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Long-tailed tits admired as 'snow fairies' draw bird lovers, inspire goods in north Japan

A shimaenaga, a subspecies of long-tailed tits, is seen in Sapporo on Jan. 6, 2022. (Mainichi/Taichi Kaizuka)=Click/tap photo for more images.

SAPPORO -- With shoe-button eyes and snow-white fluffy feathers, "shimaenaga," a subspecies of long-tailed tits that inhabit Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, have been wildly popular in the country in recent years, inspiring a range of products and confectionery.

    Shimaenaga, also called "snow fairies" here, can be found in forests near downtown Sapporo, Hokkaido's capital, but the birds, which are about 14 centimeters long, are not easy to spot. Capturing them in photos is difficult because they dart from tree to tree during the day. They accordingly fascinate photographers, delighting those who manage to capture photos of them, and pictures have spread on social media.

    The michi-no-eki (roadside rest station) Lake Utonai in the Hokkaido prefecture city of Tomakomai began to sell goods inspired by long-tailed tits in the summer of 2017 as they inhabit the forests around the lake throughout the year. The facility makes social media posts under a hashtag translating as "a sacred place for those who like shimaenaga," and avid fans from around the country visit the spot. It boasted 100 kinds of items related to the birds in January 2021, but it now has more than 300, making the facility the largest store selling such goods in the prefecture.

    Japanese-style confectionery shop Tsukushi Makita in the city of Otaru launched bite-size cakes in the motif of shimaenaga in December 2019. After being featured on social media and TV, they quickly attracted a following. The shop started selling them online, but in the spring of 2020, customers had to wait two months before they could taste the cakes after placing an order.

    The confectionery business's president Hiroshi Makita, 60, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "Though we've made confectionery featuring animals in the prefecture, such as the Yezo red fox and owl, they had never been this popular." His shop is selling limited-time snacks on special occasions such as Christmas and Mother's Day.

    Sapporo-based photographer Go Yanagisawa applied to the Japan Anniversary Association to institute "Shimaenaga Day" on the coldest day in winter in the traditional Chinse calendar, which falls on Jan. 20 this year, and the day was established in 2019. He settled on the coldest day because the colder the weather gets, the more long-tailed tits fluff up their feathers.

    Yanagisawa runs the Twitter account (@daily_simaenaga), which has more than 250,000 followers, to post information and photos of long-tailed tits. He commented, "I hope that shimaenaga will become a perennial favorite animal in Hokkaido, instead of just being a transient boom."

    (Japanese original by Taichi Kaizuka, Hokkaido Photo Group)

    In Photos: Japan's adorable 'shimaenaga' long-tailed tits soar in popularity

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