The surprising variety of Kyoto’s wildlife

Encounters with Kyoto’s wildlife are astounding. Take a peek at the little fellow in this photo!


Kyoto's wildlife - cute tanuki

Cute tanuki.
Photo by A. O’Brien

Just the other day, I saw the pictured tanuki (a Japanese raccoon) on a street south of Yasaka Shrine while walking with my friends after lunch at The Sodoh. This little guy was calmly looking for food around the storm drains along the street. There were quite a few people passing by and the tanuki was a bit of a draw for photographers, but it didn’t appear to be even slightly concerned.

You don’t see tanuki in town very often. I always feel lucky when I encounter one. Although my Osaka-based friends have seen ceramic tanuki figures and anime featuring tanuki characters, they hadn’t ever seen a live tanuki before. They seemed entranced with the creature!

You can see monkeys at the Arashiyama Monkey Park and around the top of the mountain called Hieizan. I have also seen them near forested areas of the mountains that define the east of the city. But the most surprising monkey sighting happened much closer to home. Early one morning I was weeding my garden and chanced to glance at my neighbour’s rooftop. There, in the early morning light, was a monkey calmly watching me. It was a lovely moment.

Although inoshishi (wild boar) are common in the mountain suburbs of Kobe, you rarely see them in Kyoto. However, I have encountered a couple of inoshishi on an early morning walk along the Philosopher’s Path. They didn’t seem interested in me, although I chose to give them a wide berth.

In our neighbourhood, ferrets are fairly common. They frolic in the garden, dart across streets, and even manage to break into our kitchen. Ferrets like to eat, so it is best not to leave food accessible in the house. I have found packages of bread pulled into the garden and partially devoured. Although they can be somewhat annoying if they get into your food, they really are so cute to watch.

It isn’t unusual to see snakes in gardens and by the river in summer. Most snakes in Kyoto are relatively harmless. The only venomous snake in this area is the mamushi. Please read the Wikipedia entry for mamushi. If bitten, seek medical attention immediately.

Kyoto’s wildlife also includes birds, frogs, and a huge assortment of bugs (I seem to discover a new species every year). ZoomingJapan has written a great post about dangerous bugs. The occasional bear may also wander into fields on the outskirts of town (which rarely ends well for the bear).

Although it is wonderful to encounter Kyoto’s wildlife, please remember that the creatures are wild. Exercise caution if you see a creature, and respect their right to inhabit the city too.

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