ENVIRONMENT | OLD NIC'S NOTEBOOK Talking tanuki — or whatever you call them

After deer, easily the most commonly seen wild mammals up here in the Kurohime hills where I live, and in northern Nagano Prefecture in general, are the furry, short-legged burrowing creatures called tanuki in Japanese.

If you look up that word in older Japanese-English dictionaries you’ll find it translated as “badger,” but that’s wrong because these omnivorous animals, whose native range spans many countries of East Asia, are classified in the family Canidae — which includes domestic dogs, wolves, foxes, jackals and coyotes. Hence they’re entirely different from the Mustelidae to which badgers (along with otters, weasels, martens, ferrets, minks and wolverines) belong.

More modern dictionaries will tell you that tanuki means “raccoon dog,” but that is extremely misleading because, although they slightly resemble raccoons, they are very different — and they’re certainly not dogs that either hunt, herd or guard raccoons.

Tanuki’s scientific name, Nyctereutes procyonoides, is said to derive from Greek words meaning something like “night-wandering proto-dog” — but who’s going to remember that?

In Japanese, though, tanuki are sometimes called mujina, but since that word is also used for badgers, which are otherwise known as ana guma (meaning “hole bears”), things can get even more confusing — especially as it is fairly common for tanuki and badgers to share burrows or live in ones close to each other.

Interestingly, in the earthy way of folk, there is a saying in Japanese about both these mujina sharing the same hole — a saying that’s used to make a snide reference to humans who share the same unpleasant characteristics.

But back to basics: Even in English, I always call these animals we most often see scurrying out of car headlights at night “tanuki” — never raccoon dogs or badgers.

Though they keep out of sight better there, plenty of them also live in our Afan Trust woodlands. Now there’s snow on the ground, their tracks are everywhere and it’s plain to see how they scuffle along through it on their short legs quite unlike foxes, which step daintily like fashion models, one paw behind the other.

However, even those of you living in urban Japan will likely encounter these animals, too — in the form of the portly porcelain figures sporting big grins and even bigger testicles that are often placed at the entrance of izakaya(Japanese pubs), sitting there on their haunches clutching a flagon of sake as they welcome customers.

Meanwhile, in Japanese folklore and many traditional legends, tanuki are frequently portrayed as mischievous shape-changers that like to trick people. In real life, if they are suddenly surprised they will feign death, like an opossum — which is perhaps one reason why so many are hit by vehicles and killed on country and suburban roads. To their cost, they are also not as agile and nimble as foxes.

Like foxes in London, the tanuki are quite common in suburban Tokyo, and two tribes of them inhabit the Imperial Palace grounds. One tribe is very traditional in its dietary habits, while the other will eat pretty well anything.

How can this be known? Well, tanuki often tend to defecate in the same place, a sort of communal toilet, so by examining the droppings a biologist can find out what they are eating.

Because of this habit, tanuki are great spreaders of seeds from the kinds of wild berries and other fruits they like to eat, so when we clear out densely crowded trees in our woods to let the light in, they always seem to cooperate in bringing the understory back to life.

Although they are indigenous to regions of East Asia, tanuki were taken to many parts of Russia, and to Poland and elsewhere, to be raised for their fur, and there they have since spread into the wild.

In Japan’s snow country, such as where I live, you’ll sometimes come across references to tanuki jiru (tanuki stew), and when I moved to Kurohime in 1980 and joined its hunting association in order to learn about the mountains, woods and rural customs, I wanted to try everything. Consequently, at one post-hunt dinner I tucked into a tanuki stew made with tanuki meat, burdock, Japanese leeks, daikon radish and miso paste — while downing lots and lots of sake.

Believe me, you needed the sake to wash it down! I have lived with minority and indigenous peoples all over the world, and have tried and usually enjoyed some pretty unusual and sometimes smelly foods — but tanuki stew is something I don’t ever need to try again.

The first taste was quite good, and it certainly warms a person up after a long cold tramp in the snow. But then the lingering smell is hard to describe — a bit like skunk with an added fragrance of burned rubber.

I fancy myself as a cook, so when given tanuki meat by my local hunting friends I tried cooking it myself.

