When people here or see the name Japan, it doesn’t exactly evoke an image of untamed wilderness teeming with all sorts of animals. In large part what we first think of is concrete and steel jungles as far as the eye can see punctuated only by towering natural giants like Mt. Fuji or the occasional spring blossom. Yet as I found out in my time there, Japan has a lot of animals and in some places their population far surpasses fellow humans.
My first encounter with wildlife in Japan was in Okunoshima, an island teeming with rabbits. If you have food, you’ll be surprised at how quickly the herd of brownish-yellow, brown and black rabbits will hop towards you in an attempt to take any delicious nibbles from your palm. If ever there is a way to die, death by swarm of cute little rabbits is the way to go, I assume they taste good too if that’s your thing.
Fair warning here, if you’re not particularly fond of insects or are deathly afraid of spiders, perhaps you should avoid reading any further. Many insects here are big, really big. For one there is the massive Japanese Giant Hornet which I often found in the middle of pathways taking on other insects such as the Praying Mantis. Always, the enormous mandibles and tough exoskeleton of the orange and black hornet would win out against its competitors. A group of 30 hornets in fact is capable of decimating an entire colony of 30,000 European honey bees, much to the frustration of honey bee producers.
Spiders in the country are fairly large with species like the Joro spider being particularly common. Throughout many of my hikes to find cemeteries or around Kamaura I saw plenty of these spiders laying in wait of prey to fall into their tightly knit webs. The yellow and dark blue stripes of the female spiders contrasted well to the green and red abdomens, making them a quite colorful spider that was easily noticeable especially given its relatively large size. Perhaps due to this colorful beauty, the legend of Jorōgumo, a spider that could change into a beautiful woman to seduce men and devour them after their capture, came to be made.
Another interesting run-in with the natural world was with all the deer, which is interesting because I didn’t believe that I’d have very many run ins when it came to deer but even in urban landscapes like Miyajima and Nara, they were fairly common. Just picture dozens of deer running around Buddhist temples and you’ll get an idea, more or less, of what it was like in these places. By this point these animals have become quasi-domesticated, preferring to eat from the hands of strange tourists than forage in nature for their own food. nevertheless they are still wild animals and should be treated with respect.
When I would walk to Meiji Gakuin University, one of the first sights that would greet me was the three goats that seem to be used to kept the weeds and grass finely trimmed. I would often see these cute goats in different spots around campus, apparently rotated daily or weekly depending on the grass. At least that is my working theory, I don’t actually know why they were there to begin with but that is what makes the most sense to me. Maybe they were just the school mascots or maybe they even belonged to a professor. Maybe I’ll never really know for sure.