A whale of a tale

Ahoy, me hearties! Are ye ready for a sail on the S.S. New York Times? Come with me through the colorful Sea of Invented Trend Stories, avoiding the Rocks of Outright Fabrication by a treacherous journey through the Straits of Distortion!

Surely you can’t have forgotten our last encounter with New York Times Japan reporting. Well, here’s a little flashback to 2002, when they declared, “Yuk! No More Stomach for Whales“.

SHIMONOSEKI, Japan, May 24 — High on a bluff in a city park here stands the Whale Museum, a whimsical creation where children once clambered up white-painted steps into the tail of a concrete blue whale, passed historical exhibits, then peered through a Moby Dick-sized mouth at a port once busy with ships returning with whale hauls from Antarctica.

But the museum is now padlocked. The company that donated the museum in 1958, a year when whaling supplied one-third of the meat consumed in Japan, has changed hands. The new owner did not want to finance a project associated with hunting the world’s largest mammals.

Okay, now before you read what actually happened, look over those two paragraphs. What common sense conclusions can you make? Was there a museum devoted to whaling in Shimonoseki? Is there still such a museum? Did the owner change his mind about his support for whaling?

Here’s what actually happened in Shimonoseki, which the Times never saw fit to report on. Spoilers ahead!

  1. The structure being referred to was not a “Whale Museum”. It was an aquarium! Specifically, the shuttered institution was called the Shimonoseki City Aquarium下関市立水族館. The popular nickname for one of the buildings at the aquarium was the “Whale Building”くじら館, because it was shaped like a whale — duh.
  2. The donation occurred in 1956, not 1958. The “company that donated the museum”, that is, the local business that donated a whale-shaped building housing an emperor penguin exhibit to a city aquarium, was a seafood operation called Maruha Nichiro Seafoods, Inc. At the time it had several different fishery and whaling businesses going, but a giant salmon probably would not have been a very exciting addition to the aquarium.
  3. The aquarium is not “a project associated with hunting the world’s largest mammals.” It is the Shimonoseki City Aquarium. I regret to inform the New York Times that whales are too large for aquariums.
  4. The aquarium is city property and has nothing to do with Maruha which since 1956 has relocated to Tokyo and no longer has an office in Shimonoseki. Note the very careful wording of these three sentences: “The museum is now padlocked. The company … has changed hands. The new owner…” They strongly imply that the new owner of the company has control over whether the aquarium is open or closed, when in fact, it is a public aquarium in Shimonoseki that has nothing to do with a private business in Tokyo.
  5. Maruha turned over its whaling operations to the Institute of Cetacean Research following international law on the matter, but the company was still canning whale meat when the story was written in 2002, so its “owner” could hardly be opposed to whaling. I am guessing, given the deceptive way the sentence is constructed, is that he actually “did not want to finance” a public aquarium in his corporation’s former headquarters hundreds of kilometers away from his office, which is far from obvious from the wording given.
  6. All that deception builds up to this revelation, which reflects horribly on the heartlessness of the journalist who fabricated this story: The aquarium is not “padlocked” because nobody wants to fund it anymore. It was destroyed by a typhoon in 1999.
  7. The article implies that the aquarium does not exist anymore. Actually, in 2001 the exhibits were moved to the Shimonoseki City Shimonoseki Aquarium, which is also shaped like a whale.

In summary, here are those same two paragraphs, annotated.

SHIMONOSEKI, Japan, May 24 — High on a bluff in a city park here stands the remains of the Whale Building of what was once the city aquarium, a type of structure which a lunatic might call a Museum. This building, which housed one of the exhibits of the aquarium, was a whimsical creation where children once clambered up white-painted steps into the tail of a concrete blue whale, passed historical exhibits, then peered through a Moby Dick-sized mouth at a port once busy with ships returning with whale hauls from Antarctica.