First, I removed the fat, which is smelly. Then I cut up the meat and soaked it for a while in cold, slightly salted water. Then I washed it in more cold water. I boiled it in an iron pot, repeatedly removing the scum. I then added the burdock and removed more scum. Then came the white radish, and even more scum. Finally I added the leeks and the miso paste and simmered gently for a couple of hours, adding sake both to the pot and myself to sweeten things up. And the taste? Hardly any difference.

Since then, the only wild mammals I’ve prepared as food here in Japan have been deer, wild boar, bear and hare.

When I see a tanuki, and especially the young ones, I can’t help smiling. To me, they are really cute. Yes, they do some damage to the fields, but nothing like that done by deer, wild boar, bears or monkeys.

Their numbers seem to be controlled by cyclic attacks of mange, a debilitating skin disease caused by parasites, or by a form of the viral disease distemper, which the tanuki almost certainly get from domestic dogs and perhaps cats. Right now, though, those in our areas seem very healthy indeed: fluffy, furry and fat.

The only tanuki I don’t like at all are the ones in human form — those that Japanese people call tanuki jiji (old tanuki men). This subset of the species has a reputation for falsehood, trickery and blatant deception — and this year, especially, they seem to be scuffling all over and around the national Diet.

Me, I prefer the ones out here in the countryside.

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Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga - World's Oldest Animal Manga?

Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga (鳥獣人物戯画?, lit. "Animal-person Caricatures"), commonly shortened to Chōjū-giga (鳥獣戯画?, lit. "Animal Caricatures") is a famous set of four picture scrolls, or emakimono, belonging to Kōzan-ji temple in Kyoto, Japan. The Chōjū-giga scrolls are also referred to as Scrolls of Frolicking Animals and Scrolls of Frolicking Animals and Humans in English. Some think that Toba Sōjō created the scrolls; however, it is hard to verify this. The right-to-left reading direction of Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga is still a standard method seen in modern manga and novels in Japan. Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga is also credited as the oldest work of manga. The scrolls are now entrusted to the Kyoto National Museum and Tokyo National Museum.
As opened, the first scroll illustrates anthropomorphic rabbits and monkeys bathing and getting ready for a ceremony, a monkey thief runs from animals with sticks and knocks over a frog from the lively ceremony. Further on, the rabbits and monkeys are playing and wrestling while another group of animals participate in a funeral and frog prays to Buddha as the scroll closes.
The scrolls were also adapted into several novels published by Geijutsuhiroba, the first book simply compiled the scrolls into one publication, now out of print. One of the books participated as part of the company's Fine Arts Log series as well as some were exclusive to certain exhibitions. Other companies like Misuzu Shobo and Shibundō also published books based on the Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga emakimono.
Although Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga is sometimes credited as the first manga,[1] there have been some disputes with the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. Seiki Hosokibara pointed to the Shigisan-engi scrolls as the first manga, and Kanta Ishida explained that the scrolls should be treated as masterpieces in their own right.

The Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga emakimono, belonging to the Kōzan-ji temple in Kyoto, Japan as an ancient cultural property,[2][3] were drawn in the mid-12th century, whereas the third and fourth scrolls date from the 13th century.[4]
The work belongs to the decline of the Fujiwara period, but it expresses in one of its best aspects the artistic spirit of their age. The artist is a delightful draughtsman. His pictures of animals disporting [themselves] in the garb of monks are alive with satirical fun. They are a true fruit of the native wit; they owe nothing to China beyond a vague debt to her older artistic tradition; and they bear witness to that reaction against the solemnities of Buddhist art which we have noticed.
George Bailey Sansomquoted from Japan, A Short Cultural History.[5]
Most think Toba Sōjō created Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga, who created a painting a lot like Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga,[4] however it is hard to verify this claim.[6][7][8] The drawings of Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga are making fun of Japanese priests in the creator's time period, characterising them as toads, rabbits and monkeys. Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga is read and rolled out from right to left which can still be seen in manga and Japanese books.[9] Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga is credited as being the oldest work of manga in Japan, and is a national treasure as well as many Japanese animators believe it is also the origin of Japanese animated movies.[4][10] In Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga the animals were drawn with very expressive faces and also sometimes used "speed lines", a technique used in manga til this day.[11] Emakimono like Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga and many others barely were seen in the public until they made their way into popular culture, with many common people imitating the style. Emakimono emerged very popular in the city of Ōtsu, Shiga, and being dubbed Ōtsu-e after its popularity in the city around the 17th century.[12] The first two scrolls are entrusted to the Tokyo National Museum, and the second two are entrusted to the Kyoto National Museum. The scrolls currently on display at Kōzan-ji are reproductions.

