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.