The God pigs of Taiwan

<Update: October 5, 2010 >I just noticed a surge of visitors to this post, so I thought I’d add a link to a Flickr photo set I took of the god pig sacrifice at a small temple next to the apartment where I was living in Taipei at the time.

Doesn’t that sound like the title of a pulp story or B movie?

The Ghost Month is nearing it’s end here in Taiwan, and all through the past few weeks festivals and offerings have been visible in temples and shrines and in front of homes and businesses throughout Taipei. While most people reading this may know that Chinese religion involves the offering of food, drink, and burned fake paper money (which looks nothing like real money) to ancestor and god spirits, the continues existence of ritual animal sacrifice may surprise some.

Danny Bloom had a short post on Japundit about two weeks ago, the day after I saw my first pig offering at a small corner temple I pass everyday on the way to class.

Taiwan’s Hakka ethnic group holds an annual festival during the seventh lunar month, where a unique custom of sacrificing “spirit pigs,” which are traditionally grown to a huge size — and we mean HUGE — before being slaughtered.

However, in keeping with the principles of the ethical treatment of animals, today’s ceremonies often use likenesses of pigs instead of the real thing.

In this photo from the Taipei Times, a sculpture of a ‘divine pig’ can be seen outside Taipei City Hall, where the annual Taipei Hakka Memorial Ceremony was taking place recently.


The August 13th Taipei Times had a rather hilarious photo of a pig stand-in made out of fruits.

They also have two interesting articles about the tradition of pig sacrifice in Taiwan.

Sacrificial swine prompt backlash
The belief that “the bigger the sacrificed pig, the more luck a person will have for the rest of the year” has resulted in a lifetime of agony for hundreds of pigs, bred by farmers to become abnormally overweight before slaughter, animal-rights activists said yesterday.

Dozens of activists from several animal-rights groups yesterday gathered in front of the Council of Agriculture (COA) to protest traditional pig contests, saying the government has failed to regulate abusive practices toward animals.

Showing a documentary about pigs selected for the contest, activists said that 15 to 18 months before the overweight pigs are killed as sacrificial offerings, they are deprived of fluids, exercise and even turning over freely. The pigs undergo these cruel farming practices until their weight reaches upwards of five to six times their normal weight, activists said.

The accompanying photo truly must be seen to be believed. Yes, those are the pig’s ears at the bottom.

Three days ago the same publication had a good article giving a roundup of various traditions of the Ghost Festival. Of interst here is the final anecdote, concerning a rural pig farmer who raises animals for sacrifice, which gives a much more accepting description of the practice than the earlier story focusing on animal rights protesters.

About 10km away from the Yonglian Temple, a different type of religious tradition is taking place. The Ghost Festival had attracted about a dozen pig farmers carrying truckloads of sacrificial pigs to the Tachong Temple in Pali (八里) Township, Taipei County, one of three local temples taking turns to host the annual event.

The 210-year-old Tachong Temple has just been designated as having historically significant architecture, and temple managers hope to begin a renovation project by the end of next month to give the building a face-lift.

Chou Chin-tiao (周金條) won this year’s pig-raising contest with an animal that weighed 890kg. The first runner-up came in far behind, at under 500kg, with the second runner-up weighing about 400kg.

This was the fifth time Chou won the contest. The secret of growing such a big pig, Chou said, lies in the fodder. The feed he uses contains grain shells, rice porridge, canned fish, pig oil, milk powder and raw oysters.

The animal is fed twice a day, with 14kg of fodder each meal, and is given water every three hours. The cost for the fodder alone is about NT$30,000 a month.

During the summer, he has seven fans blowing on the animal to keep it cool and comfortable.

During his some 30 years of pig farming, Chou said that only three pigs died under his care. Although he spends more time and effort taking care of the animals than his wife and four children, Chou said that it pays off when he wins the highest honor.

“I don’t raise the pigs for the gold plate or certificate of merit,” he said. “I do it to fulfill a promise I made to the Buddha when I was poor that I would offer big sacrifices if I could have food to eat and clothes to wear.”

