Japan As They Saw It

The unabundant fauna

    In passing on through the country one is struck by the scarcity of birds and animals. Hawks and eagles are, perhaps, the most frequently seen, and crows also are fairly numerous; but with the exception of these, the ‘fowls of the air’ are but poorly represented. Cranes are to be seen, but they are not nearly so common as one would expect, considering the part they play in Japanese art of all kinds. Wild ducks and wild geese are much more abundant, especially in the castle moats, where the shooting of them is prohibited. Domestic animals are scarce, and are but poor specimens when one does see them. The dogs are either of a type closely resembling the Constantinople “pariah,” brethren both in appearance and habits, or else they are those balls of fluffy hair with little pug-noses which are known in England as Japanese dogs. The cats are shorn of their tails, and it is probably owing to this that their bashfulness keeps them almost always out of sight. The Japanese horse is small and shaggy. His mane stands on end, and his tail is rough and long. His legs and body are well built for the uses he is usually put to, but as a riding horse his general appearance could hardly be termed elegant. In some parts of Japan, on the Tokaido, for instance, one may already pass occasionally a thoroughly European excursion van drawn by one or two horses, and filled with country people, who look perfectly at home in what they, a few years ago, regarded as a barbarous monstrosity.

Edward J. Reed, Japan: Its History, Traditions, and Religions, with the Narrative of a Visit in 1879, 1880

    The fauna is not so abundant as the flora. Foxes, badgers, wild boars, monkeys, bears, wolves, deer, antelopes, squirrels, hares, and rabbits, are more or less prevalent. Horses and oxen are used as beasts of burden. As with us, the farm-yards are enlivened with barn-door fowls. The dogs are mostly of the one fox-like breed, and are poor-spirited animals, making a great noise at the approach of a stranger, but taking care all the time to increase their distance from him. There are domestic cats very similar to our own. In Honshiu there have been found thirteen species of snakes, but only one of these, the mamushi or trigonocephalus Blomhoffii, is deadly. It has been usual for writers on Japan to speak of the country as containing few birds, and these few not remarkable for either beauty or song. To a certain extent this is true of the immediate neighbourhood of the foreign settlements, but it is quite a mistake to suppose that the wilder parts of the country are deficient in birds. Messrs Blakiston and Pryer enumerate no fewer than 325 species, of which 180 also occur in China, and about 100 in Great Britain. In a hurried visit to Fuji-san, one of these gentlemen obtained forty-four species, besides observing a number of others. Among these were three species of thrushes and two of flycatchers, all good songsters; and he could not but remark how delightful was the chorus of birds in the early morning. In the higher altitudes, especially in the mountain ranges around Hida, I have myself often been charmed with the notes of the lark, the cuckoo, and the uguisu, or Japanese nightingale. Wildfowl are very plentiful, and at certain seasons may be seen in thousands on the castle-moats in the very heart of the city of Tôkiyô. There are myriads of crows, and hawks are also numerous. Among the specially characteristic birds are two species of pheasants peculiar to the country, the brilliant mandarin duck, the falcated teal, and the Japanese ibis. Insects are extremely abundant, at times painfully so. On the plains in summer the air is constantly filled with the ear-piercing trill of the cicada, which there supplies the too frequent lack of bird-singing.

William Gray Dixon, The Land of the Morning: An Account of Japan and Its People, Based on a Four Years’ Residence in That Country, Including Travels into the Remotest Parts of the Interior, 1882

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