Apparently, Going Forward Means Adopting Amnesia, and Using a Bad Acronym

Today’s amazing discussion rivals the Daigo Fukuryu Maru museum in being my favorite part of the trip. Professor Satsuki Takahashi is a well-spoken and engaging academic expert. She is quite the a-fish-cionado. I want her to come to Bowdoin おねがいします。

This lecture was another perspective in the response to 3/11. Specifically, Professor Takahashi emphasized reconstruction by Japanese industries and the role of hope. Since 3/11, there has been an increased drive to modernize. For example, the new Fukushima Prefecture logo, created in 2012, depicts an egg, which is the ultimate symbol of rebirth. Also, can we talk about the ちょっと ridiculous Fukushima FORWARD acronym? Lol since when does an acronym use cherry-picked letters from within the words it stands for? I guess it drives their point across. Anyway, there is an effort by Japanese industry and government to re-brand Fukushima as moving on from the nuclear meltdown disaster. The problem is, instead of trying to learn from the past, they try to forget it (hence the amnesia). Looking toward the future is really about making the present “better” and reimaging the past. The project at the center of “FORWARD” is the construction of a fleet of floating wind turbines. Doesn’t this sound familiar? They’re (re)building the “future” of Fukushima by using unique Japanese technology.

So, I guess hope is a thing that floats and provides wind energy (i.e. moving forward is closely tied with technology). Hope requires a historical perspective, as there are previous disasters that can inform us as to how hope emerges. Examples Professor Takahashi listed included the 1970s-coastal industrialization and pollution, the 1994 Tokaimura nuclear accident, and the 2006 three tanker accidents and oil spill. What was interesting was that many of the fishermen she interviewed did not list 3/11 as the worst disaster to have happened to them. Fukushima is just part of their repetitive history. Also, there is weird contradiction that happens to fishermen during industrialization. Companies that settle there, like TEPCO, gave the fishermen compensation money. The money allows the fishermen to modernize (i.e. get new and better nets), but with the industrialization comes water pollution and, in this case, a nuclear power plant being built.

Where’s the collaboration with scientists? Oof, this bothered me! Part of the floating wind turbine plan includes using the turbines to facilitate ocean farming. Basically, this means that the space underneath the turbine will be used to generate more fish by releasing feed into the water. This sounds ill-conceived and obviously a way to sate the fishermen. It gives them hope and makes them feel better about letting the wind turbines take up their ocean space (from my understanding, in Japan, fishermen own fishing waters… so the wind turbine companies had to get the fishermen on board—pun intended—their idea in order to get permission to be in the water). Releasing feed into the water sounds like it has a lot of ecological consequences, yet biologists/scientists are not included in this dialogue. どうしてですか?!

Although I’m all for alternative/renewable energy, I get the sense that using these technologies is not as genuine as it tries to be. Where’s the assessment of future risks? Christmas 先生 asked a great question: what happens to the wind turbines when there’s another earthquake? It’s very simple to say, “oh they’re floating on water, don’t worry about it,” but where is the evidence? I’m so skeptical!

Nuclear fisheries are a thing! We learned that the Fukushima nuclear power plant and a nearby fishery hatchery are connected by pipe. The water that was warmed in the cooling phase of the nuclear power plant process is used to provide warm water for hatchery fish. Supposedly warmer water increases spawning in tanks and allows juvenile fish to grow bigger. This water is not supposed to be contaminated because it is not in direct contact with radioactive material (it’s a separate pipe), but how is this regulated? Does the public know about this? This didn’t just happen in Fukushima; there are other nuclear fisheries in Japan and even in other countries.

So many cool things came out of this lecture; I actually didn’t blog about everything I took notes on/liked. I’m so interested to learn more about the synergy between fish and nuclear energy. Also, I loved Takahashi先生’s response to getting the Maine blueberry jam (“wild?!”). I wish we had more time with her!

Kabuki is different from most, if not all, performances I’ve seen before. And I liked it. In the evening, we watched Kabuki with Selinger先生 and Noto-san. We got a brief overview of the story and Kabuki history by Selinger先生 before the performance so we knew what to expect. Unfortunately, the English headset was very poor at mimicking the theatre on stage (the voice was so monotone, and I’m pretty sure things were mostly summarized, not directly translated, so I feel like I missed out on a lot of subtleties). I did love the giant tweezers and how they represented hair standing on end. I want to learn more about the cultural history of Kabuki. What’s with the gender politics? (We did get some background on this, but why does the divide still persist?) What’s the significance of the flirting with both women and men? (Like I know this has to do with Danjo not having his forelocks shaved so he’s not yet a “man,” but why highlight this? Also, why was his flirting was way more obvious with the man than the woman?) Why is skin painted white? Why didn’t they use the levels they talked about in the introduction? How were the women characters (in pink) kneeling the entire time? (My legs got numb just from kneeling at Meiji Shrine, which was only a fraction of the time that those people had to kneel for) How old was Danjo supposed to be? (Selinger先生 explained that he was an older guy pretending to be a younger guy to allow for the gender fluidity, but was that for the play or for real life, if you know what I mean? I know he was literally an older guy in real life, but was he also playing an older guy?)

