How a children's cartoon destroyed Japanese agriculture

Back in the 1970s, there was a popular anime on TV in Japan called Araiguma Rasukaru, about a kid and his adorable racoon sidekick. Based on the popular Disney movie Rascal, it was a huge hit. And it led to one of the worst invasive species events on the island in recent history.

Over at Nautilus, Jason Goldman has a terrific article about what happened. He writes:

Once upon a time, raccoons were strangers to the island of Japan, save for the occasional critter kept in a zoo. That all changed when Araiguma Rasukaru aired and turned a nation onto raccoons’ inherent charm. “Its round, funny face with a bandit’s mask across the eyes and a striped bushy tail create a humorous impression,” writes Japanese researcher Tohru Ikeda of Hokkaido University, “and people find its habit of washing of food prior to eating curious.” Suddenly, every Japanese child wanted their own pet raccoon, like the boy hero of the cartoon. At the peak of their popularity, Japan imported more than 1,500 North American raccoons each year. And while the government eventually banned their import and the ability for Japanese citizens to keep them as pets, it was too late.

Life imitated art when some of the Japanese children who had kept pet raccoons released their pets into the wilderness, like the boy in the cartoon and the real-life Sterling North before him. Other raccoons, being wild animals and not domesticates like dogs, cats, or horses, simply escaped. Still others were released out of frustration by their owners. Raccoons, like chimpanzees, are friendly when young, but as they age they become more aggressive, harder to control, and pose a potential threat to humans. Raccoons, like chimpanzees, are simply not suitable pets.

Raccoons have since proliferated in Japan, where they have no natural predators, and by 2004, they had spread at least 42 of 47 prefectures. . In some parts of the country, they invade cattle farms, where they feed on the same corn that gets fed to cows, and find safe spaces for reproduction in the tall grasses of grazing pastures. In other places, fish farms provide them with a veritable buffet. The animals damage crops across the food pyramid: corn, melons, strawberries, rice, soybeans, potatoes, oats, and more. In 2004 Ikeda and colleagues estimated that raccoons were responsible for more than thirty million yen (approximately US$ 300,000) worth of agricultural damage each year on the island of Hokkaido alone.



This is an incredible story about how pop culture can change the physical environment. If an anime about raccoons could cause this much havoc, imagine what would happen if we made anime about doing things to improve the environment?

You must read Goldman's whole article over at Nautilus