Shoji Kuramochi, 73, is one of Japan’s few surviving hunters, and he may be the only one with 100 trained hunting dogs. Besides being a hunter of wild boars and deer, he’s also an expert at the traditional Japanese art forms of bonsai cultivation and the breeding of beautiful and rare types of kingyo (goldfish).
Japan is turning into a safari park full of wild boars and deer, and the people who are supposed to take care of the animals — well, they belong to the zoo! Since we don’t have any wolves or other predators on our islands, and we have very few hunters, we have seen a huge increase in boars and deer. In parts of Kobe city, herds of wild boars roam the streets knocking people over. And what is our government doing? Nothing. Because the people who make decisions are sitting at desks and have no idea what is happening outside.
Because of global warming, many species of animals are reproducing more often than before. Wild boars used to give birth to piglets once a year, but now in many parts of Japan the winters are so warm that they have another litter in the winter, too. Most of the offspring survive, so from one mom, we expect at least 12 wild boars a year. Calculate what happens in five years! In Kobe, unless all the wild boars are caught now, the epidemic will not be contained.
To a hungry person, most living things look delicious. When I was a boy, Japan was very poor. Hunting was a way to get much-needed nutritious food into our bellies. It was nothing special. We caught fish and killed rabbits if we were lucky enough to find some. If we saw a chicken running around, we could imagine bits of delicious yakitori melting in our mouths.
Bonsai cultivation is the essence of Japanese culture. When we plant a sapling, it is just a cute baby, but we envision that it will develop into something magnificent within 300 years. With that in mind, we tend to its needs and we shower it with love and trim it with care.
Some Japanese forests are crying out for help, but only a few of us can hear them. There is amazing biodiversity, but it is neglected in many places. Some mountains are the property of the nation, others belong to prefectures — most of these are in good condition. But sadly, some forests in private hands are neglected because the government doesn’t check on them, and it doesn’t require owners to clean them up. For example, there are trees that were planted 50 or 60 years ago that were supposed to have been felled for use after 20 years. They were never cut down because imported wood was much cheaper than domestic. So now those trees are pushing each other off the face of the Earth: Their roots are visible and the weaker ones fall down, destroying other trees. These forests need our help.
When something is made too difficult, most people give up. In the 1970s, about 500,000 people had hunting licenses in Japan. Now the number is about 180,000 and decreasing. It is expensive and difficult to be a hunter in Japan. We have to pay about ¥100,000 a year for hunting licenses. Every bullet must be accounted for, so we have to write down the exact location, date and time whenever we fire a gun. And we must take CT scans and other costly medical tests to prove that we are fit and healthy. Police search our homes and investigate our relatives to make sure nobody has a criminal record. Who wants to go through all this for a hobby?
If timing is off, so is everything else. I’m a type of man that is almost extinct in Japan. If I had been born in the Stone Age, I would have been the hottest guy!
Stay curious and you will find answers to questions you did not even have. I keep experimenting to create better ecosystems for my goldfish and for my medaka, a type of tiny fish. I study university research papers for tips and my fish jump for joy in their shaded pools.
There is no need to graduate from childhood, because staying childish is the greatest achievement an adult can have. My interest in the world is like that of an elementary school fifth-grader — a very energetic boy who wants to know what makes every bug, plant and cloud move and exist. That attitude helps my business, because I apply the same curiosity and way of looking at the world when I am working, too.
If you love your plants and animals, you must line up good homes for them, in case you die before them. I have more than 700 bonsai trees of satsuki azaleas. I also have hundreds of other bonsai. I water them and trim them daily, and they keep me very busy. My biggest fear is that the day I die, my trees will also start dying, because nobody has the time and knowledge to take care of them. So I am looking for someone to adopt my beloved bonsai. That person must love them as I do and must know how to take care of them. My dogs will be OK, as my friends will take most of them in.
Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “journeys in japan” Learn more at: juditfan.blog58.fc2.com. Twitter: @judittokyo.