But as the result of a non-political, freak disaster which caused animals to die and which anyone with a soul would call unfortunate, the ruin of the former aquarium which only a moron could confuse for a museum is now padlocked not due to any lack of interest from the local public, but owing to the unwanted patronage of a typhoon which tore it up; this information need not grace the ears of our readers. Thankfully a new aquarium also shaped like a whale has opened in its place; but we see no need to tell you this, either. Rather, we would like to share, although it is completely unrelated and irrelevant, that the company that donated the building shaped like a whale to the former aquarium which we continue to refer to as a museum in 1956, a year some have been known to confuse with 1958, a year when whaling supplied one-third of the meat consumed in Japan, has changed hands and locations, although it continues to process whale meat. Wasn’t that enlightening? The new owner lives in Tokyo, so he did not want to donate to, or “finance“, the Shimonoseki city aquarium, understandably. But this is unrelated to whaling, and he had no control over the typhoon, nor did his company ever have control over the opening hours of either of the aquariums, which we will happily conflate into one and the same “Whale Museum”. We will also happily slander both institutions, which have educated children about the city’s most important industry for over 60 years, as a single project associated with hunting the world’s largest mammals and nothing else, although such an inaccurate characterization of two aquariums was clearly irrelevant to the “owner” of the Tokyo company, since his company continued to process, can, and sell whale meat to customers across the country as of press time.

What did you think, everyone? Did the New York Times accurately report the tragedy of a beloved city aquarium destroyed by a typhoon?

Are you getting your news about Japan through the New York Times? Well, you should stop doing that!

Posted: May 27th, 2013 | Japan, Res pueriles

Wang Yangming on Gornahoor

I have published an essay about the Confucian scholar Wang Yangming on Gornahoor.net. Anyone will be able to enjoy this exposition of Traditional doctrine. Below is an appendix to that post.

Yōmeigaku, the study of Yangming’s teachings in Japan, was especially prominent during the period of modernization. During the Russo-Japanese War, Emperor Meiji did a perfect imitation of Evola’s anecdote:

During the Russo-Japanese War, the emperor never felt impelled to offer advice on the conduct of the war, and he rarely revealed his emotions, even when told of Japanese victories. As soon as he learned of the fall of Port Arthur, the vice chief of the general staff, Nagaoka Gaishi, rushed to the palace to inform the emperor. … Nagaoke, too overcome by joy to even wait for the emperor to be seated, declared that serving as the messenger of glorious news was the greatest blessing of his life. Having blurted out these words, he started to make his report. He looked up at the emperor’s face. It was calm and self-possessed, exactly as it always was, not revealing a trace of emotion. During the fifteen or sixteen minutes while Nagaoka described the victory, the emperor nodded almost imperceptibly a few times … Nagaoka was deeply disappointed. [Donald Keene, Meiji and His World, 619]

During that war, the Admiral of the Japanese Navy is known to have carried a stamp with him that read, “A life dedicated to following the example of Yōmei”.

Yōmeigaku was shoved aside after 1945 to make way for foreign ideologies, but it captured the interest of Yukio Mishima. Just before his failed coup d’état, he wrote an article on “Yōmeigaku as a Revolutionary Philosophy”. The newspapers of 1972 were written by young, postwar-educated reporters who had no idea of even the most basic tenets of Yōmeigaku, but that didn’t stop them from blaming the unfamiliar old tradition for driving Mishima to suicidal heroism, and if you Google any of these terms today you will find all sorts of baseless slanders about the philosophy online. This is a shame, because both Japan and the world have much to learn from Wang Yangming

Posted: May 13th, 2013 | Confucius, Kokoro

Foreign shrinekeeper in Shibuya

Green Shinto reports that a European is now a shrinekeeper at a major shrine in Shibuya, Tokyo. This position required top-level appointment.

Unlike Green Shinto, I don’t consider this a “breakthrough” from the Japanese side. Shintoists have theorized about shrines for other nations since the 19th century. Although there was strong opposition from the populace to letting foreigners enter Japan at all, shrinekeepers have never moved to stop anyone from visiting shrines. On the contrary, shrines are considered so nonsectarian that there was no objection to exporting shrine practices to Hawaii, Brazil, Korea, Taiwan, and Manchuria. Recently a shrine was built in Washington with foreigners as its specific mission.

It is certainly a “breakthrough” on the side of the gentleman who had to learn all the norito, though. Good work, Rev. Wiltschko!

Posted: May 4th, 2013 | Kokoro

Kure Tomofusa on nepotism and filiality

The following is a translation from The Analects for the Modern Man (2006) by Kure Tomofusa.

