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. )

Studio Ghibli

Hello blog, long time no see. I thought I might as well finish up my blogging days.

Thanks to our professors’ unwavering diligence, we managed to score some elusive tickets to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. Admittedly, I am nowhere close to calling myself a Ghibli fan, since I often more action-filled productions such as Kon Satoshi’s works. However, the museum had a special exhibition on food, which was exactly aligned with my interest. As Professor Selinger would agree, food is one of the most intimate and significant indicators of culture, society, and politics. Most of my Japanese food knowledge (besides through taste buds and stomach acid) is from a book called Modern Japanese Cuisine: Food, Power and National Identity by Katarzyna Joanna Cwiertka. As promised by the title, the opening pages of the book immediately jump to the colonial/imperial influences on food in Japan (exemplified by Emperor Meiji’s Western birthday party), especially focusing on the increasing preference and power exertions of Western foods and dining habits.

On the contrary, the exhibit at Ghibli (was beautifully illustrated of course) saw food as a magical element of healing and bonding to construct a certain purified view of a national identity that may or may not exist. To Miyazaki, food is the best unifier of cross-cultural differences, since as organisms, we all must eat to sustain ourselves, but he ignores the inequality in food across socioeconomic and political differences. The onigiri, simple and Japanese, that Chihiro eats to not vanish/stay human is very different than the gluttonous “Western” meal that her parents devour. Just as Miyazaki has used the furusato to paint a nostalgia for a past that never existed, the Japanese rice ball is used to ground Chihiro physically through a display of the simplistic, minimalistic Japanese identity (which can be easily debated). The exhibit was beautifully curated with dazzling fake foods, but food is not always shining and glittering. The fruit box in Ghost in the Shell had no signs of damage or war, not even a single scratch. While it basked under its own mini-spotlight, Setsuko’s representation and the children of the war are erased.

I came to the realization this semester that as a self-labeled foodie and person who really wants to look at the “everyday,” there is no better cross-over than looking at food culture. When examining food, it is not about who ate what, but more importantly, why did they eat such things (or why not). Furthermore, who didn’t eat what and why did they not eat are also important questions. For example, the white rice, presently so symbolic of East Asian/Japanese culture, was only available to a very specific group of people. The change in the military diets of the late 19th/early 20th century to strengthen the forces to defeat/imitate Western powers changed the palates of the young men. Combined with increased production amounts, the steaming bowl of white rice then became a national symbol. Fascinating, eh? This is similar to why I study religion. I am very interested in the commonplace rituals that, for many, has lost its original meaning and understood more through “doing” than “thinking.” Similar to food, we eat without giving much thought to where our food comes from (I am talking about the origin-origin, corn in North America, etc) and how they got to the table. Always remember, pepper > gold, and countries would bring out extreme forms of power for that speck of spices.

Where the Rivers Meet the Sea

They say all rivers eventually run to the sea, numerous small streams converging along the way until you have this great, flowing torrent that joins myriad other torrents to fill the seas, the oceans. That’s exactly how I feel about today’s discussion with Satsuki Takahashi. Her lecture and subsequent discussion brought together ideas and places and themes we’ve been discussing these past two, three weeks. Topics like fisheries management, nuclear energy and the Fukushima disaster, the roles of zoos and aquariums, etc. etc. on and on. Frankly, it was incredible and for me probably was tied with our visit to Tokyo Sea Life Park and discussion with Tada-sensei for best trip day. Easily my favorite lecture we’ve had as well.

Takahashi-sensei is an Associate Professor of Anthropology in the Faculty of Sustainability Studies at Hosei University, but did her undergraduate studies on fisheries. She talked a lot about Japan’s unending modernization and futurism, especially related to the development of its fisheries and nuclear power. Hope was a major theme of the talk as well. She also brought in a lot of her research (where she goes to fishing communities), which apparently was really enjoyable for her since, as a professor, she often is engrossed in the material she teaches and developing lesson plans. Her lecture was definitely enjoyable for us! In particular, I thought it was fascinating that, prior to 3/11, there was a fish hatchery coupled to the Fukushima Daiichi nulcear power plant in what Takahashi-sensei calls, “nuclear fish hatcheries.” That is, thermal discharge (superheated water used in the condenser of the nuclear power plant) is sent to the fish hatchery to accelerate growth and and spawning cycles, rather than be dumped into rivers or the sea where it could upset the thermal balance of those ecosystems.

Apparently, Takahashi-sensei’s next project is going to deal with the anthropology of aquariums in Japan as a maritime nation. I had the opportunity to talk with her about aquariums, and she revealed an interesting, somewhat new perspective to me (though I realized later it had echoes of what I had read in A Fascination for Fish) about how aquariums, more so than zoos, are concerned with the “natural aesthetic” and how the viewer sees the exhibit–that zoos are “more concerned with ecology”. I initially pushed back on this, arguing that I thought the reverse was true and that from what I had witnessed, aquariums tended to set up more natural or ecologically-representative communities in its exhibits, whereas zoos tended to display animal species in isolation, or occasionally in mixed-species exhibits. She clarified, though, that she speaking about “natural aesthetic” or “realism” from an animal-sake vs human-sake perspective. That is, zoos are less concerned with realism of its exhibits for the viewer’s sake but rather for animal well-being. Reflecting back, I think, based on the readings I’ve done and the discussion I had with Tada-sensei and my own visits to zoos and aquariums, that aquariums are generally (or should be) concerned with both “natural aesthetics.” That is, it’s equally important that the aquarium try to produce realistic, nature-mimicking exhibits both for the animal’s well-being and for the viewer’s immersion.

