Dizzy Spells and Sensei Tells

My body has failed me. すみません、みなさん!I woke up with immense dizziness and dehydration. Unfortunately, this meant that I had to stay back from the Kamakura tour today. It was really sad to be away from my classmates. Though I could always go to Kamakura, I will never be able to hear the 先生s’ insightful comments on historical and political contexts. Fortunately, this meant that more teaching in 日本語 was, I assume, achieved (because I am usually the only one who needs translation #shame)! Also, I did get to practice my 日本語 skills with Aridome 先生. He is amazing and stayed behind with me, which means he waited around while I napped and drank たくさん飲み物. We also went to Tokyo Hands, which was *hands* down amazing ですね!I need to go back; we left early because I wasn’t feeling too 元気.

Anyway, I am re-energized and ready to do more!!! Now I just have to do the reading for tomorrow….

I Like Big Boats And I Cannot Lie

But in all seriousness, today was one of my favorite days. We went to the 第五福竜丸 (Daigo Fukuryu Maru, or Lucky Dragon No. 5) Museum in Tokyo. I have to apologize for my behind-ness of posts… and for the length of this post. I wanted to do this visit justice.

We did the following readings, but I’m going to focus on the first one because it was more impactful for me:

  1. The contentious death of Mr. Kuboyama: science as politics in the 1954 Lucky Dragon incident by Aya Homei
  2. Constructing Sustainable Japan by Peter Wynn Kirby

Because it is thought as an objective truth, science has been used to put forward a political agenda. This was a small museum, but I think there was a lot to take in. First, I will describe some historical background then I will talk about my experience at the museum and how the reading shaped it. On March 1, 1954, the United States conducted its first nuclear test called Castle Bravo on Bikini Atoll. A tuna fishing boat, 第五福竜丸, felt the fallout as white, irradiated ash from coral fell on the ship for approximately three hours. The crew eventually started to experience radiation poisoning symptoms, like nausea. One of the crew members, Aikichi Kuboyama, died six months later and the Japanese declared him as the first victim of the Hydrogen bomb.

The first impression upon entering the museum is just seeing a giant, deteriorated boat that is at least a couple stories high. This was a pretty small museum, with a series of informational panels and encased items underneath them. The first item we see is a glass bottle of 死の灰 (shi no hai, or death ash). Pretty powerful stuff. Next, there were various items collected from the ship itself. I thought this was unusual, as these items did not have much significance to me besides just being from the boat; to be fair, I could not read the context/descriptions accompanied these items. Selinger 先生 suggested that they showed wear from faded color, which was probably a result of the H-bomb. Then to provoke more sympathy, there was a display of children drawings wishing the fishermen well. They were accompanied by a heartbreaking photograph of crying children. It also served as a transition to Japanese citizen response.

An おもしろい part was about how Japanese people treated all the washed up contaminated fish. Eventually they decided to bury the fish in order to help make up the foundation of Tsukiji, as it was made from reclaimed land. Selinger 先生 mentioned the day before that there was a small reference to this at Tsukiji (we only learned about this after the fact). The contrast between building something that emphasizes purity so much (i.e. Tsukiji) with something the opposite of pure (the contaminated fish) and the act of burying/hiding the impure things and showcasing the pure is so interesting to me. I mean, the museum itself is built on reclaimed land and they didn’t bury the fish there, so there is significance to bringing the fish to Tsukiji.

Next, there were newspaper articles displaying the media response less than a month after the bombing. From what Selinger 先生 translated, the general goal of the news articles was to mitigate fear of contamination. They implied that wearing vinyl hats would help protect from contaminated rain, but the word choice was ambiguous. The sense I got was that it was not trying to be scientific (like hey there was a study that showed you won’t get radiation from rain by wearing these hats) but comforting (like hey wearing this hat is probably better than not wearing it). I wish I knew my nuclear chemistry better, but my first instinct is that plastic is not going to protect from radiation. Perhaps if radioactive metals were somehow part of the composition of the rain then the hats would prevent direct absorption of those metals into the body? But protection from the high-energy waves that actually cause mutations in DNA? いいえ。Unless you’re wearing a lead hat, a sheet of plastic won’t do anything. That’s why the dentist or doctor always leaves the room when you get an X-ray. But it’s also unrealistic and unsafe to ask all children to wear lead hats. Plus they probably thought it would be easier to have people perceive the hats as helping than to have them actually help. I don’t doubt that this happened other times in history and not in just Japan (Christmas 先生 は どこ to give some environmental history background?). Nonetheless, a win for the government, really! Also, there were stores displaying signs to reassure customers that their fish was not contaminated, but who regulates that?