The first scroll, which is considered the most famous, depicts various animals (frogs, rabbits and monkeys) frolicking as if they were human.[2][4][14] There is no writing on any of the scrolls; they consist of pictures only.[15] The first scroll is also the largest, with a length of 11 meters (36 ft) and 30 cm (1 ft) wide.[4] As the first scroll is opened, rabbits and monkeys are bathing and swimming in a lake, moving on past the mountains, cliffs and trees are rabbits and frogs making bow and arrows. Further more, more rabbits and frogs are bringing pots and boxes to a (currently) unknown event. Frogs and rabbits pass by monks with their cattle (wild boar, sika deer)[16] and a monkey runs away, supposedly stealing, and being chased by a rabbit with a long stick, further more a frog is lying on the floor who could have possibly been knocked over by the thief. Nearby, a celebration has started with two frogs dancing, and a group of animals having a conversation. Not too far from the celebration are animals wrestling and fighting and two monkeys holding a box. Far from the celebration are a group of animals at a funeral and a frog praying in front of a frog shaped Budai as the scroll closes.

Book: Japan’s animal spirits

BONES OF CONTENTION: Animals and Religion inContemporary Japan, by Barbara R.
Ambros. University of Hawaii Press, 2012, 255 pp., $29 (paperback)
Bumping into a Japanese acquaintance on the street recently, I inquired where he was going on
his day off dressed in a formal business suit. A worker at a major pharmaceutical company, he
explained that he was participating in a ceremony honoring the spirits of all the animals that had
suffered during experiments in their laboratories. A Buddhist priest would be conducting the
In Barbara R. Ambros’ “Bones of Contention,” the writer includes a similar example of a
restaurant at the foot of a pet cemetery, which holds an annual memorial service for fish, birds
and mammals, in a spirit of gratitude for sentient creatures that are “martyrs for the sake of the
nation’s progress and prosperity.”
Obliged to kill hundreds of thousands of chickens after avian flu struck in 2004, the Japan Poultry
and Egg Farmer Association, we learn, held a large memorial service at the Tokyo Grand Hotel,
the altar bedizened with white lilies and a pyramid of boxed eggs. Such initially startling events
come, through the powerful transformer of Ambros’research, to gradually make perfect sense,
to even be perceived as morally well-grounded actions.
The author illustrates just how embedded animals have become in Japanese life, reflected in the
increasing desire of owners to be interred with their pets. And Buddhist temples, always on the
lookout for new sources of revenue, have welcomed the demand for memorialrites for pets.
The writer’s own entrée into this deathly landscape was more experiential than academic.
Ambros first came across mortuary rituals when her parakeet came down with sudden seizures,
the attacks requiring incubation in a Tokyo clinic and eventually euthanasia. It was there the vet
told her about the possibility of being interred and memorialized in a pet cemetery at a Nichiren temple.

Following the bifurcating paths that hands-on research often presents, the writer gained access
to pet funerals, usually the exclusive preserve of family members, surveyed websites dedicated
to pet loss, joined in online consolation chat rooms relating to propitiatory rites and funerals for
pets, tracked stories in the print media and the content of pet literature, even examining court
documents relating to legal cases connected to pet cemeteries.
Ambros touches on the intriguing subject of metamorphosis, which in Japanese folklore and
mythology often takes the more specific form of zoomorphism, the shape shifting of animals
into humans. Such beliefs may not be confined entirely to the past. One recalls in Alan Booth’s
travelogue, “The Roads to Sata,” the author being warned not to take a forest road at twilight, as
foxes, transformed into alluring women, would likely bewitch him. The book was written in the
Ambros questions the propensity of Japanese scholars to lean on oversimplistic dichotomies in
suggesting that they possess a closer relationship with animals than other races, one reflective
of a greater holistic sense of the natural world. The writer easily explodes the notion that the
Japanese live in harmonious coexistence with nature, noting that “Wildlife has been treated both
as a resource to be exploited and as pests and predators to be exterminated and feared.” This
would seem perfectly natural for a people who once hunted deer and boar with dogs, and who
now rank among the world’s more enthusiastic consumers of meat.
Ambros references the idea that attitudes to animals and their care vary regionally in Japan.
There may be something to this. Outsiders who have settled in Okinawa, for example, have
complained to me about the wretched mistreatment of animals there, comparing it to
conditions in China.
Interestingly, such attitudes do not preclude sentimentality about animals. On a recent trip to
Okinawa, I came across two dog statues facing each other across the water between Aka and
Zamami islands. Such was the passion of one dog, he swan each day to a beach on Zamami for a
rendezvous, a distance of some 3 km. This tale of loyalty and affection was even made into a
film. Like many an ambivalently sentimental people, the Japanese, it seems, cannot resist a good animal story.


