pet flying squirrel
In pet shops in Japan you can see a wide assortment of turtles, snakes, beetles, ferrets, iguanas and monkeys. On occasion you can see squirrels, chipmunks, and emus. Japan imports more than a million animals---excluding small animals, fish and insects---with rodents making up 30 to 40 percent of the total and reptiles making up 50 to 60 percent of the total.

Japanese are also big on exotic pets. Bats are sometimes purchased as pets. Local varieties sell for between $150 and $300. Imported varieties include Egyptian Rousettes, Franquet’s flying foxes, Madagascar bats, and hammerheads.

In May 2009, a 1.5-meter-long Siamese crocodile was left at an animal shelter in Chiba with a note that said, “My work contract ended in March, I’ve no money and can’t support him. His name is Gen”.

Mini pigs, miniaturized versions of regular livestock pigs, were sort of trendy for a while with women. Selling for about $800 in Tokyo pet stores, they reached a weight of about 30 to 50 kilograms and became popular after the film Babe. As of 2002, there were about 300 or 400 of them in Japan.

In Japan, there are concerns that imported pets, both legal and illegal ones, can bring in diseases or pests that can affect humans, animals and agriculture. One study found that 12 species of imported pet carried leptospira, a disease that causes fever, jaundice, blood in the urine and inflammation of the kidneys. Many animals from the Americas carry giardia. Some from Asia carry salmonella.

In pigeon racing circles there are stories of races in Japan and Taiwan where pigeon races are rich and winners can earn $3 million. There are also stories of races being compromised by competitors raising huge nets to stop rival birds.

Good Websites and Sources: Japan and the International Wildlife Trade (2001) forests.org/archive/asia ;Stage Beetles members.jcom.home.ne.jp ; Japanese Stage Beetle asahi-net.or.jp ; Kids Web Japan on Stage Beetles web-japan.org/kidsweb/archives/cool ; Bug Smuggling thefreelibrary.com ; Mushi King---King of the Beetles mushiking.com ; Cockfighting Robots walyou.com/blog

Links in this Website: PETS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; EXOTIC PETS, BIRD FIGHTS AND BEETLES IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; DOGS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; DOG BREEDS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; BEETLES, LAND CRABS AND INSECTS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; ANIMALS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;EKIDEN, EATING CONTESTS AND BULLFIGHTS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;

Dog fighting and Bird Fighting in Japan

Tosa dog fights
in Shikoku
Cockfights in Japan take place in a knee-high circular enclosures, about two meters in diameter. The combatants are not equipped with artificial spurs. Instead their natural spurs are sharpened. The first fighting cocks were imported from Thailand in the Edo period. The sport is permitted and the cocks are considered a protected species. In some places where cockfights are held an entrance fee is charged. Gambling is generally not allowed, at least openly anyway.

In Yasudacho in Kochi Prefecture cockfights are held almost every Sunday from December through June. There are three categories: 1 year olds, 1½ year olds and 2 years old. Points are scored, When a cock kills its opponent by stabbing him with his spurs he wins the maximum 10 points. When a cock makes his opponent flee he gets eight points. Losers are often eaten by the owner and his friends.

Fights between shamos (a bird in the pheasant family) are also popular. A single bird can sell for $10,000. When birds' careers are over they too are often thrown in a pot and eaten. One old Japanese man told the Asahi Shimbun, “It is the most delicious meat I’ve ever tasted on all my life.”

In the shogun era, daimyo hosted dog fights before battles to raise the moral of their samurai and offer examples of courage and fighting skill. Betting has never really been part of the sport. Dog fights using Tosa are still held today. Only male dogs fight. Females have traditionally served as watch dogs. Fighting dogs weigh 70 to 95 kilograms and sell for around $30,000. The enter the ring wearing a kesho mawashi, a belt and decorative apron similar to ones worn by sumo wrestlers.

Tosa fight in a ring. Most fights last a few minutes. The dogs usually clamp onto each other with their mouths. The fight ends when the loser whelps or whimpers. A referee waves flag in front of the dogs noses to separate them at the end of the fight. For training Tosa are walked six miles a day and taught to remain quiet when they fight.

Dog Fights, See Tosa, Dog Breeds

Illegal Animal Trade and Japan

Many illegally sold wild animals end up in the Japan as well as the United States and Germany. Single back lizards and other protected reptiles are sometimes mailed from Australia to Japan where they sell on the black market for up to $5,000. Rare radiated tortoises and ring-tailed lemurs from Madagascar have been stolen from research centers and children’s zoos in Japan and offered for sale on the illegal animal market through pet shops.

Four baby orangutans were once seized from the apartment of a former pet shop employee in Osaka. Five people, including the pet shop owner and the people who smuggled the animals into Japan, were arrested on charges of smuggling rare animals. The animals were purchased on the black market, sedated and brought into Japan in their carry-on luggage. The animals passed through customs at Kansai Airport without being discovered.