There was also information on the citizen activism that arose from this incident. What happened was pretty amazing. My understanding is that a group of people started a petition and it eventually got around half of Japan’s population’s signatures. The exhibit then shifted from the scope of Japan to the scope of the world. It was about how nuclear testing has affected people in other parts of the world, from Tibetans to Native Americans. It ended on a optimistic and sing-songy note of a “nuclear free future.” The description listed the various treaties against nuclear weapons. Where was the mention of nuclear energy?

There was no mention of the disagreement between American and Japanese doctors. This was a huge point in the article that we read today. I mentioned before that the Japanese declared Kuboyama-san as the first victim of the H-bomb. Well, the Americans disagreed with this statement because he died from problems with his liver, which was not a direct result of radiation poisoning but rather from the treatment. But if you think about their motives, Japan was trying to take control of this case and use it to get prestige, as radiation was a relatively knew phenomenon, so being able to study its effects and talk about it increased some kind of social currency. There was a lot of back-and-forth in discrediting the other, with science being the tool they used to do so.

In reference to the first bolded line I put in this post, the author was arguing that the general acceptance of science as neutral and fact can be used to manipulate the public. This is a bit different from my initial reading of the article (which was that science is never objective but laden with social and political context… not that this isn’t true, but that there’s a bit more to it than that), so I’m glad that Selinger 先生 made that distinction. This reminded me of an article I read a few months ago about the media response to Flint’s water quality. The actor Mark Ruffalo (he played Hulk in the Avengers) advocated for a magic sponge that could clean water, but the science he tried to explain was wrong and the sponge did not do what he claimed it did do. I am sure Ruffalo was more of a spokesperson thinking he was doing a good thing, but this was also an example of science being used to manipulate the public (but in this case it was to sell products rather than put forth an agenda). In both examples, doctors were being viewed as heroes.

Other interesting points from the reading: historical and political context (here are the points I liked:

  • The incident occurred just two years after the end of the occupation, when the Japanese and American governments were laboriously redefining Japan’s role as an American ally within Cold War geopolitics.
  • In March 1954 [the same time as this incident] Japanese government agreed to use nuclear energy

), the media’s role, and the Japanese doctors’ reluctance to involve the Americans.

I’m not sure if you noticed, but I really liked this reading.

Yay my first year seminar. I have to mention the second part of the museum. First, there was a set of stairs that led to the upper half of the fishing boat. Then there was a smaller set of stairs leading to a small platform that allowed you to look at the boat, at the same level as someone would be if they were on the boat. This also positioned you right against the boat, so it is as though you are a passive observer (in contrast to a hypothetical set of stairs that would take you onto the boat or in it). The boat deck was relatively average but obviously carefully put together as there were an informational poster board and a shelf of items seemingly-random-but-perfectly-arranged in the forefront of the deck view. As I ascended the smaller set of stairs, I noticed an increasing temperature change. I found that I could not stand on that small platform for long because it was getting too hot (あつすぎます). HOW INTERESTING!!!! When I turned around on that platform, I also immediately noticed big, bright lights that I could not look at too long. I hope this was purposeful. I want to believe that the designer or whoever did that intended to make museum visitors physically feel uncomfortable when viewing the boat deck, while also connecting heat with the bombing.  Experiencing this took me back to my first year seminar (Visual Culture and the Holocaust)–specifically, I’m thinking about a Danish Jewish Museum, in which the uneven wooden floors are meant to make visitors feel like they’re on a boat. Or more generally speaking, my experience reminded me of an architect’s choice to have an incline during an exhibit, meant to slow the visitor down and induce more reflection. I want to re-take that class because I feel like I forgot a lot of specifics haha.

Museums are better experienced with professors. Overall, this was an amazing learning day! I am grateful to Selinger 先生 for her constant translation and the shared interest of lingering in museums. Usually when I go to museums with friends they just want to breeze through everything and finish in like an hour, which is not really an ideal time for me. It was really nice to go through things carefully, and I’m extremely happy to have had this experience.

P.S. More words I learned: におい (smelly), つよい (strong), いびきをかく(to snore), マグロ (tuna)

神 Is Not God, 鎮守の杜 Is (Not) Nature?

Another intellectually engaging day has passed! It was very long (spent over 12 hours away from our Airbnb), but the experience was unforgettable and without a doubt worth it.

