In May 2017, the Hanako Memorial Statue was unveiled near Kichijoji Station.
Hanako was born in 1947 in Thailand and was owned by the late Thai businessman Somwang Sarasas.
In 1949, the businessman gave Japan Hanako as a gift to show the relationship between both Thailand and Japan.
And so, she was taken to Ueno Zoo in Tokyo where she resided until 1954, where she moved to Inokashira Park between Kichijoji and Mitaka.
Her moving to Inokashira Park was due to Hanako accidentally causing the death of a zookeeper and the response was to chain Hanako up.
But Kiyoko Yamakawa, a zookeeper welcomed Hanako and removed the chains off her and the two had a warm relationship. She helped Nanako get back to her original weight and for 30 years, she took care of Hanako. And this relationship would lead to Hanako becoming the mascot of Inokashira Zoo.
Unfortunately, the elder Yamakawa passed away but her son would become the next in line to take care of the Asian elephant.
As Hanako approached her late 60’s, an international petition was made for people who wanted to see Hanako live her final years with other elephants at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand as she has lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Inokashira Park for 60 years. Many felt that there was no grass or trees in her concrete area for over 60 years and the fact she has never seen other elephants was cruel. And the fact that Hanako became violent towards humans in her later years is a result from that.
In 2011, Hanako attacked a keeper, a veterinarian and another staffer and people felt that was the zoo’s fault for not integrating her with other elephants and keeping her alone with no emotional connection, since she was taken to Japan at the age of 2 and would live the next 67 years alone. Thus earning the name from Japanese as “Hanako – The World’s Saddest Elephant”.
Inokashira Park refused to release Hanako to an elephant sanctuary in Thailand and met with animal welfare expert Carol Buckley to hear her recommendations (in response to the “Help Hanako” grassroots crowdfunding campaign). Also, Buckley and other experts felt that Hanako was too old to survive the journey to an elephant sanctuary.
While the zoo received recommendations and had plans to implement them, unfortunately in May 2016, Hanako would not live to see those improvements.
Hanako would collapse due to heart failure and die in her cage. The Zoo handlers tried to save her but it was too late, Hanako would die at the age of 69.
For those wondering about my stance in all this. For one, I’m not an erudite on animals and whether or not animals suffer from living in zoos. I know there are arguments on both sides, but I do know this. I have been to a few zoos around the world and the elephant cages are among the most sad I have seen. I am also aware that in other zoos around the world, there are zoos that mistreat their animals, especially elephants.
As for Inokashira Park, it was the same visual, the same setting and as a human, I can’t imagine having to live a life doing the same thing, seeing the same thing every day, every week, every month, every year. And to think Hanako endured that for over 60-years… alone.
I can see things both sides of the argument, Hanako is the pride and joy of Kichijoji and locals and visitors who came to see her and enjoyed her presence. But at the same time, there are those who saw her encasement at the zoo, especially in her later years to be inhumane.
So, this memorial statue dedicated to Hanako. I know this memorial is a statue created out of love and mutual respect. But I can understand for those who see the statue, who have visited Hanako for years/decades who feel a bit of sadness or melancholy.