Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Creeping on Critters and Kids alike - A trip to the ZOO!

We went to the ZOO this weekend!  And per the Japanese style of bright colors and bizarre mascots*, it was confusing to everyone I know on Facebook.

In case you couldn't tell, the mascot for the Higashiyama (Eastern Mountain) Zoo in Nagoya... is a pear? I think?  I asked my Japanese teacher.  She knew his name is Zoo-Bo, but we weren't sure if he was specifically a pear or just a mutant fruit-thing.  Point is, according to my Facebook friends, it's a deranged Pikachu. :)

(Speaking of those Facebook friends - I did some research.  There is a traveling Poke-land amusement park... but it hasn't actually popped up anywhere since like 2007.  Sad pandas.)

But I digress.  As I said, we went to the Higashiyama Zoo in Nagoya this past weekend, and we had a blast!  Actually, the Higashiyama park is not just a zoo, but also a botanical garden and an amusement park.  We only did the zoo portion this past weekend - which means we get to go again!  It's just a quick 20 minute train ride from home, so return trip(s) are definitely doable. Woo!

I have a sort of love-hate with zoos.  I mean, I appreciate the education they provide about our world, and the other critters with whom we share said world.  But I don't always feel great about those critters being encapsulated in tiny spaces just for us to stare at.  I will say the Higashiyama Zoo did a decent job at providing nice enclosures with toys/fauna in those spaces meant to enrich the creature living there.    I'd give it an 8/10 in that regard.  Room for improvement, but I've seen worse.

Man, I'm full of tangents today.  Anyway, we saw some critters! (click any pic to embiggen)
Scarlet Macaw
Peacock in all his glory

Honey Badger (he don't care)
Asian Elephant Mama & Baby
(baby was adorably playing with his food)

The Mister would tell you the Japanese Macaques were his favorite, and I will say they were pretty awesome in their quest to figure out how to open doors...

But honestly this non-exhibit of some random local turtles sunning themselves in the Zoo's landscaping became a highlight of my day:

As for this KpMcD?  Two exhibits stuck out as my favorites.

First-  THE SQUIRREL EXHIBIT.  THEY HAD AN EXHIBIT. FOR A SQUIRREL.   They even had a sign that detailed "how squirrels are made."  I am well aware that squirrels aren't like... a thing that you see commonly in Japan.  But that didn't make it any less hilarious to me.
Le Gasp! So rare!
Click it- just to giggle at the english subtitles.

And now I present to you the best.  The most awesome.  The Exhibit I would pay 500 yen ($5 park admission fee) just to see again:
If you're American and from my general age-range, you are probably most familiar with Tanuki from this lovely Italian chap wearing a Tanuki-suit which allows him to fly and turn into a statue to avoid bombs:
a magical memory from my youth.
and also from that one time I pulled an 
all-nighter in college to "study."
Shout out to my partner in crime there, Dudeweiser.

However, if you live in Japan, your familiar vision of Tanukis is most likely a statue which looks just like this fellow:

As they are stationed outside nearly every doorway you pass as you walk down the street.
Back when I worked at the college, during move-out each year the recycling program would create collection spaces for students to leave behind belongings they no longer wanted.  Occasionally I would scavenge these spaces while walking the halls, because mostly it's free thrift-shopping.  I got a free lamp once.  Good stuff.
Anyway, at the end of my second year at the college, I found a Japanese-style Raccoon Statue, and I swiped it immediately, thinking that this raccoon would be fun for the staff-bonding game we played with RAs during fall training.  The short version of that game is each building staff is a team, and each team tries to steal the statue away from the other teams.  Teams that hold the statue at the end of each day are awarded points.
The year before we had used a Piggy bank which we named Edgar the Golden Spirit Pig for this game.  The Racoon statue seemed in the same vein.
Come fall, the raccoon statue was a hit with the RAs, and the game was once again, afoot.  Until one of my international RAs was so kind as to delicately explain to me the raccoon was not a raccoon, but a Tanuki... and that statue has some symbolism.
  • His hat protects against trouble
  • His big tail lends stability and strength
  • Big eyes help to make good decisions
  • His bottle of Sake denotes virtue
  • His big belly shows he is bold and calm
  • And his GIANT testicles display his fertility.
That's right, folks, those aren't his feet in that statue's picture above. They're balls.  Giant.  Disproportionate. Fertile. (probably Schweddy) Balls.
So we stopped using the Tanuki statue for the game after that.  And I learned something.  So everybody wins? Question mark?

In real-life, Tanuki (or Raccoon-dogs as they're called in English) are fairly prevalent critters here.  They're mischievous, just like American Raccoons, and they're fluffy, and their balls are in fact, not terrifying sights to behold.  Point is, they're adorable and I want one as a pet.  And I wasn't alone in that thought.  There was a little girl standing next to me at the Tanuki enclosure, and she kept trying to get the critters' attention by yelling "TANUKI-SAN!" over and over while waving at them.

I found that so endearing - she's basically yelling "Mr. Raccoon!  Mr. Raccoon!"  It's such a polite way to request an animal's attention.  I just really wanted one of them to take out a top hat, turn to her, and tip said hat in her direction for her manners.
too lazy to properly scan today, sorry.
On that note, along with all the animals at the zoo, we also saw... so many adorable kids.  I don't know what it is about Japanese children y'all, but I can't get over how cute I think they are.  Not in the "I want one!" sense, obviously.  But more in the "I will be a creep and stare at other people's children" way.  I mean, guys.  This little one's chubby waddle.  I can't.
 So many cute kids.  You go Japan, keep making those adorable little chubsters that you dress in attire more fashionable than anything in my closet. Because I want to watch them eat ice cream.  And now, because that's a thing that I've typed, I'm sure I'm on a list somewhere.  Sorry not sorry?

What is your favorite thing to see at the Zoo?  
I can't wait to go back and check out 
the other portions of the park!

today's little language lesson:
動物園 に 行ましよか? 狸 があります
Doubutsuen ni, ikimashoka? Tanuki ga imasu!
Shall we go to the zoo?  They have Tanunkis!

* Fun fact about mascots: Japanese public spaces/ events/ government agencies can all have mascots which are sponsored by government funds.  Because mascots are write-offs for these agencies, they have mascots without abandon.  There are cities in this country that have a greater than 1:1000 mascot to person ratio.  It's ridiculous, and it makes branding impossible because there are so many they've all become rather obscure.  In any case, the governement is cracking down on the frivolous spending, and now cities and municipalities nation-wide are being forced to either cut Tommy the Half-bird half-tuna-fish Mascot for City Trash Collection from their lineup, or MASH ALL THE MASCOTS TOGETHER into some terrifying power-rangers-esque monster.  Good times.

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