Sea turtle that lost her front legs has been given artificial flippers

KOBE — A sea turtle that lost her front legs to a shark attack was bidding to match “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius on Tuesday, as she donned the latest in artificial flipper technology in Japan. Yu, an approximately 25-year-old female loggerhead turtle, was test-driving her 27th pair of artificial front legs around her home aquarium near Kobe, where she proves a draw for the crowds. The rubber limbs are attached to a vest slipped over her head, said the aquarium’s curator, Naoki Kamezaki. “We have worked hard to design the vest in a way that prevents the turtle from taking it off unwittingly,” he told AFP. “It can flutter the limbs as the vest is soft.” The creature, which weighs 96 kilograms and has a shell 82 centimeters long, was pulled out of a fisherman’s net and sent to the Suma Aqualife Park in mid-2008. One third of the right limb and half of the left limb were gone, in what Kamezaki believes must have been a shark attack. The aquarium started developing artificial limbs for the animal in late 2008 as it could swim only at about 60 percent of its normal speed. Earlier versions were squeezed into the stumps but were apparently painful to Yu. “Similar attempts have been made to attach artificial limbs to turtles around the world. But we have not heard if they went well,” said Kamezaki, an expert on sea turtles, whose surname coincidentally means “turtle cape” in Japanese. “Ours may be the only case in which a turtle with artificial limbs is still swimming without a problem.” In 2004, a dolphin at an aquarium in Okinawa became the first in the world to be fitted with a rubber tail fin. It lost its own tail due to illness. South African sprint king Pistorius, whose legs were amputated below his knees, won plaudits for his performance at last year’s London Olympics where he competed alongside able-bodied athletes.


Elephant tramples keeper to death at Shizuoka safari park

An elephant trampled its keeper to death at a zoo in Shizuoka Prefecture on Tuesday as he tried to stop the gigantic animal from attacking its new-born calf, police and reports said.

Inthavong Khamphone, who was from Laos, had watched the elephants overnight with other keepers at Fuji Safari Park after the mother gave birth on Sunday, police said.

“Khamphone entered the cage with another keeper because the mother started attacking the baby,” a local police officer said. “The mother then started attacking Khamphone.”

The 30-year-old was an elephant specialist who had been working with the creatures for around 15 years. He had come to Japan from Laos with the mother elephant in July last year, said Jiji Press and the Sankei daily citing the zoo.

Reports said the keeper had died after the two-ton elephant stood on his chest at the park, which is near Mount Fuji.


Raccoons take big bite out of crops

ASAHIKAWA, Hokkaido (Kyodo) Raccoons caused ¥164 million in damage to agricultural produce in 16 prefectures in fiscal 2006, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said Monday.
News photo

A raccoon is trapped in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, in September. ASAHIKAWA CITY PHOTO/KYODO
Hyogo Prefecture reported the most damage, saying ¥43.42 million worth of grapes and other produce was ruined. Hokkaido followed with damage reaching ¥27.82 million, centering on corn and melons.

Saitama suffered damage of ¥19.6 million, Osaka ¥18.7 million, Wakayama ¥16.6 million and Kanagawa ¥10.6 million, the ministry said.

Raccoons were blamed for damage when evidence such as tracks suggested their involvement, the ministry said. In fiscal 2004, raccoon damage was observed in only Hokkaido and five other regions.