The Ambiguous Potential of Hope

Today, I listened to one of my favorite lectures on the trip so far, partly because of the ability to communicate in English with Professor Satsuki Takahashi about fisheries, disaster, and hope. Contrasting with the devastating images of Fukushima we have mainly experienced on this trip, Professor Takahashi talked about her experience with the fishing community via an alternate route, one based on the hopes of reconstruction and promises from the companies/government. In addition, Professor Satsuki mentioned her recent work on aquariums to conclude that aquariums are between art museums and zoos in terms of planned aesthetic reasons. Zoos have the interest of animals in mind while planning the exhibits while aquariums meticulous recreate the ecosystems to look more “natural.” This coupled with ambient lighting and comfortable air conditioning makes aquarium going a popular date spot compared to the zoos oversaturated with rampaging children. The lecture was engaging and opened up a very different (yet similar for me) way to look at post 3/11 from an anthropological POV. Overall, I would like to say that I feel “inadequate” at times when I reply to people that I am *only* an Asian Studies major (no double major, no minor, and not enough interest to continue into academia). But, as we saw during the lecture, history repeats itself and human memory has the magical (fortunate or not) quality to forget. Being able to learn from past mistakes and improve is something we have been working on since preschool, yet we are still not very good at it, especially when they are larger projects involving multiple parties’ interests. I believe that Professor Takahashi gave us a powerful view of the people (and remembered the people through communication). Instead of focusing on the disaster and showing the people as “sufferers,” she spoke about the efforts to rebuild and to redefine, even though the exact visions are vague and can still be easily manipulated by unequal power exchanges.

The nostalgic futurism and the “hope” are two ideas that I have frequently encountered in my class about contemporary India the past semester. I would like to take the following post to condense some thoughts (I wrote my first essay for the class on this!):

  • The formation of Pakistan: Pakistan, the name, can either represent “the land of the pure” or symbolize an acronym of the regions it was constructed from. The problem with the vision of Pakistan was the “purity” of it. While not many people would object the idea of “pure,” few could really agree on the same definition of “pure.” Precisely, because of the inability to concretely define the vision, conflicts arose and the outcome of the state did not match the vision of some of the independence leaders. The idea of “hope” is a very powerful tool. Yet, it is constantly abused to pacify the people. Hope allows dreaming for a better future, but the ambiguity allows for easy manipulation.
  • Second is the appropriation of history as in nostalgic futurism, which happens too often and too widely in history, so I will talk about in a broader context: The “desensitization” of trauma and tragedy has occurred for the residents, who have suffered and trekked through multiple disasters in the last century. While each circumstance is different in the exact causes, there are common themes of the human-made disasters and the cycles of “progress.” Yet, we, maybe evolutionarily/psychologically inclined, repackage the tragedy and cannot recognize the trends. How shall we ever learn? My peers were surprised to learn the existence of nuclear fish hatcheries. It is also my first time hearing about the projects, but I was not shocked to see why these plants would exist. Although the water used is filtered via nuclear plants, the fishing community uses the water because it is a win-win situation as Professor Takahashi noted. I think with an explanation from the officials as well as the economic benefit, the fishing communities are willing to agree (especially since fishing tends not to be the most lucrative profession recently). It’s not (what I would say) a short-sighted decision. I think it makes sense to think about it as: I can use the water and get some good out of it (with supposedly no harmful effects) or not use it at all. Furthermore, if there were to be a nuclear accident, the nuclear hatcheries would be the least of my problems since the future of fishing will remain unknown.(This is written quite late at night and I get very ramble-y.)

At night, we went to the National Theatre to watch an annotated version of kabuki. SO GLAD WE WENT. As a devoted theater techie, I love being in the audience seat for once (although I would have GLADLY explored the light booth and backstage/understage/fly gallery). I enjoyed the performance and learning about the power/gender dynamics of kabuki, but personally, I am really proud of how far I have come since day 1 of college in terms of technical theater. College was my first exposure at the theater, in general, and of course tech. Through the last two years, I have learned so much technical knowledge from lighting to sewing to moping as well as how to be a considerate audience/caretaker (imagine taking care of actors) and still maintain a sense of humor. I have grown great respect for theater in general, especially for its subversive tendencies (which even exists in kabuki). (Who said theater is “useless”?) The countless hours of rehearsals and cooperation (and stamina) between the performers, musicians, and stage crew are unimaginable for the audience, just to produce an enjoyable performance. (Again, it was great to have Noto-san, a kabuki fan, to explain some of the customs of kabuki.) Lots of love for theater and hope everyone can learn to appreciate it!


