Category Archives: science

Okinawa Diary, 1975: Scientists

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.

When I was just about to pull the well padded but light futon over me and return to my dreams, I realized that I had a pretty blue and white ribbon in my book as a marker, and it was really a ribbon for entry into the Aquapolis Ocean Seminar which was to be held this morning. This realization had an effect on me like Spinach has on Popeye and I was in a whirlwind of activity to catch the 9:30 bus.

Since all the bigwigs were there from all over the world there was a tiresome ribbon-breaking ceremony but was over before I got tired of looking at all the scientists who were gathered informally before the ribbon to make the crossing into the lecture hall once the Japanese reps sent their best three forward to scissor the tape in three spots. Lorenz, the Nobel prize winner from Germany, clapped one free hand over the back of the other coat-holding hand every time applause was fitting, and glanced about with very playful eyes during the whole affair. When the blue ribbon was finally sliced, he was the first to lunge forward and cross the sacred ground, but then retreated quickly to herd in with the others slowly.

We all took our seats in the small lecture section which was separated off with a curtain that went across the one side of the seats and, circled in back of the speakers’ podium, only enclosing two sides of the rectangular seminar area.

Lorenz made a comment about Japanese, being natural born gardeners and then made it clear he was interested in aquarium “gardening,” putting in a plug for his friend at the Enoshima aquarium. A little later he generalized again by stating that “most of you are fishermen … I have yet to meet a Japanese that didn’t enjoy a little fishing,” at which time he asked someone from the Japanese audience to volunteer forward and read the name of certain fish that he had in his book. There was an embarrassing moment when no one seemed to realize what he was asking for, and he finally had to ask one of the runabout electricians to read it.

He wanted everyone to start an aquarium, which he claimed is what got him on his road to becoming a scientist, but he wanted people to realize that they had better start an aquarium without fish, and then add fish as nature’s balance could handle it. He talked of eutrophication in English but with a German accent. The water gets stinky and it’s like the Red Tide. Fish suffocate. Lorenz wanted us all to realize the “vulnerability of the sea.” Then he showed films and excused himself.

Later on in the pavilion I noticed one of the scientists that had been at the Seminar and hadn’t spoken. I got to talking with him and found out that his job was to “deliver nerve membranes to Munich,” which is rather specialized, to say the least. His special concern was in the transport of squid from A to B. Difficulties mainly stem from the nasty habit of the squid to squirt ink that is even fatal to itself, but from which it usually escapes in ample water. I suggested stunning the squid, but he said that that only loosened the ink-releasing muscle while stunning the “push off” mechanism which is the usual source of ridding the salt water pocket of ink that will harm the intestines. I suggested pumping water thru to dilute the ink, but he said that the squid still panicked in enclosed areas and would ink himself to death because he would tire out, and again be unable to use the muscles that usually clear his inner pouch of this poison as he propels himself away. Sad state of affair, I admitted. Then we talked about the difference between jumping on the moon and jumping in an aquarium. Ho-hum.

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Kubary: From Naturalist to Land Grabber in the German Pacific

From Mikloucho-Maclay: New Guinea Diaries 1871–1883, trans. & ed. by C.L. Sentinella (Madang, PNG: Kristen Pres, 1975), pp. 324-329:

The administration of the Kompanie on the Maclay Coast was put in the hands of a certain Herr Kubary, a Polish national of Hungarian origin with a British passport which he had acquired while on a brief visit to Sydney. He had spent many years in Micronesia as an ornithologist and naturalist collecting for German museums. He had been collecting very successfully in the Caroline Islands for the Museum fuer Voelkerkunde in Berlin when in September, 1885, his contract with the museum was suddenly terminated for the flimsiest of reasons, leaving him stranded on the island of Yap. It is difficult to believe that this sudden loss of his livelihood was accidental. It seems more probably that this was manipulated by the German foreign office. The dismissal notice had come with the visit to Yap of a German warship, the Albatross, which was in the Pacific for the specific purpose of planting the German flag on the various islands of the Carolines. Kubary was offered employment as interpreter and guide on the Albatross, and for this he was ideally suited as there was no one with a more intimate knowledge of this area of the Pacific. Stranded in Yap as he was, he had little choice but to accept.