Japanese people are fluid with religion (is there a Japanese sense of religion?). Selinger 先生の友だちは Notoさんです。She was so nice and informative! She presented on Shinto and introduced us to important aspects of Meiji Shrine. We learned that it is normalized for Japanese people (in general) to follow multiple religions. Noto-san gave an example that it’s not unusual for someone here to go to a Shinto Shrine as a newborn, have a wedding at a Christian church, celebrate Christmas, visit family graves at “Obon” Buddhism festival, and hold their funeral at a Buddhist temple. I found it interesting that in one of the statistic tables she showed us Shinto was listed as a religious organization. The reading we had to do for today made several attempts to define Shinto, but I don’t think it’s too important to try to define what exactly Shinto is because it doesn’t seem productive to waffle around (lol because I am a person who waffles around too much). Perhaps this is because I am neither a scholar in religion nor have any interest in being one… I want to just let it exist and take it in respectfully (is this too passive though?). She talked about kami (神) and emphasized its importance as god-like but not the Western idea of a god. People can be 神 (e.g. Selinger 先生, Christmas 先生, and Aridome 先生). There was a quote that explained 神 as “possessing the quality of excellence and virtue.” In discussion later we talked about the important points of who is defining 神 and what their motivation is. Not really sure about the answer to the first question, but perhaps their motivation is to separate it from foreign ideas and make something uniquely Japanese. Anyway, I wanted to also point out that Noto-san taught us the importance of purifying yourself before visiting 神. Again, the notion of purity in Japan returns! We got to experience an amazing Shinto ceremony (lol we got our prayer read! unfortunately I only heard the アジアけんきゅう line because of my under-developed 日本語 skills). There was an offering in the form of song and dance, which was great to watch. I was self-conscious as to what times we had to bow and what times we could watch, so I hope following along what the person beside me was doing went okay. At the end, we each got a little gift and a sip of さけ. I was not expecting that… ahhh お酒が好きじゃないですよ (not just さけ specifically)… although, I will say it was warm and not a horribly unpleasant experience… anyway, I asked what the point of it was and Noto-san said it basically purifies the body. The さけ we drank was an offering to the 神 and then given to us to drink.

Can a human-constructed forest left “untouched” be classified as natural? According to the Kanji, no. The forest surrounding Meiji Shrine is referred to as 鎮守の杜 (chinju no mori), which is different from the kanji used for similar sacred forests (鎮守の森, also chinju no mori). This is because 鎮守の杜 is “man-made,” as the area it resides in was once a wasteland then through the planting of trees by humans, made to be a forest. The path in which humans take in the forest is highly regulated and protected so that it can be, for the most part, untouched by humans. Yay for the reoccurrence of the Japanese importance of purity! Tanaka-san, a highly knowledge and approachable man who helps maintain 鎮守の杜, answered our questions while showing us around (shoutout to Julian since he asked great questions). We entered quite a few prohibited-to-the-public areas, which made us feel super special and grateful to Tanaka-san (and Noto-san for arranging this!). Wow, the trees were just so impressive and surreal. I honestly thought the greenery should be photographed as an Apple desktop wallpaper. きれいな杜。I can’t wait to see Anna-san pictures!

I’m trying to improve my Japanese, so I will try to jot down new things I’ve learnt. Here are some words I have learned so far: しけ (humid), ながでずがり (the flowing style that the buildings in Meiji had), しつも (question), いこ (casual form of “let’s go”), and 食べほうだい (all you can eat). I’ve definitely become more interested in and motivated to learn the Japanese language since arriving in Japan. I can see myself taking classes/studying after Bowdoin, and I know this won’t be my last time here.

This isn’t totally related to the theme of this post, but we went to a Hawaiian-themed Korean barbecue place for dinner. I have to say that it was a weird experience because I did not feel like I was in Japan; at times I actually forgot that I should be practicing my Japanese. During this trip, I have been very aware that I’m in Japan, so attempting Japanese seemed like what I should be doing, but at this restaurant speaking English seemed more like what I should be doing. (I wish I could comment about cultural appropriation, but I don’t feel like I can express my thoughts intelligently or effectively. And despite the two semesters of anthropology courses I’ve taken, I just don’t think I have enough background to really define cultural appropriation or speak on behalf of Hawaiian culture. I will just say that the restaurant being Hawaiian-themed was not the most comfortable experience).

Holistic and Faux-Holistic Views

Wow, I’m exhausted! We got a little lost on the way back to the AirBnb and in general there was a lot of さんぽう (walking) in my not-so-comfortable-but-professional shoes today. But that’s okay because we got to experience some amazing things today!

