5/30 Skyscrapers and Shijyō and Kōen

Our day started at the beautiful Waseda campus. After meeting Aridome-Sensei’s old friend and our tour guide Ozaki-San, who is a beautiful, energetic lady, we took the busy morning train to our first stop, Tsukiji Market. To my surprise, Tsukiji was still very busy even after the crazy auctions (which we were not able to go today), and it was incredibly engaging and rich in culture.

To my surprise, Tsukiji was still very busy even after the crazy auctions (which we were not able to go today), and it was incredibly engaging and rich in culture. Observing the structure of the market reveals some interesting facts about Tsukiji. As it is distinctively divided into the intermediate wholesaler’s area and the outer normal market(I don’t know how to call it), the two parts target on different clients. The wholesaler’s area, as the name suggests, targets at the wholesalers and focuses on the early morning auctions. Whereas the normal market was flooded by tourists of all nationalities taking selfies while holding a giant piece of grilled squid or たまこ焼き. In the 通り outside of Tsukiji Market were a row of all kinds of small restaurants hosting all kinds of guests–middle school students, workers, サラリーマン in suits, and of course, some tourists. Although crowded and not neat, the diversity of the street created harmony in the smell of sea(food), car exhaust, and all kinds of foods.

Shops inside the wholesaler’s area

However, just as you think at Tsukiji you have all the choices in the world, you will soon realize the choices were already made for you. Although there are 200 tons of fish (I might be messed up with the number a little) sold every day at Tsukiji, the categories you can buy are limited. As we observed in the market, all the shops had almost identical 種類 for guests to pick, Tuna being the major fish. Lobsters and crabs and some other less common fish were less popular. All the shops had giant Tuna heads on the counters to scare off or impress clients and innocent tourists. Bringing up the different concepts of いちば and しじょう mentioned in the article “Wholesale Sushi Culture and Commodity in Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market”, Tsukiji is a place where the two concepts interact: the shijyō influences the economics of fish markets and determines the distribution of different kinds of seafood at the ichiba.

The opposite of Tsukiji Market, which strives on the lowest level of Tokyo’s architectures, the skyscrapers are the defining features of the height of Tokyo. Looking down from 46th floor in Dentsu Tower (電通タワー), it amazed me how the incredibly diverse architectures of Tokyo talk to each other. While the whole city was crammed with buildings of all heights, there were still parks and greens to let it breathe, as well as the multi-level futuristic design of some buildings that brings out fantasies of the city. Although so densely organized that all land is utilized, Tokyo allows an organic mixture of modernity and nature, as evident not only in the 偉い view from the top floor of 東京都庁舎 but also in Ueno Park where people and nature, as well as religions, interact.

View from 45F of 東京都庁舎

Ueno Park was nothing more than a square of greens if looking from high up, but when actually wandering in the park, I found it a highly culturally engaging place. First, there is a temple and a shrine, allowing people to make wishes accordingly; in fact, the most fun part of our Ueno Kōen trip was reading all kinds of wishes and seeing other people’s 悩みや願望–perhaps we all have the desire to peek into other people’s private lives. Also, Ueno Kōen incorporates all kinds of people–small children, tourists, サラリーマン, and lovers. Surrounded by ambitiously tall “towers”, Ueno Kōen supports them like the roots deliver nutrients to their fruits. In this sense, the Shinto shrine and the Buddhism temple Ueno is providing a shelter for could be seen as the roots for the tall buildings of modernity.

5/25 Kanpo as a Cultural Agency

Our discussion was centered in Kanpo and then aquariums as Julian led us. In the reading of Kanpo, we explored the implications of treating illnesses and diseases and further established the defining differences between western medicine and Kanpo medicine. The fascination of Kanpo, however, is that it has cultural implications in Japan and that we can never discuss Kanpo outside of the Japanese cultural environment, and vice versa.

We started off discussion of Kanpo with Valeria’s presentation on part of Illness and Culture in Contemporary Japan by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney. She talked about the major difference between Western medicine and Kanpo medicine by making a distinction between pathogen and etiology. While Western medicine is focused on finding the exact pathogen and fighting it out of the patient’s body, Kanpo medicine is concentrated in studying the etiology of certain illness and trying to adjust the body’s relation to the environment in order to recover health. Suggesting that etiology includes climate conditions or environmental factors, the author is able to make a common ground for Kanpo, which encapsulates the Japanese understanding of illnesses, and the culture. Then, Valeria picked an example that illustrates this common ground. The fact that Kanpo characterizes the inner environment as pure and the outer environment as dirty aligns with the cultural meaning of 玄関 as separating the dirtiness outside and the purity inside.

