6/6 Tokyo Sea Life Park and Home Visit

I have not been to zoos or aquariums for over ten years, and like zoos, I always thought them as places imprisoning animals to suit purposes of human, whether financial or political. However, our visit to Tokyo Sea Life Park convinced my of another purpose of aquariums—education.

Although both institutions have the primary purpose of exhibiting animals to the public, the spacing is incredibly different between them. While the zoo is all open space, the aquarium is dimly lit and designed for a more immersive experience. At Ueno Zoo, most visitors are families, and there were activities suited for kids, like collecting stamps for animals; whereas the average age of visitors at Tokyo Sea Life Park was much bigger, with the majority being 10-30.

Although I am not sure how to make of these observations and differences on the age groups, I was inspired and moved by Tada-San’s presentation on aquarium education programs and response to Julian’s questions. Tada-San opened the presentation with a tuna lecture, telling us to first observe and sketch tuna and then showing us to above the tuna tank to see them from above, and finally letting us touch a real tuna. This tuna education is highly interactive, and far from my exception, was not just suited for children. Part of the education program for high schoolers, the tuna section is a great introduction to get students’ attention and interest and show them the amazing biological mechanism behind each body part. It was very lucky for us to have Tada-San, who is an energetic and honest gentleman passionate about delivering aquarium education and sharing his experience. According to him, the aquarium has been trying hard to bring high school and college students to the aquarium, and thus created various programs for different groups. Looking through the brochure, it was evident that the courses were thoughtfully planned and all of them had an introduction related to Japanese cuisine.

Although the aquarium still faces ethical issues as confining animals, my concern on this level was relieved by Tada-San’s passion and dedication, as he mentioned he had been working at aquariums for over 20 years trying to show people the educational purpose of aquariums.

After Tokyo Sea Life Park, we went to visit Prof. Selinger’s friend, Emi-San’s house. Thanks to her generosity and kindness, we had the opportunity to try on Yukata, a lighter and more casual version of kimono. The visit to her house was a great cultural immersion experience, and we got to practice the manners we learned about visiting a Japanese home. We also got to see the small buddhist and shinto shrines at Emi-San’s home, and how shinto and buddhism were immersed in Japanese daily life. Although exhausted, it was an amazing day—we pretty much passed out in the bed right after going back home.

6/4 Ueno Zoo–Nature in Captivity

Haven’t been to zoos since the age of three, today I visited Ueno Zoo and got to see the giant pandas from China for the first time. However, my first 出会い with a giant panda was incredibly short: we were pushed through a path five meters away from the room the panda Li Li stayed in and had less than five minutes to take a good look.

My only reaction was to take a bunch of pictures, with Li Li barely visible behind people on the closer path to the panda house. I was disappointed because completely different from my typical impression of pandas eating bamboos in the woods, this panda was restricted in a small room by himself, sitting on the floor eating bamboos. Li Li was the only panda on display today, so the other display rooms marked with the panda’s names were closed. At the end of all the panda rooms was a small space that was supposed to mimic pandas’ natural habitat, and (maybe) because it was too hot, no panda was staying there. The panda section, as well as most of the other sections, looked like a prison to me: they were constantly watched and annoyed by visitors and children, and their schedule was oriented at the need of visitors. For example, at the tiger section, the food was placed right in front of a big piece of glass where people had been eagerly waiting, like predators waiting for their prey.

Although visiting a zoo is 久しぶり for me, this visit still turned out to be depressing. Separated by the thick glass or cage, the animals are not only captured but also made into an anthropocentric exhibition of endangered species, taking a narrative of pure human interest. The slogans such as パンダの夢 and posters educating children about the importance of protecting tigers are incredibly ignorant of the fact that the environmental problems now are not just about protecting several species but the whole ecosystem viewing nature as a whole rather than disjoint parts.

When the Ueno Zoo was first built, it was created in order to show Japan’s modernity taking the Western standards. Although now the zoo has (or appears to have) turned to the direction of educating about environmental preservation, the choices of what animals to include and what not to were made by the human. In the case of Japan, the choices are largely based on the cuteness and popularity of the animal, as well as political significance. Animals are never created equal, and neither are animals in the zoos.