Matsui Struggles with English, Wonders if there’s a “good way to learn out there”

Yukan Fuji (also known as ZAKZAK online) via Yahoo! Japan (rough translation, not always direct):

Matsui Struggles with English, Wonders if there’s a “good way to learn out there”

CHICAGO (Yoshihiro Kuboki): In the second game of the season pitting Yankees left fielder Hideki Matsui and White Sox infielder Tadahiro Iguchi against each other, Matsui, fifth in the order, hit a grounder to 2nd and Iguchi, second in the order, hit a grounder to the shortstop.

Meanwhile, Hide Nakata, who recently switched teams to Britain’s Bolton, surprised local media outlests by speaking fluent English without relying on an interpreter at his welcome press conference [Tr: He also forced Japanese reporters to ask him questions in English. Poor guys!]. So, how is Hide Matsui holding up with his English?

Matsui always answers questions at locker room press conferences through his interpreter, Rogerio Carron (sp?). However, a local reporter praised his English, saying, “Sometimes we talk candidly when the interpreter isn’t around, but I didn’t notice him having any trouble. He understands enough of what I’m saying.”

On the bench, it is not uncommon to see Matsui joking and laughing with friends such as team leader Derek Jeter. Though in his first year “Godzilla” couldn’t understand a word of what manager Joe Torre was saying at meetings, now he can even understand Torre’s jokes. Later, when asked whether he gave any consoling remarks to Yankees pitcher Scott Proctor after he walked in a run at the recent Yankees-Devilrays game, Matsui replied, “There’s no way I could have talked to him. I don’t speak English!”

One might recall that Matsui doesn’t really like to be asked about his English ability, like the time when he returned to his hometown and avoided the urgings of the host of a gathering of villagers to let them hear him speak English.

However, Matsui, in his 3rd season in Major League Baseball, is putting a lot of effort into his English studies. He doesn’t say much about it, claiming, “I don’t do anything special. I wonder if there is a good way to learn out there,” according to a source close to Matsui, he has a few English converation books close at hand in his home, and he looks them over when he can find some free time. He is also being proactive in using his English, trying such everyday (for a pro baseball player) tasks as ordering room service.

It is said that the reason Matsui is studying English so diligently is because he wants to speak more with Derek Jeter. Matsui respects Jeter because they both came up through hard work, not by sheer talent. Matsui is able to get excited about studying because he has a clear motivation. The day may come soon when Matsui speaks English at a press conference that outdoes Nakata’s.

Guns, Germs, and Steel- a reader’s exercise

At the moment I am about 2/3 of the way through Jared Diamond’s book “Guns, Germs, and Steel.” Basically it’s a history of human civilization written by a scientist, trying to uncover root the root causes for the success and failure of civilizations around the world while attempting to destroy the racist and culturalist theories behind the common ‘rise of the west’ narrative. With this rolling around in my head, here is my off the cuff (and in true blog style, completely unedited) attempt at a response to a post over on the blog, in which Chirol argues that Arab cultural values are responsible for their current material backwardness. I don’t normally post this sort of thing here, but it may lead to some interesting comments.

It seems to me that the failure of the Arab world is not at heart a result of their culture, but their lack of significant exploitable natural resources aside from oil. Yes, oil makes a lot of money for them, but it requires only a very, very small percentage of the population to actually exploit it to its maximum potential, creating no incentive for the rest of the population to work. One could argue that in effect, the culture is backwards because there are few good ways for them to modernize in a material fashion.

Why is the West advanced and the Arab world behind? Due to the allocation of natural resources, the industrial revolution could only have happened in Western Europe (or possibly China), and the Middle East was too far away from deposits of iron and coal necessary for industrialization to make such innovations realistic. Only in the later stages of industrialization, when we began using engines that ran on liquid fuel instead of coal did the region have anything of material worth to offer the modern world, and it is only a single raw resource destined for export, not raw materials that could become the bases of a production oriented economy.

Oil is basically the only source of wealth in the Middle East, and it is for the most part controlled and profited from exclusively by the elites. Look at the Saudi family, and the former Saddam Hussein regime. The only places where most of the population is actually well off are those such as Dubai, where oil money is redistributed through a socialist benefits system that works because there’s so damn much money they don’t even have to worry about managing the economy. It’s not even ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,’ everyone just gets free money without having to work at all. Sure, everyone gets a free education, even fully-subsidized study abroad if they want, but to what end? How many of the people you have met in your life would in fact work hard under such conditions, when failure presents no threat of want?

