Photo/IllutrationRai, a black rhinoceros, walks with his mother at an Ehime zoo before his move to Tennoji Zoo in Osaka. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

There once was a male black rhinoceros, named Rai, that developed a "phobia" to urban living.

Human voices, raised in merriment, terrified him. Construction noises upset him, and he flinched at the sound of a bell announcing the hour.

Rai became unable to leave the safety of his sleeping quarters.

Three years ago, Rai--now 8 years old--was moved from a zoo in Tobe, Ehime Prefecture, to Tennoji Zoo in Osaka.

His new home was not only near the busy Hanshin Expressway, but also abutted Tsutenkaku, Osaka's landmark tower and a major tourist attraction.

"Edgy and fearful, Rai refused to leave his cramped sleeping quarters," recalled his keeper, Masashi Ueno, 43.

Before the move, Rai was a friendly rhino who got along fine with humans. He loved basking in the sun, and his big bulk practically trembled with joy when he got his keepers to coddle him.

But in Osaka, he became a total introvert. He once attacked and destroyed a ceiling fan, probably scared by the noise it made.

Ueno started a training regimen to modify Rai's behavior.

Every morning, he would move Rai's food just a little farther away from his sleeping quarters--by one fist-size at a time. The purpose was to gradually lead Rai to his "play area" where he would meet the eyes of zoo visitors.

It was a slow process--three steps forward and two steps back.

Two years later, Rai finally emerged into the play area.

Today, he is fine spending more than half the day in human company. And he is back to his old, easygoing self.

"I believe he struggled, in his own way, to regain self-confidence," Ueno said.

For us humans, too, moving house and living in a new environment is no less stressful. Every day is filled with anxiety, and this is particularly true for anyone living alone for the first time. They may even miss things like stains on the walls and dents or scratches on furniture in their old home.

With the cherry blossom season about to start, we now see a lot of moving vans on the roads, carrying furniture and other belongings to their owners' new addresses.

When loading their stuff into the van for the move, everybody invariably experiences anxiety attacks. But those feelings will have evaporated by the time each item has become a permanent fixture in their new digs.

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 23

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.