Visiting a National Legend: Dr. Masanori Hata

We first met Dr. Masanori Hata in Anchorage, Alaska fifteen years ago. He came to one of our first Hybrid Wolf Association meetings and asked to take pictures of our animals. The following night he came to our home and we spent the evening talking about wolves and the animals of the world.

He possesses an uncommon knowledge and sensitivity to animals and the world in general—having traveled and lived in every corner from the hidden reaches of eastern Tibet to the vast stretches of Africa. In the course of the next few years we grew close in our friendship and respect. In Japan he's known by everyone as "Mutsan," but we've always called him "Dr. Hata." His television program is one of the most famous in all Japan, and he's the writer and director of the successful movie, "Milo and Otis."

When we began planning our family journey around the world, we all agreed our most important objective was to try and visit him at his home in Hokkaido. We'd seen his pictures of Mutsuguro's Kingdom, and one picture in a back issue of National Geographic, and we wanted to learn more about this first hand.

Cassidy and Mutsan

After two days at the hot springs, we were driven through rich farming regions to the southwest area of Hokkaido. Pulling off the main road we drove down a long dirt and gravel track and pulled through a simple wooden gate. The only identifier was a simple drawing of a cat.

At the end of this road was a barn and a very large log home. Dr. Hata had imported the logs and design from Finland when he moved to this farm 11 years earlier. Our van pulled up in front and on the porch were assembled a dozen adults and children, and dozens of dogs and cats of every type. We walked over as old friends and new surged around us hugging, shaking hands and introducing each other. After our long journey, we were at home.

For the next week we enjoyed the remarkable life that flows around the kingdom. Throughout the many buildings cats of every breed lived and played. We never saw a conflict or cat fight the entire time we were there, although I'm sure this must happen. Samantha and Cassidy took a shine to two kittens they named "Ari" and "Gato," (thank you in Japanese is "arigato" — "gato" also means cat in Spanish). And everywhere were dogs: Dalmatians, Tibetan mastiffs, poodles, Banshee's (our wolf-dog) sister Aurora, boxers, malamutes, and the strangest of all, a Mexican hairless.

The kingdom is also covered in horses of every type. One night while we took a sauna a stampede of about 30 horses rumbled through the birch forest outside. The earth seemed to shake.

Everywhere are animals living a protected and happy life. Foxes, chickens, a bear and a monkey, the place was a virtual Garden of Eden. But our favorite was Chabba, the owl. Chabba lives inside the main room of the house. Several roosts are constructed in the high corners of the room, and from there he can survey the constant movement of animals and people in the room, sometimes grunting, sometimes swooping.

Like Cassidy, Chabba loves to watch cartoons. Each morning Cassidy would sit in front of the television watching the early morning Japanese children's cartoons, with one of the kittens in her lap. Chabba would silently wing down from his perch and sit above her head on the table and with his large round eyes watch every animated movement, sometimes expressing himself with a growl.

One of these times a short nature program came on, something about insects, and Chabba grew excited. Twice he leaped from the table, his talons in front and grabbing for the prey, only to bounce off the TV screen looking somewhat perplexed, then climb back to his table roost.

In our final days in the kingdom, Chabba surprised everyone by deciding it was OK to ride on George's shoulders —a singular honor George was very proud of experiencing.

Samantha riding a native Hokkaido pony. Dr. Hata helped bring this breed back from near extinction.

The kingdom is a magical place, and students from all over Japan come here to work and learn. Many others, the great, the near great, and the one day to be great have also come here, to talk and learn from Dr. Hata. Adjoining the main house is Mutsan's private office, a quiet place covered with his many awards, hats and collectibles gathered from every corner of the globe, and a library with shelves that rise 20 feet to the ceiling.

It's in this office that one of Japan's most famous men does his rigorous research and writing, creating an endless stream of stories, books and poetry that helps to educate the Japanese public about the many wonders of the world. And for George, it was a singular honor to spend time late into the night with his friend sharing in those wonders and mysteries.

When we left after a week, our departure was like leaving a family—a family of man and animal living a unique life in harmony. Ari and Gato scampered about, the dogs gathered at our feet, and the many people living at the kingdom paid their respects.

Chabba, Dr. Hata's rescued owl

But the handshakes and hugs from our friends Dr. Hata and Junko were the most special. As a family we had visited their family, and for a brief while shared in the peace and harmony that they have created in the distant land of Hokkaido.

Thank you, our friends.

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