Carp and animal rights

As Shinto spreads in the West, one hears more and more about it being a religion that prizes nature and is ecological in essence.  Unfortunately that is far from the case in Japan, where the ancestral element in Shinto leads to tradition trumping environmental issues.

One such instance to come to light recently is in the abuse of animal rights at a Shinto ceremony involving carp. This was highlighted in an article in the UK’s Daily Mail (hardly noted as an environmental campaigner, one hastens to add).  For Shintoists in Japan keeping up the ways of their ancestors is far more important than compassion for animals. It’s a pattern one sees again and again, serving as a reminder that Shinto is far from being simply a nature-loving religion.

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He drinks like a fish! Call to ban traditional Japanese ceremony where a carp is plied with wine in a bid to banish evil spirits

  • Ceremony is conducted every year in the city of Tonami, western Japan
  • It is due to superstition that women are unlucky at age of 33 and men at 42
  • Custom has been criticised after it was shown on television programme 

Campaigners have called for a ban on a traditional Japanese ceremony in which a carp is made to drink wine in a bid to banish evil spirits.

The ceremony is conducted every year in the city of Tonami, western Japan, due to a superstition that women are unlucky at the age of 33, while men are unlucky at 42 – with participants desperate to reverse the ‘curse’.

However, the custom has now been slammed online for being ‘abusive’, after a television programme showing the ceremony taking place was aired in Japan.

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Campaigners have called for a ban on a traditional Japanese ceremony in which a carp is made to drink wine in a bid to banish evil spirits 

Campaigners have called for a ban on a traditional Japanese ceremony in which a carp is made to drink wine in a bid to banish evil spirits

The ceremony is conducted every year in the city of Tonami, western Japan, due to a superstition that women are unlucky at the age of 33, while men are unlucky at 42

The ceremony is conducted every year in the city of Tonami, western Japan, due to a superstition that women are unlucky at the age of 33, while men are unlucky at 42

During the ceremony, the men carry a live carp in a bucket to the river, while the women carry a bottle of Japanese rice wine, led by a Shinto priest, Rocket News 24 reported.

When they get to the riverside, the men hold the fish still while the women pour the wine, called nihonshu, into their mouths.

At the end of the ceremony, the carp are released back into the water.

It is believed that alcohol has a purifying effect on the carp, believed to be the god of the river

A poll conducted afterwards found that 8,000 viewers believe the custom should stop. Many took to social media to slam the ceremony, arguing that it was ‘unnecessary’ and a form of ‘abuse’.

An expert who appeared on the Morning Show suggested the alcohol does not have much impact on the fish, as the majority of it escapes through the gills.  However, a study in 2014 found that giving a zebrafish ethanol did have a significant impact – doubling its swimming speed.

The tradition is thought to have begun in 1816. At the end of the ceremony, the carp are released back into the water

The tradition is thought to have begun in 1816. At the end of the ceremony, the carp are released back into the water

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Comments

Carp and animal rights — 2 Comments

  1. Question – is there a possible compromise to accommodate both the tradition and the animal rights? For example, would merely pouring a small offering of sake into the bucket, or the river (for the carp to “choose” to drink) be acceptable to either party?

    • A nice attempt at compromise, Matt. I can’t speak for those involved of course, but I can imagine that traditionalists would insist on things being done the way they have been in the past. Look at whaling and dolphin slaughter at Taiji – not much sign of compromise there!!

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