After the islands had been formally annexed by Germany, Kubary and his family, consisting of a half-caste wife and two children, were landed at Matupit [Rabaul] in New Britain, where he was put in charge of a plantation. After a time, he was transferred to take charge of the Neu Guinea Kompanie possessions in Astrolabe Bay [now in Madang Province] and he established himself in Bongu. Later he was transferred a few miles up the coast to Bogatim when the administration headquarters was transferred from Finschhafen. The latter had been abandoned, more or less in panic, as a result of the fearful mortality from tropical diseases among the Kompanie officials there.

Herr Kubary, who boasted that he was “the Lord God of Astrolabe Bay,” proceeded ruthlessly with the acquisition of land in pursuance of the policy of the Neu Guinea Kompanie for the expansion of plantations. The Kompanie was quite unscrupulous in its methods of acquiring land. The officials superficially inspected large areas which appeared suitable, sometimes merely climbing a tree and inspecting with binoculars, and then displaying a quantity of European goods — axes, knives, beads, cloth, etc. — they offered to purchase the land. The natives, not understanding what was really involved, appeared to agree, and a document was drawn up only vaguely defining the area and magnanimously excluding the village and an undefined piece of land for native cultivation. Each adult male member of the village or villages was required to touch the pen before his name was appended to the document. By such methods the Kompanie became the “legal” owners of vast areas of land, although it was many years before any actual survey was made. In a similar way Kubary acquired large areas around Bogadjim for a few axes and some tobacco. The level fertile land behind Gorendu and Gumbu was soon taken from the natives right up to the Gabenau River, leaving the natives of those villages without land for cultivation. Bongu was somewhat more fortunate in that the land was not so level but had a series of rather steep ridges running down in the direction of the sea and was therefore not so acceptable for Kompanie plantations. The Gorendu and Gumbu people, face with lack of garden land, had to turn to Bongu land and ultimately were compelled to be aggregated with Bongu village, where their descendants live to the present day, still retaining their Gorendu and Gumbu identity.

The concept of individual ownership and free disposal of land was quite an alien one to the natives, and, in any case, they themselves did not own this land. They had been granted the right to use it for cultivation purposes and to dig for clay for pottery-making for which they were famous.

Kubary was discharged from the Kompanie in 1895 and went back to Ponape in the Caroline Islands. It seems to be in the nature of poetic justice that the right to his own plantation on Ponape was disputed, and while on a visit to the Spanish authorities in Manila to appeal for his rights, the plantation was completely devastated in a native uprising against the Spaniards.

In Astrolabe Bay, Kubary left a legacy that was the cause of unending trouble for the German authorities. The natives had been warned by Maclay that white men might come who would not be like him and were not to be trusted, but he also warned that to resist them by force would be hopeless and would only invite disaster. Now, faced with white men whose behaviour at best was unpredictable and often baleful, the only alternative seemed to be to offer as little cooperation as possible without displaying any open hostility.

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Russian–Papuan First Encounter, 1871

From Mikloucho-Maclay: New Guinea Diaries 1871–1883, trans. & ed. by C.L. Sentinella (Madang, PNG: Kristen Pres, 1975), pp. 17-20:

As I was approaching the hut I heard a rustle and, on glancing round in the direction from which it came, some paces away I saw a man standing as if rooted to the ground. He glanced for a second in my direction and then dashed into the bushes. I went after him, almost at a run, waving a piece of red cloth which I found in my pocket. Looking back, seeing that I was alone and completely unarmed, and that I was making signs to him to approach, he stopped. I slowly approached the savage, silently offering him the red cloth, which he took with obvious pleasure and bound round his head.