… And this was our last event of the trip 🙁 . Although this was a great way to end (with fascinating conversation), I’m actually super sad, even as I write this over a week after it actually happened. Going to places won’t be the same, as I will be wondering if I could do a reading beforehand and will want to be with people who also want to have discussions. I’ve become even nerdier after this trip! I will also miss Gerlin and Selinger先生, who will both not be at Bowdoin during my senior year. I hope our paths cross again! Anyway, ありがとうございました to everyone involved in this trip. I have a hard time expressing in words how much it meant to me, but I’m so grateful to have participated in this unforgettable learning experience. (Sorry, had to end with a cheese factor. Also, fun fact, today is my birthday haha. )

Two Wa(y)ves of Response

Like, ways of response? Was that too much of a reach? Or in bad taste because I’m making a pun out of a natural disaster (3/11)? I’m alwaves uncertain, never shore of these things. Well, perhaps you can tell from the title, but today we were a part of two presentations regarding 3/11 disaster response. One person, Masao Hijikata 先生, approached it by looking at how the government responded in Hashikami Area in Kesennuma City. Our other interlocutor, Keiichi Nakayama 先生, provides citizen relief through a non-profit organization called the Kuma Project Association.

Another vote goes to the businessman who builds walls. In the beginning of Hijikata 先生’s powerpoint, he showed us powerful, unseen-by-Japanese-citizens footage of the tsunami as it was happening. The tsunami was not the cinematic giant wave that I expected it to be–it was more like a gradual pooling of water into the sidewalks, a playground, etc. Many people didn’t realize the danger until it was obvious, so probably a good amount of people in the video died, which was why this footage wasn’t shown on the news. But what happens after an entire region is destroyed by a natural disaster? First, we have to consider how the area’s government functions and who controls the power. In the Hashikami area, there are mainly agricultural cooperatives and businessmen in control. This is probably obvious, but these people are not very representative of the citizens in the area. Hijikata 先生 said there is a positive side, as local people can participate in community building. There were workshops in which a lot of students attended so they could experience “real democracy.” It didn’t seem like this made much of an impact in the decision-making process, as the businessmen are still the ones in power. The after-disaster effort put in place is called the Memorial Park Plan, in which the destroyed high school would be made into a memorial. There was also the plan to build a 9.8 m sea & river wall, which got built by the prefecture government. This upset some people, as a wall creates a divide between the sea and the people and some people don’t want to lose that connection. Other people feel comfort by the wall, as it helps them feel safe and move on from the disaster.

Memories of the 3/11 disaster are fading, so many people feel like relief is no longer necessary. Nakayama 先生 was wonderful. He has a big heart and is a longtime friend of Aridome先生! #bromance He recognized a need in his community and responded to it. The Kuma Project Association has many programs, with the most prominent one being the Smiling Together Project. It’s run by college students and provides activities for elementary school students to promote disaster relief. He’s currently having financial and human resource problems, as the participation fee for college students is expensive ($300) and motivation is low. It’s been six years since 3/11, so many people don’t believe there is a need for relief anymore (memories of the disaster are fading and thinking about the disaster evokes bad feelings). Instead of this program being about disaster relief, Nakayama 先生 says the program is now about “regional re-development.”

These perspectives were so different even though they were both responses to the same disaster! Hijikata 先生 focused on government and infrastructure, while Nakayama 先生 focused on the individual needs of those often ignored by government programs (e.g. children). Both are totally important and interesting, and I’m curious to know what happens in the future. How will Memorial Park be displayed and maintained? Who does the memorial target? How will the Kuma Project encourage future participation?

Two Kinds of Movements

The first refers to the anti-nuclear movement and the second refers to moving pictures (i.e. animation). Today we visited Oguma 先生, a scholar and outspoken activist living in Tokyo. Afterward, we went over to the magical Ghibli Museum thanks to the persistence of our professors in obtaining the hard-to-get tickets.

