Walking on Trash

Yesterday, we went to Yumenoshima (Dream Island) to visit the Daigo Fukuryu Maru Museum (Lucky Dragon 5). The land we walked on was made from compacted trash; even with the construction, however, the region is where I got some of my best #nature shots.

The reading emphasized the tragedy from multiple perspectives including the people, media, governments, and scientists/doctors. This shows that science is not neutral or apolitical. Personal interests for fame, as well as control of the information, play huge roles in the direction and goals of the research. The other reading spoke to the “waste” attitude. I feel extremely conscious about our decisions to use convenient plastic containers daily despite being on a trip called Japan and the Environment.

First, the presentation of the World War II history and nuclear testing. While the incident does not directly relate to the imperialistic Japan, there is a panel talking about Japan’s possession/occupation of some Pacific Ocean islands before the war. Those islands were later occupied by US forces and used for nuclear testing. The museum, run by the Metropolitan Government of Tokyo, obviously had a specific agenda to educate a certain version of history (the other group there yesterday were a huge group of middle schoolers). According to Amano-san, the layout of the museum, including an almost identical timeline of nuclear testing by country, mirrored the exhibits at Hiroshima and Nagasaki Museums. The integrated pictures of the victims are used to draw sympathy/empathy from the viewers. On the other hand, the massive amounts of scientific data and historical information give legitimacy to the claims and hold a very standardized authoritative voice. Additionally, the prevalence of cranes and signature books exist in these museums, which leads to my next point. There are some signs of activism and treaties, but these are all very vague. The museum doesn’t answer the question of what an average civilian, like me, can do. The power represented seems such a centralized attitude: a few making decisions for the rest of the world. I understand that these are big questions that may be difficult to answer, but I hope that these questions can be brought to conscious thoughts and trigger more people to be more involved.

Meiji Jingu

Third day was also a very fulfilling day. I was expected to be the “leader/expert” person, but my limited knowledge about Shinto left me clueless. First, I would like to indicate that I had a wonderful, veggie filled day with the best noodles I have had in a long time. I love subsidized university cafeterias and cheap cabbage. 

I am so glad that Selinger-sensei has such a wonderful friend as Noto-san, who brought her very lovely friends to give us the experience of a lifetime. Continuing my musings on theater and religion (specifically rituals), we got to observe a Shinto ceremony, highly ritualized filled with familiar technical aspects such as music, dance, and lighting. I was miserably underdressed for the occasion but could not take my eyes off of the “stage.” Every step was carefully rehearsed. There were two audiences instead of the usual one. We, the worshippers, and the kami. The stage is the bridge connecting the two, a liminal space! Because of Meiji’s relatively recent construction, the hall included dimming electric lights and lovely air conditioning (much needed for my overheating exhaustion). There is the constant theme of purification and cleansing, reflected in the neat and tidy outfits of the priests. Even more significantly, Noto-san referred to the attire of the priests as “costumes.” Not simply clothes, but costumes, a word that highly signifies to me an additional layer of reality. Selinger-sensei mentioned Victor Turner 

My original project focused on the interfaith collaborative efforts in response to the triple (or more) disaster. Noto-San’s lecture had frequent references to Shinto’s relationship with other religions, such as Buddhism and Christianity. She had no reservations about going to church or temple, even as the daughter of a Shinto priest because Shinto is not a religion, in her definition. The shrine hosts multiple houses for the main kami but also “apartments” for the relatives and guests of the kami. This transactional practice has allowed Shinto to constantly evolve and to adapt. For example, the “shrine” of the Yokohama baseball pitcher not only shows the deification/reverance of individuals but also the ability to reinterpret religion as needed. Furthermore, the book of myth mentioned by Noto-san was created as “myth” but served as the legitimizing factor for the imperial family. Lastly, another interesting point (that differed from our discussions/readings) is the “ritualizing” of objects, 御神体。We talked about wrapping paper around a stone to mark the stone as kami. My understanding Noto-san’s explanation is that the stone is wrapped in order to garner kami presence. This takes away authority and manipulation/power from the human and returns it to the natural world. 

