Giant tortoise walks Tokyo's streets - slowly

2015-06-11 09:52
Bon-chan, a 19 year old male African spurred tortoise and his owner Hisao Mitani going out for a walk in the town of Tsukishima in Tokyo. (Kazuhiro Nogi, AFP)

Bon-chan, a 19 year old male African spurred tortoise and his owner Hisao Mitani going out for a walk in the town of Tsukishima in Tokyo. (Kazuhiro Nogi, AFP)

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Tokyo - A huge reptile is on the prowl through Tokyo's streets, but unlike Godzilla, who stomped across Japan's capital in a blaze of destructive energy, Bon-chan the giant tortoise isn't doing anything very quickly.

The metre long African spurred tortoise, which tips the scales at 70kg, is a regular sight on the streets of Tokyo's Tsukishima district, as he and owner Hisao Mitani take their snail-paced daily walk.

"My wife just fell in love with him when she saw him at a pet shop, so she brought him home," Mitani, who runs a funeral home, told AFP.

That was 20 years ago, when Bon-chan was small enough to fit into the palm of your hand.

"I sort of knew he would become a good size tortoise but did not think he would be this big."

And like Godzilla, Bon-chan can also stop traffic, though generally it is so motorists can take a look at him, rather than because he has crushed their vehicles.

While his fictional forerunner fed, in some incarnations on nuclear power plants, Bon-chan prefers cabbage and carrots, gently taking them out of the hands of children who rush to greet him.

The tortoise lives in a pen at Mitani's funeral home, where he greets callers.

"Some people may say it's absurd to keep such a big tortoise at the entrance of a funeral service. But even in their time of sadness, people smile when they see him, so I don't think it's a bad idea to have him," said the undertaker.

Bon-chan's size, and the fact that Mitani dresses him in a frilly coat during the chillier months have made him quite a celebrity in the neighbourhood.

Tortoises are symbols of longevity in Japan, where local myth says they can live for 10 000 years.

That has rubbed off on his owner, who is known in the area as "kame sennin" ("immortal tortoise man"), although Mitani cheerfully admits he's not likely to be here for eternity.

"I hear this kind of reptile lives for about 80 years, so it's certain that I will go before him," said the 62-year-old.


Read more on:    japan  |  animals

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