You might recognize the little guy you see above as a character from Pocahontas. In case you don’t remember him — and this will be important in a moment — his name is “Miko”. As it happens, Miko is also the Shinto term for “shrine maiden” — and what follows is an account of how Miko the cartoon raccoon is causing a lot of grief for shrine maidens all over Japan.
To fully understand this story, you have to go back to World War II. The roots of Nazi Germany are often traced back to the settlement terms of the Great War, which forced the defeated Central Powers to pay crippling reparations to the victorious Allies. When World War III breaks out, it will be tempting to trace its underlying cause to the damage and humiliation the United States continues to inflict upon the defeated Axis powers of World War II. I’m not talking about the U.S. military bases that still dot Germany and Japan, but about a different kind of invader — raccoons:
If you don’t want to watch all four and a half fascinating minutes of that clip, PBS’s website contains a brief synopsis:
The segment describes how people, after seeing the cartoon Rascal the Raccoon, decided to adopt raccoons as pets and then, after seeing how violent and destructive they could be, released them into the wild. This led to the release of thousands of raccoons into forested areas of Japan, near sacred shrines and temples. The segment describes the damage that raccoons — non-native species with no predators in Japan — have caused to more than 80% of Japan’s temples, and efforts to solve this problem.
In destroying the shrines those maidens would call home, the raccoons seem to be sending a clear message to their fellow Mikos: these islands ain’t big enough for the both of us. [Obviously, North American imports talk like cowboys.]
If raccoons aren’t native to Japan, where exactly did they come from? As you might have guessed — if you live in North America — they came from here. And as you also might have guessed, we didn’t only transfer them to Japan:
Japan is not the only country with raccoon problems. In the early 1930s, a few raccoons were released in the German countryside outside Berlin to amuse hunters and, in 1945, about two dozen raccoons escaped from a local fur farm. Since that time, the raccoon population has multiplied and now Germany has approximately 1 million raccoons, the largest raccoon population outside of North America. Kassel, in Central Germany, has the largest raccoon population in Europe, with up to 100 raccoons per square kilometer. German authorities have tried different strategies to deal with the raccoon problem, including killing raccoons and creating drainpipe protectors to prevent raccoons from climbing up them and causing damage to homes. Germany and Japan are still trying to find the best ways to deal with their raccoon problems.
I generally favor the removal of invasive species, but quite frankly [pun intended], I enjoy watching Germany struggle to exterminate an unwanted population.