A couple of weeks ago, around the time I was starting to think about writing the Kokura fashion report, one of the Japanese teachers at my school received a courier package. That’s Japanese as in literature, composition, and such, since besides me, everyone at my school—students and staff—is ethnically Japanese. The receiving of a parcel isn’t unusual in and of itself, since various teachers often get deliveries: textbook samples, standardized test scores, home ec supplies. The list goes on. I only noticed it subconsciously, absorbed as I was in correcting some second-year student translations—which, coincidentally, were all about fashion—until the teacher in question stopped by my desk and showed me the open box and started gesturing towards its contents. She eventually flagged down an English teacher to translate.
On the outside of the carton there were some Japanese characters, a picture of something vaguely brain-shaped, labelled “Antarctica,” and a picture of a penguin. Inside the box were some chunks of ice about the size of a small fist, but slightly flattened and a bit jagged. No lining, no bag, no styrofoam. Just a cardboard box full of ice. And not the vanilla kind, either.
I was going to make you suffer through a purely verbal description today, but the gods that smile on photo lovers are happy today, so you get text and pictures. Here’s the box, with an investigative hand (not mine).
The chunks looked a bit like the compressed plow scrapings that, back in the cold dark days of my childhood winters in Saskatchewan, I used to scavenge from the side of the road. You know, the kind that are great for building snow forts with. Except that this ice was translucent, it didn’t have sand and salt and sundry tailpipe drippings holding it together, and the chunks were smaller. Here’s a closeup. Looks like something salvaged from the renovation of the castle of the White Witch.
One teacher walked by, listened to the ice story, and ran his fingers across a piece to feel how cold it was. Then he licked his fingers to find out what it tasted like. He had no comments, at least none that I understood. This was followed by another male teacher, who suggested that rather than showing the ice to the students, he could take it home and have it with whisky. This attitude—of interacting with the world through its edibility—is the norm here. For example, last year when Lia was describing moose to her students, their first question wasn’t “How big are they?” or “Are they dangerous?” but “How do they taste?”
Returning to the topic of Antarctica, you may wonder why our school received this gift from the south pole. It turns out that the teacher who received it has a friend at the Japanese research station there. From the printing on the box, and prevailing Japanese attitudes towards the edibility of everything, I suspect that souvenir packages of Antarctic ice are pretty common. Perhaps the scientists there are performing the same kind of “research” on ice that Japan’s
whale hunting fleet marine biologists are doing on cetaceans.