Japan imported North American raccoons as pets in the 1970s when they became popular on an animated TV show. Many ended up being discarded or they ran away.

At the peak, Japan was importing more than 1,500 raccoons a year. The government has since banned importing them or keeping them as pets.

A nationwide study by the Environment Ministry has confirmed that raccoons live in at least 36 prefectures.


Japanese Cat Lovers Snarl at New Law

TOKYO (Reuters) - Times are looking tough for Tokyo's cat cafes, where feline aficionados can drop in for tea and some time with a cat.

At most such establishments, it's the post-work rush that brings in the most cash, with tired and harried professionals dropping by on their way homes to pet and play with the animals as a way of relieving stress.

But now the purrs of delight may be getting quieter.

A revision to Japan's Animal Protection Law, due to come into force on June 1, will slap a curfew on the public display of cats and dogs, forcing cat cafes to shut up shop at 8 p.m.

"There's this new revision which says we should be open from eight in the morning until eight at night. After 8 p.m. we have to put the cats in the back, away from the customers, and close," said Hiromi Kawase, the owner of one Tokyo cat cafe.

"Everybody knows cats are really happy in the evening, with their big, cute eyes. So I just can't understand why the people at the top are ignoring this. It's really strange."

Cat cafes have long been popular, catering to the many cat lovers who can't keep the animals at home because of strict housing regulations that forbid pets in many apartments.

Visitors to Kawase's cafe pay about 1,000 yen ($12) an hour to play with any of her 24 cats, who dart around the room chasing toys or sleep in baskets set on tables. Drinks are priced from around 300 yen each.

The government says the real targets of the tighter animal protection law are late-night pet shops, which often sell dogs and cats around the clock. The animals are kept in small cages under bright lights that are never sitched off.

Kawase's establishment is far from a 24-hour operation. Her doors close at 10 p.m., but she says many of her customers only arrive around eight, after work, and stay through to the close.

"If I can't see the cats, well, I won't come. Of course I come here because they have cats," said Tatsuo Karuishi, 41.

Karuishi visits the cafe at least twice a week, usually checking in at around eight, as does fellow feline fancier Ayumi Sekigushi.

"It's a great place, it calms the stresses of working life," said Sekigushi, 23. "If this law goes, through that enjoyment is going to disappear. It's a real shame."

While Kawase says the lost business hours will take a toll on profits, it's what that might mean for her cats that worries her the most.

"If our business hours go down and we lose two hours of profits, of course it's going to affect us, but it'll also affect the cats," she said.

"You know, in getting them all the things they need, like the correct amount of food and proper nutrition."


5 youths ordered to apologize to monkeys, clean pen for throwing fireworks

Five youths have apologized to the director of Kyoto Zoo after admitting to breaking into the premises early one morning in January and throwing fireworks at the zoo’s monkeys.

As part of their punishment, the five were ordered to apologize to the monkeys and clean their enclosure, according to a Fuji TV report.

Police say the group, all 18 years of age, consisted of high school students, construction workers and beauticians. According to police, the group had been drinking alcohol before they illegally entered the zoo on Jan 3 and threw lit fireworks into the monkey enclosure, Fuji reported.

CCTV camera footage showed them entering the zoo by scaling a wall at around 6:20 a.m. They then proceeded to terrorize the 26 monkeys for around 15 minutes. Zoo keepers reported that one animal sustained a burn to its face.

After police made the video footage public, the youths turned themselves in, Fuji reported. Police said they will likely press charges for breach of property damage and animal cruelty laws.

At the time of the incident, the director of Kyoto Zoo, Toshikuni Nihonmatsu, said the zoo discourages visitors from throwing anything into the enclosure, even food, due to the danger that the animals will lose trust in people, Fuji reported. “What was done to the monkeys was incredibly cruel,” he said.

The accused were taken to Kyoto Zoo on Feb 10, where they bowed and apologized to zoo staff, including Nihonmatsu. They were then told to bow and apologize to the monkeys, Fuji reported. They also cleaned the monkeys’ enclosure for around an hour as punishment.

Nihonmatsu told the group that he wanted them to understand how the monkeys must have felt and reflect on what they had done. He added that he wanted them to go on and be productive members of society, Fuji TV reported.