There is strong demand for rare reptiles in Japan. In December 2002, a gavial was seized by customs officials at Kansai International Airport. In August 2005, a pet shop owner and the head of a tropical garden were arrested for trying to sell rare false gavial crocodile hatchlings. In May 2004, three Japanese men were arrested in South Africa with 37 endangered armadillo-girdle lizards, which sell for around $3,500 each in Japan. There are believed to be only around 2,000 to 3,000 of them left in wild due to over hunting for the pet trade.

Tortoises and turtles are particularly sought after because their association with long life. Rare star tortoises from India and Pakistan can fetch between $20,000 and $25,000 in Japan.

There are illegal auctions for wild birds’such as white eyes, Japanese bush warblers and blue and white flycatchers---caught in Japan. Most of the birds are caught in forests using mist nets that are hung between trees by poachers. The birds are frequently bought by bird fanciers who value them for their songs. In some cases poachers are paid ¥1,500 for a bird that is bought at an action for ¥3,000 and ultimately sold to a bird fancier for ¥10,000.

In May 2007, 40 slow lorises---lemur-like creatures from South Asia that are a protected species under the CITES international treaty---were seized by customs officials at Narita Airport. The animals were found in small boxes brought in by a 38-year-old man on a flight from Bangkok. The animals were alive when seized but about a dozen died later.

There is lax enforcement against smuggling animals and the penalties are light if you get caught. There is a thriving underground market and a number of websites that offer rare animals. In some cases you can get animals in shopping mall pet stores. Authorities don’t put a lot of emphasis on catching animal smugglers. They insist they have more important things to worry about.

Snakes and Spiders in Japan

In September 2008, pet shop owner Naoki Bando was arrested for having 51 poisonous snakes in his apartment. The snakes were discovered when Bando called an ambulance after he was bitten by one of the snakes, a deadly green mamba from Africa, while feeding it. While in the hospital in critical condition he was attested for violating animal protection laws.

Bando ran a Tokyo shop that specializes in poisonous snakes, spiders and scorpions. He is believed to have sold over of $1 million worth of animals. Many of the poisonous snakes, which included cobras, were obtained from Kenya, Egypt and the United States through official customs-authorized channels.

In 2005 there were a number of public encounters with snakes that presumably were released by pet owners. In September a four-meter-long albino Burmese python, as thick as a man’s thigh, was found on a riverbank in Saitama Prefecture. The snake put up a fierce battle and took five police officers 30 minute to force into a garbage bag. Two days later a 50-centimeter long ball python disappeared in a park in Shinjuku Ward in Tokyo while it owner was “taking it for a walk.” A few days later a ball python was found in plastic container on the platform of JR Urawa Statio. It turned out to be different than the one that disappeared. Large scorpions have also been found.

The owner of snake told the Daily Yomiuri, “Snakes are easy to keep in apartments because they’re far quieter than cats or dogs, He said he fed his snakes frozen mice and likes to watch television with his snakes curled around his arm. He said his snakes feel great affection toward him especially when he helps them shed their skins.

See Illegal Animal Trade

Beetles and Japan

Japanese stag beetle
Japanese are fond of buying and collecting beetles and keeping them as pets. They are particularly fond of stag beatles, fearsome- looking black insects with large jaw-like mandibles, and rhinoceros beetles, similar to stag beetles except the have a large "horn" protruding from their thorax above their head.

Stag beetles possess mandibles that are nearly as long as the beetle's body and resemble the antlers of a stag. Varying in lengths from 0.6 centimeters to 8.5 centimeters, they are smooth, black or reddish brown. Males are larger than females and have enlarged mandibles that are used in fights over females. There are about 1,000 species of stag and rhinoceros beetles in the world, with 20 species in Japan. Generally found in the forests and mountains around rotted logs and oak trees, the Japanese species are between 5 centimeters and 8 centimeters in length and hibernate in the winter.

In the wild, stag beetles are active mostly at night. Despite their large size they, like all beetles, can fly. Eggs are laid in decaying tree stumps or roots. Larvae live in rotten logs or are buried in the soil, feeding on rotten wood. Once they are large enough they pupate. Adults either do not feed on drink fluids such as nectar or sap, which they can smell.

In November 2007, new species of stag beetle---the takaneruri kuwagata beetle or Platycerus sue Imura---was discovered in Japan. Males have a turquoise metallic luster; females are bronze colored. Almost immediately after its discovery catching the beetle was banned and the place where it was found was kept secret after a pair of the insects was put for auction in the Internet for $1,000.

Beetles as Pets in Japan

Stag beetles make good pets. They take up little space in small Japanese dwelling, require little care and can be left alone for long periods of time. Some live to be five years old, which is longer than most hamsters.

Stag beetles are usually kept in plastic boxes. Some wood is usually placed in their box to make them feel at home. Instead of sap, the beetles are usually given pieces of cucumber or watermelon with a ball of cotton wool soaked in sugar. Pet shops sell a special jello used to feed them.

Pet shops say their most enthusiastic customers are men in their 30s and 40s. One adult beetle collected told Reuters, "I liked insects, even as a child. The shape, the black color, how it shines and the smart appearance of the beetles is what I like best.”

