Whales seem to be in the forefront of my mind today. Dear husband sent me a link to this amazing 7 minute video of orca’s cavorting in Dyes Inlet in my adopted state of Washington just last month. It’s delightful to watch. They slap their tails on the surface, they breach, they pop their heads up to spy on those of us who are unfortunate enough to be land-based mammals. There’s even a baby amongst them. It’s just a joyous group of orcas, doing their orca thing.
And then I read this fascinating article entitled, The ‘narluga’ is a strange hybrid. But it’s far from alone. It’s about a cross between a narwhal and a beluga. Scientists were able to confirm this because the Inuit hunter still had the skull, and they were able to get DNA from its strange teeth. Whereas a narwhal usually has the one tooth that grows out like a unicorn horn and a few teeth-like protrusions growing behind that, and belugas have 40 teeth, this skull had 18 teeth up front, some as twisty as a narwhal tusk. There were a few other strange findings about this skull, but I’ll let you read more about that in the article itself.
The article did go on to say that marine mammals seem to create hybrids a lot more often than we land dwellers do. It seems it’s a very sexually experimental world down there beneath the waves. And the exciting thing is not all of them are rendered sterile like hybrids usually are on land. (When donkeys and horses produce mules, for example, they can’t reproduce.) So it’s a mad, mad watery world.
Speaking of mad, though, I was very angry to hear that the Japanese are back to commercial whaling. But then I read this article, and this one, and was slightly comforted. It seems that they used to hunt whales for “research” and then they’d sell the meat. Now the government doesn’t want to subsidize the practice, so they’re allowing commercial fishermen to take it over on a much smaller scale, and that will get smaller each year, and will have to take into account that the average Japanese person doesn’t really have a taste for whale meat, and with the declining young population, they will be hard pressed to find the 300 fishermen they’ll need to keep it up, especially when other fishing industries pay a lot more.
Let’s hope this obscene industry dies a natural death. It’s only currently active on an industrial scale in Japan, Iceland, and Norway. But there is more money to be made from eco-tourism, there’s a better international reputation, and there are much more delicious things to eat for those who eschew whaling these days.
Also, I once mentioned in a blog post that belugas have been known to mimic the human voice. How can you hunt something that joyfully plays and is smart enough to mimic? How do you eat something that likes to sexually experiment? I ask you.
Recently I had the opportunity to go to Seattle’s annual Dragon Fest in the Chinatown-International District. Between the excellent food, the amazing performances, and the fascinating variety of things on sale, along with the vibrant ambience in that part of Seattle, it was a delightful experience that I hope to make one of my annual traditions.
But the thing that stood head and shoulders above all the rest, in my opinion, was the performance by the ensemble Seattle Kokon Taiko. This video of them is wonderful, but it’s nothing like seeing them live. The drum beats penetrate your chest and change you. Their powerful energy inspires you.
Taiko drumming has been a tradition in Japan since the 6th century. It’s easy to understand how these drums were used for communication, because their sound must have echoed far out to sea. They were also used for military actions, and they can, indeed, be quite intimidating. I’m glad they’re also used for entertainment, though, or I might never have had the chance to experience them firsthand.
What intrigues me most about this genre is the extreme athleticism of the performers. The day I saw them, it was hotter than blue blazes, and yet they were rhythmically pounding those drums as if their lives depended on it. And their arms had muscles I could only dream of having.
It also has to be pretty cathartic, and pretty confidence-building, to be able to beat on something and yet create such beauty. I wanted to jump up there and join them, but I could never have kept up. But how cleansing it would have been!
Recently a dear friend introduced me to the Japanese concepts of honne and tatemae. I had never heard these words before. Without her, I would probably just have assumed they were the names for a Japanese pop culture couple or something. (They do say that opposites attract.)
After reading several articles on the subject and watching this interesting little video, I think I have a grasp of it now. Honne is basically your true feelings and/or thoughts in any situation. (I will have no trouble remembering that word, because it kind of looks like “honest”.) I’m quite good at honne most of the time. If you ask my opinion on something, I’m always happy to give it to you, often to the point where it gets me into trouble. (Because, sorry, those shorts actually do make you look fat.)
Tatemae is what I struggle with. It’s kind of the public face you show the world in order to avoid conflict, spare feelings, and/or further your goal. It can be as innocuous as saying, “I’ll call you!” after a particularly bad date, or as insidious as, “Corruption? No corruption in this organization!”
Tatemae definitely has its uses. Unfortunately, it will often get you further in the work environment. “Yes, boss, you are doing a pathetic great job!” (This is probably why I’m a bridgetender instead of a CEO. I just can’t do it.)
And if you are trapped on an island with 127 million other people, avoiding conflict is all the more crucial. Not that tatemae is exclusive to Japan. In fact, I seem to be over my head in a sea of it here in Seattle, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever adjust to it.
But perhaps I’m better at it than I think. As I blogged the other day, friends tell me that the things I write here are not like the person that they know. That has a lot to do with editing, and my desire not to be perceived as a nut job. So, hey, there’s hope for me yet, if one considers tatemae to be a hopeful thing.
A friend of mine recently sent me a link to this video, saying, “This seems right up your alley,” or words to that effect. It describes the Japanese art of Hikaru Dorodango, which means, literally, Shiny Dumpling.
