fond of winter.  January 22nd gave us our heaviest snowfall since that really big one four years ago.  Some of the snow and ice still remains piled up (or compressed) on roads and footpaths.  I have to be careful with commuting because bikes and ice are NOT a good combination.

We are experiencing our eighth consecutive day with a minimum temperature below freezing –  yes, and that includes the coldest temperature recorded in over 50 years.  One morning saw nearby Saitama City with a lower minimum temperature than Sapporo!!  The greater Tokyo area has experienced thousands of household water pipes bursting (my school had a pipe freeze and burst too)

I have, however, found a (generally) positive article that is definitely within the realms of Wild in Japan.  Not to mention that at least some people are happy with this cold.

Ice fishing ban lifted

The Yomiuri Shimbun Anglers in small tents fish for wakasagi smelt on Harunako lake in Takasaki on Tuesday.

The Yomiuri ShimbunTAKASAKI, Gunma — The ban on fishing wakasagi smelt on the frozen surface of Harunako lake in Takasaki was lifted on Tuesday for the first time in seven years.

According to the Haruna tourist association, the lifting of the ban was postponed partly due to the aftereffects of the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011. The lake was also not frozen enough for fishing because of warm winters.

The area where fishing is allowed covers about two-thirds of the entire lake. The thickness of the ice in some places reached up to 22 centimeters. Anglers rushed to the ice-covered lake as soon as the ban was lifted at 6:30 a.m. on the day.

Taking away wakasagi smelt was prohibited at one point, mainly due to the accident at the power plant, but anglers can now take the fish home.

Article ends.

“The lake was also not frozen enough for fishing because of warm winters” says it all.

Apparently, much of Lake Suwa in Nagano has also frozen over and produced the effect of ice floes converging and building jagged lines across the lake in an effect known as Omi watari (御神渡り), literally “gods’ crossing”, which has been occurring with less frequency in recent years due to warmer winters.

A news item from last November, when the Omi watri phenomena occurred for the first time in three years.




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Fluffing up fugu and eating eels to extinction

Hi blog.

A couple of news items.  The first is almost worthy of those “crazy things that happen only in Japan” segments.

Japanese pufferfish (Takifugu rubripes) in a holding tank at a restaurant.

Deadly fugu fish flub prompts emergency warning in Aichi


 JAN 16, 2018

The Aichi Prefecture city of Gamagori has activated an emergency warning system to alert residents to avoid eating locally purchased fugu (puffer fish) after a mix-up saw toxic parts of the delicacy go on sale.

A supermarket in the city sold five packages of the fish without removing the livers, which can contain a deadly poison.

Three of the potentially lethal specimens have been located, but the other two remain at large, local official Koji Takayanagi said.

“We are calling for residents to avoid eating fugu, using Gamagori city’s emergency wireless system,” which broadcasts over loudspeakers located around the city, he said.

“Three packages will be retrieved today, but we still don’t know where the remaining two are,” he added.

Fugu is one of Japan’s most expensive winter delicacies, and is often served in thin slices of sashimi or hot pot.

But the fish’s skins, intestines, ovaries and livers contain a poison called tetrodotoxin that can be fatal.

The part of the fish that contains the deadly poison differs from one kind of fugu to another.

Japanese chefs are required to obtain a special permit to prepare the fish, but several people in the country are killed each year by incorrectly prepared fugu, with dozens more suffering nonfatal side effects, according to the health ministry.

“Eating fugu liver can paralyze motor nerves, and in a serious case cause respiratory arrest leading to death,” regional officials said in a warning statement.

Article ends.

Incidents like this are uncommon enough to make news when they do happen, but still seem to happen with regularity.

The second one is perhaps more relevant to Wild in Japan, mostly because I have commented before on Japan’s appetite for eels and how the eel industry is not sustainable.

The article doesn’t mention that the current prices for glass eels are approximately equal to the price of platinum.

Baby eel catches are extremely low

The industry is worried about a possible shortage of adult eels by the time the peak eating season of summer arrives.

Most eels consumed in Japan are cultured. The fry are caught in the wild from December to spring and then placed in farms.

A report from Japan’s fisheries agency says 200 kilograms of baby eels were released into aquaculture ponds last month. That’s only 3 percent of the amount during the same period the previous year.

