Secular Puritanism and the Culture of No-Place

So I watched the japanese award-winning anime Pom Poko the other week.

The movie concerns the efforts of a group of Tanuki, aka japanese raccoon-dogs, (not raccoons, but they look very similar and belong to the dog family) to stop housing developers from destroying their forest (the Tama Hills countryside on the edge of Tokyo).

It really underscored how a folk culture evolves alongside the land it inhabits, and how the converse happens too; a rapaciously expanding culture evolves in a kind of ignorance of the land it rolls over…not out of some lack of green values, but perhaps simply because it moves too fast to grow that relationship.

Japanese folkore celebrates the Tanuki for many things; such as their ability to transform into different guises (ranging from people to iron pots), their gullibility (some term it stupidity), and their enormous testicles.

Yep. In fact, some american viewers of Pom Poko have complained about their children’s unexpected exposure to raccoon-dog testicles.

In our culture (a culture I believe that still enacts the values of Puritanism, its founders, thus a culture of secular puritans), nudity and sexual organs (primary and secondary) can only mean one thing: sex. Thus breast-feeding mothers struggle in many different parts of the country to hold on to (or regain) their right to breast-feed in public.

In Japan, the Tanuki’s testicles, known as “the Golden Balls” (Kin-tama), mean fertility and good fortune. The Tanuki drum on them, use them for self-defense, and transform them into a variety of useful objects.

To an american viewer, the display of the Tanuki’s reputable anatomy can seem bizarre, almost otherworldly. What strange people, these Japanese! Yet modern America has developed little relationship to the animals that live here. We borrow heavily from Native American folklore if we want to tell fantastic tales about Coyote, owing to the simple fact that we don’t bother to build our own relationship with Coyote. Much less his testicles.

Ironic note, from Wikipedia:

A common schoolyard song in Japan…makes explicit reference to the tanuki’s anatomy:

Tan Tan Tanuki no kintama wa,
Kaze mo nai no ni,
Bura bura

(Roughly translated, this means “Tan-tan-tanuki’s testicles, there isn’t even any wind but still go swing-swing”.It then proceeds to continue for several verses, with many regional variations. It is sung to the melody of an American Baptist hymn called Shall We Gather At The River?.)

[my emphasis]

I can appreciate a little debasement of Puritanism for the sake of Tanuki nuts. I hope you can too.

I don’t mean to imply that we have zero tradition at all of mythologizing/folklorizing american wildlife; clearly we have some amount of popular culture investment in such things, even if just through Walt Disney, Inc.

Our modern dilemma consists of the fact that we have no meaningful history here with the land, no relationship with it (except as a culture of occupation). Bambi has taught us little of how to coexist with her; we simply make her into the Noble Mammal, or an annoying scourge (when we find her inconvenient), much like we do with all indigenous and tribal peoples (Gypsies included).

The Puritans came here to establish an ideal world, a Utopia (u – topia, “no – place”). I think they succeeded.

But now, our turn has arrived. What kind of stories does the land demand we tell? Let’s continue to find out together.

Written by Willem