BONES OF CONTENTION: Animals and Religion inContemporary Japan, by Barbara R.
Ambros. University of Hawaii Press, 2012, 255 pp., $29 (paperback)
Bumping into a Japanese acquaintance on the street recently, I inquired where he was going on
his day off dressed in a formal business suit. A worker at a major pharmaceutical company, he
explained that he was participating in a ceremony honoring the spirits of all the animals that had
suffered during experiments in their laboratories. A Buddhist priest would be conducting the
In Barbara R. Ambros’ “Bones of Contention,” the writer includes a similar example of a
restaurant at the foot of a pet cemetery, which holds an annual memorial service for fish, birds
and mammals, in a spirit of gratitude for sentient creatures that are “martyrs for the sake of the
nation’s progress and prosperity.”
Obliged to kill hundreds of thousands of chickens after avian flu struck in 2004, the Japan Poultry
and Egg Farmer Association, we learn, held a large memorial service at the Tokyo Grand Hotel,
the altar bedizened with white lilies and a pyramid of boxed eggs. Such initially startling events
come, through the powerful transformer of Ambros’research, to gradually make perfect sense,
to even be perceived as morally well-grounded actions.
The author illustrates just how embedded animals have become in Japanese life, reflected in the
increasing desire of owners to be interred with their pets. And Buddhist temples, always on the
lookout for new sources of revenue, have welcomed the demand for memorialrites for pets.
The writer’s own entrée into this deathly landscape was more experiential than academic.
Ambros first came across mortuary rituals when her parakeet came down with sudden seizures,
the attacks requiring incubation in a Tokyo clinic and eventually euthanasia. It was there the vet
told her about the possibility of being interred and memorialized in a pet cemetery at a Nichiren temple.
Following the bifurcating paths that hands-on research often presents, the writer gained access
to pet funerals, usually the exclusive preserve of family members, surveyed websites dedicated
to pet loss, joined in online consolation chat rooms relating to propitiatory rites and funerals for
pets, tracked stories in the print media and the content of pet literature, even examining court
documents relating to legal cases connected to pet cemeteries.
Ambros touches on the intriguing subject of metamorphosis, which in Japanese folklore and
mythology often takes the more specific form of zoomorphism, the shape shifting of animals
into humans. Such beliefs may not be confined entirely to the past. One recalls in Alan Booth’s
travelogue, “The Roads to Sata,” the author being warned not to take a forest road at twilight, as
foxes, transformed into alluring women, would likely bewitch him. The book was written in the
Ambros questions the propensity of Japanese scholars to lean on oversimplistic dichotomies in
suggesting that they possess a closer relationship with animals than other races, one reflective
of a greater holistic sense of the natural world. The writer easily explodes the notion that the
Japanese live in harmonious coexistence with nature, noting that “Wildlife has been treated both
as a resource to be exploited and as pests and predators to be exterminated and feared.” This
would seem perfectly natural for a people who once hunted deer and boar with dogs, and who
now rank among the world’s more enthusiastic consumers of meat.
Ambros references the idea that attitudes to animals and their care vary regionally in Japan.
There may be something to this. Outsiders who have settled in Okinawa, for example, have
complained to me about the wretched mistreatment of animals there, comparing it to
conditions in China.
Interestingly, such attitudes do not preclude sentimentality about animals. On a recent trip to
Okinawa, I came across two dog statues facing each other across the water between Aka and
Zamami islands. Such was the passion of one dog, he swan each day to a beach on Zamami for a
rendezvous, a distance of some 3 km. This tale of loyalty and affection was even made into a
film. Like many an ambivalently sentimental people, the Japanese, it seems, cannot resist a good animal story.
