Wednesday

Peach the Chihuahua: Japan's newest police dog

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) – Meet Japan's newest police dog -- all 3 kg (6.6 lb) of her.

In what is a first for Japan and perhaps the world, a long-haired Chihuahua named "Momo" -- "Peach" -- passed exams to become a police dog in the western Japanese prefecture of Nara.

The brown-and-white, perky Momo was one of 32 successful candidates out of 70 dogs, passing a search and rescue test by finding a person in five minutes after merely sniffing their cap.

"Any breed of dog can be entered to become a police dog in the search and rescue division," said a Nara police spokesman.

But he admitted that news a Chihuahua had been entered may still come as a surprise to many.

"It's quite unusual," he said.

Television footage showed the 7-year-old Momo bounding across grass or sitting proudly, long hair blowing in the breeze.

Momo will be used for rescue operations in case of disasters such as earthquakes, in the hope that she may be able to squeeze her tiny frame into places too narrow for more usual rescue dogs, which tend to be German Shepherds.

The public response to the news of Momo's selection took police by surprise, the spokesman said, adding: "The phone's been ringing all afternoon."

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; editing by Paul Casciato)

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Thursday

Japan's mighty whale mountain | The Japan Times Online

Will killing whales make a comeback? Japan wants to hunt them. Mexico wants to save them. But for the world's largest mammals, the biggest problem is the ... about.(Briefings): An article from: OnEarthJapan's mighty whale mountain The Japan Times Online

Japan convicts Greenpeace's 'Tokyo Two' for whaling investigation

Tokyo – A Greenpeace effort to expose what it sees as widespread corruption in Japan's government-subsidized whaling industry ended on Monday with two of its activists convicted of theft and trespassing.

Greenpeace activists Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki -- dubbed the "Tokyo Two" by their organization -- received suspended sentences for taking a package from a delivery company in April 2008 that was filled with prime whale meat and addressed to the home of a crewmember on one of Japan's research whaling vessels.

The pair, acting on a tip from a former whaler that crews were privately taking and selling whale meat that rightfully belongs to the government, delivered the package along with an explanation of their investigation to the Tokyo Prosecutors`Office the following month. But rather than resulting in government action on the alleged practice, the two were soon arrested and charged.

This is the second recent case in which prosecutors have taken action against opponents of Japan's whaling industry. In July New Zealander Peter Bethune was handed a two-year suspended sentence for illegally boarding a Japanse whaling vessel in the Southern Ocean as part of an effort to disrupt whaling by Sea Shepherds activists.

The verdict was “a partial vindication, because the two activists are not going to prison,â€

A brief investigation into embezzlement in Japan’s “scientific whaling” industry was dropped in June 2008 and the pair arrested following dramatic raids involving dozens of policemen and in front of the media, who had been tipped-off by the police.

The trial began in February this year, despite protests from the defense team that there was no case to answer as the investigation had been in the public interest and there had been no intention to profit from taking the meat.

With the conviction rate in Japanese criminal trials still running at over 99 percent, despite the introduction last year of a jury-like lay judge system, the chances for the activists were never good.

The court acknowledged that there had been “dubious practicesâ€

“The activists’ actions were clearly not criminal in nature, and they acted solely in the public interest to expose theft of Japanese taxpayers’ money,” said Naidoo, who called on the government to open an inquiry into corruption in its subsidized whaling industry.

"While the court acknowledged that there were questionable practices in the whaling industry, it did not recognize the right to expose these, as is guaranteed under international law,” said defendant Sato. “The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on which our defense was based, supercedes domestic criminal law, but the judgment did not properly take this into account."

The prosecution had sought terms of 18 months for the accused. Instead they received 12-month suspended sentences. But according to Sato the verdict sends a message that “if you do something like this, you can be imprisoned.”

Greenpeace says it will appeal the verdict.

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Critics skewer Lady Gaga's meat dress

NEW YORK (AFP) – Animal rights activists stuck a fork in Lady Gaga's meat dress Tuesday but supporters rallied around the bizarre singer, saying her outfit was absolutely sizzling.

The professional provocateur upstaged the MTV music video awards late Sunday not just by walking away with eight prizes, but taking that walk in enormous shoes and a nifty dress made entirely of raw steak.

Now Lady Gaga, whose "Bad Romance" hit swept the awards, stands accused of bad taste.

"Lady Gaga has a hard time being 'over the top,'" said People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "Someone should whisper in her ear that there are more people upset by butchery than impressed by it."

"Meat is the decomposing flesh of an abused animal who didn't want to die, and after time spent under the TV lights, it would smell like the rotting flesh that it is and likely be crawling in maggots."

The singer is known for her theatrical sartorial taste so it was no surprise when she shuffled awkwardly across the MTV stage in Los Angeles in what appeared to television viewers to be simply an uncomfortable and oversized pair of boots bound in string.

The only reference Lady Gaga made to what she was wearing was a mysterious comment while collecting her Video of the Year gong about handing her "meat purse" to '80s icon Cher.

The purse, it turned out, really was a big chunk of meat -- cheap cuts and trimmings, not sirloin, according to butchers. And so was her hat.

Lady Gaga explained later that the fleshy look -- which she repeats with a meat swimming suit on the October cover of Vogue Hommes in Japan -- "has many interpretations."

The most common theory is that her steak-powered statement referenced her support for gays in the US military and opposition to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuals in the ranks.

"Well, it is certainly no disrespect to anyone that is vegan or vegetarian," she told talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who is a vegan.

"If we don't stand up for what we believe in and if we don't fight for our rights, pretty soon we're going to have as much rights as the meat on our own bones. And I am not a piece of meat."

Whatever it meant, the stunt ensured Lady Gaga's continued notoriety -- and a long menu of meaty jokes.

"She's Lady Tartare in this moo-moo!" screamed the New York Daily News. "Gaga in all her 'gory'" punned the rival New York Post.

And far from everyone felt disgusted.

Designer Franc Fernandez proudly posted pictures of the project on his website, http://francfernandez.blogspot.com, and fans congratulated him on his workmanship.

"You are a cut above the rest," one wrote on the blog.

Cher, who certainly got close enough to know whether there were really maggots, also applauded the skirt steak.

"The way it was cut and fitted to her body was AMAZING! Meat purse was genius! As Art piece it was astonishing! No moral Judgment!" tweeted the singer.

Rich Hanley, professor of communications at Quinnipiac University, said Lady Gaga showed perfect media savvy in how she unveiled her stunt -- showing up in the attention-grabbing outfit, but not talking about it.

"If she'd said 'look at me, I'm wearing meat,' it would have destroyed any build up in the eco system of the web," Hanley said. "You just let Facebook and Twitter do the heavy lifting for you."

"It shows how high the bar is -- or how low the bar is -- in this media environment," he said.

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Obama urged to help end Japan's dolphin hunt

TOKYO (AFP) – Animal rights activists protested against Japan's dolphin hunts in a rally outside the US embassy in Tokyo Thursday, calling on President Barack Obama to pressure the country over the issue.

Ric O'Barry, star of the Oscar-winning eco-documentary "The Cove", handed a petition with 1.7 million signatures from more than 150 countries to US embassy officials, a day after the dolphin season started in the town of Taiji.

"We have come to ask President Obama to get involved in this issue and ask the Japanese government to abolish this annual, anachronistic, brutal slaughter of dolphins," said O'Barry, who trained dolphins for the TV show "Flipper".

The US president is expected to visit Japan in November for an annual summit of Asia-Pacific leaders.

Some 70 volunteers from countries including the United States, Canada and Australia have gathered in Tokyo to join O'Barry, and 40 of them accompanied him up to the police security perimeter around the US embassy.

