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Saturday, April 8, 2017

How Anime Nearly Destroyed A Japanese Temple

While this past Friday was International Beaver Day, the fact remains that I was actually too afraid to type in the phrase "Japanese beaver" at my work computer, and instead decided to see if there was such a thing as a Japanese raccoon.

I decided to do that after seeing a decent-sized raccoon in my backyard last night, oblivious to the motion-detection lighting system... seeing as how the raccoon was larger than a Cocker Spaniel... I would estimate at somewhere around 20-pounds... relatively light considering it had just recently awoken from a hibernation.

I’ve seen bigger, and more aggressive raccoons from within the various properties I have lived in and around Toronto, Canada.
A couple of large raccoons... aka The Honeymooners.

 Those who know me, would state that I seem to have a natural affinity for the standard pets—cats and dogs and fish—and care about the well-being of animals everywhere, though admittedly, I am not the warrior-type.

While I maintain my phobia for snakes and all types of bugs with more than six legs, I also have a distaste for raccoons… smart, sly, thumbs that seem to work… unafraid walking vacuum cleaners who until very recently were able to get into my garbage cans, ripping them open to munch out on whatever rotten bits of food I may have happened to toss away. 

Years ago, a pair of raccoons happened to find away into a tool shed at the back of a property… ate the bags of bird food I had in there, became too fat to leave the way the came and spent the Winter inside until they starved to death. You might wonder why, after losing enough weight through starvation they didn’t climb out the way they got in, but I can only assume they were too weak to do so by then.

They also ate a melamine table top I had in there—which might also have contributed to their death.
Because we had much of our pool equipment in there, and I was working, my wife was the lucky one who found their desiccated bodies… essentially limp bags of fur after five months or less of being in there… so she had to pick them up.

Left up to me, I would have burned the shed down rather than have to deal with that.

Later that summer - a hot August day - a large mother raccoon and five “babies” came perched themselves over the A-frame of that shed’s roof and watched me as I frolicked in my pool.

It was cute, yet frightening, as I realized that raccoons are nocturnal beasts, and if they are out during the day, it might be because they are rabid.

I was worried… mostly because they sure as heck didn’t look like this (if only):
Petticoat Junction - the best whistle stop on the American rail system.
I’ve got a friend who had a raccoon enter his bedroom, and attack the broom he was using trying to sweep it out.

I’ve been freaked out at 1:30AM sitting in my computer room either looking at re-runs of Petticoat Junction or writing a blog when all of a sudden something jumps up onto the outside ledge of screened window to the left of me and begins chittering, or hissing at me, or just clawing at the screen because it’s slipping… the base of the window is at least two meters off the backyard ground! Did it jump up there or scramble like Spider-man?

Ugh… spiders.

Then there’s the constant raccoon squabbling that occurs late-night/early mornings that sound kind of human that I also find completely disconcerting, mostly because they only seem to come out on the eve of Garbage Day… like they know when that is… to ensure that when I wake up, I’ll have a pile of crap on my front property, and the garbage truck is already driving by with the driver giving me the “too-bad shrug” of the shoulders.

So… raccoons… I don’t care for them a bit.

Now… Japan and raccoons.

 During my stay in Japan between 1990-1993, I did not see a single raccoon. Perhaps because where I was, there were rice fields all over the place, and I doubt they cared for a landscape like that.
There are apparently quite a lot of raccoons in Japan… which is interesting only because prior to 1977, there was not a single raccoon in the country.

So… what happened?

Did someone bring over raccoons to control some sort of pest problem…
Australia did that… cane toads brought in to control a beetle that was eating its crops… only to discover that the toad also ate beneficial insects, and because of its secreted poison had no predator
that wanted to kill it.

Was it an accident… like zebra mussels coming up from the hull’s of boats until it spread in the North American Great lakes?

Or was it to create an industry, when bass and bluegill were introduced into Japan… but again, aggressive fish that they are, soon took out the local species?

Nope… it was all because of an anime.

There was an old statement back in the 1950s that television would rot one’s brains… and in the 1970s, my parents claimed cartoons would rot mine—so you can’t believe everything… but in this case, a beloved Japanese cartoon was the cause.

Rascal the Raccoon (あらいぐまラスカル, Araiguma Rasukaru) was a Japanese anime series by Nippon Animation. It is based on the 1963 autobiographical novel Rascal, A Memoir of a Better Era by Sterling North about his childhood in Wisconsin from the turn of the 20th century.

A total of 52 animated episodes were made of Rascal the Raccoon, running on Fuji TV between January 2, 1977 through December 25, 1977 with an Japanese animated movie tossed in.

To be fair, there was also a Disney flick made of the book done in 1969, called Rascal… but since I never heard of it, I’ll assume it wasn’t one of the good ones like One of our Dinosaurs is Missing or No Deposit No Return. The Rascal Disney flick starred Billy Mumy as Sterling North… Mumy was my idol for his role in the old Sci-Fi television show Lost In Space.

The anime Araiguma Rasukaru follows the adventures of a young boy in early 1900s Wisconsin, US, who rescues a baby raccoon orphaned by a hunter. Rascal the raccoon becomes his pet and best buddy until later on as the raccoon grows older, his natural animal side begins to takeover and he begins to eat neighbor crops and other animal stuff.

Japan really seems to love these period pieces… Anne of Green Gables also comes to mind.