KOBE — A sea turtle that lost her front legs to a shark attack was bidding to match “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius on Tuesday, as she donned the latest in artificial flipper technology in Japan. Yu, an approximately 25-year-old female loggerhead turtle, was test-driving her 27th pair of artificial front legs around her home aquarium near Kobe, where she proves a draw for the crowds. The rubber limbs are attached to a vest slipped over her head, said the aquarium’s curator, Naoki Kamezaki. “We have worked hard to design the vest in a way that prevents the turtle from taking it off unwittingly,” he told AFP. “It can flutter the limbs as the vest is soft.” The creature, which weighs 96 kilograms and has a shell 82 centimeters long, was pulled out of a fisherman’s net and sent to the Suma Aqualife Park in mid-2008. One third of the right limb and half of the left limb were gone, in what Kamezaki believes must have been a shark attack. The aquarium started developing artificial limbs for the animal in late 2008 as it could swim only at about 60 percent of its normal speed. Earlier versions were squeezed into the stumps but were apparently painful to Yu. “Similar attempts have been made to attach artificial limbs to turtles around the world. But we have not heard if they went well,” said Kamezaki, an expert on sea turtles, whose surname coincidentally means “turtle cape” in Japanese. “Ours may be the only case in which a turtle with artificial limbs is still swimming without a problem.” In 2004, a dolphin at an aquarium in Okinawa became the first in the world to be fitted with a rubber tail fin. It lost its own tail due to illness. South African sprint king Pistorius, whose legs were amputated below his knees, won plaudits for his performance at last year’s London Olympics where he competed alongside able-bodied athletes.
Inthavong Khamphone, who was from Laos, had watched the elephants overnight with other keepers at Fuji Safari Park after the mother gave birth on Sunday, police said.
“Khamphone entered the cage with another keeper because the mother started attacking the baby,” a local police officer said. “The mother then started attacking Khamphone.”
The 30-year-old was an elephant specialist who had been working with the creatures for around 15 years. He had come to Japan from Laos with the mother elephant in July last year, said Jiji Press and the Sankei daily citing the zoo.
Reports said the keeper had died after the two-ton elephant stood on his chest at the park, which is near Mount Fuji.
ASAHIKAWA, Hokkaido (Kyodo) Raccoons caused ¥164 million in damage to agricultural produce in 16 prefectures in fiscal 2006, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said Monday.
A raccoon is trapped in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, in September. ASAHIKAWA CITY PHOTO/KYODO
Hyogo Prefecture reported the most damage, saying ¥43.42 million worth of grapes and other produce was ruined. Hokkaido followed with damage reaching ¥27.82 million, centering on corn and melons.
Saitama suffered damage of ¥19.6 million, Osaka ¥18.7 million, Wakayama ¥16.6 million and Kanagawa ¥10.6 million, the ministry said.
Raccoons were blamed for damage when evidence such as tracks suggested their involvement, the ministry said. In fiscal 2004, raccoon damage was observed in only Hokkaido and five other regions.
Japan imported North American raccoons as pets in the 1970s when they became popular on an animated TV show. Many ended up being discarded or they ran away.
At the peak, Japan was importing more than 1,500 raccoons a year. The government has since banned importing them or keeping them as pets.
A nationwide study by the Environment Ministry has confirmed that raccoons live in at least 36 prefectures.
At most such establishments, it's the post-work rush that brings in the most cash, with tired and harried professionals dropping by on their way homes to pet and play with the animals as a way of relieving stress.
But now the purrs of delight may be getting quieter.
A revision to Japan's Animal Protection Law, due to come into force on June 1, will slap a curfew on the public display of cats and dogs, forcing cat cafes to shut up shop at 8 p.m.
"There's this new revision which says we should be open from eight in the morning until eight at night. After 8 p.m. we have to put the cats in the back, away from the customers, and close," said Hiromi Kawase, the owner of one Tokyo cat cafe.
"Everybody knows cats are really happy in the evening, with their big, cute eyes. So I just can't understand why the people at the top are ignoring this. It's really strange."
Cat cafes have long been popular, catering to the many cat lovers who can't keep the animals at home because of strict housing regulations that forbid pets in many apartments.