Then regarding the reading, Prof. Selinger proposed some binaries to consider when thinking about the relationship between Kanpo and the Western medicine: illness vs. disease, treating imbalance vs. treating pathogens, chronic illness vs. acute illness, correlational thinking vs. magic-bullet thinking, the body as homeostatic vs. the body as discrete parts, and treatment vs. diagnosis. As Prof. Selinger pointed out and observed in the reading, the binary between illness and disease is not one of nonscience and science, but one of social understanding and science. Above all the differences in the way of thinking, the fundamental uniqueness of Kanpo is that it has an incredible amount of social interactions and implications; Kanpo has gone so far that it is no longer a school of medicine, but a way of interacting with the body and interacting with the outer environment.

An example we discussed was the “contradiction” of drinking cold water at restaurants while drinking hot tea at home, even for people with 冷え性. Restaurants are places for social interactions, with a sense of openness and constant flow of people, while the home is a highly private and cultural space, where the person receives care. 冷え性, a highly cultural concept, is better looked after at a cultural space like home; meanwhile, the closeness at home also parallels the privacy of 体質 and separates the inner(cultural space, home) and outer environment (social space, e.g. workplace, restaurants) of a person.

Julian’s presentation about aquariums then inspired a lot of discussion and different opinions. An interesting question he brought up is: as a place with high technology and human effort, are aquariums trying to pass the message of human conquest of nature? Does aquariums’ effort for immersion downplay this message or contradict it?

One thing undeniable about aquariums is their display of containment of nature by the human. By having those huge tanks, whatever forms they take and however blurred the line between human and fish is, the aquariums express the idea of manipulating nature. As opposed to wrapping a rock with a paper straw in Shinto temples, containing animals in tanks and displaying them for profits are a clear establishment of power instead of connection. However, the educational purpose of aquariums cannot be erased. When the most innocent eyes of children gaze at the beautiful fish and manmade coral reefs, the aquariums are responsible for teaching them the reality of animals living in the ocean, which is different from those living in a tank, even a delicate one.

5/24 Japanese Sense of Nature

Today we discussed two readings: “Is There a Japanese Sense of Nature” by D. P. Martinez and “The Hidden Face of Disaster” by Oguma Eiji. The first article is a stereotype-breaking journey, while the second is about a region’s struggle in finding its place in Japan’s rapid modernization.

Martinez starts with an assumption that there exists a Japanese sense of nature because the understanding of nature in Japan is tightly connected with Shinto and Buddhism. However, just as other cultures, nature is both worshipped and manipulated/used by human. She discusses an example: kami (the Japanese term for deity), or the forces of nature, is often represented in manmade object and we know a rock is kami “because it has been wrapped in folded white paper hung on twisted straw rope”. This example seemed to me the establishment of human power over nature at first, because it implies the containment of kami. However, in Shinto, it is not human that get to decide what is kami and what is not, but rather that everything is kami, so whenever we encounter the sacred object (maybe chosen by a priest), we know kami stands in there. In Martinez’s argument, it is exactly the lack of explicit knowledge of conquering nature that deludes people that there is a Japanese sense of nature; however, this kami example shows that nature is always expressed as surrounded by human touch, which in other name, may be called manipulation. The sense of nature is so delicately embedded and encapsulated in Shinto and Buddhism that even the Japanese believe the infiltrated stereotype that they have a Japanese sense of nature.

Moreover, not only is the sense of nature not unique in Japan, it is used as a tool by the lower class, in the example of fishery. As considered lower by the urban people, fishermen uses the idea of nature to find meaning of themselves and make up for feeling inferior to people of the higher class. Fishermen disdain urban people as they are not able to take care of the environment and unwilling to venture. Partly characterized by the disdain toward each other, the modern divide of class could be one that is not characterized by income but living environment–“an urban middle and working class and a shrinking rural-based population”. As much as modernization benefit people in rural places, it intensifies the divide between rural and urban.