The agency officials say catches in mainland China and Taiwan are also low, putting a squeeze on supplies that could be imported into Japan.

Experts say the ecology of eels remains mystery, so they are in the dark as to the reasons behind the extremely low catches. Some are speculating changes in sea currents could be a factor.

Article ends.

Unfortunately, the TV news covers items like this as “it can’t be helped, price increases will push eel prices out of the reach of ordinary households” and ignore ecological consequences.

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Reblogged: A walk on Mt. Mitake brings encounters with wolf and mountain lore | Heritage of Japan

Hi blog.

Avid readers may remember posts about the Mitsumine Shrine and the wolf cult centred around it.  I mentioned a similar set of beliefs based at the Mitake Shrine on Mt. Mitake.

oguchinomagami Mitake

Well, Heritage of Japan has tied up some of those loose ends with a very in-depth look at the Mitake Shrine.

Check out this article:

The Musashi-Mitake-jinja Shrine is believed to have been founded in 90 BC by Emperor Sujin, which makes it one of the oldest in Japan. However, the shrine also records that Priest Gyōki built a hal…

Source: A walk on Mt. Mitake brings encounters with wolf and mountain lore | Heritage of Japan

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The Snow Woman

Hi blog.

It’s winter, my holidays are coming to a close and I still haven’t blogged anything.

To rectify this problem, let’s take a break from wildlife and look at some folklore that matches the weather (well, almost)