O'Barry said the group had called off plans to visit Taiji, in southwestern Japan, after receiving threats of violence from right-wing nationalist groups that defend the country's right to hunt dolphins and whales.

"Police have warned me that, if I went, there would be violence," he said. "We don't want to provoke violence."

Every year, fishermen in Taiji herd about 2,000 dolphins into a shallow bay, select several dozen for sale to aquariums and marine parks and harpoon the rest for meat.

Japanese media said fishermen in Taiji had trapped some 20 bottlenose dolphins in the secluded cove on Thursday, the first

catch of the season, but a local fisherman declined to confirm the reports.

"We don't want to be reported on by foreign media," he said. "This is what we do for a living. We are worn out because of the row over 'The Cove'."

The crew that shot the film over several years often worked secretly and at night to elude authorities and angry fishermen, setting up disguised cameras underwater and in forested hills around the rocky cove.

"The Cove", directed by Louie Psihoyos, won the Academy Award for best documentary this year. A follow-up television series called "Blood Dolphins" is airing on the Animal Planet channel.

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Wednesday

Panda in Japan zoo dies during breeding programme

Panda in Japan zoo dies during breeding programme

Kou Kou, or Xing Xing in Chinese, died Thursday of cardiac arrest after failing to recover from an anaesthetic at the Oji Zoo in the western port city of Kobe.

Veterinarians had sedated the 14-year-old animal as part of a programme to impregnate his partner Tan Tan, or Shuang Shuang in Chinese, also 14.

The zoo has set up a site for floral tributes and a message board.

Giant pandas, a highly endangered species native to parts of China, are notoriously slow at reproducing in captivity.

The Kobe zoo, after trying in vain to naturally mate the pair from 2003 to 2006, then began trying artificial insemination.

Tan Tan became pregnant in 2007 but the cub was stillborn. She had a live birth the following August, but the cub died three days later.

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Tuesday

Pick The Better Investment: A Home Or Your Mattress

Pick The Better Investment: A Home Or Your Mattress
by NPR Staff

- September 11, 2010

"You need to invest in your future." "A home is a great investment." "It might be painful for a while, but it's worth it."

These are the refrains Dawn Crowell of St. Paul, Minn., heard over and over again from just about everyone.

The single mother of four eventually bought a house with the assumption that it would only increase in value. But like millions of Americans, Crowell has seen the value of her house plummet.

Over the past four years, Americans have lost more than $5 trillion in wealth tied up in their homes. Economists hold vastly different views on whether there are worse days to come, and whether the home was ever meant to be a nest egg.

The 40-Year Bubble

Market-watcher Barry Ritholtz tells NPR's Guy Raz that based on his estimates, homes are still overvalued by about 10 to 20 percent, and that means prices can go down even further.

For him, there is no such thing as a foolproof investment, and the conditions that created the rising home values of the last 20 to 40 years were rare.

"If you look at the factors that were driving home prices from 1970 to 2000, they don't exist going forward," he says.

Ritholtz attributes the housing bubble to both the availability of credit and the baby boom generation. He says in the '80s and '90s that generation was at prime home-buying age, and now, that demographic bulge no longer exists.

Plus, he says, there’s the impact of mortgage rates, now at record lows just above 4 percent.

"They're likely over the next 10 to 20 [years] to go higher and that creates a headwind to potential real estate appreciation," he says.

Long-Term Investment

But according to professor Karl Case, one half of the Case-Shiller index, there's some good news as well.

The Case-Shiller index is one of the best measures of home values, and the latest numbers show that homes are now worth about the same as they were in 2003.

Case says the housing market seems to have bottomed out, and in some places, prices are coming back up.

The cost of California homes -- which account for a quarter of the market -- have gone up dramatically. Not long ago, San Francisco had hit bottom; Case says that market is now up by 21 percent.

"Eventually when prices get down low enough, people are going to buy this property," he says. "They're going to buy it up, they're going to live in it, and by all historical standards, they're getting a pretty good bargain right now."

According to Case, prices are the best they've been in five years -- and perhaps in his lifetime. He says the idea of a house having ever-increasing value never existed, but a house can still be a good long-term investment.

"If you don't think of housing just as something to earn you capital gains in the long run, but something you're going to live in, and you can afford to pay the payments on it," he says, "it looks to be a pretty good deal." [Copyright 2010 National Public Radio]

To learn more about the NPR iPhone app, go to http://iphone.npr.org/recommendnprnews

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Wednesday

Japan Offers $2,400 Bounty for Capture of Monkey Terrorizing Resort Town

A Japanese town is offering a 200,000 yen ($2,400) reward for the capture of a monkey that’s broken into houses and attacked 43 people in the past month.

A single male macaque, aged about 5 years, is believed to be responsible for the attacks, said Masayuki Miyazaki, a spokesman for the Mishima city government. The bounty will be introduced today and given to anyone able to lock the monkey in their house, he said.

“Many people are afraid to go outside,” Miyazaki said by telephone today. “We’ve had isolated cases of crop damage by monkeys before, but there’s never been anything like this.”

The monkey is also believed to be responsible for 38 attacks in three nearby towns, he said. The only reported injuries have been minor scratches and bites. Mishima, located about 100 kilometers (62 miles) southwest of Tokyo, updates a website every day to provide residents with information about the attacks.

At least eight people were lightly bitten in the town yesterday and there were 15 reported monkey sightings, according to the website.

About 10,000 Japanese macaques, also known as Snow Monkeys, are caught nationwide each year to prevent damage to crops, according to the Ministry of Environment.

More than 200 Mishima government workers, some armed with tranquilizer guns, this morning searched the town for the monkey, Miyazaki said. There were no sightings of the primate.

Parents have been advised to walk their children to school, and the city has increased police patrols. Residents should be particularly watchful in the morning when monkeys are likely to be more active, Mishima’s website says.

“The monkey is probably just seeking attention and wanting to play, but people need to be careful,” Miyazaki said. “They should run if they see the monkey.”

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Saturday

Dolphins herded in Japanese cove but none killed

Fishermen drive bottle-nose dolphins into a net during their annual hunt off Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture (state), Japan, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010. The J AP – Fishermen drive bottle-nose dolphins into a net during their annual hunt off Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture …

TOKYO – Japanese fishermen herded dolphins into a cove made famous by an Oscar-winning documentary about the hunt but did not kill any Friday, as conservationist groups ramped up scrutiny of the annual slaughter.
An official in the seaside village of Taiji, depicted in the film "The Cove," said a handful of the best-looking dolphins were kept to be sold to aquariums, but the rest were set free Friday morning. He declined to give details.
The decision to set most of the dolphins free marks a departure from past practice.
Conservationist group Sea Shepherd said it has been monitoring Taiji with a small crew of activists this week, and urged people to come to the village to help save the dolphins.
Dolphins swim in pods in the ocean. Taiji fishermen herd them by scaring them with noise into the cove, save some for aquariums and kill the rest, piercing them repeatedly until the waters turn red with blood.
It was not clear where the activists had stationed themselves Friday, but it was unlikely they would be able to see any slaughter since the cove is hidden from the village itself. But they would likely be able to watch the fishermen return to the village with their catch.
The shocking depiction of the slaughter in "The Cove" has launched calls for the hunt to be stopped. The film, which stars Ric O'Barry, won this year's Academy Award for best documentary.
On Thursday, a day after the annual hunt began in Taiji, O'Barry, 70, took a petition calling for its end with 1.7 million signatures from 155 nations to the U.S. Embassy.
O'Barry, the former dolphin trainer for the 1960s "Flipper" TV show and a longtime dolphin activist, has received threats from a violent nationalist group and skipped going to Taiji this year, a trip he normally makes to protest the hunt. He said he had been advised by Japanese authorities not to go.
Taiji residents say the criticism the town has received from the West is unfair because residents are merely trying to make a living in an area where a rocky landscape would make farming and livestock-raising difficult.
Nationalist groups say criticism of dolphin hunting is a denigration of Japanese culture.
The Japanese government allows a hunt of about 20,000 dolphins a year, and argues that killing them — and whales — is no different from raising cows or pigs for slaughter. Most Japanese have never eaten dolphin meat and, even in Taiji, it is not consumed regularly.
The government is also critical of Sea Shepherd, which has harassed Japanese whaling ships. In July, a Tokyo court convicted New Zealander Peter Bethune, a former Sea Shepherd activist, of obstructing a Japanese whaling mission in the Antarctic Ocean, assault, trespassing and other charges. He was deported.
"I'm not losing hope. Our voice is being heard in Taiji," said O'Barry, who has campaigned for four decades to save dolphins not only from slaughter but also from captivity.
__
Online:
"The Cove": http://www.thecovemovie.com/

