Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I posted a link to an article titled Japan Fights Crowds of Crows last Friday, and Bill Trinen sent me a story about when he was living in Japan.

I spent a year studying in Tokyo between 1993 and 94, and as is often the case when you first arrive in a foreign land, there were more than few things that I found to be surprising, if not downright startling. One of these, for me, was Tokyo's crows. I don't know what kind of crows there are elsewhere in the U.S., but in the Pacific Northwest where I grew up, crows are not very menacing. Sure, they're quite a bit bigger than your run of the mill robin, but they are still just birds. In Tokyo, they are beasts.

The crows there are big. As the article points out, a three foot wing span is not uncommon, but they also have massive beaks--up to a foot long--more akin to that of a Toucan than the crows I was used to from back home. Long, tall beaks that curve down to a menacing point. The crows in Tokyo are also fighters. Nasty fighters. It's like on every block there is a crow Fight Club going on, from which only the meanest and nastiest crows survive. They also have much deeper caws than you hear from the crows back home, making them sound all the creepier. Just about every night I would hear their caws and cries from their crow fights, and every day I would see crows with mangled wings, scarred faces, and sometimes even fresh wounds. Like I said, these things are beasts.

So, one bright sunny day in the summer of '93, I was walking down the street through Nishi-Azabu with an Australian friend of mine. We were talking about something or other, and as such, weren't paying whole lot of attention to what was ahead of us. We hit a stretch of sidewalk with a fence alongside it, with fence posts that stood about six feet six inches tall. I was walking between my friend and the fence. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed one of the Tokyo crows sitting atop one of those fence posts, but by this point I'd been in Tokyo for many months and was over my initial fear of things, so I didn't pay it any attention. Being Tokyo, there was a fair number of people on the street going in both directions both ahead of us and behind us, but for some reason that still baffles me to this day, jus t as my friend and passed the crow, it leaned its head and monstrous beak down from atop the fence post to within about four inches of my ear and it let out the loudest, deepe st, most gutteral "CAWWWW!" I have ever heard in my life. FOUR INCHES from my face. It scared the crap out of both of us. First we jumped about three feet to the side, and then we ran down the block. From there we watched the crow for the next ten minutes. But it just sat there, letting everyone else walk by unmolested.

My friend looked at me and said "That crow was talking to you. I think you're gonna die."

The first rule about Crow Fight Club, obviously, is that you don't caw about Crow Fight Club.

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