To end this post, I would like to think about a recent genre of animation movies about animals escaping of the zoos/aquariums and making their own lives. What does that have to do with the problems zoos are having now? How should we make of it? In an animation movie about animals escaping the zoo and finally returning to the zoo and becoming star performers (I forgot the name..残念), the animal’s returning is a strong implication of human power over nature; although animals are depicted as smart and kind and humans dumb and evil, the fact that the movie creates a binary of animals v. human is an act of establishing human power as superior to nature.

6/2 Daigofukuryūmaru Museum: Calling for Peace?

After the end of WWII and during the cold war, the US, Japan, and other countries were having a large number of A-bomb and H-bomb testings and seeking for a peaceful use of nuclear power. Daigofukuryumaru (第五福竜丸) was near an H-bomb testing near Bikini Island, and its staff member Kuboyama was the first Japanese victim of an H-bomb. The reading we did for this Lucky Dragon No.5 had a lot of discussion about different stakeholders, including politicians, doctors studying radiation diseases, fishermen/citizens, and the media. A complicated incident with many political implications, the Lucky Dragon was oversimplified as a symbol of calling for no use of nuclear and world peace at the Daigofukuryūmaru Museum.

The museum takes the perspective of citizens and selected many exhibits that called for compassion, the heartbreaking picture of Kuboyama’s funeral, for example. The picture captured Kuboyama’s children and family crying, especially the younger daughter. Children are a big part of the appeal: Kuboyama’s older daughter’s letter, encouraging letters sent to Kuboyama from all over the country, and moreover, the origami decorations sent by school children along with their wishes for peace/no nuclear bombing attached to the origami. The message is clear: think about our children. Because of the concern for family health and children of radiation contamination, women and housewives became leaders of the grassroots anti-nuclear movements after the incident of Lucky Dragon, while the government was trying to close the deal as soon as possible to get nuclear technology support from the US. The reading we did was very helpful for understanding the complexity of the incident and looking at the museum critically.

6/1 Integrating Shinto in Japanese Life

Since we watched a documentary about the amazing forest of Meiji Shrine on our prep day 5, I have been looking forward to visiting Meiji Shrine and its 不思議な forest, which were created almost 100 years ago. Thanks to Selinger-sensei’s friend Noto-san, we had a wonderful lecture in the morning and an insider’s special experience with the ritual in Meiji Shrine. I was most impressed by the integration of Shinto in the daily life of the Japanese as well as the beautiful integration of Meiji Shrine in the city of Tokyo.

Despite the other great parts of Noto-san’s lecture on what is Shinto and how to worship in a shrine, it especially interested me how Shinto very well engages Japanese people in daily activities. According to Noto-san, Japanese people go to Shinto shrines, Buddhism temples, as well as Christian churches under different occasions–they have no problem having rituals of multiple religions (if ignoring the question whether Shinto is a religion). Interestingly, Shinto shrines are usually related to good things like birth, festivals, and sometimes weddings, while Buddhism temples are most commonly related to funerals, and people also go to churches for weddings. Religions work well together in Japan, and I think it is partly because Shinto is lowering itself to people’s daily life, both physically and spiritually (I am using the terms very loosely here).

As Noto-san introduced, the definition of Kami (the figure of worship) by Motoori Norinaga(本居宣長) is that “whatever seemed strikingly impressive possessed the quality of excellence and virtue, and inspired a feeling of awe” can be called kami. This definition is basically saying everything in our life can be worth of worship. From this perspective, Shinto is embedding worshipping and rituals into people’s daily lives, and this could be shown by the small Shinto shrine Japanese people usually keep at home. The values of Shinto create a welcoming environment for Shinto followers to participate in rituals of other faith systems/religions, such as Buddhism. On the other hand, the setting and construction of Meiji Shrine is incredible in bringing people into the Shrine and practicing Shinto.

We were also super lucky to get a chance to see the ritual of praying. The prayer was done by a priest, who read/sang the wishes of people coming to the Kami-sama and we got to see the sacred dancing, which was supposed to be provided for the kami-sama. Everything at the ritual was oriented at Kami; on our way out of the ritual hall, we were served a small saké dish of sake, which was served to kami and then shared to us, meaning we were receiving the sake as a gift from the kami. (I might be wrong about this)

As mentioned before, by the definition by Motoori, everything can be a kami. It was no wonder that many places and things in the shrine were “wrapped” by white paper straws and ropes: camphor trees outside of the hall and the rice field supplying rice that was given to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, for example. While surrounding kami by ropes is an act of establishing human contact and connection with kamis, the whole shrine can be seen as an act of creating human contact with Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, as the shrine and the outter guarding forest was manmade.

