Ping and Pong
I have two goldfish (“kingyo”) - one named Ping, the other named Pong. I keep them in a 10-liter bucket in the house, not in a fish acquarium. For fresh water and water aeration I change the water almost daily from the cold water faucet in the bathroom. The fish seem to enjoy a cleaning. With fresh cold water streaming into their bucket they stop moving their fins and let their bodies float freely in the current. In addition, they open their gills wide as they float. I imagine they are letting the water from the current flow easily and naturally through their gills - like a human taking a deep breath of fresh air. Because I imagine they are enjoying it, I like to watch them. (Also, I have to keep an eye on them to make sure neither jumps out of the bucket after the water reaches the rim and begins to spill over, as Pong did a few weeks ago. I found him lying on the tiled floor of the bathroom, gasping as water splashed on top of him from the rim. I don’t know how long he was like that, but he survived.) Ping is an odd sort. His body is bulbous and awkward. It’s ridiculous because it is so impractical in Nature. Goldfish are bred as decorations, remember. It seems to me that Ping cannot always control his body, and sometimes he gets himself inverted and then just stays like that for a while. It has caused more than one scare in the family. When I see him I think, “Oh, Lord, he’s dead!” But closer examination shows that he is still breathing, and if I tap or jiggle the bucket he rights himself and swims around properly like a healthy fish. Ping just has a strange and scary way of sleeping is all.
We first got goldfish last summer time at a neighborhood summer festival. Goldfish are popular in the summer. It was a game - buy a paper net for 100-yen and use it to scoop up as many fish as you can before the paper dissolves in the water. I didn’t know how to take care of goldfish, and I had no special equipment for the job, so they quickly died. It’s a common story. Animal rights groups might conduct a survey and calculate how many millions of fish perish each summer through abuse or ill care. In fact, ill care might constitute abuse in their view.
But once having had the fish in the house, the children developed a liking for them, and as a parent I felt pressure to buy new fish to satisfy the taste. Having animals in the home can be both educational and morally instructive. The fish I got at a local pet shop have survived all this time, so I hope I am caring for them well enough. But I wish Ping would stop floating upside down in his bucket. It disturbs me, and some day he will really be dead.
I hate that thought first, because it is inevitable; and, second because it raises the issue of the morality of keeping creatures as pets. To be responsible for another life form, even if it is just a cat or a hamster or a goldfish, is a grave responsibility. (Even moreso, then, the decision to have children.) The wife is not happy with the goldfish. They are too bothersome (“mendoksai”),she says.
“Then you should not have introduced goldfish to the house,” I say.
“You bought these goldfish.”
“Yes, but it was you who introduced the fish to the house in the first place. Remember last summer’s festival when you bought them?”
Right away, I know that my wife is being confused by my use of the word “introduced.” So I grab a dictionary and look it up. I find the appropriate definition and show it too her, but all for naught. She is focused on the one fact that it was I who purchased our current goldfish - these ones - and she is right. But I am focused on the principle of having a pet in the house to begin with, which is a decision that she made, not me. But this is lost on her. In addition, at the time she supported my decision to purchase new fish to replace the original ones, which had died. This, too, is not only lost on her, but forgotten as well. Don’t expect logical reasoning from Japanese. More than others, I feel that Japanese concern themselves with what is immediately in front of them.
The wife’s ire even goes so far as to suggest getting rid of the fish by flushing them down the toilet, despite the fact that they are still alive.
“Life-hating mutant,” I thought. It’s the same life-hating mutant mentality that gave rise to fascist militarism seventy years ago and it reminds me of the dictum of some animal rights advocates - that the way we treat our animals speaks to, or reflects the way we treat each other.