Basically, one forms a mud ball, about the size of a cue ball, allows it to dry, and then polishes it with finely sifted dirt until it shines. That’s it.
But making a perfectly round ball is not as easy as you might think. And it will be very fragile, so you have to take care not to crack it. And the dirt you use to shine it will determine its final color and texture. No two are alike.
My friend was right. This is right up my alley. This seems like a very zen-like activity. Art for art’s sake. And in this increasingly stressful and unsatisfying world in which we live, the thought of making a high-end mud pie of sorts appeals to me greatly. I mean, if given the choice between creating one of these and reading Trump’s latest outrageous tweet, I’ll go for the shiny dumpling every single time.
Guys, if you saw a cute little 20 year old girl holding up a sign that said “Master Now Wanted!!!” what would you do? How about if she offered to be at your beck and call 24 hours a day? And her sole purpose would be to please you?
She would wake you up in a bubbly, cheerful way every morning. She’d remind you to take an umbrella when it was raining out, and she’d even operate your robotic vacuum while you’re at work so that you wouldn’t be disturbed. She’d text you to say she was looking forward to your coming home. She would make sure the lights were on for you upon your return. She would drink tea with you, and tell you how much she missed you.
Her website will tell you that her name is Azuma Hikari, and her hobby is watching anime. Her specialty is making fried eggs. She likes donuts, and she dislikes insects. But to the wider world, she’s called a Gatebox Virtual Home Robot. I strongly suspect her eggs aren’t very satisfying.
And for the one time cost of $2,600.00, plus about $400.00 in shipping and handling from Japan to the US, she will be all yours. She will “live” in a glass tube, right next to your bed if you so desire. Check out this video to “meet” her.
Do you think this is appealing? Do you think this would make you feel less lonely? If you do, I suspect you’re a bit disturbed. (Sorry. Someone had to tell you.) To be honest, the video made me feel sorry for the guy, and he’s just an actor.
Forming a primary relationship with an inanimate object is not, repeat, not healthy. It’s important to connect with another actual thinking brain. Believing that it’s normal to have a girlfriend who does everything you want her to do, exactly when you want it done, without question, and then begs for more, is not the type of mindset you want to develop if you ever wish to pursue a real relationship with someone who has a mind of her own.
And if you think a hologram is going to keep you warm at night, you’re delusional. Save your money. Please get a cat. And a counselor.
In a world where overpopulation becomes a greater concern with each passing day, Japan seems to be having the opposite problem. As their average age rapidly increases and their birthrate falls, it is estimated that by the year 2060 there will be 40 million fewer people in Japan than there are today.
This is most noticeable in the countryside, because the nation’s youth tend to relocate to the larger cities to find work. This has caused more than 10,000 villages to become depopulated, their homes and shops crumbling from lack of use. The jobs go, the youth go, the schools go, the aged pass away, the infrastructure stops being maintained, and then the ghosts seem to move in.
The village of Nagoro now has a population 35 people, all over the age of 65. Nagoro’s residents can remember a time not so long ago when it was a bustling little community with hundreds of families. Now things are too quiet. Everything, including the school, has shut down.
So Tsukimi Ayano, one of the few people who remain, decided to populate the deserted village with more than 400 scarecrows. You see them everywhere. At the bus stop, the post office, the school, in the fields, sitting on bicycles in the roadway, at the vegetable stand, fishing in the creek and sitting in the cafes. She greets them every day, and many of them have been made to resemble a resident who has passed away or moved on.
This scarecrow village has started to attract tourists, which is wonderful, but I think I’d find a visit there to be rather depressing. Although their creator may not agree, I can’t help but think that these scarecrows represent a longing for the past. Just gazing at photographs of them causes me to ache with loneliness. I suspect that when the tourists depart at the end of the day, one looks around in the silence and hears the echoes of what once was, and what will probably never be again.
One of the things I love about being a City of Seattle employee is that I am required to do at least two hours of race and social justice training per year. As part of that this year, I had the distinct pleasure of viewing a documentary called The Cats of Mirikitani. In keeping with my tradition of reviewing things that came out years ago, I will review this amazing video, which came out in 2007.
First of all, if you have the opportunity to see this documentary yourself, I couldn’t recommend it more highly. Second, if you have yet to see it, I should say that the rest of this entry requires a spoiler alert.
This documentary, by Linda Hattendorf, is about an amazing guy named Tsutomu “Jimmy” Mirikitani. She found him sleeping on the streets of Soho in New York City. He would not take any money from anyone. He was 80 years old, and survived by selling his art to people.
As the documentary progresses, you learn more and more about him. He was born in Sacramento, but raised in Hiroshima. Needless to say, he was highly impacted by the bombing of that city. Fortunately he had returned to America in 1937. Unfortunately, that also meant that even though he was born in the US, he got thrown into a Japanese internment camp and lived there for 3 ½ years.
Then, while he was still living on the street, 9/11 happened. The creator of the documentary found him all alone on the street, in the dark, coughing in a toxic cloud of twin tower dust. She took him in. And that’s just the beginning.
This documentary really made me assess how I react to the homeless. I probably pass people by every single day who have hidden talents, and have witnessed history and have amazing stories to tell. The fact that this man lived for decades on the street without being connected to social services is just another in a long line of tragedies that Jimmy Mirikitani experienced in his lifetime. There really is no excuse.