Stranger in a Tokyo Canal
This chapter examines the role of humans in the biological dispersal of nonhuman animals such as seals and elephants. It begins with the story of “Tamachan,” a bearded seal that navigated his way through the complex engineered water systems of the global commercial hubs of Tokyo and Yokohama for almost two years. The appearance of Tamachan in Tokyo Bay, far beyond its normal habitat, invites reflection on how it managed to swim such a distance in the first place. For animals, the impetus to migrate or move can be a genetic or active adaptation to changes in the environment. One of the popular discussions around Tamachan involved global warming and pollution. This chapter considers how Tamachan, following his unusual appearance in Tokyo's urban rivers, emerged as a figurative symbol for how radically humans have become distant from the natural world. It also discusses Tamachan's disappearance as suddenly as his appearance and concludes with a story of another disappearing animal, but one in literature: “The Elephant Vanishes” by Murakami Haruki.
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