I Saw A New Wild Animal In Tokyo!

Walking home late one night, a flicker of unexpected movement caught my eye. When I looked up, there was something scampering along the phone lines above my head! A cat? A rat? No it was BIG.

Sorry these photos are so crap – the only camera I had with me was my phone!
Sorry these photos are so crap – the only camera I had with me was my phone!

At first, I thought it might be a tanuki, but it was the wrong shape. It had a long body and an even longer tail, that it was flinging about in a rather comical way for balance as it walloped along the wires. When I got home, the first thing I did was google Wild Animals Tokyo, and guess what? It’s a Masked Palm Civet! Hakubishin, in Japanese.

Thank you, Wikipedia, for a much better pic. You can read more factoids about these fine furry friends on the Masked Palm Civet page.
Thank you, Wikipedia, for a much better pic. You can read more factoids about these fine furry friends on the Masked Palm Civet page.

They’re native to most of Asia, and came to Japan long ago enough for most sources to consider them “native” here too. I also discovered that they sometimes invade peoples’ crawlspaces and make a hella big mess (reducing their cuteness score among home owners) but usually they live up in the trees, which explains how they got so good at shinnying along wires. They also apparently remember a good thing when they see it, because if they locate a fine source of snacks, they tend to use the same route to get there every day. Which is why I always walk home with my head in the air now, hoping for another spotting! I saw this one in Hiroo, near the French Embassy. Has anybody seen them in other places around Tokyo?

And if you’d love to spot some fresh escapist reading…

“I don’t know when I’ve been more caught up in a story. A masterful achievement.” —Terry Shames, award-winning author of An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddoc

Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, produces the monthly e-magazine Japanagram, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

Published by Jonelle Patrick

Writes all the Japan things.

21 thoughts on “I Saw A New Wild Animal In Tokyo!

  1. How very very cute indeed. Last thing I would have expected in Tokyo was wildlife… Unless it is in a cafe of course!!!

    1. I know! It’s SO weird to see animals outside, even in the gardens and parks. But apparently there are tons! I talked to a fellow photographer at Korakuen once, and he said that the gardens are full of tanuki and other animals, but mostly they are nocturnal, so they come out when the gates close and people go home. Who knew?

  2. Hang on…..can we go back to the bit where tanukis are real. (sadly google shows me that my image of little fat tummied fluffy things in hats waddling round Tokyo isnt quite right).

  3. Tanukis are real, although they suffer from some exaggerations in their image. And I saw a hakubishin scampering around in Shiodome about 6 weeks ago!

  4. I think I saw something like this in Sydney. It was this weird cat thing low on a tree, but I didn’t investigate too closely because every animal in Australia is designed to kill/eat people.

    1. So true! One of my Japanese school classmates was a teacher from Brisbane, and her tales of what one might be surprised by IN THE TEACHERS’ BATHROOM (WITH ONE’S PANTS DOWN!) were enough to make me swear never ever to go near the place. I suspect the Darwinian job of those cute hakubishin & koalas & quokkas is merely to attract the easy prey.

    1. Arg, sorry for the lag in replying – been traveling, and am utterly disappointed in the state of wifi at American hotels!

      But I’m amazed that you’ve seen these scampering around Tokyo too! When I googled them, I saw how many pictures there were of the mess they can make in peoples’ attics, though. +_+ I’m kind of hoping that all the impenetrable kanji on those websites explains how they humanely trap and relocate the hakubishin, but I fear I might be quite wrong about that. ( ; _ ; ) (After reading about various crow eradication efforts, my image of animal-loving Japan dimmed considerably…)

      1. I am sure a lot of people would be happy to trade your jetset lifestyle for a bit on WiFi inconvenience! (^-^) Never mind! But I did notice your blog has been a bit silent lately.

        I think most people in Tokyo see them once or twice, at least if you are out after the dark. If there were just a few of these around I am sure the zoos would be happy to take them in and care for them but they breed at such a rate there would be nowhere to put them. And who would pay to build and run a retirement home for captured pests? At least they have a fair go at it, live lives roughly as nature intended them and are dispatched as quickly as possible when caught. Very much unlike the animals killed to make fancy boots or burgers in the West or locked up in apartments to provide some sort of companionship to the single and the childless. But I am sure you know of all this already. (^-^;)

      2. You remind me how strange our modern age is, that we enjoy eating animals and wearing their skins, without having to feel the sadness that comes from taking a life to do it. I’ve often thought how much less meat I’d eat (and how little I’d waste) if I had to raise the animals and turn them into meat myself, like my farmer forebears did. And I know it’s easy for me to be sad for the hakubishin, when they’re not living in my attic. I have less sympathy for the skunks that parade around my San Francisco neighborhood, spraying anyone and anything that makes them mad! (♯`∧´)

    1. You’re so lucky! Where in Minami Aoyama? I understand that they use the same paths again and again, but even though I look up every time I pass the spot where I saw them in Hiroo, I’ve never seen them again ( ; _ ; )

  5. Well, when I Googled Tokyo Wild Animals your page was a top hit under Images, and now I know what the two animals that woke us up in Minami Aoyama are! Sadly, the bigger one’s foot got caught on barbed fence behind our house and was shrieking at 5AM. His buddy/mate/foe was either fighting with him while he was hanging upside down on our side of the wall or trying to help him get his foot released (It was smaller and had a darker coat). Eventually, it freed itself before I could help.

  6. My wife and I have seen these on power lines and roofs two nights in the past couple of weeks in Kitaku in Tokyo 🙂

    1. I’m soooo envious! They use the same routes each day to go about their business, I’ve heard, so if you’ve seen them in one place, you’ll probably see them again. At least that’s why I keep craning my neck hopefully at the overhead lines where I saw that first one!

      1. I see 😀 The first one was trying to get onto someone’s balcony on the second floor, from the power line. It was a quite small gap, but it seemed to hesitate to jump and eventually gave up and kept walking along the power line above us for several blocks before vanishing into a tree

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