If you thought the picture of the elderly man walking around with a giant turtle looked strangely familiar, you’re not alone. Give the man some sunglasses and beard, and he could be mistaken for Master Roshi’s long-lost twin brother from Dragon Ball. Alas, this man is not skilled in the kamehameha, but is special for another reason: his friendship with an African spurred tortoise.
The man in the photo is Hisao Mitani, a 69-year-old funeral director who lives in the Tsukishima area of Tokyo, Japan with his tortoise, the 26-year-old Bon-chan. Mitani and Bon-chan are no strangers to internet or real-life fame. The story of their friendship has been a precious ray of light on the sometimes-bleak internet for years. In Tokyo, their weekly walks have become legendary and a must-see event for anyone in the area.
“I never had any children, but 19 years ago my wife caught the eyes of this little tortoise and felt an instant bond with him,” Mitani said in recent years, according to Newsweek. “I couldn’t leave the store without it. But we had no idea he would become this big.”
As told by Mitani, when his wife bought Bon-chan home from a pet store, the little tortoise fit into the palm of his hand. He thought the reptile would grow slowly over the course of its lifetime, but once it was 10 years old, Bon-chan started to grow rapidly, the funeral director said. In recent years, Mitani has said that he believes Bon-chan weighs about 154 pounds (70 kilograms).
Bon-chan was named to after the Japanese Obon festival, an annual event where people remember their deceased relatives, whose spirits are believed to visit during this time, in commemoration of the time Mitani got the tortoise.
In addition to experiencing a growth spurt when he was 10 years old, Bon-chan also got to take his first walk with Mitani around the neighborhood at that age. The pair haven’t stopped since. The funeral director and the tortoise have a variety of walking routes and tend go out two or three times a week in the early afternoon. Fashion is important to Bon-chan, who will sometimes sport handmade covers over his carapace and a little adornment on his head or shell.
Mitani shared that the tortoise loves his walks and knows the routes, which take about an hour and a half to complete because Bon-chan isn’t exactly a sprinter.
“Bon-chan knows the route by heart and is very strong-minded, so it is more me that follows him, than the other way around,” the funeral director said, as noted by Newsweek. “We walk the neighborhood and we are pretty famous around here.”
Although a 26-year-old tortoise might seem ancient to us humans, the African spurred variety can grow to be 150 years old. It is the third largest tortoise in the world, and the largest on the African continent, according to the Oregon Zoo. Its long lifespan sadly means that Bon-chan will likely outlive Mitani, who has said he will have to find the tortoise a new owner in the near future.
“I hope there will be a person who’ll tell me that he or she can take care of Bon-chan,” Mitani said in 2019, as reported by Play Tokyo. “I assume that I can walk with Bon-chan another 10 years.”
We’ve collected some of the most adorable shots of Mitani and his shelled companion.