The kind Tanaka-san also gave us a detailed tour of the restricted sacred grounds of Meiji Jingu. I am not well-versed in botany or forestry, so please read Julian’s wonderful notes/observations/reflections about that. 

I wish my Japanese were better so I can ask Noto-san random questions and get to know her life better. Hopefully, she comes to visit Maine in the future and at that time, I can speak my thoughts well. 

I am so terrible with titles that I have decided to skip it altogether.

Today (yesterday as of time of blogging) has been AWESOME. While I do procrastinate on a regular basis, the readings really give wonderful insight and different perspectives into what we are seeing in person. Super ironically, Ethan has been absent from every single site he discussed in his presentation, but hopefully his research is going well and our photo skills are worthy enough.

Three parts: general, kanpo, Edo-Tokyo Museum

General: I do notice that my general pace of living/walking has increased IMMENSELY. I can not only catch up with my Bowdoin peers but also somewhat match the speed of Tokyo office workers heading to their destinations. Very proud of myself for that. Despite having only been here for 2 days, I do feel like I am not in a “new, strange” place because of the previous weeks’ preparation and my personal interest in YouTuber food vloggers. We had Japanese style Thai cuisine for lunch (also interesting is the frequent marketing of the chicken rice combo, often associated with Singapore whereas, in USA, Thai restaurants usually promote pad thai or green curry). I think it is fascinating to try foods outside of their place of origin to see how they have changed to accustom the available ingredients and the palate of the consumers. Yakiniku, despite its Japanese name, is very much associated with Korea. Food can be enjoyed by many, even those who protest against other political issues.

Kanpo: Dr. Qiu was very very engaging even though my Japanese skills are abysmal. The most interesting part of the trip for me, since I have had a lot of encounters with traditional medicine, was the strict regulations of herbs by the Japanese agency for food and drugs. So meticulously guarded that the rich in China are willing to pay extra to buy their medicine from Japan despite the Chinese production. It is very different to consider kanpo as a “complement” or “alternative” to Western biomedicine, which somehow lowers the status of its legitimacy when I have grown up mainly reliant on Chinese traditional medicine. My home in Hangzhou, China is situated near not only the province’s TCM university hospital but also family-owned pharmacies that date back dynasties. It is sold as part of tourism. Especially with the increasing New Age spirituality movements, there is a preference for “nature” products from the “mystic East.” Hopefully, the interest develops as a well-rounded acknowledgment instead of as an enchanted, magical method. While sitting in Dr. Qiu’s clinic, I actually thought about reviving my interest to become a TCM doctor… but we shall see.

Edo-Tokyo Museum: I love interactive museums with moving exhibits and replicas. I am glad to have freshened up on Japan’s recent history last night to be able to better appreciate the exhibits. The skilled and extravagant exhibits, built with bubble money, show signs of a specific political, nationalistic agenda, but without the governmental support and funding, this masterpiece would not exist. Because of my very limited knowledge of Japanese history, I learned a lot about the Edo-dominated narrative of the Japanese identity through the tour. But, I want to discuss a bit about finally connecting my interests. In the Edo section of the museum, there are amazing replicas of kabuki theaters and Shinto festival parades. I am very much involved in the technical side of theater as well as the ritualization of religion. It clicked. Rituals are religions’ performances, altered and renewed through time. Some are discarded while others support the religion’s existence. The misconception, IMO, is to say that theater is an imitation of life. The stage is not reality but wants to become as “real” as possible. I do not agree. I think the stage is useful to construct a particular version of “real” that engages the audience to question and to doubt their idea of the “real.” The rituals grasp with abstract ideas and present them in more accessible forms for the people. I am not very articulate with these thoughts (yet), but I will definitely be thinking about it tomorrow as we venture to the insides of Meiji-Jingu.

(I would also to add that I appreciate the low amounts of sugars added to drinks and food in Japan.)

Tokyo Walking Tour

(I am skipping the travel day because plane rides are one of my least favorite things in the world, especially over 12 hours plane rides.)

