My Mother is a Tractor - Chapter 32

A Life in Rural Japan

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A cow fell from where!?

Some mornings, it’s just not worth chewing through the leather straps - Emo Philips

Chapter begins...

Beer bottles, a blanket and discarded snack containers on the rocks nearby were the sad reminder of a small gathering gone very wrong.

First light Friday there were search flights zooming up and down past my window. Out to sea a naval patrol vessel plied the waters. Had anybody heard of rubber dinghies and scuba divers in this country? It turned into a circus. A marquee was set up where about fifteen to twenty ‘rescue’ workers sat and drank o-cha while they plotted their next move. Three or four vehicles stood by, including one with a rubber dinghy on the back. Nobody was yet walking along the top of the breakwater, but occasionally a couple of them would walk up and down the beach. Obviously the body just floated out from under the breakwater by Friday night because by Saturday morning everybody had gone home and had to stop claiming overtime.

I think the word ‘rescue’ here is a little bit of a misnomer. More appropriate would be; “Let’s get a huge amount of men wearing overalls and helmets to erect a marquee, sit around together, scratch their heads, drink o-cha, try to form some consensus, and wait hopefully for the bodies to emerge.” Unfortunately this is too tragically true to be funny. Large-scale disasters in 1996 in Hokkaido (a road tunnel collapse) and nearby Nagano (mudslide) - not forgetting Kobe in 1995 - only confirm this. The drowning on the beach was a prime example. Two people in wetsuits, with a rubber ‘duckie’ and safety-winch would have perhaps been a little more economical, and maybe even quicker.

After the mudslide in Nagano, the government boasted that it had 1,870 people involved in the rescue effort (see: search for bodies). Every other day rescue workers would turn up, and I’m not joking here, a leg, shoe, or piece of head, before the newspapers got sick of the lack of body count and stopped reporting on it. In efforts to correct this shortfall in disaster preparedness, the government started to specially train fire fighters to deal with emergency situations. In the Nagano mudslide the excellent job they were doing in watching the situation from a nearby vantage-point was noted with satisfaction by the media. Hence, what is the bottom line here? One supposes that it’s don’t ever get into an accident in Japan - or at least hope for a very big air pocket!

Before we sadly depart the theme of ‘rescue’, hopefully to something more meaningful - however unlikely that is, I will pass on a story that came to me via email around this time and supposedly originating from a reputable news organisation. Even today it can still be found on national news sites. More likely urban myth, but humorous nonetheless. Apparently the dazed crew of a Japanese trawler was plucked out of the Sea of Japan clinging to the wreckage of their sunken craft. Their rescue was followed by immediate imprisonment after authorities questioned the sailors about the loss of their ship. To a man they all claimed that a cow, falling out of a clear blue sky, had struck the trawler amidships, shattering its hull and sinking the vessel within minutes. They remained in prison for several weeks, until the Russian Air Force reluctantly reported to Japanese authorities that the crew of one of its cargo planes had allegedly stolen a cow wandering at the edge of a Siberian airfield. Apparently the crew had forced the cow into the plane’s hold and hastily taken off for home. Unprepared for live cargo, the Russian crew was ill equipped to manage a frightened cow rampaging within the plane’s hold. To save the aircraft and themselves, they shoved the animal out of the hold as they crossed the Sea of Japan at an altitude of 30,000 feet, and it somehow managed to pinpoint a lone boat in a large sea. So if you were ever wondering if cows could fly, they can. Just not for very long…


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A "life in Japan" on the "JET Program" book

Tags:Life in Japan, Books, Safety in Japan, Falling Cow, ALT, Rescue, Hokkaido, Nagano, Kobe, Sea of Japan

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