In a village of Musashi Province (1), there lived two woodcutters: Mosaku and Minokichi. At the time of which I am speaking, Mosaku was an old man; and Minokichi, his apprentice, was a lad of eighteen years. Every day they went together to a forest situated about five miles from their village. On the way to that forest there is a wide river to cross; and there is a ferry-boat. Several times a bridge was built where the ferry is; but the bridge was each time carried away by a flood. No common bridge can resist the current there when the river rises.
Mosaku and Minokichi were on their way home, one very cold evening, when a great snowstorm overtook them. They reached the ferry; and they found that the boatman had gone away, leaving his boat on the other side of the river. It was no day for swimming; and the woodcutters took shelter in the ferryman’s hut,–thinking themselves lucky to find any shelter at all. There was no brazier in the hut, nor any place in which to make a fire: it was only a two-mat [1] hut, with a single door, but no window. Mosaku and Minokichi fastened the door, and lay down to rest, with their straw rain-coats over them. At first they did not feel very cold; and they thought that the storm would soon be over.
The old man almost immediately fell asleep; but the boy, Minokichi, lay awake a long time, listening to the awful wind, and the continual slashing of the snow against the door. The river was roaring; and the hut swayed and creaked like a junk at sea. It was a terrible storm; and the air was every moment becoming colder; and Minokichi shivered under his rain-coat. But at last, in spite of the cold, he too fell asleep.
He was awakened by a showering of snow in his face. The door of the hut had been forced open; and, by the snow-light (yuki-akari), he saw a woman in the room,–a woman all in white. She was bending above Mosaku, and blowing her breath upon him;–and her breath was like a bright white smoke. Almost in the same moment she turned to Minokichi, and stooped over him. He tried to cry out, but found that he could not utter any sound. The white woman bent down over him, lower and lower, until her face almost touched him; and he saw that she was very beautiful,–though her eyes made him afraid. For a little time she continued to look at him;–then she smiled, and she whispered:–“I intended to treat you like the other man. But I cannot help feeling some pity for you,–because you are so young… You are a pretty boy, Minokichi; and I will not hurt you now. But, if you ever tell anybody–even your own mother–about what you have seen this night, I shall know it; and then I will kill you… Remember what I say!”
With these words, she turned from him, and passed through the doorway. Then he found himself able to move; and he sprang up, and looked out. But the woman was nowhere to be seen; and the snow was driving furiously into the hut. Minokichi closed the door, and secured it by fixing several billets of wood against it. He wondered if the wind had blown it open;–he thought that he might have been only dreaming, and might have mistaken the gleam of the snow-light in the doorway for the figure of a white woman: but he could not be sure. He called to Mosaku, and was frightened because the old man did not answer. He put out his hand in the dark, and touched Mosaku’s face, and found that it was ice! Mosaku was stark and dead…
By dawn the storm was over; and when the ferryman returned to his station, a little after sunrise, he found Minokichi lying senseless beside the frozen body of Mosaku. Minokichi was promptly cared for, and soon came to himself; but he remained a long time ill from the effects of the cold of that terrible night. He had been greatly frightened also by the old man’s death; but he said nothing about the vision of the woman in white. As soon as he got well again, he returned to his calling,–going alone every morning to the forest, and coming back at nightfall with his bundles of wood, which his mother helped him to sell.
One evening, in the winter of the following year, as he was on his way home, he overtook a girl who happened to be traveling by the same road. She was a tall, slim girl, very good-looking; and she answered Minokichi’s greeting in a voice as pleasant to the ear as the voice of a song-bird. Then he walked beside her; and they began to talk. The girl said that her name was O-Yuki [2]; that she had lately lost both of her parents; and that she was going to Yedo (2), where she happened to have some poor relations, who might help her to find a situation as a servant. Minokichi soon felt charmed by this strange girl; and the more that he looked at her, the handsomer she appeared to be. He asked her whether she was yet betrothed; and she answered, laughingly, that she was free. Then, in her turn, she asked Minokichi whether he was married, or pledge to marry; and he told her that, although he had only a widowed mother to support, the question of an “honorable daughter-in-law” had not yet been considered, as he was very young… After these confidences, they walked on for a long while without speaking; but, as the proverb declares, Ki ga areba, me mo kuchi hodo ni mono wo iu: “When the wish is there, the eyes can say as much as the mouth.” By the time they reached the village, they had become very much pleased with each other; and then Minokichi asked O-Yuki to rest awhile at his house. After some shy hesitation, she went there with him; and his mother made her welcome, and prepared a warm meal for her. O-Yuki behaved so nicely that Minokichi’s mother took a sudden fancy to her, and persuaded her to delay her journey to Yedo. And the natural end of the matter was that Yuki never went to Yedo at all. She remained in the house, as an “honorable daughter-in-law.”
O-Yuki proved a very good daughter-in-law. When Minokichi’s mother came to die,–some five years later,–her last words were words of affection and praise for the wife of her son. And O-Yuki bore Minokichi ten children, boys and girls,–handsome children all of them, and very fair of skin.
The country-folk thought O-Yuki a wonderful person, by nature different from themselves. Most of the peasant-women age early; but O-Yuki, even after having become the mother of ten children, looked as young and fresh as on the day when she had first come to the village.
One night, after the children had gone to sleep, O-Yuki was sewing by the light of a paper lamp; and Minokichi, watching her, said:–
“To see you sewing there, with the light on your face, makes me think of a strange thing that happened when I was a lad of eighteen. I then saw somebody as beautiful and white as you are now–indeed, she was very like you.”…
Without lifting her eyes from her work, O-Yuki responded:–
“Tell me about her… Where did you see her?
Then Minokichi told her about the terrible night in the ferryman’s hut,–and about the White Woman that had stooped above him, smiling and whispering,–and about the silent death of old Mosaku. And he said:–
“Asleep or awake, that was the only time that I saw a being as beautiful as you. Of course, she was not a human being; and I was afraid of her,–very much afraid,–but she was so white!… Indeed, I have never been sure whether it was a dream that I saw, or the Woman of theSnow.”…
O-Yuki flung down her sewing, and arose, and bowed above Minokichi where he sat, and shrieked into his face:–
“It was I–I–I! Yuki it was! And I told you then that I would kill you if you ever said one word about it!… But for those children asleep there, I would kill you this moment! And now you had better take very, very good care of them; for if ever they have reason to complain of you, I will treat you as you deserve!”…
Even as she screamed, her voice became thin, like a crying of wind;–then she melted into a bright white mist that spired to the roof-beams, and shuddered away through the smoke-hold… Never again was she seen.
(1) An ancient province whose boundaries took in most of present-day Tokyo, and parts of Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures.
[1] That is to say, with a floor-surface of about six feet square.
[2] This name, signifying “Snow,” is not uncommon. On the subject of Japanese female names, see my paper in the volume entitled Shadowings.
(2) Also spelled Edo, the former name of Tokyo.

KWAIDAN: Stories and Studies of Strange Things

By Lafcadio Hearn, 1904

Hearn’s story has firm roots in Muromachi period legends – the poet Sogi (1421-1502) claimed to have seen a yuki-onna during his travels to Echigo Province – modern Niigata – an area famous for its heavy snowfalls.  We can safely assume that yuki-onna myths had already been well established before then.

