Sunday, December 09, 2018

Sunday Papers: Wendell Berry

"We have not inherited the earth from our fathers. We have borrowed it from our children."

On the turntable:  Grateful Dead,  "Dick's Picks Vol. 18"

Friday, December 07, 2018

Musings on Taiji

Last month, I found myself in Taiji, and I took the opportunity to do a two-hour wander at dawn, to have a look around.  I was staying at the brand-spanking new Hotel Holistic Resort (which for some reason is labelled the "Hollis Tick Space Japan Medical & Resort"), hidden away at the remote Kandorizaki.  I walked out to that point just as the sun was rising, staining red the waters below.

Red waters are of course the very reason for Taiji's infamy.  As the setting for the 2009 film "The Cove,"  the town is now firmly affixed upon the mental map of anti-whaling activists worldwide. Many of these descend on the town during its annual dolphin hunt, a time when the small peninsula on which it sets becomes fortified, and the townspeople find their energies divided into two simultaneous fighting fronts.

As I walked the cliffs above the rocky shoreline, it became apparent that even more powerful than the town's whaling lobby is its PR arm.  A large amount of money had been sunk into the trail I was walking, not only in the well groomed course, but in the parks, the restrooms, and the ample informational signage along the way.  The signs were erected in 2016, and offer a running description the town's whaling history, beneath the benign title, "Living with Whales." That year also saw the release of the rebuttal film “Behind ‘The Cove,’ ” not to mention an English pamphlet, "Taiji's Cultural Heritage," which I find beside the Bible in my hotel room.

In fact, the town itself has repackaged itself as a sort of Whale Theme Park, with a dolphinarium, two whaling museums, seven whaling-related memorials, a half-dozen large concrete statues, and countless murals and drawings.  The town's annual festival has a whale dance that dates to 1970 (which is about the time that international anti-whaling legislation was first being penned), and naturally a large number of restaurants around town proudly offer the creature on their menus.   

I decided to do this walk when I found the course in a collection of walking routes in a Japanese guidebook published in 2006.  But recently, about one-third of the sections have been blocked by high fences, with the words "Do Not Enter" written in Japanese and English.   These of course are the sections flanking the killing ground, although a small swimming beach is still accessible in the summer months.  Directly across the road is a new police box.

My main take away from this morning's walk was how quick and efficient a Japanese PR machine can be, and how deft its spin.  Large amounts of money have been poured into the town, probably exceeding the whaling budget itself.  But another point stayed with me, one that my more liberal friends will probably take issue with (despite my sharing their politics). While I am of course anti-whaling, I also believe strongly in cultural relativism, within reason.  The Japanese defend their position by stating that whaling is an inherent cultural tradition, and as such, the practice should be continued.  Were this to be say, the taking of a few animals a year for food, I might agree.  But there is no logical reason for the government quota of 1820 dolphins last year.  Even less for the larger numbers taken by the factory whaling fleet in the Antarctic whale sanctuary, in the name of research. 

Where I might also be taken to task is my feelings that those against whaling are also culpable in the deaths of the dolphins.  Twenty years ago, whaling was not an economically viable practice, and like any unsustainable business, would have eventually died out.  But the sheer volume of the protests pushed the Japanese to the water's edge, and they decided to turn and push back.  Cultural justification was found to defend the practice, which is in itself pretty hypocritical, since this is a culture that has an unsentimental view of its own history, and over my near 25 years here I've seen a fair number of beautiful things destroyed or abandoned in the name of modernization. And so it was that a dying practice was given new economic life in the form of whale meat in school lunches.  While the fishermen and national government agencies that support them deftly spin the protests as an attack not on an outdated industry, but on Japaneseness itself.   This is a country that has an (unhealthy?) obsession with how it is perceived worldwide. Foreign interest in its culture has helped rejuvenate a number of traditions that were facing extinction.  Maybe the opposite can also hold true, replacing the strong-arm tactics with a calmer discourse that is kept fixed on economic issues rather than environmental.  Of the latter, this culture "living in close harmony with nature," has little apparent interest.           
A week after my walk I was encouraged to see that Taiji announce that it will no longer capture dolphins to sell to aquariums, and will instead begin a breeding program for those already in captivity.  Not the ultimate solution, but it does show that the "industry" is suffering from the ban on Taiji dolphins imposed by aquariums worldwide, which proves that the film did indeed have an effect.  

But the hunts, and the fights, are sure to go on.       

On the turntable:  Grateful Dead, "Dick's Picks Vol. 19"

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Autumn Sketches

The day before going to Yonago, I watched the 1960 film ‘Akitsu Onsen.’ As the filming location of Okutsu Onsen was on the way home, I thought I’d drop by to walk the Okutsu gorge, atop fallen leaves slick with the night’s rain. 

The old Otsuri Inn featured in the film has long since gone, but the adjacent riverside bath of Hannyaji still exists, so I enjoyed a nice soak as the autumn foliage danced around me, falling quietly from above.

I later made a quick stop at Tsuyama castle, which is also briefly featured, though without the current structure built in 2005, nor the 300 yen entrance fee to pay for this folly.

On the turntable:  Grateful Dead, Dick's Picks Vol. 15"

Monday, December 03, 2018

Ramen Headers

In the case of fortuitous timing, I read an article about the Tottori used car dealership Hot Air getting Michelin recognition for its Ramen. As I was heading up to Yonago for the weekend, I thought I would drop by. To a raucous symphony of slurping, I dove in. 

(And the inevitable film crew turned up, giving me a chance to star once again in my by-now-familiar role of Token White Guy.)

On the turntable: Grateful Dead, "Dick's Picks Vol. 12"

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

The Great Decline

I last read this brilliant book in August 2001, and my main takeaway was that Afghanistan is a place where empires go to die. A few weeks later, the Twin Towers fell, and a few weeks after that, the empire of America got itself entangled there, an act that has yet to prove a definitive conclusion.  

Ironically enough I am revisiting this book as America goes to the polls. I have a number of opinions about what direction the country has taken between these two readings. I await the results to see what direction it will turn next.

On the turntable: Grateful Dead, "Dick's Picks Vol. 6"

Monday, November 05, 2018

Nanao Still Knows...

Nanao Sakaki, one of Japan's best known poets and counterculture figures passed away a decade ago after a storied and peripatetic life. A 10-year memorial service was held Saturday November 3rd on the Kyoto University campus, with music and poetry readings alternating throughout the day.  I attended his memorial service in 2008, and was happy to be asked to read today.  I chose my piece from Tokyo Poetry Journal's recent Japan and the Beats anthology, performed below.
What better way to honour Japan's Culture Day holiday than with a celebration of its counterculture?


 On the turntable:  Grateful Dead, "Dick's Picks Vol. 4"