“The Ravens of Tokyo” by Bill Delaney, Guest Blogger
My good friend Bill Delaney, whose kids attend school with my kids, has a keen eye for detail and terrific gift of expression. He’s originally from Los Angeles, but spent many years in Hawaii before moving to Tokyo. His experiences, I find, give him a different perspective on the way things work and fit together around here. Enjoy his contribution:
All I wanted to do was get to the end of the street. My street. But these two big, black, vicious, bastards were intimidating me. I thought about going the other way around, but was already running late and it’d take too long. Besides, why should I be kept off of my own street? In upscale Moto Azabu of all places. It was outrageous. The shuddering near my ears sent me down and running. Son of a bitch! Where was the other one hiding? I scanned the street. “They’re very angry today”, came a voice from the terrace I’d run under. “I think there’s a baby somewhere”, I said, “The same thing happened last year about this time.”
Early June and proud raven parents across Japan became aggressive and protective of their new, usually singular, hatchling, who’d flown the nest and were standing on sidewalks or in the middle of streets, vulnerable. Most anyone who has visited Japan has seen its ravens. Giant black birds with big intimidating bills that are especially thick where they meet the head. The closest thing we have to them in America are common crows which compare the same way a high-school front linesman would to his NFL counterpart. And besides being big, they’re intelligent. Very intelligent. And this is what worried me. These ravens knew who I was. Where I lived. Who my children were. So I didn’t want to piss em off. But I did want unfettered use of my street. I’d just have to make a run for it. I made it thirty feet when the attack came. Never actually touching, but coming so close to my head from behind, they always attack from behind, scared me. From separate utility lines they cawed at me louder than I’d ever heard before. Now, out in the open, I’d was a sitting duck. If both attacked at once I’d be done for. The trick was to maintain constant eye contact with them, difficult to do with a pair. Only one, probably the male, had attacked, the other had maintained its position on the wire the whole time. I looked beneath her and spotted it. Perched on top of a small wall. The fledgling.
Our whole family watched them each morning in March. Two big birds working the trees outside our dining room window. They’d sit for a moment scrutinizing the array of wintered bare branches. Finally one was chosen, grasped by powerful bill, and bent back and forth until broken free. This isn’t easy. I’ve tried. The flexibility of these particular branches are what ravens like about them. They’re perfect for molding and weaving into big nests. We’d speculate about the location of the nest watching the big bird with his big stick fly away between the buildings. The process takes weeks yet only the single pair harvested from our trees. We could recognize them.
Eventually my son or I would discover the nest and spot our ravens perching nearby or inside adding on to it. My son was taken with the idea of capturing a raven, preferably a baby, and raising it so he could walk to school with it perched on his shoulder. In fact our first year in Tokyo he befriended a young raven by feeding it. It would swoop down at the site of my son and politely wait to be fed. Most Japanese hate the ravens which regularly raid plastic bags full of garbage leaving an utter mess behind. If it weren’t for that I believe ravens would be tolerated. Japanese after all love and revere nature and wild animals like Fox and Badger.
Being so near to the fledgling was causing both parents to become extremely agitated. They aggressively slashed their bills against the wires and sometimes bit at them all the while glaring down to me. I kept my eye on them and walked backward down the street and couldn’t help but relate to their plight. I’ve spent ten years raising two kids and am constantly on the alert for danger, which in Tokyo means taxicabs. On this issue the ravens and me saw eye to eye. Protecting our young at all costs. I took one last look at the youngster from a safe distance knowing that I’d be seeing it around for a while, pestering the parents to regurgitate food into its mouth.
A man carrying a package turned the corner. Holding up my hands, palms out, I stopped him and did my best to warn of the danger that lay ahead. I couldn’t think of the word for raven pointing wildly at the sky. “Abunai” (danger), I emphasized, he shifted his weight to the other foot staring blankly. It was after all a beautiful day on a quiet street. Then I began pantomiming being attacked from above by crouching low and pelting my skull with my own hands. It was here that a glimmer of emotion passed across the man’s face resulting in a slight nodding bowing gesture and his turning from me. I knew I’d only confirmed, if only of moment, what many Japanese believe to be true: that all foreigners are in fact crazy.
I turned to leave myself but couldn’t help but want to witness what would happen when the man reached the two ravens. Busy reading the address placards on the buildings, and rehearsing in detail exactly how to retell the story of the insane foreigner to his buddies later that evening, he was caught completely unaware when the huge bird dive bombed him.
Now I really was late.