Yuki-onna by Sekien Toriyama.

Yuki-onna (雪女) is the generally accepted term for this particular supernatural being.  The name literally translates as “snow woman”, although learners of Japanese soon find out that the English “snowman” does not translate directly.  [The Japanese word for snowman is yukidaruma, literally “snow Dharma”, while the literal snowman translates as yeti or abominable snowman!]

A bronze statue of Shigeru Mizuki’s portrayal of the yuki-onna. Mizuki was also hugely important in shaping the general image of supernatural beings in Japan. Photo from Wikipedia.

Like many supernatural beings, she has a plethora of regional names (yukimusume, yukijoro, yukinesa, yukinba, yukionago ) and her attributes may also vary, plus there is often overlapping or merging with other supernatural beings.  However, Hearn’s version has come to be the modern standard – a beautiful woman with white skin and wearing a white kimono, and with breath that freezes her victims and/or drains them of their life.

Interestingly enough, Hearn heard the basis of his (re)telling from a man and his daughter from a village in what is now Ome in western Tokyo (hence the direct reference to Musashi Province) and now a marker stands by Chofu Bridge to acknowledge the area as the birthplace of the yuki-onna. 

I will have to make a trip there someday.

Posted in Folklore and Mythology | 1 Comment

Merry Solstice

Hi blog.

Please excuse what appears to be utter neglect, which is only mostly true.  Work, the cold, lack of photo opportunities… you don’t need to hear about this.

I will say that today is the winter solstice in these parts and the summer solstice in the southern hemisphere.  

Many young Japanese have trouble with the concept of the seasons “being reversed” south of the equator* to the extent that I can get a surprising amount of mileage from the quiz question “What date is Christmas in Australia?”  (And can reasonably expect several people to give a date in August as the answer!!)

* I have also encountered people who think that north and south are reversed below the equator…

Speaking of Christmas, I just recently made some Christmas puddings at work.  Christmas puddings are just one of the traditions that the Japanese missed when they copied Christmas.  (In Japan, pudding is taken to mean custard pudding)  After the success of last year’s effort I made two puddings this time, only to find that a couple of people missed out.  As luck would have it, I had just enough ingredients left over to make a third pudding the next day.

pudding 2016

My effort from 2016. I have to explain that it’s not a cake.

Anyway, the Japanese language has two separate words for the solstices – geshi (夏至) for the northern hemisphere summer solstice and toji (冬至) for its winter counterpart.  There is a generic word for solstice, but almost nobody actually knows it.

Which means I can have fun confusing people by telling them that today is the summer solstice where I come from!

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Never a Boar and the Bear Mountains

Hi blog.

I’m in the midst of a ridiculously busy period at work.  Winter is just around the corner, and all the signs are there –  more leaves on the ground than on the trees, sunset arriving early and sunrise coming late, plus the cold.

Apart from sighting some birds that I haven’t been able to identify yet, the wildlife front has been pretty quiet.  Although the news of a wild boar running wild through Kyoto and injuring a man in the process did spice things up a little…

(from the Asahi Shimbun)

Tourists terrified by wild pig can testify it’s never boaring in Kyoto


November 27, 2017 at 18:55 JST

KYOTO–A wild boar ran riot at Heian Jingu shrine, the Kyoto Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle here Nov. 27.

The berserk beast panicked sightseers and sent them fleeing for safety at about noon.

“Boar alert!” spat a security guard of Heian Jingu shrine in the city’s Sakyo Ward in an emergency call at 11:55 a.m.

The frantic hog took a man in his late 50s from behind to knock him to the ground in front of Heian Jingu shrine, according to the prefectural police and Kyoto City Fire Department.

The man broke one of his arms.

Other people also suffered minor injuries, sources said.

“The animal was about 1 meter long and was injured on its nose,” said another man in his 50s who spotted the muscular mammal near Nijo Castle.

The dogged hog sprinted for about 3 kilometers through the main sanctuary of Heian Jingu shrine, galloped around the Kyoto Imperial Palace in Kamigyo Ward and also clocked a speedy sojourn at Nijo Castle in Nakagyo Ward.

The dramatic scenario came to a close when the boar dived into the moat surrounding Nijo Castle at 12:30 p.m.

