Wednesday, July 08, 2015

A Fish Tale Part 1: What I wrote to my kids at camp

While others complain or laugh at the letters they get home from camp (although none can quite compare to what I wrote my mother over a quarter-century ago), I spend a lot of time thinking about what I should write to my kids. When the little Goofs are at sleep-away camp they insist that I send them lots of letters because apparently they are entertaining. Sometimes I try to tell stories. Last summer I wrote a little mystery for them in a genre they particularly love. But I also relate adventures with the far-flung branches of our family. Last summer I visited Scotland to join Clan MacMannes as we faced off against our ancient enemies the McGoofs. Turns out there is a real clan McManus in Ireland. This summer, family duty called me elsewhere:


Don't tell mommy. I didn't leave the airport after I dropped you off. I had my own flight to catch. The Mannesushis (our family in Japan) are in trouble. Since time immemorial the Mannesushis have been guardians of a vast nature preserve for the gentle snow monkeys who live in northern Japan. We live at peace with them, sharing sashimi, playing games, and enjoying the natural beauty of our home. There are places where you can visit the snow monkeys (they look like little white gorillas), but not at our family's nature preserve. These are sacred monkeys that must be left in peace.

Unfortunately, a big development company in Tokyo wants to develop our preserve for tourism. They promise not to build, just to let tourists come. But they do not understand, these snow monkeys are under the personal protection of the emperor and must be left in peace.

Understand, though it isn't just about leaving the snow monkeys in peace. When they are at peace Japan is at peace. During WWII someone had caged them and all of Japan (and the world) suffered. More recently, a poacher killed one and Godzilla attacked Tokyo.

What does all of this have to do with me, you wonder?

The developers are challenging the Mannesushi stewardship of the sacred snow monkey preserve. Under an agreement established under the Tokugawa shogunate five hundred years ago, if the Mannesushis introduce unwarranted innovations into the preserve they can no longer be stewards. The developers are arguing that cel-phones are a modern innovation that disrupts the the natural life of the sacred snow monkeys. (The monkeys like to play games on the phones, like SushiChef and Angry Birds - and especially Hello Kitty! One snow monkey has a Twitter account!)

Under the agreement, the only way to settle the dispute is through a sushi eating contest. Now you can see where I come in. They sent a charter jet and Pop and I are heading to Japan to eat sushi and save Japan (and maybe the world.)

Anyway, the plane has an onboard sushi chef and some great Japanese beer. So Pop and I are warming up!


We landed in Tokyo, it was a great flight! But really long, then we were whisked north on one of the super-trains (it is almost as fast as an airplane.) Pop and I were having a great time and looking forward to the sushi eating contest. We thought it would be a blast.

Turns out things are much more serious than we realized. When we got there, we learned that there had just been a ninja raid on the nature preserve and one of the snow monkeys was kidnapped! This is very bad, it undermines the Mannesushi’s claims as guardians of the snow monkeys. It was then that I realized that something important was going on.

Pop, since he is a real estate attorney, was talking to the Mannesushis about the development plans and legal aspects. He also went over the sushi eating contest rules.

There was a beautiful and peace Japanese garden at the Temple and I began walking along the trails. The garden didn’t look very big, but as I was walking the garden seemed to get bigger and bigger. It also got wilder. Before I knew it I was in deep woods with enormous, ancient trees. A pair of snow monkeys stood in front of me. They had spears. They looked fierce, but at the same time oddly gentle. They gestured for me to follow them. They took me even deeper into the woods.

We came to a clearing. The circle of great trees were like the pillars of an ancient temple and the leaves filtered the sunlight like stained glass windows. The shadows on the ground shifted slightly in the breeze like a vast kaleidoscope.

In the center there was a snow monkey. He looked like the other snow monkeys, but was somehow different. He was so perfectly white, it was as though light come out of her (somehow I suddenly knew it was a lady snow monkey.) She gestured for me to come close and sit before her. She looked deep into my eyes. She did not speak, but somehow I heard her voice. Low and gentle, but firm.

She told me it was very important that I prevail in the sushi eating contest. Japan is a modern nation that makes cars and electronics. But it is also an ancient place with deep magic. Somehow, these snow monkeys bind the two and if they come unbound Japan, and maybe the world, will be in great danger.

I said I understood, even though I didn’t and would do my best.

She looked at me again and told me not to eat the sushi.

I didn’t understand.

If you eat the sushi, it will fill you. You must be the ocean to which the fish return. 

I know that sounds strange, but I swear it made sense.

Then, in an instant, I was back in the garden and old Miyamato Mannesushi was walking towards me.

To be continued...

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