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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Tales From My Japanese Aquarium

I bought my first pet fish in the Borough of Etobicoke (now the City of Etobicoke in the City of Metropolitan Toronto, Canada) in 1969 when I was still only four-years-old. I bought it at a small Woolworth's store for $0.37... it was a small common-looking standard non-fantail goldfish with a black dot on its forehead. It reminded me of my mother who sometimes painted that small Indian dot (called a bindi) on her forehead (she was Catholic, not a Hindu), so I called the fish Lynda after her.

That goldfish which as about an inch long grew to be 10-1/2 inches long and lived to be 17 years old in my various, and ever growing collection of aquariums that included goldfish and tropical fish.

I'm just saying I have some knowledge of fish as pets.

So... when I moved to Japan in 1990, about two weeks later I purchased a full aquarium set-up and bought some goldfish, which I eventually donated to a special ed. class at one of my schools - Wakakusa Chu Gakko (Wakakusa Junior High School) in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan.

To replace the fish, I purchased a heater and went tropical - my bread and butter, if you will.

Here's my take on that aquarium one day:

A plecostomus (the fish in the photo above taken from Wikimedia; photo by Derek Ramsey) wrapped his gummy mouth around the algae-laden crystal and sucked.
That was its life.
It was ugly and misshapen and sucking was all that his life was about.
Life sucks and then you die.
Yup, death for any one of my aquarium denizens meant naval three step. A trip to the toilet, a dump into the toilet and then a flush. I may or may not salute, as I was never in the navy.
At least, I mused, he be placed in his element.
Water, water everywhere and all the scum to eat.
That's me paraphrasing my favorite poet and my favorite poem... from a line from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a poem I once challenged my self to memorize. I won.
The writer, watching all of this, waxed poetically that if this poor plecostomus were to die here in my Japanese aquarium, he would be buried in the cold, dry earth... because that's the way they do things in Japan.

I know this because I once mentioned how I got rid of a dead fish to a Japanese colleague at one of my schools, and he - and then others listening in - remarked that here in Japan dead fish do not get flushed down into the sewer system, but are buried.

Because I was keenly interested in becoming as Japanese as possible, I listened... but did not hear.

I lived in an apartment building and did not own and sort of digging implement except the cutlery I used for my meals. Perhaps if I had some land of my own, I would become more Japanese. I certainly did not feel comfortable carting a dead fish out in the dead of winter to a park, brush away the snow and dig a hole with a teaspoon in the frozen ground to bury a fish - even a pet fish I never named. I never named another fish after that first one I purchased 23 years earlier. You only have one mother, after all.

No. Perhaps because I'm a lazy sod of a gaijin (foreigner), but I'm just going to flush my dead fish down the toilet. Culture be damned.

Andrew Joseph   
April 29, 1992

1 comment:

  1. What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.
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