Mini-Stories: Volume 7

Raccoon Resistance Pt. Deux by Vivian Le

Byōdō-in is one of the most celebrated Buddhist temples in Japan. This idyllic structure was built in the 11th century to emulate Buddha’s palace in paradise and is even featured on the back of the ten yen coin. But Byōdō-in, along with 80% of the temples in Japan has been facing a threat unlike any they’ve encountered: raccoons. Japan’s iconic Buddhist temples have been plagued by raccoon infestations and they’re causing major structural damage.

Byōdō-in‘s Phoenix Hall. Photo by 663highland (CC BY 2.5)

Because most of these temples are located in isolated, forested regions, they make ideal spaces for wild raccoons to nest. They scratch up pillars, punch holes through ceilings, shred wires and wood, and leave feces everywhere. But this is a relatively new problem because up until the 1970s, there weren’t any raccoons in Japan. 

In 1963, Sterling North released his memoir Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era documenting his childhood and misadventures with his best friend, a baby raccoon named Rascal. In 1977 Nippon Animation adapted into a children’s anime called Araiguma Rasukaru. It was a HUGE hit with the youths and became so popular that Japanese families began importing baby raccoons by the thousands from North and South America to keep as family pets.

Much like the conclusion that Sterling North himself draws in his memoir, Japanese families soon realized that raccoons make horrible house pets. They’re aggressive, wreck your home, and cause mischief. So, much like Sterling North at the conclusion of his memoir, Japanese families released their raccoon pets back where they belonged—the wilderness. The problem was that the Japanese wilderness wasn’t where raccoons belonged.

With no natural predators, raccoon populations exploded, and can now be found in 43 out of 47 of Japan’s prefectures, and have caused at least $300,000 worth of damage to crops on the island of Hokkaido alone. They prey on native birds, get into garbage cans, and yes— wreak havoc on ancient Buddhist temples. It’s been a constant battle to control raccoon populations, and so far, Japan has been on the losing side.

  1. T Nav

    The hsbc hq in HK was designed and constructed (1983) before the Bank of China building was constructed in 1985. It’s true that Foster and Partners consulted fung shui experts, but that was a matter of course because they were constructing in HK and it was going to be an important landmark.

    1. 99pi

      To clarify: the construction of the two buildings actually overlapped (one was completed in late 1985, the other started earlier that year). That said, it is true that the HSBC building was started before the Bank of China building, though the cranes mentioned were added to the HSBC indeed were (as far as I can tell from my research) designed to address the poor feng shui of the BoC building – I am not sure if they were added later or during the overlapping construction period. Source: -= Kurt

  2. Arianne

    I love this show. I love this episode, I appreciate all of you that work on it: Please don’t use the word spirit animal if you are not a member of an indigenous community. If you are I’m sorry for butting in but heads up.

    1. Chawne

      This is the same thing I came over here to comment on. Great show, lovely intent. However, it’s about time we abolished “spirit animal” from the general lexicon. There are other options for inferring the same intended meaning without intruding on or mocking marginalized people.

  3. Philip Meyer

    at the top of beechwood canyon, below the hollywood sign, there is also a high fence with a gate. above the gate is a camera surrounded by a ring of red lights. it is terrifying. it looks straight of some orwellian police state. the gate has a proximity sensor and makes a very aggressive sounding tone (not a beep but a sustained tone) as you approach it

  4. PSUAth

    About the Hollywood Sign Access. I think I’m with the residents on this. At least it sounds like that while the sign is public, there isn’t (good) public infrastructure to hike to it. As part of that public going through the neighborhood isn’t treating the neighborhood nice nor does they city police/clean/maintain the neighborhood. I’d do my best to keep my property nice.

  5. BM

    I live in Centretown and have a correction to make to the Jack Purcell story. They aren’t lamp posts at all, they’re just sculptures. After some research I found a rendering that shows the light coming through the holes that would’ve held the string, which would be post-redesign but pre-implementation. I think this was an attempt to make the ‘trees’ a little more exciting, but wasn’t feasible since they were never designed to be lights. Now we have brutalist quidditch rings and a story.

  6. Gavan

    Hey I did the hike! Didn’t even know there’s instructions. I came on a bus to the eara near (not even the park, but the other side!) by and just started walking not knowing it’ll be such a winding complex walk throgh all these houses. Ended up walking about an hour on a very hot day and feeling sorry for the residents having tons of people like me come by.

  7. Joan

    Two comments about the rampaging raccoons: First, are there reasons TNR (trap, neuter & release) wouldn’t work to control the population? That would take away the Buddhists having to kill a living creature issue. Second & on a happier note: did you notice that the theme song for “Araiguma Rascal” is the first tune in the classic arcade game Frogger? :D

  8. Jim

    I live in Boston and use mass transit to get everywhere. I don’t even own an automobile. I used Apple Maps and typed in The Hollywood Sign for directions using transit. Amtrak to San Bernardino, Metrolink SB line to Union Station, then choice of AV Line or Red Line to two different bus lines that get you within 25-35 minute walk to the sign. The walk is likely through the neighborhood mentioned in the story. I used to date a woman from LA and would go out ther for Christmas. The first time I was told the only way to get to the family house in an east of LA suburb near Corona was by airport limo/van. Very expensive and took forever. After that I figured out a way to get within a 20 minute drive of the house using bus and Metrolink. Easy!

  9. raya

    Just listening to the witch window story and you solved the blue paint in chefchawan Morocco. Our guide did say the paint was a mosquito repellent:)

  10. Greg

    The most obvious superstitious influence on architecture that I see is the omission of the 13th floor. My ER doesn’t have a room 13.

  11. Adam

    So interestingly in the United States the European Starling and the House Sparrow are exotic invasives because of a persons love of literature namely Shakespeare.

    Pikachu is based of the Northern pika (Ochotona hyperborea) though I kinda think it looks more like the American pika (Ochotona prince’s)

  12. Lynn

    Thanks for the mini-stories, I love them (and you guys)! The raccoon story reminded me of another one by Radiolab (Stranger in Paradise), about how raccoons came to Guadeloupe.

    Also when I was a kid in Hawaii in the 60s, there was a popular song about raccoons. This cartoon is how I remember it – I did a little searching and discovered this song is about the native Japanese raccoon dog, not the interloper – Shojoji no tanuki bayashi (Raccoon Dogs Dancing at Shojoji Temple.

  13. I had Mickey Mouse Club LP album from the 1950s, when I was a kid, with a Japanese song and an English verse translation. I thought of digging it out to record that to share with you, but I found a close version online:

    The English verse on the album I have is
    Sho, sho, sho jo ji; Sho jo ji is a raccoon
    He is always hungry, so he sings of koi koi koi

    We used to sing along, as closely as we could hear it. My sister sang it for a Japanese friend at college, and he said we had most of it right.

    According to the intro on the 45 in the video, the song went with a kids’ circle dance.
    So there was already some interest in raccoons, among Japanese children, in or before the mid-1950s.

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