Japan man drives wrong way on highway due to dead cat

 Japan man drives wrong way on highway due to dead cat  Motorists are caught in a traffic jam along a highway in Tokyo. A Japanese man drove the wrong way down …

TOKYO (AFP) – A Japanese man drove the wrong way down an expressway for 90 kilometres (55 miles) and broke through five police barricades because his cat had died, he told police.

Tsutomu Mizumoto, 31, was arrested early Wednesday on the northern island of Hokkaido, the Mainichi daily reported.

Police said they responded to an emergency call about 5:45 a.m. about a car driving the wrong way on a motorway near the city of Otaru. They spotted the vehicle 15 minutes later and pursued the driver, ordering him to stop.

Mizumoto ignored them and drove on, smashing through five emergency blockades and passing through a tollgate. He finally stopped at about 7:15 a.m. when police detained him.

"I was sad that my pet cat died," he was quoted as telling police. "I wanted to do something crazy."


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Unfazed by `The Cove' Taiji's Fishermen Prepare to Resume Dolphin Hunt

Visitors look at dolphins
Visitors look at dolphins in a pool at the Taiji Whale Museum in Taiji Town, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan. Photographer: Yuzuru Yoshikawa/Bloomberg
A flower is put on a barricade
A flower is put on a barricade in front of a road leading into the cove for practices "oikomi.", a method of hunting in which dolphins are herded into a bay for slaughter, in Taiji Town, Wakayama Prefecture. Photographer: Yuzuru Yoshikawa/Bloomberg
Kazutaka Sangen
Kazutaka Sangen, mayor of Taiji, speaks during an interview in Taiji Town, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan. Photographer: Masatsugu Horie/Bloomberg
"The Cove."
A diver swims with dolphins in this undated film still from "The Cove." Source: Sundance Film Festival via Bloomberg
Fishermen in Taiji, whose annual dolphin slaughter was depicted in the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove,” say they will resume the hunt next week because the 400-year-old tradition is the foundation of their industry.
“We have no intention to stop hunting dolphins,” Miyato Sugimori, administrative chief of the Taiji Town Fisheries Association, said in an Aug. 25 interview. “Our young fishermen can’t continue to live in this town without the hunt.”
Of Japan’s annual quota of 20,000 dolphins, about 1,500 are killed or sold to aquariums by fishermen in the town in Wakayama prefecture, south of Osaka. Taiji’s practice of “oikomi,” a method of hunting in which dolphins are herded into a bay for slaughter, drew worldwide criticism after the documentary was released.
“It’s a horrific way to kill them,” said Sakae Hemmi, a spokeswoman for Elsa Nature Conservancy, a Japanese environmental protection group. “Even if they let them go, the structure of the dolphins’ group is disrupted.”
According to the Japan Fisheries Agency, Taiji is the only place in Japan that practices “oikomi.” After herding the dolphins into the bay, the fishermen impale them with harpoons.
Driving a spear into the dolphin’s brain can kill the mammal in as little as two seconds and is the most humane way to conduct the slaughter, said Sugimori, who is seen in “The Cove” observing the filmmakers. Sugimori, 59, said the hunt is needed to make the local fishing industry viable.
“If we relied solely on other forms of fishing, our annual income would be about 2 million yen ($24,000), which is not enough to live on,” said Sugimori. About 6 percent of the town’s population is involved in fisheries, he said.
Cows, Kangaroos
Japan exported 56 live dolphins to countries including China, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey in 2008, receiving an average of 5.2 million yen per dolphin, according to Elsa Nature Conservancy, which cited Ministry of Finance statistics. Dolphin meat sells for about 1,000 yen a kilogram in Taiji, Sugimori said. The lowest grade of tuna sold in a local supermarket costs three times as much.
“Westerners eat cows, Australians eat kangaroos,” Sugimori said. “Japan, including Taiji, is surrounded by ocean, so we eat things from the sea which include fish, whales and dolphins. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Sugimori said if dolphin hunting was banned, young people may choose office jobs that pay more rather than join his association, which has an average age of 68. The association filed for bankruptcy and was restructured in February 2007, according to Tokyo Shoko Research.
‘Mental Capacity’
Alex Sarkissian, 17, a Canadian student who was visiting the Taiji Whale Museum, said he didn’t know dolphin hunting was a Japanese tradition.
“I like dolphins, and I don’t see why they would slaughter them,” he said. “I can’t compare dolphins and cows. They’re not on the same level of mental capacity.”
The cove depicted in the documentary can be reached by swimming for 10 minutes from Kujirahama, or “whale beach.” Surrounded by walls of rocks and trees, the 20-meter shoreline is littered with empty drink bottles and fishing rope. A security camera stands guard atop a metal pole.
Taiji’s mayor, Kazutaka Sangen, said dolphins remain an important resource for the town of 3,500 people. The “oikomi” hunt lasts from September to February.
“There are no other industries here. We can’t harvest rice or vegetables and there’s very little fresh water,” said Sangen, 62. “If we couldn’t hunt dolphins and whales, this town would have died out a long time ago.”
‘Staged Scenes’
Sangen said he gives a “zero” to “The Cove” because it wasn’t factual. He said the filmmakers staged certain scenes and deliberately provoked confrontations with fishermen to create entertaining footage.
Asked about the filming, Louie Psihoyos, the documentary’s director, said no parts of “The Cove” were staged.
“We spent two days of negotiations with the mayor’s office in order to get their side of the story,” Psihoyos wrote today in an email. “They decided not to cooperate because they feared any exposure of what was going on would compromise their business.”
“The Cove” began limited release in Japan in July and had lower-than-expected box office sales, according to Takeshi Kato, president of Unplugged Inc., the Japanese distributor.
Atsushi Matsumura, manager of the Seventh Art Theater, a cinema in Osaka that screened the film for six weeks, said about 5,000 people came to see it.
“As a documentary, I thought it was second rate,” said Matsumura. The cinema received protest letters and phone calls prior to screening the film, he said.
“We screened ‘The Cove’ because we wanted audiences to watch it and decide for themselves.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Adam Le in Osaka at ale14@bloomberg.net; Masatsugu Horie in Osaka at mhorie3@bloomberg.net

Tuesday

Cool Photo Blog From Japan

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Men chase nine-meter mechanized whale

In this photo taken on Aug. 14, 2010, men on a rowboat chase a nine-meter (30-foot) mechanized whale during the annual whaling festival in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture in western Japan in a re-creation of the old whale hunts, when hundreds of men in dozens of boats would set out with knives and harpoons. The ancient village has a long and complex relationship with the dolphin. In early September, the waters of this same cove will turn blood red, as it becomes a holding pen for the annual dolphin hunts.

