Fox at Zao Fox Village - photo by Rebecca Daum

Kawaii Overload:

Fox Village, Bunny Island & Cat Island

If you are an animal lover, these places are for you! We’re convinced that these may be the most kawaii places you will ever visit!

A Fox Oasis

Located deep in the mountain of Miyagi, Japan, you will find a place like no other — an actual Fox Village! or more precisely, a place called Miyagi Zao Fox Village. Yes, your thinking is correct. Here, according to Japan Travel, there are 6 species of foxes that roam freely (with minimum employee involvement so you have to be careful!). They scamper, they sleep and they will generally leave you in awe of their undeniable cuteness! You can even have the opportunity to feed them for a small fee.

We’re sure this is a good place to look to find the answer to that question everyone has been pondering – “What does the fox say?”

#Did you know?

Foxes (or kitsune) are actually popular animals in Japanese folklore. They are depicted as intelligent beings, with magical abilities that increase with age and wisdom. It is said that more tails a kitsune has (they can have as many as nine!) the older, wiser, and more powerful it is.

Other oasis’ for animal lovers found in Japan

Bunny Island

If you thought fox village was as cute as it got, you’re mistaken — in Okunoshima, Japan there is a Bunny Island! According to ABC News, hundred of friendly feral bunnies hop around delighting tourists with their cuteness. Where did these bunnies come from? No one knows.

Cat Island

The island of Tashirojima (田代島) in Miyagi prefecture, has become unofficially known as Cat Island! According to Japan Guide, this rural island is home to more cats than there are humans — outnumbering them at approximately a 4-to-1 ratio– many of which are seniors over 65 years old. It is believed by the locals that feeding the 100 (or so) stray cats that inhabit the island will bring good luck and fortune. Unlike bunny island where the origin of these furry creatures are a mystery, here, these cats we originally brought in to aid the island’s silkworm farms from unwanted critters. This place is unique to its own. It’s unlike fox village, which is a maintained sanctuary, and is more of a place that is shared between cats and humans. You won’t find any tourist areas here, but that hasn’t stopped people from visiting these furry felines!

Cat Island

Nikkei in Other Lands – Vietnam (Part 2)

By Masako & Stan Fukawa

image005Graveyards and cemeteries, like museums, archives and national monuments, provide travelers with a wealth of information. We found this to be the case in Vietnam. The Japanese communities of the pre-sakoku era1 have long disappeared but there are many graves in church yards with Japanese names. We also found graves of Japanese men in rice paddies being tended to by either descendents, friends or the country. We went in search of their stories.

In Vietnam, the Japanese settled mainly in the port towns of Hoi An and Da Nang. Of the estimated 300 Japanese living in these quarters in the 1600s, the majority were Christians who went back and forth to Japan with the traders who exchanged Japanese silver for gold, silk, spices and gunpowder. Hoi An, like Ephesus in Turkey today, was a major trading port but due to the silting up of the river on which it is situated, can no longer be visited by ocean-going vessels.

With the closure of Japan to foreigners and their influence, Japanese Christians who were expelled migrated to South East Asia. Over 100,000 left Japan in the first half of the 17th Century, approximately 71,000 aboard Japanese ships and about another 30,000 on foreign ships, and multiplied the numbers of permanent residents in this area of Asia. Among the immigrants were some samurai who were greatly prized for their military skills and experience by the ruling elite of the area who were engaged in internal and external wars. The descendents of these early migrants, both Christians and non-Christians, are off-springs of local and Japanese parents. (Madalena Ribiro, The Japanese Diaspora in the Seventeenth Century. According to Jesuit Sources. Bulletin of Portuguese-Japanese Studies, 2001).

image007Our knowledge of Vietnam prior to our visit was based mainly on the news reports of the Vietnam War. We call it the Vietnam War but the Vietnamese refer to this era as “the French War” and “the American War”. Unlike the many war cemeteries in Europe, we did not see any for American or Canadian soldiers who fought in Vietnam.

Closer to home, gravesites of pre-WWII Nikkei can be found in cemeteries in the coastal towns of British Columbia. Many of the people buried on Vancouver Island no longer have descendants living nearby. To pay respect to the Nikkei who made their lives on Vancouver Island and have long since passed on, the BC Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples Federation conducts an annual bus tour to the cemeteries in Chemainus, Port Alberni, Nanaimo, Duncan and Victoria during Obon, the lantern festival, when spirits of family ancestors are believed to return.

 

bridge

Nikkei in Other Lands – Hoi An, Vietnam

By Masako & Stan Fukawa

The Japanese covered bridge also known as the Bridge for Passers-by from Afar is one of the most famous Japanese bridges in Southeast Asia. Constructed in the early 1600s it is a symbol of the town which was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999.

 

image003

A pair of monkeys and a pair of dogs guard the entrances to the bridge. Some say the bridge was begun in the year of the monkey and finished in the year of the dog.

We love to travel and like most travelers, have a bucket list of places we want to visit before we die. At the top of our list are the UNESCO world heritage sites which, in 2014, number close to one thousand. Our travels have been greatly enriched by learning about and meeting with Nikkei who left their homeland and dispersed throughout the world. The Association of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad, estimate that there are between 2.5 and 3.0 million Nikkei living in their adopted countries. The largest Nikkei populations are in Brazil (1.5 million), the United States (1.2 million) and Peru (80,000). In Canada we number about 68,000.

The Japanese diaspora or “scattering” is said to have been initiated toward the end of the 16th century with the arrival of the Portuguese. The first to be dispersed were Japanese who were taken and sold as slaves in regions where Portugal held colonial power such as India, Southeast Asia, and southern China. Some Japanese girls were sent as far afield as Portugal for sexual purposes.1

With the opening of Japan to the outside world, trade by sea began to develop, linking Japan to other areas – especially to Southeast Asia. Hoi An in Vietnam became one of the most important trading ports because of its closeness to the South China Sea and was visited by traders not only from Japan, but also from China, the Netherlands, and India.

In all these areas, particularly in the main cities and ports, Japanese began to settle and developed commercial relations. Japanese men who established themselves in these areas ended up marrying locally and created communities to raise their children. Japanese commerce grew in these area until sakoku, the closure of Japan to the outside world, which lasted for 250 years. Japan’s expulsion of foreigners and self-imposed isolation was caused partially by Portugal’s refusal to stop purchasing and selling Japanese men and women into slavery2. The Japanese that remained in Japan were forbidden from leaving; the Japanese that settled overseas found themselves unable to return to Japan, and remained in these areas for the rest of their lives. Without contact with Japan, these communities did not survive more than 50 – 70 years after Japan’s “closure.”

In present day Vietnam, the influence of these early settlers from Japan could be seen in the architecture. According to UNESCO, some of the houses in the historic town of Hoi An are similar to the merchant houses in Kyoto. The most significant structure is the Japanese bridge which linked the Japanese quarter with the Chinese. It is magnificent!


 

1. (Japan Times book review by Michael Hoffman of Portuguese Colonialism and Japanese Slaves by Michio Kitahara, 2013)

2. (*1 bid)