Found again! Pure curiosity and careful observation led to the rediscovery of the wooper looper, or Japanese axolotl, by a Hokkaido University professor and his students.

Juichiro Ito, JAPAN Forward

A Japanese version of the axolotl – an amusing amphibian with a round head and small eyes native to Mexico – has been discovered in Japan for the first time in 89 years.

The discovery was made after painstaking research by Hokkaido University. The little critters went on public display on December 14, 2021.

The amphibian has gills that resemble a mane, enabling it to breathe underwater. Yet, it is unable to live on land in its neotenic state. It is thought that a similar animal existed in Japan until the early Showa era, but then went off the radar due to environmental changes, taking on a phantom-like existence.

Unprecedented Showa Era Boom

The type of axolotl that many people are familiar with is the neotenic Mexican salamander.

In the same way that tadpoles develop into frogs, axolotls lose their gills and become slimmer if they grow normally, and they are ultimately able to live on land.

However, the axolotl that inhabits certain lakes in Mexico is neotenic, meaning it has evolved in a way that the characteristics of the juvenile are retained in the mature adults. About 100 years ago, they were used in medical research, which is believed to have affected their evolution, and ultimately led to the situation there today.

In Japan, the axolotl is referred to as a “wooper looper,” but this is not its official species name.

Yet, as soon as the term “wooper looper” appeared in a 1985 TV commercial for Nissin’s UFO yakisoba, it immediately became popular in Japan. Songs and merchandise in the Showa era (1926-1989) based on the character started to emerge, and the term fully entered the nation’s consciousness.


By - grape Japan editorial staff.