This latest wild boar episode follows another of the decisive creature that suddenly appeared in a pedestrian-packed area in the middle of Kyoto on Oct. 1 and sped around furiously for an hour before being tackled.

Article ends.

According to the TV news, the dive into the moat proved fatal.

The other article I want to share, courtesy of the Japan Times, echoes some of my thoughts from years ago about how rural depopulation and the neglect of old farms and gardens will increase the incidence of unpleasant encounters between humans and bears.

As Akita deals with surge in bear sightings, some point to a human cause



Far from Tokyo’s bright lights and noisy streets Kaori Kawashima walks cautiously on her way to the nearest convenience store in rural Akita Prefecture, where danger might be lurking in the shadows.

“I don’t think bears come close to where I live, but there’s no way to be sure,” the 42-year-old housewife says.

Together with her husband, they take no chances. Every morning they drive their 12-year-old daughter to junior high — breaking the age-old norm that children should walk to school.

And they’re not alone. This past spring, a black bear was spotted just 20 meters from a high school in Yokote, the second-largest city in the prefecture. Kawashima has lived her whole life in Akita, but stories of bear encounters outside the mountains used to be few and far between. Now they are becoming common.

Sightings exploded in 2016, shooting to 868 from just a couple of hundred in previous years, according to the Akita Prefectural Government. From 1979 to 2015, only eight deaths from bear attacks were reported in Akita. Since then there have been five.

Behind the headlines, experts say, is a silent transformation in the countryside that is setting the stage for greater numbers of wildlife encounters.

When a string of bear attacks caused a national stir last year, residents hoped it was just an anomaly and that things would soon return to normal.

The official explanation was that the supply of beech nuts in 2015 that helped more cubs survive was followed by a shortage last year, which led them down from the mountains in search of food.

But Kazuhiko Maita, chairman of the Hiroshima-based nonprofit Institute for Asian Black Bear Research and Preservation, says a more long-term factor is at work: the disappearing satoyama, a term referring to traditional rural landscapes of carefully maintained forests and farmland.

Part of Japan’s rapid economic development in the late 20th century involved an aggressive urbanization that changed it from a principally rural country to one of the most urban populations in the world. Prefectures far from major cities began to wither, but on a rural level, the satoyama all but vanished.

“The buffer zone has disappeared,” Maita said. When forests previously chopped down for firewood grew back, and farms and fruit trees were left unmanaged, the bears left the mountains and moved in to stay, he explained.

Predominantly rural Akita has the fastest-shrinking population in Japan. This year, the prefectural government reported that it had dipped below 1 million for the first time since 1930, with over a third of its residents aged 65 or older. But it’s not alone.

Across Japan, wildlife is becoming a menace in places it never was before.

Akita, known for the bear-hunting dogs that carry its name, has always had bears around, but experts warn of boars and deer overrunning the countryside as the human activities that once held them back — such as hunting — fade due to depopulation.

In Akita, depopulation is only one part of the equation. The rest simply has to do with the subsequent increase in hunger, another expert said.

“The depopulation of rural villages is connected, but it’s not the root cause,” said Mariko Moriyama, president of the nongovernmental organization Japan Bear and Forestry Society.

“The root cause is that food has disappeared from the mountains.”

Moriyama points to research showing that trees have been growing weaker across the world, with a dramatic decrease in leaves and fruit.

The culprit, she said, is us.

“Global warming, acid rain, air pollution — all caused by human activities,” she said. In Japan, the effects have been particularly noticeable with the Mongolian oak (mizunara).

For years, Moriyama has been tracking the progress of Japanese oak wilt, a fungal disease brought on by climate change, as it creeps northward into southern Akita. Busy with their lives in the city, newly urbanized Japanese are no longer going up into the mountains like they used to. “They don’t realize how devastated it has become.”

This is particularly damaging for Akita’s black bears.

“They rely on mizunara, not beech,” for nourishment, she said.

With the mountains bare of food, no matter how skittish they are, returning to the woods might not be an option for these animals. “If nothing is done to help the mountains, the bear attacks will continue.”

Today, officials put the number of bears in the prefecture at roughly 1,000, but the primary data derive from reports about encounters — a statistic likely to get warped as sightings become more commonplace.

Here, wild mountain vegetables have been a spring delicacy for as long as anyone can remember.