He was a Papuan of medium size, of a dark chocolate colour with dull black somewhat curly hair, short like a negro’s, with a broad flat nose, and eyes looking out from under overhanging brow ridges, and a large mouth, almost, however, covered by a bristling moustache and beard. His entire costume consisted of a rag about 8 inches wide, tied firstly in a kind of girdle and drawn down between the legs and attached to the girdle from behind. Two lightly-bound bands of plaited dry grass were placed above the elbows. On one of these bands or bracelets was stuck a green leaf of Piper betel, in the other on the left side was a kind of knife, made of a smooth sharpened piece of bone (a cassowary bone, as I afterwards found out). The savage was well-built, and with a well-built musculature. The facial expression of this, the first of my new acquaintances, seemed quite engaging. I somehow thought that he would obey me, and I took him by the hand, and not without some resistance led him back to the village. At the open space I found my servants Ohlsen and Boy, who were looking for me, and were at a loss as to where I had gone. Ohlsen presented my Papuan with a piece of tobacco—which, however, be did not know what to do with—and silently taking it he thrust it behind the bracelet on his right arm, beside the betel leaf.

Whilst we were standing in the middle of the village, from amongst the trees and bushes, savages began to appear, uncertain whether to approach, and ready at any minute to turn in flight. They were silent and stationary, remaining at a respectful distance but closely watching our movements. Since they would not move, I had to take each one separately by the hand and, in the full sense of the word, drag them into our circle. Finally, having gathered them all in one place, tired out, I sat down among them on a stone, and proceeded to distribute various trifles—beads, nails, fish hooks, and strips of red cloth. They obviously did not know the significance of the nails and hooks, but not one of them refused to accept them.

Around me were gathered eight Papuans. They were of varying sire and showed some, although very insignificant, differences. The colour of the skin did not vary much. The sharpest contrast with the type of my first acquaintance was a man, rather taller than the average size, lean, with a hook-shaped prominent nose and a very narrow forehead pressed in on the sides. His beard and moustache were shaved, and on his head towered a sort of hat of reddish-brown hair, from under which, hanging down on the neck, were twisted plaits of hair, exactly like the tube-shaped curls of the inhabitants of New Ireland. These curls hung behind the ears, down onto the shoulders. Two bamboo combs were sticking out of the hair, one of which, thrust into the back of his head, was decorated with some black and white feathers (cassowary and cockatoo) in the shape of a fan. Some large tortoise shell rings were inserted in his ears, and in the nasal partition a bamboo rod was inserted; the thickness of a very large pencil, it had a pattern carved on it. On his neck, in addition to the necklace of the teeth of dogs and other animals and shells, hung a small bag. On the left shoulder hung another bag reaching down to the waist and filled with various articles.

The upper part of the arm of this native, as of all those present, was tightly bound with plaited bracelets in which were thrust various objects, some of bone, others were leaves or flowers. Some of them had a stone axe slung on their shoulder, some were holding a bow in their hands of considerable size (almost the length of a man) and an arrow more than a metre long. Their hair styles were also different with different colours of the hair, some completely black, others decorated with red clay, some had the hair worn like a hat on the head, and others had it cropped short, while still others had the previously described ringlets hanging round their neck—but all were curly like a negro’s. The hair on the chin was wound in small spirals. There were minor differences in the skin colour. The younger were lighter than the old.

Of these eight Papuans of my first meeting, four appeared sick. Two had legs disfigured by elephantiasis, and one was an interesting case of psoriasis, which had spread over his entire body. The back and neck of the fourth was studded with boils, which formed large, hard protuberances and on his face were several scars, probably of previous such boils.

