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21 Mar 2011

Genpatsu-kun (Nuclear-Reactor-kun) and the Japanese spirit

filed under: journal  :: earthquake  :: humor  :: japan  :: japanese culture  :: japanese society

Here is another example of Japanese people trying to cope as well as help with a sense of humor. Note, this does not mean they're not taking this seriously, or that everyone in Japan has been calm and Zen-like as has been reported by parts of the foreign media. On the contrary, there's quiet but obvious panic, misinformation, wild rumors going around, and more. Most people outside of the seriously affected areas are in an anxious, wait-and-see state. But still, humor does not hurt, and this one is actually pretty useful.

On March 15, a media artist named Kazuhiko Yatani did a series of tweets, gathered here, that explained the Fukushima nuclear power plant situation in terms of poop and farts. Japanese people think pooping and farting is awfully funny, and this was his attempt to explain it in humorous and easy to understand terms. This was quickly turned into a cute animation for kids, and any adults overwhelmed by the amount of technical gobbledegook they are hearing. It stars Genpatsu-kun (Genpatsu is slang for a nuclear power plant, and -kun is a suffix used to address young boys), who has a bad stomach ache. In supporting roles are another other poor farter at Three Mile Island in America, and Chernobyl-chan (-chan is a suffix used for kids of both genders).

(Note: originally the video had a link to the website of the creators, a multimedia design company in Tokyo. However they quickly took off the link, maybe to avoid being accused of trying to profit from the current disaster.

Update: The man behind the animation has been profiled on Nikkei Trendy. His name is Kazuhiko Hachiya (Twitter: @hachiya and he is the head of Petworks, the company responsible for the PostPet online pet/game thing.)

Here is the original:

There are a couple of good English subtitled versions of Nuclear-Reactor-kun. I picked this one because the explanation under it has translated the original Japanese explanation properly too.

Ah, the silly Japanese. These are some comments I've seen about it from non-Japanese people (though to be fair, the vast majority do seem to 'get it'.) "Do they (the Japanese) not realize the severity of the situation?" "Are they just dumb?" "What kind of a joke this is?" "Do they have to make everything into a fucking anime?" And on and on. (I think that part of the reason for some of the negative reactions is that, in the West, just talking about bodily functions is considered rude, childish or even taboo. In Japan, nice middle-aged ladies happily discuss their constipation problems without embarassment amongst each other, albeit in polite, obscure terms.)

From my point of view, both the original text that Kazuhiko Yatani did, as well as the video that make it come alive for kids of all ages. Yes, Japanese people can be rather child-like at heart. Even as adults we like cute things that many people in other cultures will think way too childish. This is just one way we cope with life. Japanese people are able to be hardworking and efficient, as well as being silly. (Take a look at my Twitter avatar or that of well known Japanese tech blogger Gen Kanai. We aren't being silly, we are both adults, but having cute cuddly avatars helps us to cope in a tiny way.

Just look how the survivors are coping so calmly with desperate circumstances. Look at what the workers at the nuclear power plant, the firemen from Tokyo and their backups from around the nation, the Self Defense Force, the mayors and community leaders and hospital staff and onsite volunteers are doing. Even in the greater Tokyo area, largely undamaged physically but being rocked by aftershocks, faced with blackouts both planned and unplanned, are capable of doing. Even though there's been some panic hoarding of goods and other crisis behavior, when it came to a genuine emergency - the potential loss of power that was unplanned for - they were able to pull together, to save enough power by shivering under blankets without heat in the dark, a portable radio in hand to keep up with the news. Quite adult behavior, isn't it?

Besides, to me as a not very scientifically minded layperson, it makes the situation that is happening now at Fukushima Daiichi much clearer than all the expert explanations I've seen, including the real potential worst case consequences - not the misleading, poorly researched, fear-mongering ones I've seen flying around in much of the foreign "press" and even affecting certain governments with their own political agendas to protect. If Nuclear-Reactor-kun can't keep his poop in, the vast majority of people in Japan will be fine, physically. People living elsewhere will totally unaffected. Japan will, eventually, overcome the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami that destroyed so much, and took so many lives. It will even survive a worst case scenario situation of the nuclear power plants, and thrive again. It has suffered far, far worse in the past, and bounced back, time and again.

