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.

 

Where the “Wild” Things Are

Cue dramatic music: I stayed up until 2AM last night writing this post, but when I published it, all of it was lost. So I spent another hour this morning re-writing this post. But miraculously the post last night randomly appeared! Which is great but I definitely wrote like 200 words less in my re-written post, but also sad because I was so stressed and have yet to do the reading for today.

Today, we went to the zoo! But not just any zoo–it was Ueno Zoo, the first modern zoo in Japan. I’m going to be honest and say that I’m not a fan of zoos. I went to a couple zoos 子供の時, including the relatively famous San Diego Zoo, and I think I enjoyed them at the time. But now I would much rather go to an art museum than see animals forced out of their habitat just for humans to look at them. However, we went for the purpose of intellectualizing a zoo visit, so this was a good experience!

Zoos bring animals and humans together to emphasize that they are separate. This was one of the first points in the reading that we had to prepare for today (Introduction, Ch. 1, and Ch. 6 of Nature of the Beasts by some dude named Miller). When walking to the zoo, it was clear that we were going somewhere meant to be an escape or “oasis” from the city. Tall buildings were replaced with leafy trees and instead of power-walking on narrow streets we strolled through spacious walkways. It was beautiful but so purposefully constructed to be so. In front of the zoo entrance was a poster campaigning for panda conservation. I don’t want to quote the sign wrong, but it was translated to basically say that the public should help achieve the “panda’s dream.” EW. That is a pretty problematic statement. It seems like it is a way to justify and feel good about human intervention, like “oh what we’re doing is what pandas actually want.” We have no way of knowing what they want. Part of me is conflicted because now there is no way pandas could survive the way they did before humans started intervening. Pandas have very little success in reproducing, especially in captivity, so it is very likely that they would become extinct without human help. Do humans have a responsibility to save pandas? Ahhh. I’m not sure. Through poaching and habitat destruction, we were/are the main threat to panda populations. But there are countless other species that have become/are becoming extinct because of humans and we haven’t put in the same effort to save them. Miller proposed that this is because pandas remind of us of human babies, so we have this parental drive to think they’re cute and want to take care of them. There was this quote in the reading: “[pandas] seemed to be designed… to play on human psychology.” EW AGAIN. I know he isn’t using definitive language, but this implies that pandas exist solely for human enjoyment. I do not agree with rationalizing our fascination with animals by saying their purpose in life is to please humans.

Anyway, upon entering the zoo, without hesitation, we immediately went to see the panda exhibit. I guess I’m a hypocrite because I was a bit excited to see a panda. But I will say that I was underwhelmed and could have done without seeing the panda (or any of the animals, really) that was on display. The panda just sat there, stuffing its face with bamboo, as workers tried to make us leave in order to keep the line moving. I’m not sure if I find the panda cute, but I do find panda merchandise cute! This is similar to what happened in the early 1980s to the early 2000s, when there was a panda boom, which the author describes as “when the pandas’ media value outstripped their worth as physical animals.” Our visit brought up discussion on copyrighting animal drawings, which involves anthropomorphizing it in some way (giving it a name, drawing blushing squares on its cheeks, etc).

Pandas weren’t the only animals we saw. Some of the animals I remember included a sad-looking gibbon, a Selinger-seranded elephant, some rascal Japanese monkeys, a hungry tiger, two roasting polar bears, and a few cramped candors. I was the most irked from the polar bear exhibit. In it, there were two polar bears in the open-air lying in the shade, surrounded by rocks shaped and painted to look like ice. I dunno what’s worse: taking the polar bears out of their natural habitat and putting them on a bunch of hot rocks for display, or putting the polar bears in that situation and trying to mimic their natural habitat when it is clearly not. We also saw the Japanese serow, a goat-antelope mammal that is endemic (unique to certain habitat, found no where else in the world) to Japan. In our discussion about the use of animals as diplomatic symbols, we learned that this animal was what Japan gave to China in exchange for pandas in the 1970s. The serow is not the cutest animal, but its name does lend itself for great puns.

Another aspect of the zoo that I found interesting was the use of the playground in multiple exhibits. I am not sure what purpose this served. The playground was a bit different from a public playground, as the color palette was different shades of brown and the materials used were wood and rope. This was obviously meant to make it look more “wild.” Perhaps the playground was meant to entertain the animals or to make kids (the dominant demographic in the zoo) have more interest and relate to the animals. Either way, this does not fit with the zoo’s goal of trying to separate humans from animals.

Once again, I was glad to go to the museum with a professor and my classmates. We went to the Tokyo National Museum with Selinger 先生! Not only did we look at some amazing artifacts and primary sources, but we also got the insightful expert commentary on their historical and cultural contexts. What was interesting to me was the obvious display of wealth and lack of accessibility for the viewer. What I mean by accessibility is that visitors were positioned as passive observers. The explanations were fairly light, especially in English (meaning that the audience is more for the Japanese), so it would be hard to understand what exactly you’re looking at unless you know the cultural and historical context. This was in contrast to the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which displayed the “ordinary” and was made to be interactive for visitors.

P.S. I finally finished editing my Daigo Fukuryu Maru post, so if you have time (it’s a long one), please read it 🙂

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.

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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.

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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?

Tell the Historical Sociologist

Today we had the honor of visiting Oguma Eiji, the historical sociologist, Keio University professor, guitarist, and documentary filmmaker who directed “Tell the Prime Minister”–at his house, no less. To be honest, I was really nervous beforehand. Was my reading and preparation adequate? Did I watch his documentary in enough detail? Would I ask good enough questions?

In the end, I wound up just listening and observing. It was very interesting hearing how Oguma Eiji got to where he is today. Apparently, he studied physics and agricultural biology as an undergrad, did his master’s thesis in sociology, and his doctor’s in foreign policy. Oguma Eiji was interested in how invisible desire or collective consciousness is present in anthropology, and also how that plays into the Japanese identity. I was also intrigued by how he didn’t really self-identify much as an activist or writer. I was also very impressed with how fluent his English was.

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Later, we went to the Ghibli Museum. As an avid fan of anime (insert shameless plug for Bowdoin Animation Society) who’s interested in the environment, this was a really fascinating visit, since many of Miyazaki’s films deal with the environment and technology (looking at you, Princess MononokeNausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, etc.). As a bit of a sketch artist myself, it was wonderful to see the early concept art and sketches for various films I had seen, such as Princess Mononoke, Spirited AwayGrave of the Fire FliesHowl’s Moving Castle, and others. One particularly interesting exhibit was the exhibit on food in Ghibli movies; afterwards, we had an engaging discussion pn food culture with Selinger-sensei sitting outside the museum gift shop (yes, I caved and purchased Spirited Away playing cards). It really took me back to first year fall, when I took Selinger-sensei’s Japanese Animation freshman seminar. As a slightly relevant aside and another shameless plug, if you (as the reader) are interested at all in any Ghibli films, or anime films in general, Bowdoin has a number of films on reserve in the Library Media Commons (in the basement of Hawthorne-Longfellow Library). I’m still working on compiling them all, but a partial list can be found here (yes, yet again a shameless plug):

http://students.bowdoin.edu/bowdoin-animation-society/