By Spooky on April 12th, 2023 Category: Animals
Raccoons are not native to Japan, yet in the last few decades, the furry critters have become naturalized in 44 of the country’s 47 prefectures, causing all sorts of problems for humans and other animal species. And to think it all started with a cute anime series…
In 1963, American writer Sterling North launched his most popular book, Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era. It told the story of a young boy called Sterling who went on adventures with his raccoon sidekick Rascal, and it became such a huge hit that Disney decided to turn it into a live-action movie. In Japan, Rascal’s adventures inspired a 52-episode anime series called Rascal the Raccoon (Araiguma Rasakaru), which ran for a year in 1977 and made raccoons the most sought-after pets in the country. There was just one problem – there were no raccoons in Japan, so people started importing them from the United States at a rate of about 1,500 raccoons per month.
Photo: Joshua J. Cotten/Unsplash
If the people who demanded raccoons for pets had bothered reading the end of Sterling North’s book or watching the entire anime series, they would have realized that mature raccoons don’t make great pets. In the book, Sterling realizes that Rascal is a wild animal meant to live in the wild, so he releases him, and so did many of the families foolish enough to adopt baby raccoons as pets.
By the time authorities realized what was going on and started preventing people to stop releasing their raccoons in the wild, it was already too late. The resourceful mammals had already driven other wild species away, destroyed crops, as well as traditional wooden temples and houses, and there was little anyone could do to stop them. There were tens of thousands of them, all breeding at an uncontrollable speed.
With tens of thousands of raccoons imported in a matter of months, and with no natural predators to speak of, there was little the Japanese government could do to keep things under control. In cities, they started going through the trash in search of food, even attacking people who got between them and their trash, and just being a natural nuisance.
Technically, Japan has its own raccoon species, tanuki, the raccoon dog, but it can’t compete with the common raccoon in terms of adaptability, so it is in danger of losing its territory. They compete for the same resources, but the American raccoon is so much better at securing them.
In an attempt to keep raccoons from destroying agricultural crops, traditional wooden temples, and houses, some Japanese prefectures have taken the controversial decision to cull the animals. This has attracted the wrath of animal rights activists and did little in terms of controlling raccoon numbers.
Despite the raccoon infestation currently plaguing Japan, the anime that started it all is still hugely popular in Japan, and people love Rascal as much as always.