Regardless of whatever ‘cultural values’ people in the Middle East possess, I don’t see how their economies and societies can realistically modernize under the dual strangle hold of oil and autocratic government. If democracy genuinely takes hold in Iraq than we may have the opportunity to make an interesting experimental comparison, but it still remains to be seen how much the free oil money may retard genuine development there as well. Perhaps if they follow Norway’s example, and put the bulk of the money in a kind of trust fund and use some to fund contemporary development of other industries they will actually be able to succeed.

You cite above “Inability to accept responsibility for individual or collective failure” as a trait of “failing cultures.” It seems to me that in fact success and failure are to a large degree determined by ones environment, and the current environment of the Middle East, awash in oil but no other opportunities, is one which offers precious little hope for more than a small minority to improve their personal circumstances significantly. The other conservative social and religious values on your list make more sense when you realize that religion is primarily the refuge of the weak, there is nothing like the promise of Heaven to justify one’s sorry lot on Earth, and nothing like calling those who are more successful than you infidels or heretics to sooth one’s self esteem.

Ishihara to produce movie on kamikaze

Toei Co. will begin shooting a film next year on the lives of young kamikaze suicide pilots in World War II with Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara as the executive producer and scriptwriter, the film producer said Monday.

Ishihara, a novelist before turning to politics, is known for his nationalist views. He wrote the script based on his past conversations with the late Tome Torihama, who operated a canteen in Chiran, Kagoshima Prefecture, and took care of young kamikaze pilots there before departing on their suicide missions.

“The young people who headed for their deaths were saved spiritually by Ms. Tome, who was like a bodhisattva to them,” Ishihara said at a news conference.

The Japan Times: Aug. 23, 2005

Funny how he brings bodhisattva into the mix. Why do they need to be saved by Buddhist figures if they were dying for the honor of their god-Emperor? You need to keep these things straight Mr. Ishihara, whatever happened to shinbutsubunri?

Gov’t to launch ‘Warm Biz’ campaign from Oct 1

Can’t wait to see what Koizumi will wear! If he’s still PM that is…

BTW check out the LDP Manifesto (Click where it says “120”) for some great shots of Koizumi looking majestic and wise.

Gov’t to launch ‘Warm Biz’ campaign from Oct 1

Monday, August 22, 2005 at 19:28 JST
TOKYO — Japan will kick off the “Warm Biz” campaign Oct 1, an autumn-winter version of the “Cool Biz” campaign held during summer, to promote energy conservation by encouraging business people to wear layers of clothing and help reduce the use of heaters, the Environment Ministry announced Monday.

Under the campaign, office workers will be encouraged to wear knitwear, warm underwear and headwear so that they can comfortably work in an office with a temperature of 20 C, the ministry said.

(c 2005 Kyodo News. All rights reserved. No reproduction or republication without written permission.)


The Washington Post just posted a dual review of two books discussing the impact that Japanese art had on the European art world during the late 19th century, as Japanese art began to flow into the West following the ‘opening’ of Japan by Perry and the subsequent Meiji restoration.

Japonisme is filled with firsthand observations from a slew of artists such as Renoir and Monet. The author pinpoints the relationship between James McNeill Whistler’s oil paintings, especially his “Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony,” and Torii Kiyonaga’s work. A woodcut print of a group of Japanese courtesans entertaining a customer is juxtaposed with Whistler’s painting of Western women dressed in kimonos: The composition and the perspective, with its view of the water, were clearly inspired by Kiyonaga’s print, which, in fact, Whistler owned.

Cultural Crossings Between Japan and the West
By Lionel Lambourne
Phaidon. 240 pp. $69.95

The Bing Empire
Edited by Gabriel P. Weisberg, Edwin Becker and Evelyne Possémé
Mercatorfonds. 295 pp. $69.95

The Zimmerli Art Museum, located on the campus of my alma mater, Rutgers University, has a well put together collection also entitled Japonisme, which primarily focuses on art created in France under the influence of Japanese works. I recommend that anyone at Rutgers or in the vicinity check out this exhibit (I believe admission is free, but that may only be for students. Or I may be wrong.) Unfortunately, they have but a single image from it online.


