Crows in Tokyo: An Anthropological Explanation of Japan

I’m not a fan of crows in Tokyo. These huge birds, often 18-23 inches, creep me out, occasionally attack me, and often wreck my garbage. Crows in Japan are even worse – mostly because they are huge. One of the first things I noticed in Japan were these gigantic black birds; I couldn’t help wondering “Why are there so many crows in Japan?”

I’m from Texas. Crows are not new. In Texas (especially Austin), these small black birds perch on telephone line and poop on passing cars. They will yell and poop on things, but they’re only a little bit bigger than the size of my hand. I don’t find crows in America scary.

A Beware of Crows sign near the Imperial palace during crow mating season

A Beware of Crows sign near the Imperial palace during crow mating season

Crows in Japan, on the other hand, are huge. As I mentioned before, they can grow to be about 23 inches long (two feet); I’ve seen ones much bigger. Japanese crows live in large roosts of up to a hundred birds (in the past, these roosts were called murders). This wouldn’t be a problem, except for the fact crows in Japan are intensely territorial. They keep their nests about 75 feet up in the air; even if you can’t see the nest, you run the risk of crow attacks every time you walk beneath a nest. They are also have an excellent memory; they will remember people who antagonize them. One of my friends threw a rock at a crow during his first semester at ICU – nearly a year later that crow will still attack him. Sometimes he will be walking to the bus stop or walking home from classes and BANG the crow will dive-bomb him and fly off.  I (accidentally) punched a crow after boxing practice the other day (I made the mistake of parking my bike underneath their nest); I’ve been walking on eggshells the past couple days, especially when I’m near the gym, waiting for the crow to come back with friends, read to antagonize me.

And, of course, no one wants to kill and fry up these birds (for some reason)

And, of course, no one wants to kill and fry up these birds (for some reason)

ICU is famous in Tokyo for having a lush campus. With different species of trees, bushes, flowers, and cats – this campus is very… green. Green attracts omnivorous crows. We are also notably absent of owls and hawks, the most dangerous crow predators.

Not all of Tokyo is so lush. Most of it is very concrete and clean, two things crows don’t like. In residential Tokyo, crows scavenge garbage for food. The problem with this is when crows scavenge within garbage; they will usually decimate the bag and spread the garbage.

Like this

My (unfortunate) next-door neighbor's garbage one morning after crows broke in

My (unfortunate) next-door neighbor’s garbage one morning after crows broke in

As a result, most housewives in Japan hate crows. Throwing your garbage away is no small feat in in Japan. Garbage must be sorted between burnable, non-burnable, plastics, class, cardboard, pet bottles, and many others. Also, you can only throw away particular garbage (such as non-burnable or pet bottles). If a crow comes in the middle of the night, rips open your garbage, spreads it around, eats it, and leaves, guess what?

The Japanese garbage company isn’t going to take the bag of broken garbage. Instead, you have to go out into the street, pick up the rotten garbage, put it in a new bag, and wait until the next pick-up date. If you’re lucky you will only have to wait a couple days; if you’re unlucky you might have to wait a couple weeks.

Basically crows are synathropes, animals that live alongside humans and utilize what humans can provide. In this case it is garbage. And occasionally bugs. These Japanese crows live for about seven to ten years (in the wild) and probably piss off hundreds of people during their lifetime.

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