Visitors to Kawase's cafe pay about 1,000 yen ($12) an hour to play with any of her 24 cats, who dart around the room chasing toys or sleep in baskets set on tables. Drinks are priced from around 300 yen each.
The government says the real targets of the tighter animal protection law are late-night pet shops, which often sell dogs and cats around the clock. The animals are kept in small cages under bright lights that are never sitched off.
Kawase's establishment is far from a 24-hour operation. Her doors close at 10 p.m., but she says many of her customers only arrive around eight, after work, and stay through to the close.
"If I can't see the cats, well, I won't come. Of course I come here because they have cats," said Tatsuo Karuishi, 41.
Karuishi visits the cafe at least twice a week, usually checking in at around eight, as does fellow feline fancier Ayumi Sekigushi.
"It's a great place, it calms the stresses of working life," said Sekigushi, 23. "If this law goes, through that enjoyment is going to disappear. It's a real shame."
While Kawase says the lost business hours will take a toll on profits, it's what that might mean for her cats that worries her the most.
"If our business hours go down and we lose two hours of profits, of course it's going to affect us, but it'll also affect the cats," she said.
"You know, in getting them all the things they need, like the correct amount of food and proper nutrition."
As part of their punishment, the five were ordered to apologize to the monkeys and clean their enclosure, according to a Fuji TV report.
Police say the group, all 18 years of age, consisted of high school students, construction workers and beauticians. According to police, the group had been drinking alcohol before they illegally entered the zoo on Jan 3 and threw lit fireworks into the monkey enclosure, Fuji reported.
CCTV camera footage showed them entering the zoo by scaling a wall at around 6:20 a.m. They then proceeded to terrorize the 26 monkeys for around 15 minutes. Zoo keepers reported that one animal sustained a burn to its face.
After police made the video footage public, the youths turned themselves in, Fuji reported. Police said they will likely press charges for breach of property damage and animal cruelty laws.
At the time of the incident, the director of Kyoto Zoo, Toshikuni Nihonmatsu, said the zoo discourages visitors from throwing anything into the enclosure, even food, due to the danger that the animals will lose trust in people, Fuji reported. “What was done to the monkeys was incredibly cruel,” he said.
The accused were taken to Kyoto Zoo on Feb 10, where they bowed and apologized to zoo staff, including Nihonmatsu. They were then told to bow and apologize to the monkeys, Fuji reported. They also cleaned the monkeys’ enclosure for around an hour as punishment.
Nihonmatsu told the group that he wanted them to understand how the monkeys must have felt and reflect on what they had done. He added that he wanted them to go on and be productive members of society, Fuji TV reported.
- 2011/8/16 7:00
- 日本経済新聞 電子版
Tokyo – A Greenpeace effort to expose what it sees as widespread corruption in Japan's government-subsidized whaling industry ended on Monday with two of its activists convicted of theft and trespassing.
Greenpeace activists Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki -- dubbed the "Tokyo Two" by their organization -- received suspended sentences for taking a package from a delivery company in April 2008 that was filled with prime whale meat and addressed to the home of a crewmember on one of Japan's research whaling vessels.
The pair, acting on a tip from a former whaler that crews were privately taking and selling whale meat that rightfully belongs to the government, delivered the package along with an explanation of their investigation to the Tokyo Prosecutors`Office the following month. But rather than resulting in government action on the alleged practice, the two were soon arrested and charged.
This is the second recent case in which prosecutors have taken action against opponents of Japan's whaling industry. In July New Zealander Peter Bethune was handed a two-year suspended sentence for illegally boarding a Japanse whaling vessel in the Southern Ocean as part of an effort to disrupt whaling by Sea Shepherds activists.
The verdict was â€œa partial vindication, because the two activists are not going to prison,â€
A brief investigation into embezzlement in Japan’s “scientific whaling” industry was dropped in June 2008 and the pair arrested following dramatic raids involving dozens of policemen and in front of the media, who had been tipped-off by the police.
