How the World’s Largest Rodent Became a Celeb in Japan

It seems like Japan finds a new favorite animal every week. The animal known as the Capybara is technically classified as a rodent, but you wouldn’t know it if you visited most zoos in Japan. From 2006 to 2016, the number of cuddly little creatures in over 50 zoos around Japan rose from 125 to 422. Penguins in love with anime characters aren’t the only stars in Japanese zoos these days.

Capybaras naturally reside in warm climates like South America, but the Japanese figured out that if they provide hot springs, or onsen, for them then the animals will be comfortable even during Japan’s winter. They’ve also held competitions to see which Capy would sit in the hot springs the longest (the winner lasted almost 5 hours in the steamy onsen) or which one could eat the most watermelon the fastest; held in the Nagasaki Bio Park. So yes: These guys have been imported to sit in hot tubs all day and eat as much watermelon as they want.

So why has the Capybara become such a celebrity for the Japanese when other countries treat them like pests? 4 reasons:

  • They look like a real life anime creature, right? I mean you kind of want to capture one with your pokeball and just carry it around with you.
  • The Capy generally have a very gentle nature. They’re very rarely aggressive; many zoos have sections where visitors can roam freely with them and hand feed them pre-approved snacks. It’s this happy and relaxed life style that adds to part of their charm.
  • Their somewhat strange appearance makes them a fun combination of exotic and adorable. The Japanese are able to ignore the seemingly bad rodent ancestry to see the cuteness of these creatures. 
  • They make for a great marketing tool. The Kapibara-san is a plushy little character that was based on the Capybara. That little guy is now the face for over 5,000 different items for sale in Japan. According to the makers over at Bandai, the Capy is known for its healing and soothing effect on humans.



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