Professor Oguma. a Japanese historical sociologist, answered our questions extensively and was a lot less intimidating than we expected. When asked about his unusual combination of academic and activist, he replied that he does not really identify as either. Another interesting part of our conversation was that he talked about how Japanese people don’t think there is a relationship between nuclear weapons with nuclear energy. He said a lot of foreigners like to relate events in Hiroshima with events in Fukushima, but they are separate events.

Although I wish I was more of a Ghibli fan than I am (I’ve only seen four Ghibli films), I had a great time at the Ghibli Museum! I love art so much. I think my second career choice would be to work in animation if I had a talent for it. Anyway, it was eye-opening to experience the museum’s portrayals of the creative process and food culture with Selinger先生there. She taught a class that included analysis of Ghibli films, so she had great input! I kind of wished we did an academic reading on Ghibli, but then again who knows if I would have finished it by the time we got the museum. Apparently, there was an optional reading about Spirited Away, but I didn’t see it on BlackBoard?

The museum heavily romanticized the creative process and food. As a someone who romanticizes on the daily, I was grateful to hear Selinger先生’s critique on the museum. The main exhibit was basically a walk-through an artist’s studio. The first part contained all kinds of artist drawings, from loose sketches to fully painted watercolors, all over the walls and on the displayed desk. The text that accompanied talked about how you have to keep on trying and put in a ton of work to get the few gems of usable pieces. There was another part about these little green creatures (怪人ジブリブリ) that gather around stressed artists when deadlines have to be met, and it’s not until the last second that creativity strikes and miraculously the work gets done. (I got a keychain of this cute-because-it’s-ugly character, and the text that went with it read “スタジオに発生するいきものでふだんは婆を見せませんが仕事がはかどらないスタッフの冷汗やあぶら汗をしたってまわりに集まってきます” but I forgot to ask for a translation L help?) It was all very beautiful; desks were messy but not too messy, reference pictures of scenery were laminated in giant photo books, shelves were lined with books from all over the world, and paint containers of pretty much every color were perfectly arranged in rows for us to gawk at. It was very much the creative process viewed through rose-tinted glasses. The museum showed a particular way the creative process happens, implying that it should operate that way. There was also a special food exhibit, which was also super beautiful (I love fake food). The various food scenes in Ghibli films are symbolic. Food is romanticized as the thing that unifies different cultures. Characters are able to explore, through food, what another culture is like in a particular way. What I mean by that last point is that Ghibli ignores certain factors like class and the foods’ political histories (e.g. rice riots) in these cultural exchanges.

My trouble with exCHANGE (pun intended). At the Ghibli museum, I bought a couple things at the gift shop… this was great, except for my freak-out moment of figuring out Japanese coins. I froze up, staring at my open palm full of change. Only panicked thoughts ran through my head, like: What denomination did each coin belong to again? Why didn’t I figure this out when I was in line? The nice cashier must have read the confusion on my face because he reached over the register, sifted through my change, and took the appropriate coins from my hand. I was so relieved and thanked him many times in Japanese.

From Sea to Shining… Glass

Slowly working on catching up on my blogs posts… I apologize.

We just spent some time at Tokyo Sea Life Park this morning and afternoon! Again, it is not my preferred activity to look at animals in captivity, but this was not a passive experience so I enjoyed it. In the evening, we went to where Selinger 先生’s longtime friend, Emi-san, lives.

It turns out that marine life, much like the human residents of Tokyo, don’t get much living space. I was so surprised to see how small the tanks were. It wasn’t like the building itself was small though, so I’m not sure why they allotted the space they did. But I guess it’s a give-and-take because they have to display different habitats (so separate tanks), and each tank needs “breathing room” from a design perspective (can’t overwhelm the visitor too much I suppose). Meeting Tada 先生 was the highlight of today’s visit. Immediately after meeting him, he gave us all (including the senseis!) sketch books and pencils and took us to the Bluefin Tuna exhibit. His only instructions were to pay attention to the details and draw what we saw. I did not get to finish my drawing (probably for the better since it was a terrible sketch…), but it was fun! It was such a great exercise because you really appreciate and notice the fish more. We were also taken to a non-public area (I love it when we are allowed to enter restricted places) to see the top of the tuna tank. This was so we could see counter-shading in action, or how the coloring of the fish is such that it camouflages when viewed from above or below (like penguins). Afterward, to the surprise of everyone including myself, we got to touch a dead tuna! The educational context made this experience different from the the tuna I’ve touched previously (like from sushi). The cold fish died from colliding with the thick (20 cm, which is nearly 8 inches!) glass of its tank. Ever since, it has been frozen and thawed at least ten times for the purpose of having groups like us touch it.

