Sunday, July 28, 2013

Why Japanese Monks Are Still Upset About A 1970's Animation

by Drew Martin
When I was a little kid my father baited a camera to take pictures of raccoons in our backyard. Later, we adopted an abandoned kit, and named it Loki because my mother had recently read Norse mythology to us. My father made a two-level cage for him with a chicken-wire enclosed base, and a log that lead up to a plywood hutch. Raccoons do not make good pets. They have long claws and sharp teeth, and they remain wild. I just finished watching the documentary Raccoon Nation about these creatures who work the night shift in our towns and cities. Their urban population is booming. Toronto is the raccoon capital of the world. Surprisingly, it turns out that the cosmopolitan raccoon only stakes out a three-block territory, and does not require a natural source of water. The documentary goes abroad to Kyoto and Kassel. In the 1970s Nippon Animation produced a cartoon called Rascal the Raccoon based on a children's novel by Sterling North. The viewers went gaga over it, and at the peak of the craze imported 1,500 kits a year from North America. As the kits matured and expressed their wild nature, the pet owners followed the storyline and released their raccoons into the woods near temples, which the raccoons have damaged at an alarming rate. Now 10,000 raccoons are captured and killed each year in Japan in a monk-approved plan to eradicate them and to save their 1,000-year-old places of worship. The situation is a little different in Germany where a pair of raccoons was introduced in the 1930s to amuse hunters. Now the population is out of control. Kassel has the biggest raccoon population in Europe with an average of 100 raccoons per square kilometer. A failed hunting solution turned the inhabitants to good-old German engineering to outwit these prowlers. Raccoons, however, like a challenge and our effort to thwart them increases their intelligence. Coincidentally, one North American interviewee in the documentary spoke of our assisting the creation of the über raccoon, while another compared their bodies to sumo wrestlers. They are not unlike humans; omnivores with good manual dexterity. The wildlife biologist, Stan Gehrt, who is featured in the film does not write them off.

I wouldn't put raccoons quite on our level, but they're trying to get there...They're catching up.