Another collected said "When I raise it and hold it in my hand I feel affection for it...They had different personalities---this one shy, that one is more aggressive, and so on." Schools sponsor beetle-hunting field trips for their students.

Buying Beetles in Japan

Beetle vending machine
Stag beetles can be purchased at pet stores, department stores and shops that specialize in beetles. Enthusiasts can buy beetles from vending machines for ¥400. Credit card holders can order them through the Internet. The beetles are usually sold in pairs.

Millions of dollars worth of beetles accessories are sold every year. The are groups tours to the Philippines, Taiwan and Indonesia whose sole purpose is to collect stage beetles.

Most pet shop beetles sell for the equivalent of four or five dollars. High-priced ones go of as much as $2,500. Generally the bigger, the more valuable. Nepalese Dorcus antaeus, a type of stag beetle prized for its size, was selling for around $3,000 in the summer of 2001. Monster over 10 centimeters sold for $8,000 or more.

A massive Japanese stage beetle said to be a "black diamond" with "one in hundred of million" size was sold for $89,000 to a 36-year-old company president from a Tokyo insect specialty shop called Waku Waku Land. It was considered so valuable because of its size (9 centimeters).

The market for beetles is highly volatile. Big one that are worth thousands can be become worth hundreds in a matter of months depending on supply and demand and trendiness. The price of Japanese stage beetles collapsed after it was discovered how to breed them.

Beetle Fights in Japan

Mushi King, a beetle
fighting arcade game
Beetle fights are held in small rings with the objective being for one beetle to turn its rival over or drive him out of the ring.

Describing a stag beetle fight, Masaki Iijimi of Reuters wrote, "Two giant black beetles lunge at each other on top of a log as dozens of children and adults watch eagerly. The long curved mandibles of the fighting stag beetles make clacking sounds on contact...The crowds gasps as a beetles lifts up its seven-centimeter opponent with its jaws and flings it off the log."

In the wild stag beetle males fight each for prized sap wounds. Sap wounds are also where males hang out in hopes of attracting a female. Males fight over the right to mate. To prepare their beetles for fights some collectors forced them to pull weight or have them fight smaller opponents to build up their confidence.

Mushi King, See Games

Sources of Beetles in Japan

Most of the stag beetles sold in Japan are Japanese varieties. More and more large beetles from the jungles of Indonesia, Malaysia Cambodia, Nepal and India and being brought in the country. Some of these have exotic colors such as gold and iridescent blue-green. Finding beetles for the Japanese beetle collecting market is quite lucrative. More than 500 different species stag beetles, a third of the world’s known species, have been imported to Japan from Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia.

Originally foreign beetles were not allowed in the country due to fears they might multiple and destroy crops. That changed on November 1999 when the government approved 31 kinds of foreign stag beetles for import. By January 2001, a total of 74 species had been approved.

In Japan, wild stag beetles are collected from oak trees that have been cut so that sap oozes out. The beetles as well many other kinds of insects are attracted to the sap. There are tour to the Philippines and Indonesia to collect beetles and other bugs there.

These days most of the beetles sold commercially are bred in farms. A typical farm produces 4,000 or so beetles and requires relatively little investment. The beetles are basically fed and left alone. In August adults lay eggs and wild beetles are introduced to prevent too much inbreeding. Desired traits such as large size and color are singled out and breed. Many collectors breed them at home and say that is the most interesting aspect of their hobby.

Beetle Poaching and Smuggling in Japan

Malaysian stag beetle
Some of the species that have been approved in Japan are protected species in the countries they originate from. This has led to lucrative market for beetle poaching and smuggling, which is less risky than smuggling other animals because they are much smaller than other protected species and can easily be hidden in luggage. Particularly prized are the giant stag beetles found only in northen India, Nepal, Bhutan and Taiwan.

In August 2001, two Japanese men were arrested at Nepal's international airport for attempting to smuggle 271 pairs of indigenous stag beetles out of the country. Earlier a Japanese man was arrested in the Daman forests of Nepal for collecting insects without a permit. He was found with 49 varieties of insects. Violations involving stag beetles have also been reported in Brazil, India, and Taiwan.

Steeling beetles from shops also occurred. One shop in Tokyo had 80 beetles worth $70,000 stolen. It was not clear weather the thief was a professional thief after money or a fanatic collector after the prized beetles.

In December 2003, two Japanese men were arrested at Sydney airport, trying to smuggle out rare beetles and butterflies from Lord Howe Island. The men faced punishment of 10 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000. Authorities were expected to be harsh with them to set an example. The insects were airlifted back to Lord Howe Island.

Japanese beetles are face extinction as they are cross bred with non-native stag beetle specie.s from Southeast Asia that have been introduced as pets. They are also threatened by hunting for pets.

Image Sources: 1) 3) Japan-Animals blog 2) Tosa website 4) 5) 8) 9) Japanese stage beetlers Asahi net 6) Doug Mann Photmann, 7) Mushi King official site

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Page Top

© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated July 2011

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.