A visit to Japan’s Kinka Squirrel Village

I’m worn out from politics and want to take a break today with ducks, squirrels, and other persiflage.

Rachel and Jun are a couple in Japan (she’s American, he’s Japanese), known to me from Jun’s videos showing him shopping with his cat and then cooking in front of his cat, letting the cat sniff each ingredient. Rachel posts a lot of videos about Japanese life and how Americans can fit into the culture. Today they visit a wonderful squirrel park—something that doesn’t (but should) exist in the U.S. Their notes:

The squirrel park (Kinka Squirrel Village) is right next to Gifu Castle. Gifu Castle is kind of a smaller Japanese castle, but it was only 200 yen [JAC: $1.81 US] to get inside and the view was beautiful!

First there’s a squirrel bit, then at 9:46 the party visits Gifu Castle, a 1950’s reconstruction of a 13th century structure destroyed during World War II.

Those are some stout squirrels! Does anybody know what species they are?


  1. Barry Lyons
    Posted August 16, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Why is it calming to watch animals eat, especially little animals? The other day I watched a baby bat eat a watermelon. Watching that video was so relaxing!

  2. Posted August 16, 2017 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Unless they are introduced exotics, they are Sciurus lis, a species endemic to Japan, found on Honshu, Shikoku, and, formerly, Kyushu. (The native squirrel of Hokkaido, interestingly, is Sciurus vulgaris, the same species as is found natively in the British Isles.) Many of the squirrels shown have curiously short ears. I’ve checked the Squirrel Village website, but there’s nothing in romaji characters. I can recognize the katakana for “squirrel”: リス (risu), with a single character following, 村 , but I can’t tell if it’s intended to be a Latin name. The Japanese name for this species is ニ ホ リス , nihon risu (Japanese squirrel).

    • Derek Freyberg
      Posted August 16, 2017 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      According to the Squirrel village website, there was a “Great Leap Forward” exposition held in Gifu in 1943, and “Taiwan squirrels” (タイワンリス) were brought in. Some escaped to Kinkazan, and that’s the source of the present population. But I have no idea what species of squirrel a “Taiwan squirrel” is.
      リス村 just means squirrel village.

      • Derek Freyberg
        Posted August 16, 2017 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, that’s “Great Leap Forward Japan Exposition” (躍進日本大博覧会); and it was 1936 and not 1943.

      • Posted August 16, 2017 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

        The common Taiwan squirrel is Pallas’ Tree Squirrel, a lovely squirrel with deep chestnut stripes on its belly. The ones in this video have kept their bellies well-hidden. I took photos of Pallas’ Tree Squirrel for Jerry while I was in Taiwan, and will submit them for the Reader’s Wildlife Photos…

        • Posted August 17, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink

          Pallas’s squirrel, Callosciurus erythraeus, has indeed been introduced at several locations in Japan, including Kinkazan. Some of them came from Taiwan, but other locations (or even species) seem to have contributed. Standard Japanese references (Ohdachi et al., Wild Mammals of Japan, 2015, and Invasive Species of Japan) do not reference a 1936 introduction at Kinkazan in association with the Exposition; the first introduction is said to be into the Izu Islands in 1935. Based on photos in Ohdachi et al., Callosciurus erythraeus does seem to have shorter ears than Sciurus lis, and the squirrels in Squirrel Village are rather short eared.

  3. Heather Hastie
    Posted August 16, 2017 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    What a cool place! I want to go there.

    • Mike
      Posted August 17, 2017 at 6:35 am | Permalink

      Me too, it always seems serene in the Japanese countryside,of course in the past it was a place of warring Clans of Samurai Warriors,as evidenced by the Weaponry on display.Those Katana’s are works of art and something I have always admired and wanted, but you can pay upwards of £20,000 for a Sword made by a Master, which is not surprising as it can take 6 mnths to make one.

  4. Jenny Haniver
    Posted August 16, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Is it politically incorrect to say that “Gifu” sounds like “Gif” pronounced Japanese style — as “pikuniku” is “picnic.” That is if one doesn’t pronounce the “g” as a “j”.

    • Derek Freyberg
      Posted August 16, 2017 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know whether it’s politically correct or not, but 岐阜 “Gifu” is pronounced more or less like “gif” qith a soft “g”, but with a slightly breathy “f”. The “oo” part of the sound of “su” and “fu” is often, but not always, elided at the end of a word.

  5. Posted August 16, 2017 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Well, these squirrels are NOT the Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) they are indeed the endemic Sciurus lis that is losing territory in Japan. Note the small ear pinnae. However, Sciurus carolinensis (gray squirrel of Eastern North America) has been introduced to Japan, at least once but hopefully the population wasn’t established. This species has longer ears. These were squirrels from Athens OH (Ohio University) where I have taught Mammalogy several times taken to the campus of Chubu University in Japan. Visiting administrators from Chubu fell in love with the many tame gray squirrels on our campus and wanted them.

  6. Posted August 16, 2017 at 3:31 pm | Permalink


    How did they get this make-believe problem set? It is one that I created for Intro Biology several years ago. They never received my permission to use it. It is very challenging and because only about 2 % of the students could solve it I dropped it. Try it, have fun!

    Scott Moody Emeritus Professor Evolutionary Biology Ohio University

  7. Ullrich Fischer
    Posted August 16, 2017 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    Amazing how a bit more hair on the animal’s tail converts it from a generally disgust-arousing rat to a cute, cuddly, squirrel! 🙂 Rats (at least lab rats) probably contribute a tonne to human health and welfare with their role in medical science.

    • aljones909
      Posted August 16, 2017 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

      I dislike the way we demonise species. I suspected we had a rat below our hedgehog house. I would have let him/her be but reckoned neighbours might have put poison bait out if they caught a glimpse of him. He bolted when I lifted the little house. He was BIG – but not scary. Quite beautiful really with a lovely shiny coat.

  8. Flamadiddle
    Posted August 16, 2017 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    “Persiflage”. Nice!

  9. Michael Fisher
    Posted August 16, 2017 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    On their YouTube they also visit a Fox Village, but I’m not keen on a colony of foxes at such a high density – there must be a lot of territorial disputes if they’re like the foxes near me:

  10. Posted August 17, 2017 at 3:12 am | Permalink

    A brief interweb sweep suggests the park has four species of squirrel. It could be a Pallas’s but I (used to) know more about fish.

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