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Flying foxes


I first learned of flying foxes when I was asked to edit a self-published book called Minamidaitō shizen gaido bukku: ōkōmori to mizube no shima o aruku (A guidebook to the natural world of Minamidaitō: walk the island of flying foxes and waterfronts). The authors, husband and wife Osawa Yushi and Osawa Keiko, write in the endnote of the book, “At the close of 1988, we visited Minamidaitō for the first time and were enchanted by the charm of the southern islands and their flying foxes. You can glimpse flying foxes not only on Minamidaitō, but also on other islands of the Ryukyu archipelago, the islands of Ogasawara, and Rota Island.” To put it bluntly, the two of them are obsessed with flying foxes. In addition to their guidebook, they’ve also published a book called Ōkōmori no tobu shima: minami no shima no ikimono no kikō (The islands where foxes fly: travelogues of life on the southern islands). Their homepage even reads “Welcome to the world of flying foxes!” There are no half-measures here. As I worked on editing the book and became enveloped in the Osawas’ world, somewhere along the way I too became bewitched by those adorable flying foxes. 

That’s right—flying foxes are cute. When you think of the average bat, you might imagine blood sucking or caves or the old superhero Ōgon Bat (called Phantaman or Fantamos in translation); bats don’t have a great image. But as you might imagine with a name like flying fox, these giant bats have adorable faces that look very similar to fox kits or canine puppies. Other bat species often have facial structures that help them direct and hear ultrasonic sounds, which makes them look rather frightening, but flying foxes don’t produce ultrasonic sounds, so their faces aren’t nearly as bizarre. These bats are also fruitarians, eating things like Korean mulberries, Japanese figs, curtain figs, and silk floss tree fruits. They’re the high-class fruit bats. They chow down on fruit and then eject pellets of anything they’re unable to digest. If you’d like to see these giant bats, you should first try and find pellets under a tree during the daylight hours. Flying foxes don’t live in caves. During the day, they sleep dangling from those same trees, and at night, they take to the skies in search of fruit. 
 The sight of them fanning their wings and taking off is so amazing it will take your breath away. They’re very large, so you’d think they would be easy to spot, but most people don’t wander around staring up at night, and even if they do spot something, many of them might not realize it’s a flying fox, so it might just be me and my three-year-old daughter who jump for joy and exclaim how lucky we are whenever we see one. (She’s a widely regarded expert of finding bat pellets.) Of course, the Osawas get excited too. Even in the Shuri district in the bustling city of Naha where I live, it’s not uncommon to spot a flying fox. At night, when we hear the flying foxes’ joyous calling—kyah-kyah-kyaa-kyah—we often set out as a family in search of the tree where they might be eating. (All three of us are huge flying fox fans.) Our neighborhood is full of the kinds of trees flying foxes prefer. When they discover a tree laden with delicious fruit, you can hear them become even more frenzied as they call more loudly—kya-kkyukyaa—while they eat. I love them so much I hope I’m reborn as a flying fox in my next life.
 Ever since we became acquainted with these, the largest wild mammals found in the city of Naha, my family’s night life has become much more fulfilling. I cannot recommend enough taking a walk at night with your face turned toward the sky.