Enter into an Immersive World

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been going to aquariums. Anytime my family and I would take trips and vacations, we’d HAVE to go to an aquarium. I’m not even sure just how many times I’ve gone to Maritime Aquarium, in Norwalk, alone; they just never get old for me. So I want to start off this blog entry part 2 (the sequel; see here for part 1) by just saying, I’m really excited to be reading about and discussing and visiting aquariums.


For my pre-trip presentation on aquariums, I read a chapter, “Zoological Gardens of Japan” by Ken Kawata and “Ciliated Sense” by Eva Hayward. I was a little disappointed in how little the former talked about aquariums, but it did provide me (and I think, my peers during my presentation) some history on aquariums in Japan. Pre-WWII, aquariums were pretty uncommon, but then proliferated and became very popular post-war. Kawata partially attributes this to a cultural phenomenon relating to Japan’s status as an island nation. Like Kawata, I also would’ve expected marine life and aquatic environments to have a profound influence on “language, culture, and food habits.” But the question I had, and posed to my peers, was, “Why only after WWII does this cultural phenomenon occur? It’s not like Japan suddenly became an island nation.” Perhaps a post-war liberation from wartime duties and resource devotion to a war effort? Newfound leisure money?

I’ll put it simply: “Ciliated Sense” was absolutely fascinating. To use an analogy, if I was expecting to dive into a relatively shallow pool, say maybe 9 feet in depth, I think what I got was the Marianas Trench. That is, Eva Hayward puts forth a really interesting, deep discussion of immersion and perception as they relate to aquariums, that I won’t really have time or space to go into here. I highly recommend checking it out, though.

“Ciliated Sense” details the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, so I framed my discussion of aquariums from a Western aquariums perspective; I’m looking forward to seeing how Oota-sensei and the Tokyo Sea Life Park might parallel or challenge my ideas of aquariums. Aquariums began as early as the 19th century in Europe, with “aqua vivariums.” These were geared towards the affluent and to sate intellectual curiosity and religious and biological insights. These aquariums coincided with a time when the oceans were considered a dark, cold, alien world and its inhabitants even more so. So these exhibits, then, became a way to dominate, contain, compartmentalize, and study non-human inhabitants and demonstrate biological knowledge and technological achievement. I think these early ideas really highlight and hearken back to our previous discussions on the “West as conquering nature” ideas, sad as that may sound (especially for me as a marine biologist/ecologist at heart).

Hayward argues, using the Drifters exhibit in Monterrey Bay Aquarium, that at some point modern aquariums shifted to a less binary-generating role. Instead, she suggests, using increasingly more advanced technology and optics, aquarium displays can immerse the viewer in the underwater world of the non-human inhabitants. So instead of contrasting “man-made” and “natural” in aquariums, it seems more a blurring and integration of those binaries. Aquariums such as the Monterrey Bay Aquarium as best as they can aim to recreate and simulate natural ecosystems. Hayward has two major conclusions that I think really resonate with how I also view aquariums: “Animal displays are not simply about seeing the human reflected back upon us” and “We are not only immersed in virtuality; we are immersed in deep marine techno-science worlds.”

Along with those conclusions, I’ll leave you, dear reader, with another series of questions I proposed to my peers:

  • What do you think of when you hear “aquarium”?
  • What do aquariums mean to you? Perhaps a specific aquarium?
  • Why do you go to aquariums? What do you get out of them?

Enter into the Home

I’m going to break up today’s blog entry into two discrete posts, since they’ve been getting rather long recently (which definitely speaks to the complexity of the topics and our engagement with them!). This entry is on  kanpo, or traditional (a term I use hesitantly) Japanese medicine, and genkan (entryway) etiquette. Part 2 (the sequel?) will be on my presentation on aquariums and immersion. I don’t mean to elevate my own discussion or project as separate from Valeria’s or the general group discussion, but I think kanpo and genkan etiquette actually go hand in hand, as I think you’ll see. And I don’t mean to toot my own horn, so to speak, by even writing about my own presentation, but I want to share the ideas I read about in “Ciliated Sense” because I think they’re absolutely fascinating. Apologies for the long disclosure; now for our feature presentation!


How ironic and relevant it is, to be discussing “illness” and “disease” and medicine (Kanpo and Western), at the same time I, myself, am fighting a sore throat and cold. When, just the other day, I went into the Bowdoin Health Center for diagnosis and treatment.

Kanpo is a little hard to define without slipping into binary traps or comparing it to Western medicine and practice, since until today that’s all I really knew. From Valeria’s and Professor Selinger’s presentations and discussions today, if I understand this correctly, kanpo and “Japanese Germs” are very much about “purity vs impurity” (note: an entirely different sense from the historical/anthropological “purity” from Day 1) and treating imbalance. It contrasts the clean (pure) inside with the dirty (impure) outside or below. So for instance, and as an incredibly relevant example as you’ll see later in this post, the genkan or entryway of a Japanese home, where you take off your shoes, has a raised step. That is, what’s considered “inside and raised” is meant to be kept clean from the impurities of the “outside and below”–hence why you take off your shoes there.