P.S. I love bubble money and theatres. Cushy rugs, gorgeous chandeliers, dazzling bathrooms, and comfortable room temperature. Wonderful experience.


Disaster Re-silence? Disaster Resilience?

Today we had two lectures/discussions on 3/11 Fukushima disaster relief.

Sorry, that was a terribly uninteresting first sentence that in all honesty, I almost started with. I’m relieved (get it?) I caught that and it wasn’t a writing disaster.

Okay, joking and puns aside, I think our discussions today, led by Hijikata-sensei and Shinoda-sensei from Waseda University and later by Nakayama-san of Kuma Project Association, were a really interesting follow up to our meeting with Oguma Eiji yesterday. That is, Oguma Eiji provided a sort of historical sociological/activist/documentary filmmaker perspective or response to the path-dependency of Touhoku, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown, and the “natural” vs “manmade” aspects of the disaster. Today, then, we approached this same event from the different lenses of information science and NPOs.

Information science takes the Environment as observed through the Five Senses to compile Data (i.e. record of the past), and uses that information and knowledge to generate Models (via induction and deduction), which then inform decision-making and action, which in turn changes that original Environment. In short, it’s a social process that goes into regional planning (though, Hijikata-sensei noted that “region” is a product of human perception). Hijikata-sensei used Kesennuma City in the Hashikami Area as a case study in discussing post-disaster regional planning and resilience. I was reminded a lot of a guest lecture in my Introduction to Environmental Studies course this past fall semester, where Professor Eileen Johnson talked about Coastal Resilience in Maine.


Keiji Nakayama actually visited Bowdoin last year and gave a similar talk on the NPO he founded, Kuma Project Association, which provides outdoor, experiential, and volunteer-based education programs. That’s not to say it was repetitive at all. Rather, it was really interesting hearing it again and being able to engage with Nakayama-san in a smaller group/discussion setting.

Nakayama-san is a close friend of Aridome-sensei and was a school refuser from the 4th to 9th grade because he disagreed with the emphasis on conformity placed in the Japanese education system. Though he didn’t go to high school, Nakayama-san decided to go to college and got a B.A in Economics because he was interested in the education quality discrepancy between “developing” and “developed” countries, which as political, cultural, and economic roots. He then pursued a Master’s in Outdoor Education and Recreational Therapy, followed by a Doctor’s in Sports Sociology. Besides his work with Kuma Project Association, Nakayama-san also, ironically enough, teachers teaching-training courses for students who want to become teachers, where he does everything he can to emphasize the importance of individuality in school settings.

Nakayama-san believes that many education systems focus too much on the knowledge component of education, which can come from family and formal (school) education. Kuma Project, therefore, aims to provide social and experiential-based education. He used a wonderful bike analogy, where “knowledge” and “experience” are the two wheels of the bike; if one is turning faster than the other, the bike can’t really move or be balanced very well. Following the 3/11 nuclear disaster, Nakayama-san realzed, driving around evacuation advisory areas, that many people weren’t getting the adequate relief they needed. Elderly people, people with disabilities, and families with children often left evacuation centers and returned home, often feeling guilt or that they were a burden or falling ill due to the stressful environment (and recovering upon returning home). Furthermore, many people in mountain areas were considered “non-affected,” even though they were without water and (especially elderly) had to walk many miles to get water and other supplies. In other words, they were considered “non-affected” from a physical damage standpoint and weren’t allowed to go to the evacuation centers. Finally, many children, but also adults needed stress-relief and social opportunities to talk about the disaster, in a setting where they could do so without feeling guilty (i.e. what if the other person suffered more than I did?).

Kuma Project Association, with the help of its college student “volunteers” (note, there is a fee, since government-based funding is tricky), seeks to meet all of these needs through its programs. It was interesting how Nakayama-san acknowledged that it’s now more accurate to call it “regional development” rather than “disaster relief support,” which might dredge up old, bad memories. As a bit of an aside, I thought Nakayama-san had this really fascinating, wonderful combination of sincerity and humor and pride and honesty in talking about his work that was a pleasure to listen to.


EDIT: I want to briefly explain this post’s title. I think “resilience” is a word tossed around a lot, especially in the face of climate change and natural disasters. I think there are worse “buzzwords,” but talking with Hijikata-sensei and Nakayama-san made me think a little bit about how events or disasters can fade from our memories, just as Nakayama-san mentioned in his talk. So I don’t want my title to evoke an idea of “silencing” disaster or climate change support efforts. Rather, it’s to point out that self-“silencing,” or memories or ideas fading into the recesses of our mind, I think can occur both with time and overuse (especially of words). I think there’s very real, valid reasons for and against letting such things fade (for instance, so as not to dredge up bad memories, as Nakayama-san said) but also reasons for and against keeping such ideas alive. It’s cliche, but as they say, we can learn from the past. Does forgetting help ease those who suffered back into everyday life or does it risk leaving that suffering unacknowledged, for lack of better words?