Kanpō is not as traditional as it seems. Our first adventure included a meeting with Dr. Qiu, a Kanpō doctor located in Tokyo and specializing in gynecology. I have to say thank you to Selinger 先生 for wonderfully translating what Dr. Qiu had to say because there was no way I would have understood otherwise. ありがとおございました!She thoroughly answered our questions, with the first batch being ones we sent to her prior to the meeting. Some highlights include the difference between Kanpō in China vs. Japan, how she views Kanpō, and the kinds of patients she has treated/is treating. The route in China is to start off studying Kanpō (specialized), whereas in Japan, those hoping to pursue Kanpō go first to medical school (generalized) and then specialize in a topic. She explained that Kanpō is an observational science, meaning that a Kanpō doctor “observes the signs of the hypothetical illness… and views the body as a homeostatic balance with the environment.” Okay, I have to say, that as someone who studies science, all science is observational… there are no facts in science… you support conclusions based on evidence… すみません, I just wanted to comment on the redundancy of “observational science,” but maybe I’m just being too picky? Her practice appears to be doing very well, as she reported lots of success stories (of course, I want to hear about the stories that were not so successful but alas I felt that was too inappropriate to ask). She also talked about Kanpō literature going as far back as 681 years ago, so there is definitely validity in what she is doing; I felt the need to say this because in America there is a stigma against non-Western medicine.

Anyway, I love that Kanpō is so holistic in its treatment style. When the question about whether race matters in treatment, Dr. Qiu explained that what actually is more important is what the patient’s environment is like. It’s the diet, emotion, geography, home life, etc. that are considered, which is in contrast to Western medicine where you either check off boxes and concentrate on what specifically is wrong. When I think about what I learned in my microbiology class this past semester, it makes sense to me that a patient’s illness is not an island. Not only genetics, but also your diet, where you come from, who you’re around, etc all play into what makes up your microbiome, which can affect how your immune system functions. Obviously I do not know if this is the case at all, but I can see there being evidence as to why environment matters. Psychology also seems to play some magical part into this, and that can probably never be backed up by science (at least in the near future), but nonetheless it is there (the placebo effect is real!).

After doing the reading The East Asian Medical System in Urban Japan: Kanpō, Dr. Qiu’s story seems so unique. I had the impression that most Kanpō doctors in Japan were male, Japanese, carried medical degrees, wore lab coats, and practiced in a Western-like clinic (including the use of modern technology like X-rays). Our visit today was nothing like that, as her practice did not look or feel like a clinic in America. The room had an herbal aroma (not “sterile”-smelling or looking), and that was also reinforced by the shelves lined with glass jars containing herb sundries. There was no white; the color palette of the room contained almost exclusively earth tones. Dr. Qiu was also wearing a beige “Chinese” (eh, is it okay to say this? Does it help that I’m Chinese? And that Dr. Qiu is Chinese? I mean no offense) outfit and there was no stethoscope or much equipment in sight. I was too timid to ask about how unique her practice is 🙁 .

Next stop was the Edo-Tokyo Museum! What an entrance. Like my goodness, that behemoth of a building does not look like a museum about the ordinary.

How interesting it is for the government to portray the “everyday citizen” in a museum. Hence, the faux-holistic reference in my title. The government tells the public that this is what people were like back when, yet it is obviously bias because the people are not the ones telling their stories nor are all the people being represented. NEED TO EDIT CAUSE NEED TO SLEEP.

I find the bathrooms so intriguing here. In the train station of all places (a place I would expect to have dirty/unkept bathrooms), there was a small changing platform next to the toilet. Along with sanitizer for the toilet seat and a water level such that the sound of your pee is nonexistent.

People wear so much fabric for it being so humid and hot. Every time we walk on the street and through a train station, I am in awe of how everyone is dressed. Sleeves and pants galore!! Hawaii gets to similar weather as this, but people reveal way more skin there.

P.S. Click on my name because I just updated my author bio!

Fish Are Food, Not Friends

And we are in Tokyo!! I love it here 😀 Cities are always so exciting for me, and Bowdoin has deprived me of Asian food, so I was even more excited to just eat haha. First on our trip agenda was to meet Ozaki-san, our incredibly 元気 tour guide and long-time friend of Aridome 先生. She led us  on a tour in Tokyo, with the first stop being at Tsukiji.

Prior to visiting Tsukiji market, we had to read the following article:

  1. Wholesale Sushi Culture and Commodity in Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market by Theodore C. Bestor

Tourists love Tsukiji, but Tsukiji does not love tourists. Unfortunately we did not get to experience the rush of Tsukiji–although this was probably better for safety reasons–but we did get to see what remained. It was interesting that the Tsukiji workers don’t like it when people take photos because it causes traffic jams. Something that stuck out to me while doing the reading and also while walking through the fishy aisles was the prominent idealized perception of what is fresh food. In Japan, there is so much attention to presentation and food being perfect and uniform. This isn’t to say that Americans or people of other cultures don’t value looks, but in my experience, American produce in the same display do not usually look the same (i.e. they are of varying quality). In contrast, all the food, down to the vegetables, in Tsukiji looked photo-ready. Again, the idea of purity appears!!! Nature has to be controlled, and it only has value when unblemished.

Ozaki-san also took us to places like the Tokyo Metropolitan building, a couple 神社, でんつ. I wish I was fluent in Japanese so I could understand more