Tada先生 was incredibly honest and sincere with us. He told us that about 30 fish die a year (which includes 25% of Bluefin Tuna). He also admitted that tanks are not very successful at recreating the appropriate ecosystems the fish need. For example, the tuna tank is about three times smaller than it should be. This was also the first time a tuna tank was made, and they thought a donut shape would be best since the fish swim in circles. However, they found out that only juveniles like to swim in circles but older tuna like to swim in straight lines. To accommodate for this, they added a wall in the middle of the tank so that some of the fish can swim in curved lines and others can swim in straight lines. In his presentation, there was also a portion about people boycotting against the zoo and the aquarium (the picture that accompanied was of people holding a sign for PetaAsiaPacific). I mentioned before that many fish die each year, which means the aquarium replaces the fish by catching more. Not too long ago, a bunch of protestors stood in front of the tank to protest against catching more tuna. What was really interesting is that Tada 先生worked at Ueno Zoo before working at the aquarium. If I remember correctly, he became an aquarist so he could focus on educating the public, which is more achievable at an aquarium than a zoo. I really appreciated how honest he was, especially coming from our experience yesterday (lots of dodging of questions and no acknowledgement of any conflict from that group of people). He talked about his struggle with the ethics of capturing animals and then keeping them in captivity. He said he justifies it by emphasizing education. While I understand this, I have a hard time thinking that this is still okay. Is education enough to say it is morally okay? It reminds me of when I took biology and we dissected around ten different animals (from sharks to frogs). There was one animal, the starfish, that my lab instructor said we might not be able to dissect because of a disease. We ended up getting them and dissecting them… I wish we had not dissected them though. Honestly, I never thought I learned more from dissecting these animals than by learning it from a book. I see the value in dissecting these animals if you’re an aspiring vet or biologist but not for someone who does not plan on studying physical bodies. I’m not saying that aquariums and zoos should not exist, but I am also not saying they are perfect.

Something cool: Later we learned that the architect of the aquarium designed the space for adults (lots of 90˚ angles and used colors like black and grey), but it turns out that most of the visitors are kids. This isn’t to say kids aren’t welcome at the aquarium; in fact, there are many displays that have varying information at different eye levels. This provokes conversation between generations, which is awesome! We were also given booklets that had an entire spread dedicated to all the programs for each age group. Lots of educational opportunities for people! He did say that it’s difficult to get high schoolers and college students involved—like Bowdoin, this place knows that the way to get us to go somewhere is by providing free food! (If they learn about a particular sea animal, they actually get to eat it haha.)

How does this compare to Ueno Zoo? Well, unfortunately, we did not get a behind-the-scenes look at the zoo, so it’s a bit hard to compare. But based on the exhibits themselves, each animal was separate from the other in a taxonomic-style of categorization. At the aquarium, the separation was based on habitat type, and it was more common that multiple species lived in one tank. For example, the tuna tank contained sardines and was supposed to mimic the deep open ocean. There was also a “coral reef of Hawaii tank” containing like ten or so species of tropical fish (haha of course I would remember this one). Sorry, I realize this is a superficial comparison, but I don’t think I can compare target audiences because I am biased by Tada 先生 (I want to say that the zoo is more recreational and the aquarium is more educational but I don’t really know what programming the zoo has to offer… perhaps I can say that though because there was more writing in the text displays at the aquarium than at the zoo?).

カラオケ is hard when you have to quickly read Japanese. However, it was fun and a much-needed break to do something light-hearted with the group. Selinger先生 and Emi-san got really into it, which was awesome! I also got to wear a yukata for the first time! The fabric was so beautiful oh my goodness (apparently the pattern I had was made through tie-dying). Luckily, we got help with putting it on, as there was no way I could tie a bow that nice. For dinner, we ate a Japanese vegetarian meal prepared by Emi-san. I wish we got to see pictures of younger Selinger 先生! Oh well. Regardless, it was great to experience a Japanese home and home-cooked meal. I’m curious as to why the toilet is separate from where you wash your hands and shower/bathe. That’s how it is in our AirBnB, too, and I don’t really see the purpose? And why does the toilet run water (like a mini-sink with no soap) above it?

Where the “Wild” Things Are

Cue dramatic music: I stayed up until 2AM last night writing this post, but when I published it, all of it was lost. So I spent another hour this morning re-writing this post. But miraculously the post last night randomly appeared! Which is great but I definitely wrote like 200 words less in my re-written post, but also sad because I was so stressed and have yet to do the reading for today.

Today, we went to the zoo! But not just any zoo–it was Ueno Zoo, the first modern zoo in Japan. I’m going to be honest and say that I’m not a fan of zoos. I went to a couple zoos 子供の時, including the relatively famous San Diego Zoo, and I think I enjoyed them at the time. But now I would much rather go to an art museum than see animals forced out of their habitat just for humans to look at them. However, we went for the purpose of intellectualizing a zoo visit, so this was a good experience!

