Maneaters of Meiji Jingu Park: Tokyo Crows

I was peering out the second floor window of the Starbucks on Meiji Street with my honjitsu no kohi when Kazuhiro Kiyohara of Yomiuri walked in. The big first baseman of Japan's Central League leading squad, known as much for the thunder in his bat as his desire of drink, sat down with his woman at a table just across from mine. After emptying my cup and beginning to pad down my coat for my lighter, I noticed the burly slugger was beginning to fiddle with the straw in his ice mocha. The nervous look in his eyes and idle stare across the room told me that he knew he was in the presence of an arm that possessed a blazing fastball and a decent curve. But, of course, there was one thing he didn't know - whose?

After a while, they began to argue. It went something like this:

"No, no, no. You will not be benched down the stretch in favor of Martinez," she consoled.

"You tell that to Nagashima. He's been riding me for the last two weeks."

"Well, every manager tries to motivate his players." She touched his shoulder with her right hand.

"My All-Star Game MVP wasn't enough? He ought to just stick to hocking those energy drinks."

When his lady made her move for the bathroom, I made mine. "Kiyohara, I bet I could strike you out 1-2-3," I said in walking up and taking a seat at his table.

"I bet you could too, haven't you seen the slump I've been in?"

"You're pulling your head on breaking pitches. Any righty with a decent curve can get you fishing every time."

"Yeah, well..."

"Say, I am heading up to see some birds up at Meiji Jingu. Do you wanna tag along?"

"I already know all about the Yakult Swallows at Jingu Stadium."

"Not the Swallows, the hashibuto garasu. You know, the jungle crows in the park. They are supposedly attacking folks up there and hauling away children the size of small farm animals."

He paused to finish the last of his drink and said, "Nah, I don't think so. I am kind of busy with my girl here."

"Well, ditch the broad. There are plenty more where she came from."

"Yeah, but this one makes a fine chicken dinner."

Recently, most major news services across Japan, and even the Los Angeles Times, have been reporting on the escalating crow populations in Tokyo. The increase has resulted in attacks on people. City officials are becoming alarmed and at a loss to solve the problem.

Though from varying perspectives, it would seem that the press are in agreement that the main cause of the increase in population is, as the Asahi Evening News describes, the excessive amount of kitchen garbage for the birds to feed on. Since Tokyo garbage is put by the roadside in transparent bags, "the birds can recognize colors, so when they see anything red or pink in the bags, they assume those items are meat and they go for them."

The Yomiuri Shimbun details the efforts of ingenious Tokyo civic workers to stem the encroaching black tide with the implementation of their secret weapon - the trash can. "Under the new system," the Yomiuri reports, "households and shops leave their trash out for collection in trash cans, rather than in plastic bags that crows easily rip apart with their powerful beaks."

The Times though gives a less sanguine outlook, hinting that maybe it is too late. It reports that Tokyo residents, in desperation, are now resorting to throwing shoes and golf clubs, slinging trouser belts, and wielding umbrellas at the flying rats.

Perhaps even more ominous is the conclusion of the Asahi concerning the black marauder, "People in large cities have caused the abnormal crow population growth. The consequences are theirs to face." Perhaps. But what if there are hundreds of representatives of the winged-menace and all you have for protection is that which cinches your pants?

In recalling the day after a battle on a Tokyo rooftop where he defended some coworkers by flailing his belt at a single attacking crow the day before, political analyst Hiroshi Takaku tells the Times, "They threatened us by yelling or crying. We think one crow sent a signal to his colleagues to come back as a group... My colleagues knew they came for revenge."

When adding Mr. Takaku's experience to those of the children, their parents, the bicyclists, and untold others who have been hassled by Tokyo's black scourge, there is one obvious question: Why?

The Times indicates that during May and June Tokyo citizens are high on the pecking order "when the unwary targets venture near protective crow parents hovering over their chicks." In fact, Hiroshi Kawachi, deputy director of the Tokyo branch of the Japan Wild Birds Association, tells the Times, "Crows do not have any morals to distinguish humans from animals." He describes the toughness of these ebony scavengers, maybe to insinuate their invincibility, by saying, "They sleep in jerry-built beds made of metal clothes hangers."

With thoughts of metal coat hangers in my head for a use other than opening a locked car door or hanging one of my $49 suits, I walked with Kiyohara through Meiji Jingu Park's monstrous space of gardens, walkways, baseball fields, tennis courts, and other recreation areas. Listening closely to the park's sounds, beyond the speeding cars on the roads that ring the park, one can hear the constant buzzing of insects, the singing of pigeons, and, of course, the loud squawks of crows. I pulled out a copy of the Asahi.

I read from the paper as we walked. About the crows' eating habits: It is as if banquet tables, loaded with every delicacy, are being laid out for them every day.

"Sounds like going after a hung curve ball, huh?" I wondered.

"Yeah," he said. "Or a floating martini olive." We approached the baseball diamonds.

I continued reading. About protecting their young: This is their breeding season, and the birds become highly aggressive because they have their nests and chicks to protect.

"I guess it is like a closer that needs to protect a couple of runs in the 9th?" I assumed.

"Yeah, maybe. But I don't see any aggression out here. This little trip has been a disappointment. I would even say a letdown."

"You mean like a called third strike, down by a run, two down, and the bases juiced in the 9th?"

"Yeah, something like that. But say, speaking of strikeouts, when are you going to try to strike me out like you said? I will even spot you the first strike, I'm feeling good," he asked and turned to look at me.

"Uh, well, gee why don't we first go on down to Ginza?" I countered. "You can spot me the first whiskey and the first hostess." I put my arm around his shoulder and directed him back to the train station.

"Sure. Now those birds don't disappoint."

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