This reading has been very interesting while complicated, as it is a new way to approach the nature to me–I have never thought about how to understand “the sense of nature”, not to mention a Japanese sense of nature. It has been very inspiring to think about nature in the perspective of religion, sociology and politics.

And then Tohoku is where no respect for nature is shown, as modernization abuses the area and made it extra-vulnerable to disasters, 3/11 as an example. The struggle of Tohoku as “the Tibet of Japan” is the result of modernization, and the Oguma suggested at the end that it requires change in the socio-economic structure of the country in order to deal with the problems Tohoku is facing. The country has enjoyed sweet fruits of modernization; maybe it’s time for Japan and all of us to think about how to deal with the consequences and side effects of modernization.

5/23 Is modernization really the answer to fishermen

Today we discussed the articles of Satsuki Takahashi, who brought up important issues about fisheries, and Prof. Ellers and Prof. Johnson brought up the leverage in the communication between the fishermen and scientists. The question about fishery is divided into two parts: modernization, or “scientification” of fisheries, and communication with, or delivery of the science to the fishermen.

The motive of Japan’s modernization of fisheries can be viewed as a part of the modernization, or westernization plan of the whole nation, especially in industries. As the professors observed in Japan, Japan has a strong incentive to copy western countries, and fishery is a good example, since the technology Japan developed is a manifestation of many western models and theories. And also, it believes in science and tends to regulate fisheries with scientific reason. However, as we have seen during the meeting, the population model (and its relatives), which is primarily used to predict harvest and analyze fish population and distribution, has a high level of complexity and requirement of huge sets of data and professional assessment. Nonetheless, the models are not easily understandable without some level of education. Thus bridging the leverage between the science and the fishermen becomes a big issue that we all have to face in all regions. Moreover, people have to deal with the conflicts between science and experience of fishermen as well, regarding the question of persuasiveness.

The situation gets more interesting when disasters come into play. As the professors explained, counterintuitively, the manmade disasters, such as radiation, are not necessarily harmful for the local ecosystems. Since the scale of ocean is huge, its ability to purify itself is incredible. Prof. Johnson brought an example that there actually formed a reservoir around Fukuoka where there was a diversity of species, and exactly because people stopped fishing, the fish population was able to restore. And now the concern shifts from fish population being wiped out by radiation to whether people are willing to purchase fish from the radiated area, although it has recovered.

Thinking about all the scientific and humanistic elements of the issue, it is alarming to us that if we cannot bridge the gaps between industry and fishermen, regulators and the fishery communities, and fishing communities and consumers, the difficulties we are facing will not be resolved.

Purity and Air Pollution

Today we kicked off the trip (prep) with some logistics and readings in our lovely Asian Studies Conference Room. It was a fun and inspiring morning to get us to think about some concepts of environmental studies(history) and how we can apply them to our projects.

Professor Matt Klingle gave us a great overview and real life examples of the lecture “The Problem with Purity” and addressed my confusions before the lecture. The argument that people’s tendency to “purify” and categorize issues ignores the complexity and entanglement of nature and human agency makes me think about the way we approach environmental issues. Taking this idea and applying to air pollution issues, I realized that when it comes to civilian response, it is convenient for average people or nonprofessionals to categorize and stigmatize the problem in order to deal with it, and this is how their “local knowledge” is formed. For example, when people see bad air, it is easy for them to blame the factories emitting smoke, or the cars emitting exhaust while being completely stuck on the highway, so the easy conclusion is that “oh, it is an industrial problem”. However, it is not convenient to think about why it happens–why it happens now, and why it happens here. Air pollution–really, any pollution–is never an easy problem. There are always political and social factors attached to the issue. It is easy to just blame the industry and “purify” the problem, but the heart of the problem is really much more complicated and we shall never simply take the easy path.

The other reading “History and Biology in the Anthropocene” makes me think about the pollution issue taking both humanistic and scientific perspectives, namely, the concepts of value and scale. As scientists can study basically everything under different scales, it is hard for them to answer the question of value and meaning. As the author suggests, science is a good tool to reach to realize the goal of answering a value question, but nonetheless, we need a question to begin with. The argument that humanists and scientists can, and should, talk with each other will help human achieve in anthropocene. And, the idea is really helpful for our projects as well, since by its nature, our trip is very interdisciplinary and has an organic blend of humanistic and scientific perspective. I think with the big question of scale and value in mind, we will be able to answer some real questions.