Comprising turn-of-the-last-century European and American works on paper and ceramics as well as related Japanese art, this collection reveals the strong influence of the art of Japan on the art of the West and in so doing reflects the pervasive cross-cultural interchange which took place between Japan and the West beginning in 1854 when, after 200 years of isolation, Japan opened its doors to the West.

The many Adam Richardses of the world

I figure this is OK to post since my full name is right on the sidebar of this page, so here you go. Ever Google yourself? I have, and I’ve noticed that there are some pretty successful Adam Richardses out there:

The heavyweight boxer (“Adam Richards (9-1) outpointed John Dixon of Gautier in a four round heavyweight fight.” Way to go, man!)

The local pro wrestler. Holy crap I’m such a badass! Check this out:

Name: Adam Richards

Nickname: The Chosen One

Faction: The Texas Mafia (w/ Kyle and Michelle Richards)

Hometown: San Antonio, Texas

Entrance: The arena goes dark and the lights begin to flash red as “New Abortion” by Slipknot hits the BlazenTron. Flames explode when the first yell is heard and when the first lyrics are heard, Adam Richards appears on the stage. After staring at the crowd, Adam makes his way to the ring, slides inside and moves to the far right corner of the ring to pose. Adam then jumps down, turns around and waits.

Fighting Style: Brawler

Persona: Adam Richards loves to scare the fans with all the painful moves in his repertoire. He hates the fans and everything they represent.

Signature Moves:
– Tornado DDT
– Frog Splash
– Standing Shooting Star Press

– Pure Impact (Swinging Sidewalk Slam)
– The Apocalypse (Electric Chair Drop)

Quote: “I live for the thrill of the violent moment!”

Superstar History: Originally from San Antonio, Texas, Adam Richards, who was trying to follow in his brother Kyle’s footsteps, tried to find a job in the wrestling business with no success. Even though Adam was a virtual unknown in the business, the Epic Wrestling Organization gave Adam a chance to compete with their company. It was on November 13, 2004, that Adam Richards worked his first match for the eWo against Devin Washington and Shane Nitro and impressed, even though it was in a losing effort. After a long wait in-between matches, Adam Richards got his first chance at eWo gold in a battle royal on December 22, 2004. The match was for the eWo National Championship. Adam lost the match, yet again impressed the company in a losing effort. On January 5, 2005, Adam Richards would again have a chance for more gold, this time for the eWo Gutz and Glory Championship. However, before the show took place, the company was bought by Kevin Void and has not had a show since. Tired of waiting, Adam decided to try his luck elsewhere and joined the Blazenwing Wrestling Federation to team with his brother Kyle and sister Michelle as the Texas Mafia.

Title History:
– BWF Hardcore Champion (1)

Way to be a champion!

The British Stuntman:


Fight Director: Bugsy, Lion Witch Wardrobe, Man in the Moon, Team One

Special Skills: Twenty five years experience in the fighting arts both teaching and studying.
British National Martial Art Award for coaching.
Founded own style KUEN TAO.
Gymnastic instructor, personnel fitness instructor, Fencing instructor.
Coach to two British martial Art Champions in Kickboxing and Grappling.
Full Driving Licence including Fork lift and motorbike.
Fight Director.
Chinese Lion/Dragon Dance.
First Aider.

Sweet! I need to get this guy to teach me how to take a punch.

The Australian Rollerblade Hockey player (of the “Snipers”). Lots of athletes, damn. I am such a dork, the only “sport” I play is Dance Dance Revolution.

The Australian commercial landscaper with a TV show
. Lame!

The Utah engineering student:

Adam Richards dreams of designing or flying helicopters.

US: If you were a superhero, what would your name be? Why?

Richards: Super Dusty. Dusty was my nickname as a kid.

US: What is your pet peeve?

Richards: People that park next to the curb when their “only going to be there for a second”.

US: If you could travel anywhere where would you go? Why?

Richards: Alaska. It’s not crowded. I worked there for a summer and it’s really pretty.

US: What is your personal philosophy on life?

Richards: It’ll be all right.

US: What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken?

Richards: Any number of the stunts I did as a kid. They were all death defying – BMX riding, walking the conduit across the ravine, jumping off buildings trying to fly.