The trial began in February this year, despite protests from the defense team that there was no case to answer as the investigation had been in the public interest and there had been no intention to profit from taking the meat.
With the conviction rate in Japanese criminal trials still running at over 99 percent, despite the introduction last year of a jury-like lay judge system, the chances for the activists were never good.
The court acknowledged that there had been â€œdubious practicesâ€
“The activists’ actions were clearly not criminal in nature, and they acted solely in the public interest to expose theft of Japanese taxpayers’ money,” said Naidoo, who called on the government to open an inquiry into corruption in its subsidized whaling industry.
"While the court acknowledged that there were questionable practices in the whaling industry, it did not recognize the right to expose these, as is guaranteed under international law,” said defendant Sato. “The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on which our defense was based, supercedes domestic criminal law, but the judgment did not properly take this into account."
The prosecution had sought terms of 18 months for the accused. Instead they received 12-month suspended sentences. But according to Sato the verdict sends a message that “if you do something like this, you can be imprisoned.”
Greenpeace says it will appeal the verdict.
NEW YORK (AFP) – Animal rights activists stuck a fork in Lady Gaga's meat dress Tuesday but supporters rallied around the bizarre singer, saying her outfit was absolutely sizzling.
The professional provocateur upstaged the MTV music video awards late Sunday not just by walking away with eight prizes, but taking that walk in enormous shoes and a nifty dress made entirely of raw steak.
Now Lady Gaga, whose "Bad Romance" hit swept the awards, stands accused of bad taste.
"Lady Gaga has a hard time being 'over the top,'" said People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "Someone should whisper in her ear that there are more people upset by butchery than impressed by it."
"Meat is the decomposing flesh of an abused animal who didn't want to die, and after time spent under the TV lights, it would smell like the rotting flesh that it is and likely be crawling in maggots."
The singer is known for her theatrical sartorial taste so it was no surprise when she shuffled awkwardly across the MTV stage in Los Angeles in what appeared to television viewers to be simply an uncomfortable and oversized pair of boots bound in string.
The only reference Lady Gaga made to what she was wearing was a mysterious comment while collecting her Video of the Year gong about handing her "meat purse" to '80s icon Cher.
The purse, it turned out, really was a big chunk of meat -- cheap cuts and trimmings, not sirloin, according to butchers. And so was her hat.
Lady Gaga explained later that the fleshy look -- which she repeats with a meat swimming suit on the October cover of Vogue Hommes in Japan -- "has many interpretations."
The most common theory is that her steak-powered statement referenced her support for gays in the US military and opposition to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuals in the ranks.
"Well, it is certainly no disrespect to anyone that is vegan or vegetarian," she told talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who is a vegan.
"If we don't stand up for what we believe in and if we don't fight for our rights, pretty soon we're going to have as much rights as the meat on our own bones. And I am not a piece of meat."
Whatever it meant, the stunt ensured Lady Gaga's continued notoriety -- and a long menu of meaty jokes.
"She's Lady Tartare in this moo-moo!" screamed the New York Daily News. "Gaga in all her 'gory'" punned the rival New York Post.
And far from everyone felt disgusted.
Designer Franc Fernandez proudly posted pictures of the project on his website, http://francfernandez.blogspot.com, and fans congratulated him on his workmanship.
"You are a cut above the rest," one wrote on the blog.
Cher, who certainly got close enough to know whether there were really maggots, also applauded the skirt steak.
"The way it was cut and fitted to her body was AMAZING! Meat purse was genius! As Art piece it was astonishing! No moral Judgment!" tweeted the singer.
Rich Hanley, professor of communications at Quinnipiac University, said Lady Gaga showed perfect media savvy in how she unveiled her stunt -- showing up in the attention-grabbing outfit, but not talking about it.
"If she'd said 'look at me, I'm wearing meat,' it would have destroyed any build up in the eco system of the web," Hanley said. "You just let Facebook and Twitter do the heavy lifting for you."
"It shows how high the bar is -- or how low the bar is -- in this media environment," he said.