Japan: Living Journal Nature Tokyo

Tiptoeing Through Tranquility

Tamagawa Egret
Little Egret stepping along the Tama River bed. 1996

In the midst of Tokyo, which struggles to retain any of the wild creatures that make their home here, the rivers still manage to sustain quite a large number of creatures, despite the walling up of banks and straightening of river courses. There is now not a single river left in Japan that hasn’t been dammed and much of the former rich riverine biosphere has been lost. Once, for instance, fireflies inhabited Japan throughout the islands, including, until thirty years ago, downtown Tokyo (Takadanobaba area), but since fireflies can only exist in pristine water conditions, with the polluting of all water sources, fireflies have virtually disappeared. Much of the inspiration for Japanese folklore, the fireflies, the tree frogs, the catfish, and even river otter and salmon, now exist only as memories for children.

The rivers now seep along their courses as reduced, shallow streams that often dry up in the sweltering heat of the summers. Tokyo, with its voracious appetite for water, leeches away most of the volume, leaving little for the wildlife and plants.

Still, on any given dawn or evening, if you wander down to the water’s edge, flotillas of ducks and lone hunters like egrets and herons ply the waters for what few fish and insects continue to lurk in the river bed. Perhaps one of the most rewarding sights is the flash of an emerald green and cobalt blue jewel of a bird, the common kingfisher. Such sights have the shock of invoking a common memory of a world long lost, but that still remind us of where we came from and what we are made of.

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