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Japanese mayor defends dolphin hunts

Japanese mayor defends dolphin hunts

TAIJI, Japan – As children in inner tubes bob on the calm waters of this small ocean cove, a 550-pound (250-kilogram) dolphin zips through the crowd in pursuit of raw squid tossed out by a trainer.

Niru, a Risso's dolphin caught locally, seems unbothered by all the people and the squeals of surprise and delight. The cove is packed — it's a bright summer Sunday and hundreds of families have come.

But in two weeks, the waters of the cove will turn blood red, as it becomes a holding pen for annual hunts that capture and kill hundreds of dolphins each year.

The ancient village of Taiji, portrayed in the Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove," has a long and complex relationship with the dolphin. The film portrays the dolphin hunts as a sinister secret, cruel and dangerous because the the animals have high mercury levels.

But the hunts are no secret in this village, where Risso meat sells for $10 a pound at the local supermarket. And the villagers are deeply and stubbornly proud of their centuries-old tradition, whatever Hollywood says.

"We will pass down the history of our ancestors to the next generation, preserve it. We have a strong sense of pride about this," Mayor Kazutaka Sangen told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview. "So we are not going to change our plans for the town based on the criticism of foreigners."

For Sangen, dolphins are no more special than other animals, and fishermen have the right to start their hunts when the season opens again Sept. 1. He emphasized that he didn't speak directly for Taiji's dolphin hunters, who number about 60 and hunt with the permission of the national and prefectural governments.

But to activists like Ric O'Barry, the "Flipper" trainer-cum-activist who stars in "The Cove," dolphins deserve to be protected because they are different from other animals.

"Dolphins have a brain larger than the human brain. They're self-aware, like people and like the great apes. They're not fish, chicken, cows, pigs or other domesticated animals," he said while in Tokyo to promote the movie in June.

The dolphins caught in the region are not endangered. In 2008, the prefecture caught 1,857 dolphins, far less than other parts of Japan, which allows about 20,000 to be killed each year. Taiji fishermen use a method called "oikomi" to hunt dolphins, banging on metal poles in their boats to create a wall of sound and herd them to shore, where they are harpooned for meat or captured alive as show animals.

Nestled around a small bay, the tiny town of 3,500 is suffused with a fierce independence. It has refused to join surrounding villages as they merge, and ignores criticism as it seeks to become an international whaling and cetacean research center.

This was the birthplace of Japanese whaling in the 1600s, and shrines to the animals dot the streets, with the history celebrated in a series of annual festivals. While dolphins can be playmates, they are primarily seen as big game animals — an idea many foreigners find difficult to stomach.

The Cove's success has thrust the town and its traditions into the international spotlight, with much of the attention negative. Local fishermen decline comment, saying their words have too often been twisted by foreign reporters.

The movie depicts a team of environmentalists with hidden cameras as they capture bloody footage of dolphins being slaughtered. The fishermen who try to block the film crew are presented as rough goons.

Sangen and other officials say that during hunts, the cove is the equivalent of a slaughterhouse, a gory place by nature and usually closed off from public view anywhere in the world.

"We just hope that this issue can be viewed in a more realistic way," says Katsutoshi Mihara, head of the town council.

Taiji's pride was on display at its annual whaling festival earlier this month, when two sleek rowboats full of men in red loincloths chased a 30-foot (nine-meter) mechanized whale around the main bay, its artificial blowhole shooting up jets of water. It is a re-creation of the old hunts, when 200 men in dozens of boats would set out with knives and harpoons to kill a whale, young daredevils diving into the sea to prove themselves against an angry leviathan 1,000 times their weight.

Crowds line the dock to watch the "hunt," then everyone settles in for a night of fireworks, which include giant sparkly whale and dolphin outlines.

Hayato Sakurai, a history curator at the local whale museum, says the town's past links the issue to its pride and sense of duty, though few are directly involved today.

Taiji residents also carry their history in their last names, which many Japanese adopted in the 1870s, usually based on their occupation. Twenty-five percent of the town is still named Ryono, which means "sea field" and was often taken by whaleboat rowers. Descendants of harpooners are named Seiko, after their pursuit boats, and lookouts became Tomi, literally "far seeing."

The Japanese debut of "The Cove" this summer turned into a battle over free speech, with nationalist groups intimidating cinemas into canceling showings even while intellectuals urged them not to back down.

The accuracy of the documentary, and the context under which people agreed to appear in it, have been hotly debated in Japan. Unlike the U.S. version, most faces are blurred out, with disclaimers added that those interviewed are not protesting or supporting dolphin issues.

Many in the town say they are unhappy with how they are portrayed. Councilman Hisato Ryono, who talks about mercury levels in the dolphins, says he was deceived about the film's content beforehand.

Louie Psihoyos, the American director, said that he was open about the subject of the film with those he interviewed, and complaints have only come after its success and the accompanying backlash against the town.

"It wasn't a film on dog walking. There is only one reason you go to Taiji — that's to film dolphin hunting. That's what we were doing," he told The Associated Press.

The success of the movie has emboldened activists and deepened their pockets. This year, the usual motley assortment of local English teachers, surfers and save-the-dolphin activists are likely to turn out in bigger numbers than normal to protest the hunts and perhaps scuffle with local fishermen. But a major nationalist organization also says it will go to "stop disturbances by Western white people," while a more liberal group is planning a "Peace Walk" in honor of Taiji.

Even the more sympathetic in the town government say protests are unlikely to cause any change.

"They're not going to stop the hunts," says Ryono.

Several years ago he helped raise the issue of high mercury levels in local dolphins, the meat of which was being fed to school children, an issue later covered in the movie. That practice was stopped and a national lab was called in to conduct ongoing mercury tests on Taiji residents. The results showed some abnormally high mercury levels in the villagers, but no ill effects have been found.

Local residents mostly roll their eyes when asked about the film. Many, such as Sen Morimoto, 61, a former firefighter, are more worried about the future of the town as its younger generations leave for broader pastures — two of his three children have moved away, and the third says business at the local auto company where he works is worsening.

Mayor Sangen says that most people in Taiji are unconcerned about "The Cove" or the protests.

"People here really don't care about this," he said. "They've been living the slow life for 400 years. Even if foreigners suddenly appear, and Japanese, waving flags and saying 'it's terrible, it's terrible,' we've always eaten this way."

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Monday

"The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it – as long as you really believe a 100 percent."

— Arnold Schwarzenegger

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Oldest giant salamander dies

Oldest giant salamander dies

KUSHIRO, Hokkaido (Kyodo) A 126-cm giant salamander on display for 45 years at Obihiro Zoo in Hokkaido and deemed a national natural treasure died last weekend, the zoo said.

End of the line: A 126-cm giant salamander appears at Hokkaido's Obihiro Zoo in July. The amphibian, believed over 55 years old, died Sunday. OBIHIRO ZOO/KYODO PHOTO



The 19-kg amphibian was the longest-kept and oldest giant salamander in Japan. Records at the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums put its age at over 55.

"It had just appeared on the cover of the summer edition of our newsletter. I'm disappointed," zoo director Ken Fujikawa said.

"It wasn't that spectacular in appearance but amazed us for living so long."

Maneki Neko, the Beckoning Cat

Written by Sheeva H. & Edited by Tony Pham

We have all seen the cat figures sitting in the windows or on shelves of different stores and restaurants, but many of us may not have questioned its origin or complete significance. The maneki neko (招き猫), or the beckoning cat, is the name given to all those little cat figurines, which have one paw raised while the other holds an item, most commonly a coin.