US: What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Richards: Anything with a bunch of chocolate and caramel swirls.

US: If you could go on tour with a band, who would it be? Why?

Richards: Someone not on tour very long, I wouldn’t like it much.

US: If you had five hours of free time right now, and money was not an issue, what would you do?

Richards: Fly to Alaska and buy a plot of land. Then I’d figure out how to get back afterwards.

US: What were the last three books you chose to read?

Richards: “Fall of Baghdad,” “Ten Minutes to Normal” and “Plan of Attack.” They were just there at the library.

BOOOORING!!!! This guy can’t stop thinking about helicopters and Alaska… what gives?

OK, that’s enough for now… I’ll try and catalog some more Adam Richardses later.


An amusing article in the Taipei Times:

Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) said yesterday that the term Taike (台客) should be an adjective for young Taiwanese men who possess clear and logical thinking, and who speak eloquently.

“When the noun and adjective Taike is used, usually people are calling or describing somebody who is not elegant or has bad taste in clothes and no sense of style, perhaps even in the way they talk. I hope that we can turn this upside down and make it all around,” Hsieh said.
Taike is a recent popular noun and adjective which media often have used to describe somebody who gives the impression of having bad taste in many respects, such as the way they dress, their speech and behavior.

Originally, Taike was first used in 1990 in Taiwan among teenaers, but the term did not become widespread until recent years.

Stereotypical Taike dye their hair different colors, wear colorful shirts and baggy pants all the time irrespective of the occasion, talk a lot, drink too much, curse constantly, chew betel nut and speaks Mandarin with a heavy Taiwanese accent.

I first heard this term when I went on a trip to Penghu a few weeks ago with a group of Taiwanese when a couple of the girls were using it to tease one of the guys on the trip. Interestingly, despite what the article says, I only heard the term ‘tai,’ not the longer ‘taike.’ Still, the description in the article fits what I heard. According to the girls I was with, there are two basic types of ‘tai.’

First is the type who just doesn’t know/care how to dress or act: flip flops, a sloppy and vaguely bow-legged way of walking, exercise shorts, probably a betel-nut chewer. Second: the kind who thinks they know how to dress, but is tragically and comically mistaken. There may not be any exact equivalent in America, but perhaps if you meditate a little on terms like ‘redneck‘ or ‘guido‘ you may begin to get at least a kind of relativistic sense of what’s going on.

Does anyone out there have any good examples, either in words or photos?

Roll call: who can read Japanese?

The other Horie?

I’m just wondering how useful it would be for me to post Japanese-language links on this site. Take the following for instance:

Nippon News Network — Low-res videos of Japanese news stories. No ads, good selection.

Asahi Net News — Higher res, but the high res videos don’t seem to load well on my DSL.

The Diet NOW — A daily column by “citizen journalist” Hideo Hamada covering events in the Japanese Diet. His analysis has been indispensible for me recently as I try and understand developments leading up to the election.

Those are some things I’ve been reading. I’m interested to know how many people are out there who are like me (English native speaker who speaks/reads Japanese) and care about sites like that. Let me know!

Yukio Mishima’s lost film version of “Patriotism” found

The Japan Times reports that the film version of Yukio Mishima‘s famous short story “Patriotism,” thought to have been destroyed by his wife following his suicide, has now been found.

Mishima’s widow, Yoko, who died in 1995, was believed to have destroyed the original along with all copies of the film.

But the negative was found in a wooden box by Hiroaki Fujii, producer of the 30-minute black-and-white film, according to publisher Shinchosha Co.

Fujii had persuaded Yoko, who pulled all copies of the film from theaters and burned them after Mishima’s suicide in 1970, to hold onto the original.

The film includes scenes that foreshadow Mishima’s suicide in 1970 at the Ground Self-Defense Force’s regional headquarters in Tokyo’s Ichigaya District.

A character in the film, a lieutenant involved in the Feb. 26 Incident, a failed 1936 military coup, commits hara-kiri.

Mishima also committed hara-kiri at the GSDF regional headquarters after calling on officers to launch a coup d’etat.

I managed to find a digital copy of the story from a dead website with the help of google cache, and I’ve mirrored it here.

Patriotism, by Yukio Mishima