Fri, Jun 12, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Tokyo undertaker’s giant tortoise a hit on streets

AFP, TOKYO

Bon-chan, a 19-year-old male African spurred tortoise, walks with his owner, Hisao Mitani, on a street in the Tsukishima District of Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday.

Photo: AFP

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 is not doing anything quickly.

The meter-long African spurred tortoise, which tips the scales at 70kg, is a regular sight on the streets of Tokyo’s Tsukishima District as it 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 reporters.

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

“I sort of knew he would become a good-size tortoise, but did not think he would be this big,” Mitani said.

Like Godzilla, Bon-chan can also stop traffic — though generally it is so that motorists can get a better look at him, rather than because the animal has crushed their vehicles.

While his fictional forerunner fed — in some incarnations — on nuclear power plants, Bon-chan prefers to eat 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 it greets callers.

“Some people might say it is 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,” the undertaker said.

Bon-chan’s size — and the fact that Mitani dresses him in a frilly coat during the chillier months of the year — have made the animal quite a celebrity in the neighborhood.

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,” or “immortal tortoise man” in Japanese, although Mitani cheerfully admits he is 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,” the 62-year-old said.

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