With plenty hours of sleep, I gladly started the tour of Tokyo. It has been a long time since I am in a country/city that I cannot freely communicate in. I can understand, but I cannot respond. Luckily, because of frequent visits to cities in China, I am not *scared* by the fast-paced lifestyle. I do wish that I can better express myself in Japanese. If this trip taught me nothing else, it, at the very least, provided me immense motivation to keep working hard at Japanese this summer.

Back to the tour… we met Ozaki-san quite early. What a genki and sweet lady! It is hard to believe that she leads walking tours daily and can still show us so much positive energy. We started in Tsukiji -> Shiodome -> Ueno Park -> Municipal Building -> Shinjuku. I am very grateful to not only have Ozaki-san explaining but also the dear senseis inserting their historical/cultural knowledge at certain points. I will now begin with a random assortment of thoughts:

  • Tsukiji is famous for fish, but the meticulous representation of fruits and veggies is the most attractive of all to me (along with a number of household items one could purchase). Everyone has a designated role and is dedicated to fulfilling the role.
  • Gaijin excuse
  • I am still getting used to walking on the left side of the street.
  • People extremely adept at dodging the flow of other people.
  • The attractiveness of viewing the city from above and afar.
  • Terrible thought: cities are more similar in superficial appearance than not. I know that each place has its distinct history, but it is hard to distinguish at times.
  • The extensiveness of “thank you” culture
  • Being able to think about the city from an academic POV is very enjoyable compared to one from a popular guide book.
  • I used to follow a lot of Japanese Tumblrs/Instagrams and would marvel at the posts. The built and “natural” environments are both very aesthetically pleasing, hence the very postcard-worthy photos.
  • Efficiencyは最高です。

At Bowdoin, we are tricked with the illusion of being carbon neutral by 2020 through using “reusable” water bottles, etc. In Japan, a country known for its “convenience,” the price of the ease comes at the expense of the environment. Most common are the prevalence of plastic bottled drinks and meals packagings with disposable chopsticks. I do feel extremely terrible when I have to use certain things, which is why I tend to carry metal utensils with me. As I always tell myself, 5 minutes of ease for me, but how long for the environment to have to suffer?

I have just finished the readings for tomorrow (kanpo and Edo-Tokyo Museum) and I am very excited to be meeting professionals and seeing the exhibits. Museums are my favorite places to go in any city/place and I have always wanted to practice “East Asian” medicine (I really don’t know what to call it…). I want to focus on looking at the very “everyday” practices, sometimes overlooked. What lies outside of the official discourse? For example, in kanpo, how does the herbal medicine usage directly impact the amount of herbs available and the need for energy to transport the herbs from abroad?

We shall see!

Reimagining Activism

Today marks the last day of prep work! We have certainly come a long way since Monday the 22nd at 9am. To commemorate the last day of the controlled setting, I want to focus on some broader ideas instead of the detailed retelling of the day (which you can read on my wonderful peers’ posts!).

Through today’s discussion of disaster, activism, and rebuilding, I am really curious about the common people’s responses to events that may seem distant temporally and geographically. Obviously, we research and engage with others who care about these issues and want to pursue the topics in more details, but what about the majority of the population? Do people think about the corporate lack of responsibility and persistent denial/cover-up or is Minamata disease merely marked off as a tragedy? How is/who hardship appropriated to indicate moral capacity? How do existing societal values and “rules” affect the willingness of people to respond? The recent social activism stems from very “average” citizens who aren’t used to being vocal and expressive. I am very inclined to want to compare social activists (for different topics) across cultures. Especially reflecting on my class the past semester about popular culture and mass politics in North/West India, the protests in Japan could not be any more different. What do people want from the authority? Are the expectations of the values different and why do they differ?

I also recently wrote an essay about An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro. The temptation to use memory as a device to reconstruct history and nonlinearity was crucial to the unreliable narrator’s retelling of his past. Memory can be easily manipulated to incite forlorn nostalgia or redeemable mistakes. The constant suppression of painful memories eventually encouraged the readers to pity the unreconcilable world the narrator now exists in. Many of the events we look at, including American occupation, are not ancient history. How much do we remember and what do we choose to remember? Most importantly, who/what gets erased and why? I think to be able to go to Tokyo with some Japanese history background will allow us to better compare and track continuity and changes.