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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About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

10 Comments on Crows in Tokyo: An Anthropological Explanation of Japan

  1. Love the tip about the lasers. I live on the top floor of the end of an apartment building near Yokohama. 2/3 weeks ago the owner`s workers came and removed a crow`s nest from my roof. However the crows are blaming me and have been harassing me when I come and go. Today one flew from behind me and crashed into my head as I walked down the street.I am now scared what they will do next.

  2. I’m living in Japan now and even though these guys are annoying sometimes, I’m finding that the Japanese Hawks are a LOT scarier.
    One tried to swoop some fries from my younger sister the other day and left a small mark on her face.

  3. Eric Janson // 2 August, 2014 at 7:13 am //

    Crows, ravens grackles – they all HATE lasers. Their vision gets disoriented by them. Get the strong kind that is used by stargazers to point out stars at night and use it on the birds – they hate it and if it keeps happening to them at a particular site, they remember and stop showing up.
    There are specialized agricultural versions which are very effective but it’s going a bit too far to arm yourself with one of those! Lots of $$ and not legal in many places (like cities.)
    Lasering crows reminds me of getting rid of fire ants in Texas – the treatments don’t kill them but they do annoy them., Then the pests just move to your neighbor’s house ;-)

    • I’m going to remember that! Thankfully we don’t have a raven/crow problem here (I see them from time to time, but they are very friendly and don’t destroy people’s trash).
      But lasers. Huh. Who would have thought?

  4. I love them! I’ve been taking really close up pictures of them. They are huge and so intelligent. They don’t just drop nuts and let cars open the shells, they also watch the crossing lights. They know when it’s safe to grab the food. They are considered to be one of the most intelligent and analytical birds in the world, I think the Siberian Raven is a little smarter, as they keep the knowledge of who to dislike for generations. There was an interesting study done on them some years ago.

    • I can believe it.
      There were a bunch of crows on our college campus in Japan – one girl threw a rock at a crow that came too close to them during a picnic, and for the next couple months, she was attacked and screeched at by random crows.
      They totally remember you.

      They’re also REALLY good at getting into the trash…

  5. Anonymous // 18 June, 2014 at 2:22 pm //

    Are you sure the crows in America are crows, and not grackles? There are a lot of bird species that look similar to crows or ravens. Grackles are much smaller than crows or ravens. Also, perhaps the birds in Japan are ravens? Ravens are supposed to be very large, around the size you describe.

  6. but…don’t you agree with me they are intelligent animals? during my last trip in tokyo i’ve seen them put some nuts on the road to break them with the wheels of the passing cars…absolute genius



    sorry for my rusty english!

    • I actually think crows in Japan are very clever. They’ve learned how to open trash cans (nets, boxes, etc) all by themselves. It’s fascinating to watch (until it is YOUR trash, then it is frustrating…)

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