But if Nuclear-Reactor-kun dies, he may just possibly take a peaceful, largely rural region, an area of outstanding natural beauty, the home of thousands of people, their whole way of life for generations along with him, for a very long time.

Finally, since I did a translation of my own anyway, here it is. Just minor differences between this and the subtitles.

Genpatsu-kun got a stomach ache

Narrator (N): Due to that BIIG earthquake the other day, Genpatsu-kun in Fukushima (map) got a stomach ache.

(sound of stomach grumbling and farting)

Genpatsu-kun: "My stomach hurts....I'm gonna poop....!"

N: Genpatsu-kun's poop is really stinky. so if it leaks, everyone is going to be in a lot of trouble. Nuclear-Reactor-kun was holding on as much as possible but....

(Boom!)

N: Everyone heard a big sound from Nuclear-Reactor-kun and got scared!

A scared person (you): "He might have leaked poop!"

N: So they started sniffing around Genpatsu-kun to see if he had leaked poop. The smell wasn't so bad, so so they decided that he hadn't pooped, he'd farted.

N: But Genpatsu-kun still has a stomach ache. To make him feel better, the doctors at with Genpatsu-kun giving him medicine. Genpatchi-kun's medicines are sea water and boron (borium). Unlike humans, Genpatsu-kun needs to have his body cooled down. They had some trouble when they ran out of medicine, but right now, the doctors are giving Genpatsu-kun medicine as fast as possible. Even so, Genpatsu-kun has been farting several times, so his smelly has spread a bit more. But Genpatsu-kun's smells don't last too long, and people far away from him don't even notice. Some people complain "that smell is going to last forever!" but it just stays around for about a week, and then it disappears, so no need to worry.

N: A long time ago, in a place called Three Mile Island in America, someone like Genpatsu-kun also farted, but he didn't poop either. And the other name that comes ups sometimes, Chernobyl-chan, that was a big accident! It was like, "OMG, I pooped in class! And it was diarrhea! And I kept on running around!" kind of bad.

(Chernobyl-chan running around frantically, then sitting down dejected...)

N: But people think that a Cherynobyl-chan level big accident won't happen in Japan. Besides, Nuclear-Reactor-kun is wearing diapers! So even if he did poop, the poop won't go flying all over the place.

N: You might be thinking, "I don't want icky poop flying over here! What if it hits me?" But the really BAD poop is really heavy, so that's not going anywhere.

N: You know who's real cool? The doctors who are taking care of Genpatsu-kun. If they stay by Genpatsu-kun's side for a whole day, because his poop is about to come out, they kind of start feeling sick - their lives might even be in danger. So they're taking turns giving him medicine. It's really not the most efficient thing to have to keep taking turns, but for the sake of the doctor's health it can't be helped, right?

N: Are you thinking, "If he's wearing diapers, what's the big deal if he poops a bit?" The thing is, they've never had to get rid of a poop filled diaper before. Those diapers would be REALLY stinky, and it will also take a lot of money.

N: Anyway, the most important thing right now is to keep cooling Genpatsu-kun down. Everyone is trying as hard as they can to make sure Genpatsu-kun's poop doesn't come out.

N: If you see on the news, "Water injection has resumed", you can think "Oh they've started giving him medicine again". And let's be grateful to the doctors who are working hard to make Genpatsu-kun feel better.

N: Here's the worst thing that can happen. Genpatsu-kun poops, and his diaper leaks. Even then, it won't be as bad as Chernobyl-chan's accident, and the poop won't go flying a long distance, but people won't be able to live there anymore, and it might affect the vegetables and fish there too.

N: If that happens, the people of Fukushima who have to really try hard (to get back to normal life) anyway, are going to be in really bad shape. I think that's the reason why the doctors are working so hard right. I think the next couple of days are going to be the key. If we can get over that, so that the peaceful life of the people of Fukushima can return, then we'll be ok.

N: As someone who's been able to use so much power from here, that is what I am praying for, and I think that's what everyone should do.

N: With time, Genpatsu-kun's tummy will get better. I'm sure of it.

(note: This article in the Globe and Mail, not to mention the commenters, get it so utterly wrong it's funny. But then I'm sorry to say, from their other coverage of Japan it's quite evident that the Globe and Mail is quite clueless in this case.)

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