This article will be focusing on the maneki neko and the stylistic features of it, such as the posture, color or the item it carries. It is very hard to set an exact standard on what each symbol, posture or color may represent when it comes to the figure. Different people, families and manufacturers may all have different interpretations on the different styles of the figures. For this reason, while mentioning some of the more commonly observed traits and representations, it should be known that a great deal of controversy may be found from other sources.

In general, most of these cats are created to depict a Japanese Bobtail. They are often created out of porcelain, but can also be found made out of a variety of material including wood, clay or even paper maché. In terms of the color of the bobtail cat, the most common one to see is the standard calico cat. It is tri-colored and generally depicted as a white cat with two-colored spots. While different people and manufacturers interpret all the colors differently, this particular cat is most commonly perceived to be the luckiest of all the colors. Following the calico cat comes the white cat, recognized as a symbol for purity and good things to come. A few of the other colors include the following: black cats to ward off evil; red cats to signify luck in relationships and marriage; green cats to represent health and/or educational success; gold cats to signify wealth; and pink cats, which are a more modern color, to represent luck in relationships.

If you have seen many of these good luck charms, you may have also had the chance to notice cats holding up either their left or right paw, or in some cases, both. For some, this can signify different things, and for others, it may not signify anything at all. In general, it is thought that the left paw is used to attract customers to the store, while the right paw is for attracting money and good fortune. For this reason, maneki neko with their right paws raised are used for piggy banks. Others, however, may say that the two paws signify the opposite: that the right paw attracts customers and the left paw attracts money and good fortune. Others will argue that the two are very closely correlated because customers bring money. In the case of having both paws raised, the cat is often thought to be, as one may have guessed, inviting both customers and money. Another significant factor that may be overlooked is the height at which the paw is raised. The higher the paw, the more luck the cat will bring. Finally, there is one more aspect to the paw that comments on the cultural differences between Japanese and Western cultures. In Japan, the beckoning action is done with the palm facing forward, mimicking the way the cat was made to look. Within Western cultures, the beckoning action is done with the back of the hand facing forward, moving the hand in a motion to bring someone closer. For this reason, a more Western style of maneki neko has been created, depicting a cat showing the back of his paw.



As mentioned before, the beckoning cat is most often seen holding a coin, which is known as koban (小判). Around the time the maneki neko came into existence, the coin that it now holds, the ryou (両), had a large monetary value to it (around one thousand American dollars). Nowadays, the cat is shown holding a larger amount. Another item that one of these cats may be seen carrying is a hammer, known as the Uchide no Kozuchi (打ち出の小槌), used to represent wealth. This “miracle mallet”, when shaken, is said to bring the person whatever they wish for, in this case, money. In some cases, you may see a maneki neko holding onto a fish, most likely a carp; a daruma (達磨), a Japanese paper maché doll (to learn more about the daruma please click here [not yet available]; or an ema (絵馬 prayer tablet)[not yet available].

The final aspects of the maneki neko to take into consideration are the collars, bells, and bibs that can be found on many of the cats. To better understand the existence of these items, one must look back a bit into history. In the past, during the Edo period, these forms of cats were quite expensive and most women would give them a red collar. The cats would also have a bell to help the owners keep track of their cat’s location. This trend from the past has seemingly been passed down to the maneki neko figurines, as many cats can be found to have a red collar adorned with a bell. The bib on a maneki neko can vary in extravagance, from the very simple to the very elaborate. These bibs may be something purely ornamental (as some toy animals in Japan also have bibs), or for some they may have more of a religious significance. This is yet again another factor to the maneki neko whose significance can truly vary depending on an individual person's own belief.

As you can see, there is quite a great deal more to a maneki neko than what one might first believe. The combination of color, item, and the orientation of the paw can all alter the meaning of a particular maneki neko. Perhaps now you may be interested in purchasing a little cat of your own, maybe to boost your own luck in a particular area of life. These cats can be found in many sizes from basic key chains to the figures that you see in restaurants and businesses, and maybe there is one cat out there that is right for you. If you are interested in reading more of the history of these cats and some of the legends about their existence, please feel free to view this article [not yet available].

Thursday

Giant brown trout caught in Hokkaido lake

Giant brown trout caught in Hokkaido lake

Yuichi Yamao holds the giant brown trout he caught in Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido, on July 21. (Photo courtesy of Ito Hot Spring, Lake Shikotsu)
Yuichi Yamao holds the giant brown trout he caught in Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido, on July 21. (Photo courtesy of Ito Hot Spring, Lake Shikotsu)

CHITOSE, Hokkaido -- A giant brown trout, possibly the largest ever landed in the country, has been caught in Lake Shikotsu, Japan Game Fish Association officials said.

The 97.5-centimeter, 14.05-kilogram trout was caught on July 21 by Yuichi Yamao, 38, a company manager who lives in Hong Kong. With a fishing career of some 30 years, the angler hooked the fish at around 4 a.m. after a 15-minute fight.

It is highly likely that the brown trout will be registered as the largest ever landed in Japan, breaking the current record of a 13.55-kilogram trout caught in the lake in June last year, according to the association.

Originating from Europe, brown trout mainly inhabit lakes worldwide.

"It may be possible to even beat the world record (18.79 kilograms) here in Japan," said Yamao, who often travels around the world in search of big fish.

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雑記帳:釣果、日本記録更新か 北海道・支笏湖

雑記帳:釣果、日本記録更新か 北海道・支笏湖

巨大なブラウントラウトをつり上げた山尾裕一さん=2010年7月21日、支笏湖いとう温泉提供
巨大なブラウントラウトをつり上げた山尾裕一さん=2010年7月21日、支笏湖いとう温泉提供

 北海道千歳市の支笏湖の美笛沖で21日、体長約97.5センチ、重さ14.05キロのブラウントラウト(サケ科)が釣り上げられた。ジャパンゲームフィッシュ協会によると、09年6月に支笏湖で釣られた13.55キロの日本記録を更新する可能性が高いという。

 釣ったのは、香港在住の会社経営、山尾裕一さん(38)で、釣り歴は約30年。約15分間の格闘の末、午前4時ごろに釣り上げた。

 ブラウントラウトは欧州原産で、世界の湖などに生息する。大物を求めて世界各地に出掛けるという山尾さん。支笏湖での釣果に、「日本でも世界記録(18.79キロ)に届くかも」と笑顔だった。【円谷美晶】

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Wednesday


DSCN3414, originally uploaded by Kate the Jet.

Kamugawa Hog


Kamugawa Hog_4V8026, originally uploaded by Skyhorse Photography.

Monkeys in the Onsen


Monkeys in the Onsen, originally uploaded by Emma and Liesl.

なぁに?


なぁに?, originally uploaded by maisuke*.

Shika Deer, Lake Fuhren, 24.6.10


, originally uploaded by Fran and Vicki's Photos.

Japanese bullfights draw fans as corrida struggles

Japanese bullfights draw fans as corrida struggles

Mon, Aug 2 2010

By Antoni Slodkowski

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - As two bulls crush their sweat-drenched bodies against each other with blood-shot eyes and foam dripping from their mouths, the referee shouts "draw" and the moment of truth comes for the Japanese "bull separators".

While the bloody Spanish corrida comes under scrutiny from animal rights activists and politicians, bullfighting in northern Japan is gaining popularity as fans cheer on both the bulls and the brave men who break up the match before the bulls get hurt.

Each match in "tsuno-tsuki", or bullfight, starts with 20 "seko" bull separators leading the animals on as they face off in a ring. But after just several minutes of muscle-straining and horn-goring, the referee ends the fight before any blood is shed.

The "seko" then showcase their skills as they catch the feisty beasts weighing over a tonne by their rear leg with a rope and separate them, often risking their lives.

