Two Lizard Tales
First the imori
My current pets are three small water lizards, called “imori.” I have written about them before. I have had them since September or October 2007. Like the green pond turtles before them - animals that I have favored ever since I was a boy - I think they are simply fascinating. Imori are popular schoolroom pets in Japan because they are simple to care for. My son’s Grade 4 class had two or three of them, kept in small, plastic aquariums on the classroom window sills with a few water weeds thrown in. As my sons’ school year approached its end in March the teacher asked for volunteers to take the pets home to keep. My son, Ken, asked for and got one of the imori, believing he could safely add it to my own - which he could do. So he brought the imori home on the afternoon of Thursday 19th before going off to “juku” cram school. (These days Ken does a lot of coming and going by himself, even though he is so young. Japanis a much safer country than Canadaor Americafor this kind of liberty afforded children. He has keys to our apartment and to his grandmother’s apartment, and he goes to-and-from juku by himself on the subway, or sometimes on the bus. But all of this is during the daylight hours. He does not go on the streets alone after dark.) I was home around 5:00 p.m. - about an hour after Ken had come and gone - and I saw the small aquarium on the floor next to the small aquarium where I keep my own imori. I didn’t pay much attention to it because I knew what it was and why it was there. Although it was left a little vague about exactly when - Thursday 19th or Monday 23rd - Ken would be bringing the imori home from school, we did talk about it, and I was looking forward to another lizard. Since I had to go out again I was engaged in getting ready for my own business. But before I left the house I looked closely and noticed that there was no imori in Ken’s box. So I opened my box to count the lizards in there, hoping that Ken had thought ahead and added his school lizard to my own - because if he hadn’t done that, then that meant that his imori had already escaped and was loose somewhere in the apartment.
Well, my aquarium contained only my own three imoris. Almost in a panic I rustled around the water plants, lifting water plants and rocks, counting and re-counting the creatures, praying that Ken had thought enough to add his to mine.
But no, my worst fear was true. Ken’s lizard was loose in the house and had been for who knew how long. I was going out. Ken was at juku, my wife was working and my daughter was asleep at her grandmother’s apartment, so no one would be home to try to look for it for three more hours or so, making a total of maybe six hours that it could have been on the loose before anyone began searching for it. And, indeed, the search did not begin until after 9 p.m. When I say “search everywhere” I mean that literally. Move furniture. Empty clothes, boxes, and boxes of clothes, etc. from the closets. Move bookcases. Check the bathrooms and toilets (in the hope that the creature would smell the water and move towards it). Empty the rubbish. Check the balcony. Imoris can climb - that’s how it managed to escape in the first place - so look up as well as down. We didn’t find it. We found a lot of dust, though, which I was happy to take the time to vacuum up. I went to bed bothered by the thought that it was dead somewhere in the house. I was really angry. Ken forgets everything!! (I have written that before, too.) He forgets his homework. He forgets things at school that need to come home. He forgets things at home that need to go to school. He forgets handkerchiefs and candy wrappers in the pockets of his pants when he puts them in the laundry. He sometimes forgets to lock the apartment door when he comes home from school and then goes out again to go to juku. One day in March he even forgot to shutthe door when he went to juku. I came home and found it not only unlocked, but ajar. Now he lost and killed (or so we thought - this story has a happy ending) his pet almost immediately after being entrusted with it by his teacher because he forgot, or neglected to properly care for it. Of course Ken felt badly, but I felt worse, and I am still angry! A human being cannot replace life, so caring for living things like pets is a big responsibility. (Personally, I am persuaded that Asians do not respect life as Westerners do, and it contributes to the Japanese global reputation as being morally obtuse.)
My wife and son had to be up early on Friday, March 20th because they were going on their third and final ski trip of the season with friends. My wife was awake around 2 a.m. on Saturday morning. I was woken up by her shouting. She was shouting for Ken, not for me, to come get the imori which she spied on the tatami mat floor while she was packing for the ski trip. She saw it fleetingly, disappearing under a moveable bookcase. She doesn’t want to touch the lizards, so she was calling for Ken. But I woke up too and I was faster getting to the TV room. Just like the turtle that escaped from its aquarium in our house two years ago the imori was on the floor against the wall, covered in dust but apparently otherwise unhurt after being out of the water for almost ten hours. Thank goodness we did not trample on it while conducting our search earlier. I immediately put it in my aquarium with my lizards and secured the lid firmly.
Throughout the winter the imori aquarium has been inside the house. By April the weather had warmed sufficiently to put the aquarium on the balcony. There it will stay all summer, in the natural sunlight and night time darkness. The warmer ambient temperature makes the lizards more active, and fascinating.
Next the yamori
On the morning of Sunday, March 21st I went out by bicycle to get my morning newspapers. When I came home and parked my bike in the bicycle parking space a movement on the cement ground at my feet caught my eye. I looked and thought I was looking at a giant earwig (“hasami mushi,” or“scissors insect” in Japanese). But I looked again and saw that, no, it was a baby garden lizard, a “yamori,” which are similar to the imori water lizards except they are dry land creatures that have different coloring. I have periodically written about yamori, as well, because I occasionally seen some in the summer time climbing on the walls of the building. Of course they are more common in the countryside or places that have a lot of trees, but they can be found pretty much everywhere.
This one was only about 3 cm long - very small. I reached down and picked it up, looked at it squirming in my gentle grip and thought, “Hmmm, maybe keep it as another lizard pet.” But instead I let it go in the grass behind the building. It’s just as well, because my wife would not tolerate more lizards in the house.