I thought it was particularly interesting about how these ideas of purity and impurity evidently arose with the Kojiki, a work which contains origin and creation stories of Japan. I’ve always been really intrigued by these kinds of stories, oddly enough, despite my “scientific” disposition. In short, Izanagi’s wife died and went to the underworld. After some time, Izanagi decided to venture into the underworld to see her (I’m unclear whether this is like an Orpheus story where he wanted to return her to the world of the living or if it was just to visit). While there, Izanagi was contaminated, owing to the death, dead bodies, and illnesses of the underworld. Back on the surface, the purifying waters of a river cleansed Izanagi and from cleansing deities were born: Amaterasu, Susano-o, especially, among many others.

We continued our discussion by contrasting kanpo and Western medicine as well as pathology (study of disease-causing agents) and etiology (circumstances that led to contraction of a disease). As an example, my pathology might be whatever virus, bacteria, etc. that infected my throat and upper respiratory tract. My etiology, however, would probably be staying up late after finals were over and some friends were visiting, thereby weakening my immune system and allowing me to contract whatever my friend had. I thought it was also particularly interesting the idea of ひえしょ(hiesho) or “coldness (sensitivity).” It’s an idea common, I think, to both Western and kanpo practices, in that being cold can somehow lead to illness. While I agree that hot things are wonderful when you’re sick (trust me, I’ve been drinking copious amounts of tea and soup), I wonder if in certain sicknesses cold or cool things are also useful. When you have a fever, for instance. Or just the other day, we went to the Gelato Fiasco, and I found the cool, creamy gelato to be really soothing to my sore throat. I digress.

To summarize, we came up with a list of binaries that might accurately contrast kanpo (left) and Western (right) medicine:

  • illness vs disease
    • treating imbalance vs pathogen
      • treating chronic vs acute sickness
        • correlative vs “magic bullet” thinking
          • body as homeostatic system vs as discrete parts
            • diagnosis vs treatment
              • healing vs curing
                • healing goal: restore balance (a fluid, moving, context- and environment-specific target)
                • curing goal: rid body of specific pathogen


Respect. Appreciation. I think they’re a bit underrated, perhaps a bit neglected terms. I don’t mean to be cynical here and I’m not trying to say everyone is necessarily disrespectful or unappreciative, but I think it’s definitely something that at the very least takes a subconscious or subtle role in our lives. In contrast, respect and appreciation are huge, I think, in Japanese culture. From my second year (二年生 = ni nensei) language studies, we learned a lot about how much respect and social norms are embedded within the language itself. Take Keigo, which I briefly talked about the other day, in which you humble yourself and honor the socially-distant or socially-superior person. Or, take a typical exchange between a host and a visitor to that home:

Visitor removes coat and rings doorbell, before waiting for host.
Visitor: ごめんください。ボウドイン大学です。

Host opens door and lets visitor into the genkan.
Visitor: 本日はおまねきをいただきまして、ありがとうございます。
Host: ああ、どうぞ、おあがりください。
Visitor: (pause) じゃあ、しつれいします/おじゃまします。

Visitor takes shoes off in genkan, being careful not to touch their socks to the lower, "outside" portion, and neatly sets shoes to the side.
After being shown to a seat, the visitor offers a gift of appreciation.
Visitor: これ、つまらないものですが。。。
Host: ああ、いいですよ、いいですよ。
Visitor: いえ、ほんの気持ちだけですから。。。


Visitor removes coat and rings doorbell, before waiting for host.
Visitor: Gomenkudasai. Bowdoin daigaku desu.

Host opens door and lets visitor into the genkan.
Visitor: Honjitsu wa omaneki wo itadakimashite, arigatou gozaimasu.
Host: Ah, douzo, o-agarikudasai.
Visitor: (pause) Jaa, shitsureishimasu/ojamashimasu.

Visitor takes shoes off in genkan, being careful not to touch their socks to the lower, "outside" portion, and neatly sets shoes to the side.
After being shown to a seat, the visitor offers a gift of appreciation.
Visitor: Kore, tsumaranai mono desu ga...
Host: Ah, iidesu yo, iidesu yo.
Visitor: Ie, hon no kimochi dake desu kara...

Basically, this exchange is all about respectfully entering someone else’s home after you’ve been invited in and showing gratitude for that invitation through gift culture. This kind of social exchange is definitely super important. Time to get memorizing of these set phrases (13 hour plane ride, anyone?).