"I can't imagine bloodshed in our ring," said Haruji Matsui, a bullfighting veteran from the tiny village of Yamakoshi in Niigata, northern Japan, as he sipped iced tea sitting among the bulls before the matches started.

"We grew up with them sharing the same earthen floor."

Older farmers in Yamakoshi speak fondly of the bulls, remembering the times when the animals were necessary to move supplies in winter and for help in the fields.

"We treat them like our children," said Fumihiro Aoki, an 80-year-old rice farmer, who started as a "seko" 65 years ago.

"I named my bull after my youngest son, Mitsuru. It loves like a human, behaves like a big dog and even recognizes the sound of an engine when I come back from the fields."

Tsuno-tsuki is steeped in Japanese culture, with salt and sake rice wine poured around the arena at the opening.

"The same ritual is performed during sumo fights to ward off evil spirits as fights carry a semi-religious meaning," said University of Tokyo professor Yutaka Suga, a researcher of the sport's tradition and an owner of a bull.

Bullfights between bulls are performed across Japan with the most famous matches on the southern island of Okinawa.

"But our area is special," said Matsui with pride, as he watched another pair of fighting bulls with a spark in his eye.

"Not only is it just here that we end matches with draws, but also unlike in other parts of Japan, we don't make bets."

According to professor Suga, Niigata is the only place in the world where animal fights end in a draw.

"One of the legends goes that these communities are tiny and heavily reliant on each other, so they avoid gambling and fights with clear winners and losers."

The biggest challenge facing tsuno-tsuki is keeping up the rising interest in the sport that was named an "important cultural property" by the Japanese government in 1978.

After an earthquake in Niigata in 2004 killing 65 people and injuring 3,000, many families fled to cities and never returned, but those who stayed say they would never let the tradition die.

"We organized bullfights even when we lived in temporary housing after the earthquake and the bulls gave us the energy to overcome our hurdles and carry on," said Aoki, the rice farmer.

"In a sense, we owe them our lives".

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Tuesday

Monkeys Chase Flying Squirrel

Monkeys Go Bananas Over Flying Squirrels

Monkeys Go Bananas Over Flying Squirrels

 

Researchers have observed small monkeys called Japanese macaques going bananas at the sight of a flying squirrel.

This http://www.livescience.com/common/media/video/player.php?videoRef=LS_100730_j...">riled-up response is probably just a false alarm, with the monkeys mistaking the squirrel for a predatory bird. On the other hand, male macaques - some of whom give chase and even attack a harmless rodent - might be trying to impress females in their troop.

Although this tough-guy motive was not proved in a new study, "it is possible that adult or sub-adult male monkeys may be 'showing off' their fitness" as potential mates, said Kenji Onishi, an assistant professor of behavioral sciences at Osaka University and lead author of the paper being published in the current issue of the journal Primate Research.

Biologists and psychologists have long studied macaques' complex social interactions for insights into human evolution and behavior.

However, much remains unknown about how macaques get along (or not) with other creatures. Better documentation of such encounters could reveal more about macaque societies as well as that of our shared primate forbearers.

"Human evolution occurred alongside primate evolution from a http://www.livescience.com/health/070412_rhesus_monkeys.html">common mammalian ancestor," Onishi told LiveScience. "Therefore, it is important to learn the evolution of primates in understanding the previous steps in human evolution."

Intruder alert!

When Japanese giant flying squirrels glided over to a tree in the monkeys' vicinity, adults and adolescent macaques started hollering at it threateningly, the researchers report. Young macaques screamed and mothers scooped up their infants, while adults and high-ranking males in particular went and physically harassed the offending squirrel.

Onishi said other researchers have observed macaques responding in a similarly aggressive manner to birds that prey on the monkeys, such as the golden eagle and mountain hawk eagle. These raptors glide and swoop much like the flying squirrels.

Upon closer inspection up in a tree or on the ground, however, the squirrel is clearly no bird of prey. Yet the animal still raises the hackles of the macaques.

Other woodland creatures, including hares, deer and wild boars, barely elicit a response from macaque groups, said Onishi, though dogs and people will sometimes instigate alarm calls and a fleeing from the immediate area.

Meet the macaques

After humans, macaques are the most geographically dispersed primate on the planet, living across southern Asia and into North Africa. The http://www.livescience.com/animals/monkey-mothers-milk-100305.html">rhesus macaque is also perhaps the most familiar monkey to Westerners, common both in zoos and as lab animals.

The http://i.livescience.com/animals/imageoftheweek/061106_wcs.html">Japanese macaques in the study are well-known for a group of them that hang out every winter in the Jacuzzi-like Jigokudani hot springs when it gets too cold and snowy outside (no wonder the species is also nicknamed "snow monkey").

The adult male Japanese macaques range in size from about 20 to 24 inches (50 to 60 centimeters) tall and females about 19 to 22 inches (4.8 to 5.5 centimeters).

This gives the monkeys a clear size advantage over their flying squirrel antagonists, if one does not count the squirrels' tails. The squirrels documented in the study were typical for their kind, about 12 to 15 inches (30 to 40 cm) long and with a bushy tail of about equal length.

Show of (non)force?

When chasing macaques did succeed in getting close to these infringing squirrels, the monkeys tended to look on "in fear and hesitated to attack," Onishi said.

In rare instances when the bolder monkeys did physically assault their quarry, Onishi said the squirrels were neither harmed nor eaten and eventually escaped.

Though clearly not interested in eating each other, the diets of the animals do cross when it comes to fruits, nuts and other delectables. But a territorial defense of food resources is not the motive of these http://www.livescience.com/animals/top-10-animal-recruits-war-100726.html">militant monkeys, as there are "low levels of food competition between macaques and the squirrels," Onishi noted

It is more likely that a simple misunderstanding about the squirrels' nature underpins the melee.

Mewa Singh, a professor of psychology at the University of Mysore in India who has studied macaques, pointed out that the flying squirrels are generally nocturnal, whereas the monkeys are active during the day.

"The interactions between monkeys and a flying squirrel, therefore, are not expected to be frequent and the monkeys may not "know" whether the squirrel is a predator or not," said Singh, who was not involved in the study.

All in the game

Nevertheless, the fact that adult males had a greater tendency to be the ones beleaguering the flying squirrels led Onishi and his co-authors to speculate that a measure of flaunting biological fitness to the females is in play.

At the same time, a generic "battle stations!" response to raptor-like behaviors from any sort of animal, whether featured like a bird or not, might prime the macaques for when real danger glides into town.

This hair-trigger might increase the possibility that macaques in the troop "survive when true predatory threats emerge," Onishi said.

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Japan's unwanted dogs face almost certain death

Japan's unwanted dogs face almost certain death

Photo
Mon, Mar 29 2010

By Kim Kyung Hoon and Olivier Fabre

TOKUSHIMA, Japan (Reuters Life!) - It's a dog's life for a stray mutt in any country, but in Japan a canine that ends up in the municipal pound is far more likely to be put down than to find a new home.

While in some other industrialized countries the idea of "saving" a pet from a shelter is well-established, in Japan animal welfare activists say strays often fall foul of an attitude that prizes puppies and pedigrees as status symbols.

"In Britain, the public go to animal welfare shelters to adopt an animal and save a life. The mindset in Japan is still 'if you want a pet, go to a pet shop'," said Briar Simpson, a New Zealander who works for Japan's animal shelter ARK, via e-mail.

In Britain, approximately 6 to 9 percent of dogs in pounds are put to death every year, 2007-2009 figures show, according to the website of Dogs Trust, the nation's largest dog welfare charity.

In Japan that figure is more than 70 percent, the Japanese animal welfare organization ALIVE says.