So… there you go… 52 episodes of a cartoon set in rural U.S. some 60 years prior to the release of the anime… and Japan somehow manages to turn that into a raccoon invasion.

So what happened?

Just like everywhere else in the world, like when Finding Nemo came out and every dumbass parent bought their spoiled brat child a Clown Fish (dooming the saltwater fish that requires an adept skill to handle properly - I’ve had freshwater tropical fish for 49 years and have never had the guts to try saltwater aquariums)…

… after Araiguma Rasukaru came out, kids in Japan wanted their own pet raccoon.

So Japanese parents complied… anywhere between 1,500 to 2,000 of the furry bastiches were imported into Japan by Japanese parents intent on spoiling their bratty son(s) or daughter(s).

It’s a pity that the parents didn’t wait until the last few episodes of Araiguma Rasukaru had come out before getting a pet raccoon… then they would have realized that raccoons do not make great pets.
Only slightly different than Rascal, Rocket Raccoon is a key member of The Guardians of the Galaxy comic books and movies because he's a vicious, vicious, little creature with an attitude.
As such… Araiguma Rasukaru eventually related how the show’s Rascal “owner” was forced to give up his beloved pet - returning it to the wild… and so, probably because their own pet raccoon’s—and you can bet the every Japanese kid who had a pet raccoon named it “Rascal”—got older, and more natural feral, that they too began to release them out into the wild.

And so… according to a note I saw on Wikipedia, as of 2008… there were raccoons in all 47 Japanese prefectures (States/Provinces, etc.).

I get it… parents always want to spoil their kids. Because I never saw Araiguma Rasukaru as a child, but did see Gentle Ben and Flipper (TV shows about a bear and a dolphin, respectively)… and because my parents weren’t idiots and knew that I would probably kill the dolphin with love (and a lack of water) and that I would never actually walk the bear (or it would have mauled me, killed my dogs or my mother was allergic to it… she was allergic to everything), my parents instead got me a pet rock:

Actually, I think I had a punk rock:

Mine had a green mohawk, if I recall correctly.

Okay… so what’s the big deal? Japan has raccoons… suck it up, right?

Well, according to some estimates, 80 percent of all temples in Japan have now suffered some form of damage thanks to raccoons.

I don’t know squat about architecture, but I do know that I am a fan of classic Japanese architecture and spent many a weekend lost in both thought and location (I have a horrible sense of direction) wandering around shrines and temples looking at the fantastic wooden structures of Japan.

Now… to discover that these beautiful buildings are being damaged by raccoons that are the progeny of an animated television program based on a book even I have never heard of… well… that’s just crazy.

The Japanese raccoons cause gashes in the wooden structures from their sharp claws as they scamper around… or they create holes in temple roofs, much as they did in my backyard… and they leave their raccoon poop everywhere… which may not be that big a deal in Japan, considering they often have wild cats, monkeys and deer wandering their temple grounds… but why add to the issue of poop issue?

At the Kyoto-ken temple, Byōdō-in… a 900-year-old structure that is considered one of Japan’s most famous buildings… evidence of raccoons clawing at the ancient timbers was found…
Photo of Byōdō-in by https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Martin_Falbisoner
To halt the desecration, raccoon traps were set… fencing put up… I wonder how many people they accidentally caught?

Unlike Canada, Japan seems to have no issues with killing animals it doesn’t like, or likes to eat—as local governments have created policies to control the raccoon population, including all-out Raccoon Cong with the culling of thousands of the nimble buggers every year, as they seek to try and eradicate raccoons from the country.

Just like in North America, Japanese farmers and suburbanites have a dislike for the raccoon… with the Japanese applauding the culling, while taking grief from animal rights groups.

I have no problems with wildlife being in the wild - especially in the country it is native to…

In my own personal case, I know from having talked (30 years ago) with the original owner and neighbor of my current home… when our street was built in 1945, it was all field… tall, grass… no trees… like an African grasslands where hungry lions would wait patiently for whatever it is that lions wait for.

He told me there were no raccoons back then, except in the nearby valley… and that it wasn’t until more and more houses were built in the area that the raccoons became brazen enough to rummage through human garbage looking for the easy meal.

So… who impinged on who’s turf?

It’s like in A Field of Dreams… if you build it, “they” will come.
I don't know who this clown is, but I really wanted to find an image of Rocket Raccoon with a baseball bat. (see above) Unfortunately, Rocket has used damn near every other type of weapon in his arsenal but a bat - as in The Field of Dreams reference. Anyhow.. I believe this is an action figure of some sort of Batman-related thug.
By the way, I looked up "Japanese beaver" on my home computer, and after several hours of tiring research, I can say that even though there is a Eurasian species of beaver, I saw little evidence of an Asian habitat amongst its current locales... and certainly not in Japan.

Lastly... remember when everyone wanted a coon skin cap like Daniel Boone wore?
I have this comic - #13 in the series. I have no idea what sort of name "Fess" is, but I like the Raccoon hat.
Banzai,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Hmmm... far too many pop culture references in this one.

2 comments:

  1. Every self respectin' kid in my youth had a coon skin hat! Plus I'm pretty sure there was an excerpt from the book Rascal in my 3rd Grade Reader. (I'm also pretty sure no one calls them readers any more. Talkin' 'bout m-m-my generation.)

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    1. Who are you? Who-who...who-who?
      In Canada we didn't have coonskin hats, but we did wear hockey helmets. Kidding... no self-respecting kid wore a helmet back when I was a kid.

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