Perhaps that is why residents remain eager to ignore the figurative and literal signs telling them times have changed. This has led the police to close off mountain trails and patrol popular entry points instead.

Others think back to when they were young, when the matagi (traditional bear hunters) would supply the wild animals’ tough and gamey meat to restaurants and school cafeterias. Today, the ranks of the matagi are aging and dwindling, and the meat is shunned even by residents as it can be poisonous if not properly cooked.

Meanwhile, Kaori Kawashima stays at home, getting her meat and vegetables from the supermarket. Perhaps attracted by Kumamoto Prefecture’s popular bear mascot Kumamon or Winnie the Pooh, she still hopes someday to see a real live wild bear in the flesh — as long as it’s from the safety of her car.

She laughs, saying: “I don’t want to die, but … they seem cute, don’t they?”

Her husband, Kazunori, agrees. “My first impulse would be to take my phone out and snap a picture.”

Article ends.

I had never considered the role of hunters in this before, and I suspect most urban Japanese haven’t either – the national narrative goes along the line that “Japan is a Buddhist nation and the Japanese people are descended from rice farmers and not hunters.”

What is certain is that wildlife will continue to push down into the villages, towns and even cities to survive.  If humans don’t want this to happen, they’re going to have to restore the mountains to their original state.

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Cold and to the Nth Degree

Hi blog.

Just a quick post.

November 20th produced the coldest November morning in over 30 years in the Tokyo metropolitan area, and here the maximum was in single digits – weather we could reasonably expect at the end of the year.  The ride to work led to very cold fingers, even with gloves, but I was in high spirits.

I may have mentioned a project that was keeping me busy.  The truth is I was trying to focus on my aikido grading. 

Under a certain agreement with a certain person, I am only able to train once a week, which is not anywhere near enough to make any real advancement.  Moreover, I hadn’t trained for a period of nearly two years until March of this year.  So it was with less than eight months of practice that I hit the mat for the test.

The syllabus for the test basically was:

  • A thesis on either “What I have gained from training in aikido” or “How I would teach aikido to beginners”. (I was allowed to write this in English)  I elected to write on the first topic;
  • The 10 shin-kumijo paired jo exercises;
  • The body variations of the five kumitachi paired sword exercises; and
  • Any technique from the syllabi from 8th kyu to 3rd dan as selected by the grading panel.

I’m pleased to say that despite some issues – my timing and blending were criticised by the grading panel – I passed the test for 4th dan.  This is a particularly important grade, as it is the last promotion grained through testing.

I would like to include a couple of photos taken on my way home from work on the 21st – another cold day.  Unfortunately, the mobile phone doesn’t do justice to the actual scene – having to use maximum zoom and shaking with the chill doesn’t help.

About 5:00 on the evening of the 21st


The waxing moon – literally three days old -over Mt. Fuji.

Just as a piece of trivia, the Japanese word for crescent is mikazuki (三日月) and literally means “three day moon”.  The new moon was on the 18th, making the moon on the 21st three days old – and a perfect crescent.

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A Bundle of Cuteness

Hi blog.

This is just a short post based around a single picture.
I have been ridiculously busy recently, and the weather hasn’t been conducive to wildlife blogging either – a frequently cold and wet October (with several days of December temperatures, typhoons on consecutive weekends, 12 consecutive days of rain) combined with lots of school events plus preparation for an up-coming task (which shall remain secret for the time being) didn’t leave me with much time or energy to direct toward my blog.

So I decided to take advantage of a sunny day at the beginning of this month to get out of the house, away from the annoying TV – Trump and Abe were playing golf that day – and head into Chikozan Park Zoo in Sayama.

Zoo trips with the youngest are quite relaxing – just hand him the camera and he’s quite happy to run around and take (often blurry) photos of every animal he can. He wanted to feed the waterfowl and the monkeys (¥100 each) and ride on a pony (¥200), but that still makes this kind of outing cheap.

He did manage to get what I consider a decent photo that was relevant to Wild in Japan. The zoo’s raccoon dogs were huddled together to keep warm.

Raccoon dogs huddled together.

Fortunately for you the reader, a photograph cannot capture the smell – raccoon dogs defecate in a set spot, and it stinks!  This behaviour is probably related to marking the animals’ territory, but also helps attract certain insects which the raccoon dogs supplement their diet with.

But, hey, they’re cute, right.

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