Here’s this week’s Media Mix about animal welfare, a topic we’ve written about before but usually in the context of cultural perception. What makes the subject particularly perplexing in Japan is the cognitive dissonance created when the cavalier and often cruel treatment of livestock is contrasted with the image of farm animals, especially those raised for meat, as being almost giddy about their own fate. Japanese advertisers have no problem with portraying these animals as being simultaneously delicious and cute. But it gets weirder. The other day I saw a tweet, by a non-Japanese person, I believe, about an advertisement the person saw on a Tokyo subway. The advertiser was American pork exporters and the ad was a drawing of cartoon pigs enjoying a barbecue of pork products. It was essentially a kind of cartoony Hieronymous Bosch pastisch of cannibalism. Regardless of the exporters association determination to penetrate the Japanese market, I am positive they didn’t come up with the idea of the ad. It was surely the work of the Japanese advertising company they hired, beause I’ve seen these kinds of ads before in Japan, though never as horrifically blatant. One smiling pig in the panorama was even wearing what looked like a sausage necklace.
The disconnect is not limited to advertising and the public arts. The column mentions the NHK drama “Natsu-zora,” about a dairy farm in Hokkaido in the 1940s and 50s. The milk cows are not just resources; they’re portrayed as part of the family. This happens on dairy farms in many countries, but in Japan this sort of communion with livestock extends to animals fated to be butchered at a young age. After the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in 2011, there were many stories about cattle ranchers abandoning their animals, with tearful farmers expressing bottomless remorse about how they had to leave the animals they’d grown so attached to to fend for themselves. Most Japanese people took this remorse at face value, and the media got a lot of sentimental, melodramatic mileage out of it, but I just felt confusion. Even if these cows were dosed with radiation, they’d live longer on their own. Had the accident not occurred, they’d be on their way to the slaughterhouse as soon as they were big enough. The emotional outpouring doesn’t make any sense. When I’ve expressed this confusion to others, some have replied that it’s a kind of Buddhist thing: You appreciate the sacrifice that an animal makes for you, so there’s no real paradox here. Whales are a fairly good example. Japan kills whales for food and sets up memorials in whaling towns to the sea mammals themselves. The sailors pray for their souls at temples and such. Then they go out and harpoon them in the most brutal ways. Sorry if I sound culturally indifferent, but it seems to me that these sailors and farmers just want their capitalist cake and eat it too.