In rural areas such as Tokushima Prefecture, on the southwestern island of Shikoku, the situation is even worse. In 2008 alone, more than 88 percent of abandoned dogs at the Tokushima Animal Welfare Center were put down.

Most strays have been abandoned by their owners, while others are the offspring of abandoned dogs that have gone wild. Some hunting dogs are dumped in the off-season rather than kept for the following year's season, activists say.

But whatever their former lives, once at the center the dogs are kept for a maximum of only seven days.

CHANGING ATTITUDES

Kensuke Kuramoto, a dog trainer exercising his Dobermann in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park, said too many people treat dogs like toys and trinkets.

"First of all, too many people are raising dogs in Japan, and people tend to view their lives too lightly," he said.

"As there are people who treat dogs as part of their family, there are also those who buy them for simple reasons like celebrating a daughters birthday."

Attitudes are changing slowly due to media coverage in recent years, especially in the cities where the pet boom is at its height. More people are adopting strays.

"I have these two dogs because someone threw them away, but as dogs are living creatures, it's similar to murder if you throw them away," said Mika Takahashi, a 21-year-old resident of Tokyo as she walked her two pets -- one a pedigree Italian greyhound and the other dark-grey husky mongrel.

However, taking in an abandoned dog is still not very common in Japan despite the burgeoning dog population. At more than 6.8 million in 2008, there are already more canines in the nation than children under the age of six.

And more than 118,000 dogs a year Japan still end up in the dog pound, according to the latest 2008 statistics. Out of these only a handful will be found new homes.

At the Tokushima Animal Welfare Center alone, more than 2,700 dogs were put to death in the year to March 2009.

When the center was built, officials promised locals they would not kill any dogs on site, so they are asphyxiated with carbon dioxide gas in metal containers euphemistically called "dream boxes" aboard a truck between the center and the local crematorium.

However painless the operation is, the process is still emotionally painful for those that have to see it daily.

"Whenever I press the button to inject the gas, I feel totally powerless," said the centre's chief veterinarian, Akinori Kume, his eyes filled with tears.

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Monday

"The men who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed."

Quote of the Day

"There are two big forces at work, external and internal. We have very little control over external forces such as tornados, earthquakes, floods, disasters, illness and pain. What really matters is internal force. How do I respond to those disasters? Over that I have complete control.

"
— Leo Buscaglia

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Thursday

Japan sends rare turtles to Singapore for release




Thirteen endangered sea turtles bred in captivity in Japan have been given to a Singapore aquarium to prepare them for release into a natural habitat later this year, scientists said Friday.



The hawksbill turtles, listed as a highly endangered species, were brought to Singapore by their Japanese caretakers Tomomi Saito and Yoshihiko Kanou from the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium.



The five one-year-old turtles and eight three-year-olds were turned over on Thursday to the Underwater World Singapore, which is collaborating with the Nagoya aquarium to release the animals.



They are the offspring of hawksbill turtles donated by the Underwater World Singapore to the Nagoya aquarium in 1997 and 2002.



As part of the preparations, staff from the Singapore aquarium will monitor and conduct checks on the turtles to determine their fitness for the release scheduled in September.



"With the success of their breeding... we would want to have some of these captive-bred turtles return to the wild," said Anthony Chang, curator of the Underwater World Singapore.



He said that releasing older turtles that are bred in captivity will improve their chances of survival.



"We know that on the beaches, when turtle eggs hatch, people will poach them," Chang told AFP.



"The turtles may be collected by people and they may be eaten up. The survivability of the small babies is very, very low."



Turtle soup is a delicacy in parts of Asia. Turtle shell is turned into powder and used as an ingredient for a jelly dessert.



Prior to their release, the turtles will be fitted with satellite devices attached to the back of their shells, allowing the scientists to learn about their migratory behaviour and survivability.



Their findings will be reported at an international convention on biological diversity in Nagoya in October.

Wednesday

Cows, pigs get shots, set to die

Vaccination of all cows and pigs within 10 km of farms hit by foot-and-mouth disease in Miyazaki Prefecture was expected to be finished by the end of Tuesday before they are slaughtered, agriculture minister Hirotaka Akamatsu said.

News photo
Taking no chances: Workers load destroyed livestock onto a truck Tuesday in Kawaminami, Miyazaki Prefecture, an area hit by foot-and-mouth disease. KYODO PHOTO

Akamatsu said 73 percent of some 200,000 cows and pigs set to be slaughtered had been vaccinated as of Monday night.
"The remainder is some 30,000, so I believe vaccinations will be finished by the end of today," Akamatsu said.
Slaughtering the cows and pigs will be carried out quickly because people who were involved in the vaccinations will be able to help, Akamatsu said.
Touching on a request by Miyazaki Gov. Hideo Higashikokubaru that 49 seed bulls in the prefecture be kept alive, Akamatsu repeated the ministry's stance that they should be destroyed to prevent the spread of the disease.
The Liberal Democratic Party is stepping up criticism against Akamatsu, saying he failed to contain the disease at an early stage.
The party is also trying to legislate its own steps to fully compensate affected cattle farmers, including the government's purchase of the land where destroyed animals will be buried.
"How could cattle farmers start over again on the land where dead animals are buried?" LDP Lower House lawmaker Taku Eto, who hails from the Miyazaki No. 2 district, asked a Diet panel. "It will take at least 10 years before the dump sites can be used again."

Thursday

Male thunderbird


Male thunderbird, originally uploaded by digicacy.

Weasel


Siberian Weasel, originally uploaded by coniferconifer.

Tuesday

Pair of Japanese racoon dogs to be housed in upcoming River Safari

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Zoo in Mandai recently welcomed a pair of special guests from Japan.
Racoon dogs Pom and Poko are the first animals here under an exchange programme between Wildlife Reserves Singapore and Asahiyama Zoo in Hokkaido.
Known as 'tanuki' in Japanese, these animals are native to East Asia and are popularly portrayed as happy-go-lucky tricksters in Japanese folklore.
In tanuki folklore, "ponpoko" is said to be the sound a tanuki makes when it drums its own belly.
Pom and Poko are in quarantine right now, and visitors will get to see them in a permanent exhibit at the upcoming River Safari, set to open in early 2012.

Saturday

Report: Japan Coast Guard gets arrest warrant for head of Sea Shepherd anti-whaling group

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan is seeking an international arrest warrant for the head of anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd over high-seas clashes in Antarctic waters, media reports said Friday.




Tokyo will seek Interpol's help to arrest Canadian Paul Watson for ordering his crew to harass whaling ships in clashes in which Japanese crew were allegedly injured by rancid butter projectiles, broadcaster NHK reported.



Watson, speaking in New York, said "the arrest warrant is just totally political, it's nothing. I'm not concerned, and Interpol is not going to extradite me on a politically motivated charge."



"We save whales, and we are going to continue to go down to the southern ocean," the 59-year-old environmental campaigner and captain of the group's Steve Irwin vessel told reporters in comments broadcast in Japan.



The reported arrest warrant and Interpol request, which the Japan Coast Guard declined to confirm, are the latest act in a long-running battle between Japan and the US-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.



Japan hunts whales under a loophole to an international moratorium that allows the killing of the sea mammals for scientific research and does not hide the fact that the meat is later sold in shops and restaurants.



Sea Shepherd has sought to obstruct Japan's whalers for years and this year said they had their most successful season yet by preventing the harpoon ships from killing hundreds of the ocean giants.



Japanese authorities say the activists injured Japanese crew with chemical burns by throwing bottles of butyric acid, which the Sea Shepherd group describes as rancid butter stink bombs.



Japan's Fisheries Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu said "Japan should take decisive action. We should not leave such cases hanging in the air. Regardless of whether they are pro- or anti-whaling, what they did was a crime."