The Magistrate of Shou said to Confucius, “There is a very honest person in our village. When his father stole sheep, he prosecuted his own father.” Confucius said, “In our village, honesty is different from yours. Father defends his children and Children defend their father. Here you may find true honesty.” [Analects 13.18]

I’d like to use this commentary to think about Confucianism’s strong point, filial piety.

When most people think of Confucianism, they reflexively think of filial piety, moreover a stiffly imposed filial piety. In Legalism, to be sure, filial piety is symbolized by bad customs like the Twenty-Four Filial Exemplars. But, recently, filial piety has received notice as a way of thinking to overcome the limits and pathologies of Western individualism. This is the treatment of filial piety as an assimilation of oneself with the whole, of filial piety as symbolizing the continuity of life. In an age where it has become necessary to consider the standpoint of the whole human race, since it is difficult to create a principle for conceiving of humanity from an individualist perspective, this is only natural. We must recognize the absurd spectacle of Western rationalism or individualism being unable to judge the relationship between parent and child.

Parents cannot choose their children, nor can children choose their parents. For that reason, love and hatred are tangled together. The undertaking of that entangled love and hatred– is that not what we call filial piety?

This view is not so far-fetched. When the Analects speak of filial piety, more often than not they are speaking specifically of this social system. Here is an example from the first book:

The Teacher said, “While a man’s father lives, we should evaluate his character by his home life and aspirations. After one’s father dies, we should evaluate his character by his public life and deeds. Three years after his father’s death [when the period of mourning has ended], if his conduct is still in line with his father’s, he can be called a dutiful son.” [Analects 1.11]

This is clearly regarding a social system. The “way of the father” which the son is meant to imitate is furthermore that of the management of a fiefdom, the selection of faithful stewards, and statesmanship. Don’t be tempted to confuse this “way of the father” with knowing when to flip the burgers on the barbecue; such erroneous readings are on the rise these days.

Filial piety is part of this system, and it took form naturally preceding Confucius, as Pre-Confucianism. Taking this as the soil, Confucius was the one who consciously gave it meaning. This meaning-giving could rather be said to give readings to unclear parts of filial piety. The above passage is such; let’s translate it.

The Magistrate of Shou put a question to Confucius. Shou was a province in China, and this magistrate was known for being a wise man, but a haughty one. [Rest of translation omitted; it’s as above.]

Parents could not be expected to rejoice in their child’s crime, nor could a child rejoice in his parent’s crime. With all that weeping and lamentation, trying to protect their kin by concealing the crime is only natural for humans. Confucius stressed people over laws. More important than good government is a virtuous people. This insistence in Confucian government, and the nepotism it generated, was the source of social stagnation. The importance of kinship and the restraints of nepotism warded off social progress. While we must remember that fact, even more than that, we must take note how a curiously strong insistence on the objective character of law arose in 20th century America. Believing that their own troubles were caused by the bad education they received from their parents, some American children have even sued their parents and sought restitution.

Li, Confucius’ son who preceded him in death, of course had an untroubled childhood, but was a perfectly mediocre individual. But for his father, Li was a beloved, wonderful son. “Whether or not he possesses genius, he is still my child.” (Analects 11.8)

There is a passage in the Analects which has eluded intepretation since ancient times:

Meng Wu Bo asked Confucius about filial piety. Confucius replied, 父母唯其疾之憂。 (Analects 2.6)

The following readings have been proposed.

Ba Yu of the Later Han: “One should only be concerned for one’s parents in times of terminal illness. At other times, we must not be concerned.”

Shu Shi of Sòng: “Parents are concerned for their children only in times of sickness, so we must pay attention to our health.”

Jinsai Itoh (1627-1705): “The first duty towards one’s parents is to be concerned for them in times of sickness.”

[By the way, here are some other modern readings: “The main concern of your parents is about your health.” ”Have your parents be concerned about only their health.” “Parents are anxious lest their children should be sick.”]

In all of these readings, though, we see that the relationship between parent and child is not one of choice.

Confucius himself lost his father at the age of three, and lost his mother at the youthful age of 24. In the roughly 500 sayings of Confucius in the Analects there is not a single one about the kind of filial piety which the Teacher himself carried out. Nor do any of his disciples relate a single word about their teacher’s piety.

He was still a child when his father died, but it is thought as well that something must have happened, preventing him from meeting his mother.

Posted: May 3rd, 2013 | Confucius 1 Comment »