Japanda: Panda Nation

"I felt like putting a bullet between the eyes of every Panda that wouldn't screw to save its species."
- the protagonist of Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk

The Japanese government has hit another low in its reaction to the triple disaster that struck northeast Japan this year. The news today is that Prime Minister Noda is backing a plan to spend money on building a panda facility at Sendai Zoo in order to cheer the local children after their ordeals this year. (Noda to lobby China for Sendai panda deal).

Some might think this is a nice idea, but really, we have to wonder about priorities here. I feel sorry for the thousands of people overseas who donated so generously to disaster relief because the Japanese government is ignoring its responsibility for giving the proper assistance to victims in the form of practical, material support for such things as heaters, housing, relocation expenses, or guaranteed income through a period of resettlement. Instead, it is wasting money on meaningless boosterism and giveaways to local construction firms to build panda shelters at zoos, or to “decontaminate” buildings with spray washers. In the most egregious case, money intended for disaster relief has been funneled to security costs for the Japanese whaling expedition to Antarctica. By some stretch of logic, the money is supposed to provide jobs and stimulus spending to “whaling communities” on the northeast coast.

In many ways, however, the obsession with pandas is perfectly fitting for Japan. The news today called to my mind the above line from the film Fight Club. I wouldn't wish the violence on the creature, but I feel the same way about a people that has lost the will, and perhaps the ability, to save itself. This forlorn, listless animal with a failing survival instinct is the perfect symbol for the occasion.

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