In one of the clashes, the Sea Shepherd's futuristic powerboat the Ady Gil, carrying six crew, was sliced in two in a collision with the whaling fleet's security ship the Shonan Maru II in January. It later sank.



The Ady Gil's captain Peter Bethune, 45, subsequently boarded the Shonan Maru II from a jet ski with the stated intent of making a citizen's arrest of its captain for attempted murder and to present him with a bill for the boat.



Bethune, a New Zealander, was detained and is now under arrest awaiting trial for trespass, causing injury, vandalism, carrying a knife and obstructing commercial activities. If convicted who could face up to 15 years jail.

Thursday

New whaling plan draws fire from all sides

TOKYO (AFP) – A "peace plan" by the International Whaling Commission to legitimise but reduce whaling drew fire Friday as Japan demanded higher quotas and environmentalists warned of serious harm to the ocean giants.



The chairman of the 88-nation commission, seeking to end decades of bitter conflict between its pro- and anti-whaling members, unveiled Thursday the compromise proposal to be voted on at a June meeting in Morocco.



Under the draft proposal, Japan, Iceland and Norway would reduce their whale kills over the next decade, subject to tight monitoring, with Japan eventually cutting its Antarctic whale culls by three quarters.



The IWC said in a statement that the "10-year peace plan" would save thousands of whales and present "a great step forward in terms of the conservation of whales and the management of whaling."



But it was roundly criticised by anti-whaling nations and environmental groups, which charged that it would end the moratorium in all but name and risked reviving a dwindling industry in whale meat.



Japan now hunts whales under a loophole to a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling that allows lethal "scientific research" on the sea mammals, while Norway and Iceland defy the moratorium altogether.



"It will be a major achievement if, despite some fundamental differences ... countries can put these differences aside for a period to focus on ensuring the world has healthy whale stocks," IWC chair Cristian Maquieira said.



Japan reacted by saying it would push for higher cull quotas than those outlined in the proposal.



Japan, which now targets more than 900 whales in its annual Antarctic hunts, would have to reduce that number to around 400 whales in the next season and to just over 200 a year from the 2015-16 season onwards.



It would also be allowed to catch 120 whales a year in its coastal waters.



Fisheries Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu, while welcoming the endorsement of coastal whaling, said: "Regarding the total catch allowed, it is different from Japan's position. We want to continue negotiating with patience."



But environmental groups voiced deep concern.



"This is probably the biggest threat to the ban on commercial whaling that we've faced since it came into force," said Nicolas Entrup of the Munich-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.



Greenpeace said the proposal would reward whaling nations.



"It's a bit like a bank robber who keeps robbing the bank. You can't actually catch him, so you decide to just give him a big pile of money," said its oceans campaigner Phil Kline.



The World Wide Fund for Nature's species programme manager Wendy Elliott charged that the proposed quotas were "a result of political bargaining which has little if anything to do with the whales themselves."



Australia's Environment Minister Peter Garrett said Canberra could not accept the proposal and stressed that "the government remains resolutely opposed to commercial and so-called 'scientific' whaling."



In Wellington, Foreign Minister Murray McCully called the catch limits unrealistic and said "New Zealanders will not accept this".



"The proposal to include fin whales in the Southern Ocean is inflammatory," he said, pointing at a plan to allow Japan to catch 10 of the animals annually for three years, and five per year after that.



The United States, which has helped spearhead the compromise, withheld a final judgment, anticipating further negotiations.



"The important thing here is that the IWC isn't working right now," said Monica Medina, the US commissioner to the IWC.



"Even with the moratorium in place, the number of whales being killed is increasing and if we can turn that around and decrease the number of whales being killed, that would be a good thing."



The compromise would also allow the killing of 870 minke whales a year in the Atlantic, slightly down from the current total catch quotas by Norway and Iceland, along with Japan's continued hunt in the Pacific Ocean.

Monday

Japanese pet owners turn to treadmills


Andy has sprouted white whiskers, suffers from lower back pain and no longer bounds up the stairs like he used to.  Still, the 11-year-old Siberian husky isn't lying idle: every week he meets his personal trainer for a run on an underwater treadmill, does laps in a doggy pool to strengthen his hind legs and unwinds with a hot spa and massage session.
The boom in pet ownership in Japan has led to a new phenomenon - legions of elderly animals that doting masters pamper with fortified food and vitamins, aromatherapy and even acupuncture.
"I want to do everything I can for Andy. He's part of the family," said Aya Ashiya, 50, of Tokyo as she ran around the swimming pool with a squeeze toy, cheering the husky on during a recent session at the dog aqua fitness gym El Pero.
"We've been together for so long, and we've really learned to communicate," Ashiya said. "I just want him to stay healthy for as long as possible."
Though figures are scarce, a study published last year showed that longevity for cats in Japan almost doubled between 1991 and 2003, from 5.1 years to 9.9 years. Dog longevity surged from 8.6 years to 11.9 years.
Researchers attribute the jump to better health care, more vaccinations, a more balanced diet and a new trend of pets being allowed to live in homes - once unthinkable in a country of tatami-mat houses.
But longer lives have led to ailments seldom seen before in pets in Japan, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and dementia, said Hideki Hayashidani, an assistant professor at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, who carried out the longevity study.
"Japanese attitudes toward pets have changed radically. Owners dote over them like children," Hayashidani said. "That means fewer pups and kittens die from infections, while cancer and heart disease cases have hit the roof ... And owners will pay anything to keep their pets alive longer."
Japan's doting owners have helped push pet spending to new highs. The pet industry here topped $US8.6 billion ($10.98 billion) in 2005. That's only a quarter of expenditures in the United States, but for Japan represents a 40 per cent increase since 1994.
In a sign of the nation's growing obsession with animal companions, industry figures show Japanese families now own over 23 million pet dogs and cats, exceeding the number of Japanese children under 15, which hit a new low of 17.46 million in 2006.
Kyuta, an 8-year-old long-haired Chihuahua, started biweekly acupuncture sessions at the Kamakura Genki Animal Hospital after severe back pain struck last year.
At a recent session, the dog yelped as a veterinarian inserted 13 needles into his quivering back and hind legs, but soon settled down in his owner's arms.
"Kyuta loves coming here. His tail goes right up when he gets on the examination table," said Emi Matsuya, 43, a Tokyo hairdresser.
The pair travel two hours each way by train for the acupuncture sessions, which cost $US47 ($60), Matsuya said, and the Chihuahua eats homemade meals of meat and vegetables now that he is getting older.
"Dogs crave attention - that's what makes them happy. And happy dogs live longer," said hospital director Takashi Ishino, who also offers massage and aromatherapy treatments.
Japan's aging dogs also benefit from specially designed care items such as doggie nappies, harnesses that support aging pooches on walks and pet strollers. Elderly cats have their own products, including climbing towers with extra padding.
And owners can take a break from their pets by getting a nursing care specialist. Keiko Himi, who runs the pet-sitting service Nyan to Wonderful northeast of Tokyo, says an increasing number of owners ask her to care for aging pets while they run errands or work.
"Caring for old pets is a big burden for the owner, physically and emotionally," Himi said. "In one case, I went to help a family every day through their dog's last days."
Death doesn't end the pampering. A spate of companies offers everything from pet cemeteries, funerals and memorials to counselling for grieving owners. Tokyo's Japan Pet Ceremony Co runs a 24-hour funeral hot line; the Machida Izumi Joen cemetery offers the ultimate in owner-pet companionship - a shared grave.
"It's all about giving dogs a certain quality of life," said Ashiya, the Siberian husky owner. "We're not going to give up just because Andy's old ... not as long as I have the energy, time, and money."