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Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Japanese Squirrel

The above photo seemed sort of funny to me - and that was going to be my blog post.

But then again... I was reminded that during my three years in Japan, I never once saw a squirrel.

It was why I assumed that the Japanese tourists taking this photo of a squirrel were really enthused when they saw one.

I assumed they did not exist on any of the islands, but they do.

There is such a thing called a Japanese squirrel (Sciurus lis) - a tree squirrel in the genus Sciurus endemic to Japan.

They apparently live on the main island of Honshū, as well as on the large islands of Shikoku, and Kyūshū.

So why the heck did I not see one?

Well... it may have something to do with where I lived... Ohtawara - which translates to big-ricefield-field.

There's not that many trees for a tree squirrel to live in a place with lots of fields...

But it's not like I lived like a hermit in Japan, rather I lived like a hobo, hopping trains and traveling all over Japan looking for new ways to get laid. Japan may have been in a depression then, as I only seemed to find work in Ohtawara.

My theory on why there aren't a lot of squirrels about seems to be backed by local theory of forest fragmentation by humans causing a decrease in squirrel population.

I also didn't see a lot of nuts... well, I did, but not the kind squirrels might eat.

Also... I lived in what was essentially suburb... and yet, unlike my backyard that has four bird-feeders filled with delicious seed for the hated cardinals and the lovely Blue Jays (I'm also talkin' baseball), Japan's relative lack of a backyard and a desire to feed the local wild birds could also mean there was no reason for squirrels to come around.

There are always squirrels stuffing their faces with the bird seed I have in the bird-feeders.

So where are the Japanese squirrels?

The Japanese squirrel. Cute, vicious Buddhist bastards.

People in the know who have seen them say they are in the more heavily wooded areas of Japan as well as in the mountainous areas. No... not like the Alps or Andes, but Japan does have some heavily forested mountainous areas... and apparently the Japanese squirrel lives there... away from the crush of human beings.

Now, there are risu-en (リス園) which is Japanese for 'squirrel park' or 'squirrel garden' - basically zoos where the squirrels live and people can visit and feed them and have the buggers crawl all over you.

Aren't these people concerned at all about possible diseases being transmitted?

By the way... here in Toronto, not a day goes by where I don't see some poor squirrel squashed by a car. I mean, I don't see it happen, but rather I see the aftermath.

The worst one was when I saw a dead squirrel at a crosswalk... I mean what else could the squirrel do? It tried to cross at an appropriate area. I love telling that one, because it's true.

There's a famous squirrel zoo called Machida Risu-en in Tokyo, with 200 or so squirrels trying to grab your nuts since 1988.

There are, apparently, other such squirrel gardens right across Japan - and if the squirrels want, you can touch them. Some gardens don't want you touching them.
They're like bushy-tailed rats! Image from
Seriously though... for those of us who see squirrels wandering wild in their backyards - would you want to touch a squirrel? What if he bites or scratches you?

Whatever... I call it thinning out the herd.

Andrew Joseph

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