Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tidbits from Japan, The Japan Times - ALICE GORDENKER

It is strongly recommended that if you are the least little-bit curious about Japan you become a habitue of Alice's splendid column. Apologies to Alice for snipping and pasting her good writing beyond recognition. Japan's shokuryo jikyuritsu (rate of self-sufficiency in food production) has fallen to 40 percent, the lowest of any major developed country. To reverse that decline, it suggests, serious problems in Japanese agriculture must be addressed, including the aging of the farming population. Growing rice in subterranean vaults could, in fact, help boost Japan's self-sufficiency in food production and feed the national body. underground rice paddies There was a small plot of rice in a former bank vault in the second-floor basement of the Otemachi Nomura Building, deep beneath Tokyo's financial district, a decidedly upscale downtown office building. News photo

Feral parakeets (wakake honsei inko)

"There was a 'pet boom' in the 1960s, when many Japanese became pet owners for the first time," Fujii explained. "Large numbers of tropical birds were imported, but many weren't tame and didn't make good pets. Wakake honsei inko, in particular, are very noisy."

Some escaped. Some were lost in transit. And some were simply released by their owners when the screeching got to be too much.

By the 1980s, there were feral parakeet populations established in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, as well as in Niigata and Kyushu. News photo Japan Ground Manhole Association is a Tokyo-based alliance of the 32 companies that keep the country in manhole covers. Japan had sewage and drainage systems as early as the Yayoi Period (about 2,200 years ago). The most important function of the raised design on manhole covers is not to look good, but to provide traction for the traffic moving over it. This is particularly important in wet weather, when manhole covers can be treacherously slippery, especially for two-wheeled conveyances such as motorcycles, scooters and bicycles. A good design, in terms of preventing slippage, will have multidirectional lines for better grip. Designs should also be recognizable no matter which direction they are viewed from, and have lasting appeal, since manhole covers last for decades at least, and often much longer. Tanuki Tanuki. The most common place to see a tanuki statue is in front of restaurants and shops.

That is Nyctereutes procyonodoides, a member of the canid family (which includes dogs, wolves and foxes), and is indigenous to Japan, China, Korea and parts of Siberia. Its English name is "raccoon dog," and it does look a lot like the North American raccoon, minus the tail stripes, (though a raccoon, by the way, is not a canid.)

Real Life Tanuki, Baby Tanuki, photo by Adam Nuelken Having conducted dozens of intimate examinations on actual tanuki statues, I can state with authority that it's not the testicles (kogan) that are oversize; it's the scrotum (inno). Furthermore, it's only in statuary that tanuki carry a lot between the knees; the scrotum of the living animal is proportionate to its body size, which is to say no bigger than your pinkie.

信楽焼き タヌキ完成品

In his book "Hagane no Chishiki, (Knowledge about Steel)" (Diamond Shakan, 1971), Shigeo Okuwa traces the super-size scrotum story to metal workers in Kanazawa Prefecture. To make gold leaf, these craftsmen would wrap gold in a tanuki skin before carefully hammering the gold into thin sheets. It was said that gold is so malleable, and tanuki skin so strong, that even a small piece could be thinned to the size of eight tatami mats. And because the Japanese for "small ball of gold" (kin no tama) is very close to the slang term for testicles (kintama), the eight-mat brag got stuck on the tanuki's bag. Soon, images of a tanuki began to be sold as prosperity charms, purported to stretch one's money and bring good fortune. Pounding ot gold leaf between scrotum-skin. If you ask your Japanese friends how big a tanuki's scrotum is, you'll hear plenty of hyperbole. A common answer will be hachijo-jiki (an eight-tatami mat spread), or about 12 sq. meters. When I popped the question to my friend Masae, she declared, "Huge!" and burst into a schoolyard song: Tan-tan-tanuki no kintama wa, kaze mo nai no ni, bu-ra bura! Roughly translated, this means "The tanuki's balls! There isn't any wind but they still go swing, swing, swing!" OK...

Gold poop

This product is called Kin no Unko (The Golden Poo), a name that plays on the fact that the Japanese word for poop (unko) starts with the same "oon" sound as a completely unrelated word that means "luck." Japanese enjoy this kind of pun -- traditional storytelling is full of them -- which may help explain why more than 2.5 million of the lucky little loads have sold in the last seven years.

Although they're made of real porcelain and coated with 24-karat gold, Kin no Unko products retail from just 105 yen for a mini poo to 2,100 yen for the big dump, which sits proudly on a silky red cushion.

At Kokugakuin University in Tokyo, Professor Takeshi Mitsuhashi looked the product over carefully, nodded thoughtfully, and explained that there are many word plays in Japanese religion because puns make information easier to teach and remember. There is a long history of poo-related worship in Japan, according to Mitsuhashi.

"There are more gods in the Shinto religion than it is possible to count, and they reside just about everywhere, inhabiting natural things like trees, rocks and waterfalls," he said. "Bodily functions are very important -- think what a problem it would be if a person couldn't defecate or urinate properly -- so it's natural that people worshipped deities linked to these functions."


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