Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Politics and Society in Comic Verse – Senryu of March 10, 2012

Just one, this week.

"Oh, intercourse the penguin!"

Pengin ga
Oshiete kureta

It is a penguin
That teaches us the meaning of

Tokyo’s very lovely public aquarium in Kasai Rinkai, the Tokyo Sea Life Park has, or had, a large outdoor colony of 153 Humboldt penguins in an outdoor display. However, on the 3rd of this month came reports and even photographic images of a penguin swimming in Tokyo Bay near the mouth of the Edogawa. It was at this point that the aquarium discovered that one of its yearling Humboldt penguins was not in the pen.

Now this would not be such surprising news, given that the aquarium has had penguin breakouts before. However, what made the story notable was that not only had the escapee managed to make it to the water (earlier breakouts had led to penguins wandering the halls and patio areas) but it had somehow breached the extra layer of security the aquarium had installed after the earlier breakouts.

A fully grown Humboldt penguin is about 60 centimeters tall. The rock wall about the pen is about 120 centimeters high at its lowest point. So initially, a not particularly physically fit penguin had to jump and scramble up a rough surface at least twice its height.

The next layer of security is what is a presumably unclimbable smooth fence, again 120 centimeters tall at its lowest point. The penguin did not have to try to jump this fence, however. Due to an installation lapse there is, a one point, a space along the bottom of the fence where a penguin could, if it flattened itself, squeeze under – which is what aquarium keepers assume it did.

However, once past the low fence there was a higher, two-meter fence on the aquarium’s outer perimeter, with its panels buried into the ground – except, understandably, where the fence had a gate in it for exit and entry – where, as it turns out, in order for the door to swing freely, there is a space at the bottom, where a penguin could, if it flattened itself, squeeze under – at which point a penguin would be on the Kaisai Rinkai shore.

The aquarium has been on the receiving end of criticism for underestimating the risks of a breakout, given previous breakouts and the strength of young penguins.

The kicker expression in this senryu is the final word soteigai. At six syllabic units it violates the 5 – 7 – 5 pattern and thus indicates that the poem is not about the penguin at all but the Fukushima Dai'ichi nuclear power plant.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the government of Prime Minister Kan Naoto, in their explanations of why the earthquake and tsunami that struck the Fukushima Dai'ichi nuclear power station on March 11, 2011 resulted in a crippling of the reactors and cooling ponds, constantly attributed the failures of back up systems and preventative measures to the plant's being subjected to inconceivable (soteigai) conditions. The metronomic repetition of this word ticked off a lot of folks, particularly the late Nishioka Takeo, the president of the House of Councillors. He publicly warned the Kan government to cease its overuse of the word. (J)

So a simple penguin, in its thwarting of a main barrier and then two layers of backup, teaches us about thinking the unthinkable – something TEPCO and the government nuclear regulators, despite warnings as to Fukushima Dai'ichi's vulnerabilities, failed to do.

(For the record, the senryu is the work of one Haraguchi Kei'ichiro, a resident of Asaka City, Saitama Prefecture.)

Later - If you should see the penguin, the number to call is +81-(0)3-3869-5152.

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