Zoos bring animals and humans together to emphasize that they are separate. This was one of the first points in the reading that we had to prepare for today (Introduction, Ch. 1, and Ch. 6 of Nature of the Beasts by some dude named Miller). When walking to the zoo, it was clear that we were going somewhere meant to be an escape or “oasis” from the city. Tall buildings were replaced with leafy trees and instead of power-walking on narrow streets we strolled through spacious walkways. It was beautiful but so purposefully constructed to be so. In front of the zoo entrance was a poster campaigning for panda conservation. I don’t want to quote the sign wrong, but it was translated to basically say that the public should help achieve the “panda’s dream.” EW. That is a pretty problematic statement. It seems like it is a way to justify and feel good about human intervention, like “oh what we’re doing is what pandas actually want.” We have no way of knowing what they want. Part of me is conflicted because now there is no way pandas could survive the way they did before humans started intervening. Pandas have very little success in reproducing, especially in captivity, so it is very likely that they would become extinct without human help. Do humans have a responsibility to save pandas? Ahhh. I’m not sure. Through poaching and habitat destruction, we were/are the main threat to panda populations. But there are countless other species that have become/are becoming extinct because of humans and we haven’t put in the same effort to save them. Miller proposed that this is because pandas remind of us of human babies, so we have this parental drive to think they’re cute and want to take care of them. There was this quote in the reading: “[pandas] seemed to be designed… to play on human psychology.” EW AGAIN. I know he isn’t using definitive language, but this implies that pandas exist solely for human enjoyment. I do not agree with rationalizing our fascination with animals by saying their purpose in life is to please humans.

Anyway, upon entering the zoo, without hesitation, we immediately went to see the panda exhibit. I guess I’m a hypocrite because I was a bit excited to see a panda. But I will say that I was underwhelmed and could have done without seeing the panda (or any of the animals, really) that was on display. The panda just sat there, stuffing its face with bamboo, as workers tried to make us leave in order to keep the line moving. I’m not sure if I find the panda cute, but I do find panda merchandise cute! This is similar to what happened in the early 1980s to the early 2000s, when there was a panda boom, which the author describes as “when the pandas’ media value outstripped their worth as physical animals.” Our visit brought up discussion on copyrighting animal drawings, which involves anthropomorphizing it in some way (giving it a name, drawing blushing squares on its cheeks, etc).

Pandas weren’t the only animals we saw. Some of the animals I remember included a sad-looking gibbon, a Selinger-seranded elephant, some rascal Japanese monkeys, a hungry tiger, two roasting polar bears, and a few cramped candors. I was the most irked from the polar bear exhibit. In it, there were two polar bears in the open-air lying in the shade, surrounded by rocks shaped and painted to look like ice. I dunno what’s worse: taking the polar bears out of their natural habitat and putting them on a bunch of hot rocks for display, or putting the polar bears in that situation and trying to mimic their natural habitat when it is clearly not. We also saw the Japanese serow, a goat-antelope mammal that is endemic (unique to certain habitat, found no where else in the world) to Japan. In our discussion about the use of animals as diplomatic symbols, we learned that this animal was what Japan gave to China in exchange for pandas in the 1970s. The serow is not the cutest animal, but its name does lend itself for great puns.

Another aspect of the zoo that I found interesting was the use of the playground in multiple exhibits. I am not sure what purpose this served. The playground was a bit different from a public playground, as the color palette was different shades of brown and the materials used were wood and rope. This was obviously meant to make it look more “wild.” Perhaps the playground was meant to entertain the animals or to make kids (the dominant demographic in the zoo) have more interest and relate to the animals. Either way, this does not fit with the zoo’s goal of trying to separate humans from animals.

Once again, I was glad to go to the museum with a professor and my classmates. We went to the Tokyo National Museum with Selinger 先生! Not only did we look at some amazing artifacts and primary sources, but we also got the insightful expert commentary on their historical and cultural contexts. What was interesting to me was the obvious display of wealth and lack of accessibility for the viewer. What I mean by accessibility is that visitors were positioned as passive observers. The explanations were fairly light, especially in English (meaning that the audience is more for the Japanese), so it would be hard to understand what exactly you’re looking at unless you know the cultural and historical context. This was in contrast to the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which displayed the “ordinary” and was made to be interactive for visitors.

P.S. I finally finished editing my Daigo Fukuryu Maru post, so if you have time (it’s a long one), please read it 🙂