Thoughts Change

(Apologies, coming up with suitable titles has always been difficult)

As prep week is coming to an end, I have learned to consider topics in many different ways. Our research and discussions are definitely taking a humanistic, sociocultural approach to nature as well, striking my initial worries of the dominating science-oriented aspects of the trip.

Today, we started by talking about kanpo, 漢方 (Han way), defined by Wikipedia as the Japanese adaptation of Traditional Chinese Medicine. I began approaching the question in a very materialistic view, thinking about the environmental effects of the herbs and other materials used in the treatment (since most of them do come directly through foraging, harvesting, etc). I have always had a long-term interest in “traditional medicine” including wanting to pursue it as a career and doing a herb related science fair project in high school. Having grown up seeing a traditional medicine doctor monthly, I am much more familiar with the more inquiring techniques than diagnostic. Furthermore, my interest in Korean culture in middle and high school years led me to explore the development of similar practices in the peninsula. Because of my long interest, most of the information I learned today were not “surprising” or “novel.” What is interesting over the years is the resurgence of kanpo, in China as well, in multi-generational popularity. For the last two summers I spent in China, I was surrounded by long-term patients complaining about minor discomforts and praises for the treatments (and doctors) despite the high costs not covered by insurance. China has also increasingly used traditional medicine as a means to re-establish its national image and connect to the “Western” biomedical world with frequent international conferences and increasing funding for research. I am very excited to see how the practices are adopted in Japan by a doctor of Chinese origins.

The second discussion evolved around zoos and aquariums. I am surprised to hear about the history of the development of the attractions because I forgot how recently things have changed. In terms of animal viewing attractions, the sense of dominating has shifted to blurring the boundaries between humans and “the Other.” I still remain against the aquarium and zoos despite their educational and conservational values. I think I stand in the more extreme turf to say that contained studies of a species is “unnatural” (haha), since social ethics now dictate that is immoral to do to other humans. As much as I enjoy seeing roaming pandas at the conservation base in Sichuan, I do feel that by keeping them isolated from the world, they are more likely to experience unsettlement once released into the wild again. These are big questions that need very fine answers, but before anything else, I will see how my experience at a zoo and an aquarium goes.




Beyond Research

While academic research about the environment is the center of the trip, I would like to take an opportunity today to reflect on the more “average” culture differences and preparations regarding the trip. I really appreciate Aridome-sensei and Anna-san for their instruction about Japanese societal expectations and very practical issues. It is very easy and convenient to forget the small things while prepping for a greater project, but we have to constantly take a step back from this big issues to address the more frequently encountered daily life problems.

Back to more philosophical musings…

After taking a class about Orientalism the past semester, I became more aware of inherent bias in any reading I do. Going from that, I find it more difficult to judge the positionality of the author without understanding the specific cultural, social, and geopolitical context they are writing in and from. Additionally, the class taught me to look at power structures through a center-peripheral structure. Many of the problems about urban vs rural or Tokyo (Japan) vs Tohoku seem to stem from the disconnect of the marginalized communities and the decision makers. I do not know how the dialogues can progress to encourage those with power to actually meet the needs and to listen to those affected, but big problems do require creative solutions.

While we can apparently see the connection between governmental policy and environmental conservation, the political forces can even extend to the definitions of nature and how to interact with it. For example, Shinto’s ideas are appropriated to install a specific cultural nationalism for the Japanese as imagined by the government. The reverence of nature is not as simple as the “supernatural” existence of its existing state, but this respect is another manufactured byproduct of humanity. This is also in reaction to Western power dynamics and how those countries interact with their vision of “nature.” The nuances are worth considering, and nature cannot be a “retreat” or “sanctuary” as long as it remains a creation of humanity.

The Fisheries

Day 2 of prep was filled with things I never considered before. Fisheries. I have always been afraid of the unknown ocean content and depth. Furthermore, not having full control (relative to on land) drives me  away from wanting to be submerged in the pressurized water.

I began thinking that the fisheries trends would be simple patterns of fish populations’ decrease over the recent era, reflecting the increasingly productive and efficient technologies. Then, hopefully, some sort of governmental regulation or economic incentives could be enforced to regulate the amount of fish caught. By then, I expected the fisheries to return to normal after some time. Surprisingly, and scarily, there is an additional dip in the population, after things start to look optimistic. Although not a science person, I really appreciated Professor Johnson’s explanation of the population over time graph (with exponential growth, carrying capacity, and population equations). I think it provides a useful (and different) framework to track and explain predictions and trends in our current world.

One thing that triggered me to continue asking questions was Selinger-sensei’s initial question: what “area of study”/POV does the author write from? I, very “naturally,” assumed that because the article was one of fisheries and ecology/technology, that the author had a particular interest in more STEM fields. Not true, especially reflected in another piece talking about the anthropological reactions to Fukushima radiation consequences and stigma. As I meet more experts, I want to be able to ask and to understand where each person is coming from and why they choose this approach. I think that while reflecting on the fisheries, we inherently reveal more about our individual thinking (and, of course, bias) than the actual unpredictability of the massive ocean.


EDIT: I also wanted to include that Christmas-sensei brought up a wonderful question in response to my presentation on Buddhism in Japan about the physical material used to structure temples/shrines/statues. What are the relationships between the ideology and the execution?

The Problematic Definition of Nature

It was a gloomy, drizzling day. Started off 9 am with some logistics that made me even more excited about planning and the trip.

The two assigned articles (White “The Problem With Purity,” and Thomas “History and Biology in the Anthropocene”) really opened up some worthy discussions about crucial topics that affect all of the academic world and human perception. As a humanities-oriented person who feels too anthropocentric, I enjoyed revisiting familiar structures through an environmental history lens. Because of my classes this semester, I am used to analyzing situations where groups of people are categorized as the “Other” by more “powerful” groups, resulting in monolithic stereotypes and generalizations. We assume the normative status quo: things are the way they are just because. However, the problem with attempting to define something according to this “nature” is that everything changes with temporal and geopolitical contexts and can never be extracted from these parameters to draw huge conclusions. Furthermore, by asserting something exists as it does “naturally,” we are able to avoid responsibility and extract ourselves from this intertwined universe. While thinking about the world, we should consciously ask ourselves: what has been decided and who had the power to decided so.

The best part of today was being able to see disciplines intersect and know that nothing exists in isolation. When science and humanities can be complemented, we can reach a fuller understanding. I ended the day with a lot more questions than I had at the start of today, but hopefully, in the upcoming weeks, I will gain more tools to help me understand these issues and eventually take action.