As the sun was already setting I decided, in spite of the interest of my first observations, to return to the corvette. The whole crowd accompanied me to the beach carrying presents; coconuts, bananas and two very wild piglets, whose legs were tightly bound and who squealed untiringly, all were placed in the boat. In the hope of more firmly strengthening the good relations with the natives and also with the idea of showing my new acquaintances to the officers of the corvette, I suggested to those surrounding me to accompany me to the corvette in their pirogues. After prolonged discussion five men got into two pirogues, the others remained and even, it seemed, strenuously tried to dissuade the courageous ones from their bold and risky undertaking. One of the pirogues I took in tow and we made towards the Vityaz. Halfway, however, the bolder ones had thought it over, and by signs indicated that they did not wish to go further and tried to release the tow rope. At the same time the other pirogue quickly turned back to the shore. One of the men sitting in the pirogue which we were towing behind us even tried to cut through the tow-line with his stone axe. It was only with extreme difficulty that we succeeded in dragging them on deck. Ohlsen and Boy took them up the ship’s ladder practically by force. On deck I took the “prisoners” by the arm and led them down to the quarter-deck. Their whole bodies trembled with fear, and it was only with my support that I could keep them on their legs, supposing, probably, that I was going to murder them. Meanwhile it had grown quite dark and lamps were brought and gradually the savages grew calm. They even brightened up when the officers brought them various objects and treated them to tea, which they drank up straight away. In spite of such a friendly reception they were obviously pleased to go, and went down the ladder with great haste to their pirogue, and quickly rowed back to the village.

On the corvette they told me that, in my absence, natives again appeared and brought with them two dogs, which they killed and whose carcasses they left as a kind of gift on the beach.

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Pirogov’s Surgery Innovations in Crimea, 1855

From The Crimean War: A History, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2011), Kindle Loc. 5191-5224:

Born in Moscow in 1810, Pirogov began his medical studies at Moscow University at the age of just 14, and became a professor at the German University of Dorpat at the age of 25, before taking up the appointment of Professor of Surgery at the Academy of Military Medicine in St Petersburg. In 1847 he was with the Russian army in the Caucasus, where he pioneered the use of ether, becoming the first surgeon to employ anaesthesia in a field operation. Pirogov reported on the benefits of ether in several Russian-language publications between 1847 and 1852, though few doctors outside Russia were aware of his articles. Apart from the relief of pain and shock through anaesthesia, Pirogov emphasized that giving ether to the wounded on arrival at the hospital kept them calm and stopped them from collapsing so that the surgeon could make a better choice in selecting between those cases requiring urgent operation and those that could wait. It was this system of triage pioneered by Pirogov during the Crimean War that marked his greatest achievement.

Pirogov arrived in the Crimea in December 1854. He was outraged by the chaos and inhuman treatment of the sick and wounded. Thousands of injured soldiers had been evacuated to Perekop on open carts in freezing temperatures, many of them arriving frozen to death or with limbs so frostbitten that they had to be cut off. Others were abandoned in dirty barns or left by the roadside for lack of transport. There were chronic shortages of medical supplies, not least because of corruption. Doctors sold off medicines and gave their patients cheaper surrogates, exacting bribes for proper treatment. The hospitals struggled to cope with the enormous numbers of wounded. At the time of the allied landings, the Russians had hospital places for 2,000 soldiers in the Crimea, but after Alma they were overwhelmed by 6,000 wounded men, and twice that number after Inkerman.

Conditions in the Sevastopol hospitals were truly appalling. Two weeks after the battle of the Alma, the surgeon from Chodasiewicz’s regiment visited the naval hospital:

He found the place full of wounded men who had never had their wounds dressed from the day of the Alma, except such dressings as they could make themselves by tearing up their own shirts. The moment he entered the room he was surrounded by a crowd of these miserable creatures, who had recognized him as a doctor, some of whom held out mutilated stumps of arms wrapped up in dirty rags, and crying out to him for assistance. The stench of the place was dreadful.