5/31 Kanpo and Edo-Tokyo Museum

In the early summer hotness, we took the full train with サラリーマン for half an hour and met Aridome-Sensei’s sister at Ebisu Station, from which we headed to Dr. Qiu’s Kanpo clinic. The clinic first impressed me as a very cultured space, with all the glass containers with herbs and wooden tables and decorations, giving a sense of rituality. And indeed, as Kanpo is all about recovering the balance of the body, boosting 気, and seeking a harmonious relationship between the body and the environment, one could view it as a ritual of purifying, or liberating, the body.

Dr. Qiu is incredibly insightful and articulate, and I really appreciate that she was trying to make Kanpo understandable and relatable instead of mystifying and elevating it. It was very enjoyable to listen to her, and in the room, I could feel an energy flowing that bonded everyone together and relating us to her sharing. Although my previous knowledge of traditional Chinese medicine helped with understanding all the concepts and ideas Dr. Qiu talked about, it was very interesting to hear about her experience practicing Kanpo in different countries. Her example of giving a 強い prescription and 優しい prescription to people of different constitutions (体質) and body build showed that Kanpo was really individual-based and that the treatment heavily relies on the Kanpo doctor to keep a long-term contact with the patient. Dr. Qiu gave examples of treating women with breast cancer but also want to be pregnant to speak to how Kanpo works, and this part was new to me. If thinking about the hormone level, as the Western medicine would do, treating breast cancer and helping a woman have a baby are contradictory since an increasing hormone level to cause breast cancer to deteriorate while to get pregnant a high level of hormone is required.  She approached the issue by attacking the core problem that caused both illnesses. From the perspective of Kanpo, both breast cancer and difficulty to get pregnant are results of 瘀血, or blood stasis, which means that the blood flow in the body is thwarted. The treatment Dr. Qiu did was to boost 気 and give prescriptions to make blood flow easily. And after three years a patient successfully got pregnant at the age of 38.

Her incredible explanation and stories were fascinating and relatable. The holistic view of the body and the focus on the interactions of the body and the environment require that Kanpo is not just medicine but a lifestyle since treating from a holistic view requires living thinking holistically about the body.

After lunch at Ebisu, we “traveled” to Edo-Tokyo Museum, with an incredible design and exhibition of Edo-era and modern Tokyo. This is Nihonbashi (the bridge of Japan), through which people could enter Tokyo during Edo-era. In the museum, Nihonbashi divides the exhibition into Edo-era and modern Tokyo areas and also connects the audience to the heart of Tokyo since we had to walk through the bridge to enter Edo.

There were incredibly delicate models of Edo-era buildings, among which this Kabuki house impressed me most. The Kabuki house is a manifestation of Shogun’s power and status. The different levels of the floor were suited for people of different political status in the shogunate, and the little door on the highest level was an emergency exit for the shogun if anything happens. The Edo-era exhibition opened up my mind about Japanese history and the part about how the shogun balanced the power of local daimyōs by having them living in Edo for one year every three years and keeping their family in Edo.

This was also my first time really thinking about a museum/exhibition politically. As suggested by the reading, the Edo-era exhibition idealizes the working class while completely ignoring the fact that people in the working class encounter all kinds of difficulties and the riots they started. This observation was definitely true in the museum, since the image of the working class in Edo-era was shown as hardworking and living in harmony, through the vivid house models and delicate interactive facilities. However, the gender factor was absent in the Edo exhibition, while in the modern Tokyo section, the exhibits were mostly clearly gendered, the advertisement for women’s beauty products, for example. When I was talking with Prof. Selinger about the gender factor, she brought up an interesting question: why does the museum choose school girl uniform to represent the 1990s? She brought up an argument that since the economy started to go down in late 1980s, the industry targeted at young girls as consumers and commercializing school uniforms might work. I think that while school girls became the consumers, they were also consumed as a collective, considering that school uniforms could mean the main character of commercials would shift from women to teenage girls, and that school uniforms wiped out the individuality, making the girls vulnerable to the consumption of Shōjo, which emerged later.