Saturday, April 23, 2011

“I’d call him inventive.”

It is my opinion that if you did a survey of the country most likely to commit cannibalism under the right circumstances, Japan would be at the top of the list. Now, I’m not saying that like it’s a bad thing, as though they have less respect for human dignity or more deviant appetites than any other country. I just think they have an incredible level of culinary curiosity and creativity, so that if you offered them a dish and said, “Don’t you want to know what it tastes like?” they wouldn’t turn it down.

I was thinking this the other week at school, when science teacher M-sensei returned from an errand carrying two boxes. One was stained through with seeping grease, and both bore the name of a local’s butcher shop near my apartment, that along with raw meat sells prepared breaded-and-fried treats like tonkatsu and korokke. When I walk home in the evening, there’s always a delicious smell filling the entire block.

The atmosphere at work was a bit looser in the first couple of weeks after the earthquake, as though everyone was still experiencing that survival instinct. The social studies teacher (the son of a temple and consequently is usually shaved bald) came in covered with stubble when he lacked running water to perform his morning ablutions. Teachers would leave in the middle of the day to try to fill up their tanks with gas, to avoid the lines that stretched blocks away from stations. One took a day or two off to check on elderly parents in the north. So it wasn’t too surprising when several teachers gathered around M-sensei as he put his loot on the coffee table where visitors are served tea. He opened the boxes.

From one issued the delicious smell of korokke that made my mouth water. From the other came the cold, metal smell of raw flesh and blood that made my mouth dry out. This latter box was filled with articles for instruction on, I don’t know, anatomy or biology or dissection or pure, bloody-minded, delight in “would you look at that *squish.*” I’m sometimes not sure what the difference is with people who like science, much as I’m not sure if there’s a difference with teenagers who can be quite morbid.

I don’t understand science, and consequently I don’t think about it much. Oh, I know vaguely that it’s having its effect on me at all moments, but it’s not an effect I’m interested in dwelling on the way I dote on music or books or movies. Perhaps I could live without those things – but I would not care to. While my anatomy or my biology or the physics of me I could not “live” without, for the most part, but I would not mind it.

The other science teachers munched their korokke while oohing unflinchingly over the other contents – that of a pig, it turned out, hearts and lungs and even a ziploc bag of eyeballs. The more squeamish teachers – like my sensible English department cohorts – took their snack to a safe distance.

“Would you look at that?” one science teacher marveled over something an organ revealed to her about its previous owner. “That’s really a beautiful specimen.”

I could sort of see where they were coming from – I find all sorts of things beautiful that horrify other people. And if I turned on a certain sort of “lens” in looking at the organs, I could see that they had a beauty even if I understood it only in terms of usefulness, and parallelism. I have a heart, this pig had a heart, and now his heart is going to be used to teach a hundred children (who also, presumably, have hearts) how his and theirs work. So they can grow up to be doctors and science teachers and butchers, I suppose.

But that switch, like all the others on the vast circuit system of my brain, takes an effort to switch. And I could make it and go over and marvel and drool with the others, or I could be the weak-stomached little they expect me to be and stay in my seat. M-sensei invited any teacher who wasn’t busy during the science period to tag along to the class to watch. The science teachers gladly took him up on it – I politely declined. I also politely declined a korokke. They nodded and smiled – and it could have been any number of excuses - “I’m not hungry, I don’t like eating when it’s not a meal time, I don’t like greasy food.” But I didn’t mind if they assumed it was because I couldn’t stomach eating that could have come from the same animal that gave us the eyeballs staring at me from a foot away.


After the classes were over for the day, and the students had had their fun, the teachers were discussing how the special show-and-tell had gone over. They were surprised how well the girls handled the gory stuff. Personally I’m of the opinion the female of the species handles blood much better than the male, once we start dealing with puberty.

No one was surprised with D-kun’s fascination – he’s a student that doesn’t do a thing in class for assignments or worksheets, but spends the entire period drawing elaborate, miniscule battle-scenes on every square centimeter of his notebook. Like, Where’s Waldo level of intricacy – stick figures with machine guns and machetes and falling off cliffs and strangling each other. It’s equal parts impressive and disturbing, as is his extensive knowledge of bug anatomy that seems to have come from hands-on (and wings-off) experience.

After that science period, he asked if he could bring an eyeball home.

“How would you get it there?” M-sensei asked him.

“I could put it in this plastic bottle,” he volunteered.

They finally refused his request, on the grounds of what his mother would think if he came home the proud bearer of a pig’s eyeball in bottled mineral water.

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