Most of the surgeons in these hospitals were poorly trained, more like ‘village craftsmen’ than doctors, in the estimation of one Russian officer. Practising a rough-and-ready surgery with dirty butcher’s knives, they had little understanding of the need for hygiene or the perils of infection. Pirogov discovered amputees who had been lying in their blood for weeks.

As soon as he arrived in Sevastopol, Pirogov began to impose order on the hospitals, gradually implementing his system of triage. In his memoirs he recounts how he came to it. When he took charge of the main hospital in the Assembly of Nobles, the situation was chaotic. After a heavy bombardment, the wounded were brought in without any order, those who were dying mixed with those who needed urgent treatment and those with light wounds. At first, Pirogov dealt with the most seriously wounded as they came in, telling the nurses to transport them to the operating table directly; but even as he concentrated on one case, more and more seriously wounded men would arrive; he could not keep up. Too many people were dying needlessly before they could be treated, while he was operating on those patients too seriously wounded to be saved. ‘I came to see that this was senseless and decided to be more decisive and rational,’ he recalled. ‘Simple organization at the dressing station was far more important than medical activity in saving lives.’ His solution was a simple form of triage which he first put into practice during the bombardment of Sevastopol on 20 January. Brought into the Great Hall of the Assembly, the wounded were first sorted into groups to determine the order and priority of emergency treatment. There were three main groups: the seriously wounded who needed help and could be saved were operated on in a separate room as soon as possible; the lightly wounded were given a number and told to wait in the nearby barracks until the surgeons could treat them; and those who could not be saved were taken to a resting home, where they were cared for by medical attendants, nurses and priests until they died.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Dosanko, Marimo, Pechika

Here are a few more words I picked up from our travels in Hokkaido last month and from my followup reading in Ann Irish’s book Hokkaido (McFarland, 2009).

道産子 Dosanko ‘(Hokkai)do-born-child’ – Originally applied to a particular breed of horse, the Hokkaido Pony (北海道和種 Hokkaidō washu), this term now applies to anyone or anything from Hokkaido: from prefecture-marketing antenna shops to cooking styles to streetcar types. It has become the prefecture’s brand name.

毬藻 marimo ‘ball seaweed’ (Aegagropila linnaei) – We first saw marimo on display in a small aquarium by the souvenir shops in JR Kushiro train station. They are a species of filamentous green algae (Chlorophyta) that forms large and velvety green balls. Colonies of such balls are only known to form in lakes in Iceland, Scotland, Estonia, and in Japan, where they are one of the many attractions of Lake Akan in Kushiro. The Japanese botanist Kawakami Tatsuhiko (川上龍彦) gave it the name marimo in 1898. Ainu names for it include torasampe (‘lake goblin’) and tokarip (‘lake roller’). English names for it include Cladophora balls, Lake balls, or Moss balls. Marimo also gave rise to a whole range of mascot merchandise under the name Marimokkori.

ペチカ pechika ‘Russian stove’ – It was in Hokkaido that I learned that Japanese ikura ‘salmon roe’ was borrowed from Russian икра (ikra), and in Irish’s book I learned of another Japanese borrowing from Russian, pechika ‘Russian stove’ from печка (pechka), the diminutive of (Русская) печь ‘(Russian) oven/stove’. The Japanese who settled Hokkaido adapted some Russian techniques to deal with the harsh northern winters, including horse-drawn sleighs with curved runners and stoves that radiated heat more effectively than the open fireplaces that were standard in traditional Japanese living/dining rooms. Those settlers included not just migrants from Honshu during Meiji times, but also refugees from Sakhalin, the Kuriles, and Manchuria after World War II ended. My impression is that Japanese pechika refers not to the large Russian ovens of clay, brick, or tile, but to smaller iron stoves, like the one in this Japanese fisherman’s workroom. Irish (p. 285) mentions “the Japanese song Pechika, which describes a family telling stories around a stove.”

