Masked invaders sound scary, but in Japan, they're actually really cute -- albeit still troublesome. The interlopers are raccoons, which were first invited onto Japan's shores in 1977, in the wake of a hugely popular cartoon raccoon named Rascal. Japanese children were smitten with the little guy, who was the star of a 52-episode anime series produced by Nippon Animation. The inspiration for the series was American writer Sterling North's 1963 children's book, which told the story of his childhood pet, a raccoon named Rascal. At its height in the late 1970s, the Rascal craze was bringing approximately 1,500 raccoons a year to the island nation, as parents sought them ought for their children. Although Japan finally banned the importation of raccoons, it was too late: many of those raccoons were unsuitable as pets and they escaped or were released into the wild -- much like the eventual ending of North's book. However, raccoons are not native to Japan, and the country now faces a not-so-cartoonish problem, with the feral descendants of the Rascal craze eating crops and swiping food from street vendors in all 47 of Japan's prefectures.
Unmasking the facts about raccoons:
- The word "raccoon" comes from the Powhatan word aroughcun, which translates to "animal that scratches with its hands."
- The black "mask" of fur around a raccoon's eyes is thought to reduce glare and help the animal see at night.
- Raccoons are primarily nocturnal and have an omnivorous diet. Their high adaptability means that they have made themselves at home in many urban environments.