Mascots, athletic Japanese, and evolution denial


When you arrive in Morioka, the first of many mascots you’ll encounter is Sobachi, the black-and-red-bowl-headed… thing that is just super jazzed you’re finally here. Sometimes his head has wanko soba noodles inside, sometimes tofu, sometimes rice, the list goes on. He is the multi-talented, highly edible mascot of Morioka City.

Kumamon is more recognizable; he’s the black bear mascot of Kumamoto prefecture. He’s on everything from purses to tshirts to these little pieces of paper you can stick to the top of your cup to keep your tea warm. I’ve even seen him in Los Angeles. Sobachi could learn a thing or two from Kumamon.

Today, my students and I were discussing markets in the area, and one of them mentioned D & Delica, a somewhat expensive grocery store (“I like the cheap stuff,” one student specified). Another student chimed in: “I like donkey!” Everyone nodded. I was lost. Apparently this is short for Don Quixote, a “discount grocery store,” whatever that is.

Within a month or so of my arrival in Japan, my coworkers, a few students and I were sitting in the upstairs lobby area enjoying tea and cake together to celebrate something. Everyone was chatting and being friendly. One of the students was asking me questions, to which I was replying “Hai.” I looked to my right, and saw my coworker Hiroko shaking with silent laughter, her eyes squeezed shut with the effort of containing herself. “Hiroko-san,” I said. “Daijobu desu ka?” (are you ok?), to which she burst out laughing in earnest, and in between gasping breaths, managed to say, “You sound like an athlete!” Of course, I learned to say yes in Japanese from my father, but have used it far more at the Shinkendo dojo, where we are taught to say it sharply and clearly, a habit that Hiroko-san finds endlessly amusing.

I mentioned this incident to my students today to illustrate how Japanese can sound sharp of soft depending on the speaker. We practiced my “female Japanese,” which was more entertaining than instructive for all involved.

6pm Dr. Sasaki
I’ve picked up some valuable skills during my short time here so far, one of which is training my eyes to see something new without reacting immediately. This gives me time to observe others to gauge their reaction. I learned this skill from Dr. Sasaki, who has taken to bringing something interesting, strange, or disgusting with him for every class. Today, I enter the room wearing a practiced, neutral expression to find skis and poles leaning into a corner of the room. They’re for “mountain skiing,” which means they’re used for going uphill, which sounds absurd.

Dr. Sasaki has made a couple dozen gouges on the bottom side of the ski to prevent backsliding, and help the seal skin grip the ski. That’s right: there’s a strip of seal skin strapped to the bottom of each ski (which also helps prevent backsliding). “This is my invention,” he preens. He mentions “ant traps” on the mountain in Hachimantai, a surprisingly perilous feature if Dr. Sasaki’s description holds any truth: “If I fall in it, is very dangerous. I must climb out, or I must die.” The lesson takes a distinctly more medical tone from there.

Hemostatic forceps are used on veins or arteries to stop bleeding temporarily.
Motor nerves are under our control. Sensible nerves feel hot, cold, itch, etc. Autonomous nerves control blood vessel dilation, sweat, digestion, etc.
We review the post-stomach digestive tract: ascending, transverse, descending, s-shape bowel, straight bowel, rectum, anus.

Dr. Sasaki sits and asks me if I believe in god. I say no. This is not an unusual answer in Japan. He asks if I believe in evolution. I say there is a lot of evidence for it, so yes. He says there is no evolution because different species cannot inter-breed, therefore this is god’s will. I point out the production of a mule from a horse and a donkey. Yes, he says, but mules cannot procreate, therefore this is god’s will. We have not found the missing link, therefore evolution is untrue. I reply that god cannot be seen, therefore it doesn’t exist either. He thinks for a second, then smiles and says, “Let’s talk about this again next time.” End of discussion.


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