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Wordcatcher Tales: Fuki, Shishiudo

During our Japan Rail Pass travels in Hokkaido last month, we encountered not just hordes of Chinese tourists (mostly from Taiwan) inside the trains, but also hordes of two kinds of large, green, weedy plants in the scenery that passed by our train windows. Wooded areas were often full of plants we recognized from our past travels as fuki ‘butterbur’, while more open areas were often infested with what seemed to be a giant, atomic mutant variety of carrot or Queen Anne’s lace. We didn’t find out what the latter was until we saw a sign identifying it at Cape Nosappu, at Hokkaido’s (and Japan’s) easternmost point.

Fuki (フキ, also written 蕗、苳、款冬、菜蕗) ‘giant butterbur, bog rhubarb’– Petasites japonicus is quite edible after removing some of its astringency. It makes a variety of side dishes to go with rice in both Japan and Korea. (However, too much of it eaten over long periods might damage the liver.) We had encountered it in 2012 at Hikone Castle, where a smaller variety was labeled tsuwabuki, and also at Akita Castle grounds, where we also found butterbur designs on a manhole cover.

noroi-signShishiudo (シシウド, also called アンゼリカ anzerika) ‘angelica’ – Angelica is indeed a genus within the family Apiaceae (or Umbelliferae), which includes carrots, Queen Anne’s lace, and many other plants, so my impressions of its taxonomic status were at least in the ballpark.

However, the Japanese generic name suggests that Angelica is a type of udo ‘Japanese spikenard, mountain asparagas’ (Aralia cordata), in the closely related Araliaceae family, which includes ivy. Indeed, before I found out its name, I thought of it as udo no taiboku ‘great tree of udo’ (implying something useless, of large size but no strength, like ‘all hat, no cattle’ in American, or at least Texan, English).

Two local species were identified on the sign at Cape Nosappu. Both common names are prefixed with ezo ‘Yezo (the old name for Hokkaido)’:

エゾニュウ ezonyuu (Angelica ursina)

エゾノロイグサ ezo no yoroigusa (A. sachalinensis var. sachalinensis)

As the Japanese name of the latter suggests, both species seem closely related to the yoroigusa (Angelica dahurica) that grows elsewhere.

According to Wikipedia, Angelica dahurica is a wildly grown species of angelica native to Siberia, Russia Far East, Mongolia, Northeastern China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. It tends to grow near river banks, along streams and among rocky shrubs. The root of the plant is widely used for its medicinal properties and is known to contain furanocoumarins and angelicotoxin. It is also commonly known as Chinese Angelica, Garden Angelica, Root of the Holy Ghost, and Wild Angelica, as well as its Chinese name, Bai Zhi (白芷).

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Antarctic Cuisine: Skua Piles

From Hoosh: Roast Penguin, Scurvy Day, and Other Stories of Antarctic Cuisine, by Jason C. Anthony (U. Nebraska Press, 2012), p. 185:

Skua piles, named for the kleptoparasitic gull, are a USAP tradition and the clearest sign that we are a transient community. Simply put, departing people leave behind their excess stuff in a heap near their dorm recycling area, and arriving people grab what they need for their season. If you’re in the right place at the right time, you can find anythings: homemade bookshelves, insulated work clothes, flannel sheets, half-filled shampoo bottles or, less usefully, broken pencils, used batteries, and sex toys. Skua piles are so fundamental to the local culture that “skua” is as common a verb as it is a multipurpose noun. Stuff is skuaed, the wise go skuaing, and so on. Much of the food is condiments people are too lazy to return to the galley or odd items that no one really wants to eat but are unwilling to throw away. I saw the same can of fiddlehead ferns from Maine disappear and reappear over several years. Dusty jars of nearly flavorless spices that I twice claimed, never used, and returned years ago may still be snatched excitedly each summer by a desperate home-cooker. But again, anything is possible in the skua piles; I have stumbled upon rafts of cooking supplies and a new electric teakettle that someone didn’t feel like mailing home, as well as quick-cook oats, rice, and other staples there for the taking.

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