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Shinto ceremony that involves feeding a carp alcohol criticized as 'animal abuse'

34 Comments
By Master Blaster, RocketNews24

Every year, the snow-kissed city of Tonami in Toyama Prefecture holds a ceremony wherein people feed a carp "nihonshu" (Japanese rice wine) and then release it into a river. It’s called a “Carp Releasing Exorcism” and is used to purge people of evil spirits.

However, after the event was covered on a national television program recently, a backlash began online, with many calling for Tonami to end this “abusive” custom of “intoxicating the wildlife.”

■ Why?

Taken at face value, the concept of making a carp drink alcohol and then throwing it away probably seems odd, but there is a kind of logic behind it.

In Japan, there is a widely held superstition called “yakudoshi” which are unlucky ages for each gender. As you can imagine, this isn’t an exact science, but the general consensus says that the worst year in a woman’s life will be at age 33, whereas men will want to watch their backs extra hard when they turn 42.

The years immediately before and after your yakudoshi are said to be rocky as well. For example, television personality and spokeswoman Becky will turn 33 this March and I think she would agree that things aren’t going so great at the moment. If the superstition holds true, 2017 will be a real Charlie Foxtrot for her.

To avoid such a fate, women in their early 30s and men in their early 40s will try to reverse the curse by any means necessary. This is where the Carp Releasing Exorcism comes in, where alcohol is believed to be a purifying agent and carp are regarded as gods of the river. So this ceremony is done to pay homage to the carp and hopefully earn some good karma in the process.

■ What happens?

In the main part of the Carp Releasing Exorcism, the jinxed men and women proceed to the riverside with the guys carrying a bucket containing a live carp and the ladies holding a large bottle of nihonshu. A Shinto priest leads the way, blessing their path.

When they arrive, the men will pick up the carp and try to hold them steady while the women pour the sake into the fish’s mouth. After that, the men will toss the creature gently into the water. Then, if all goes well, they will not be embroiled in a national scandal about an extra-marital affair…or stub their toe on a sofa.

■ In the spotlight

This event was said to have begun back in 1816 but has remained largely unknown among Japanese people as it takes place in only this one location. However, every once in a while a television producer catches wind of it and creates a segment for the rest of Japan to see. When that happens, the outrage begins.

Cue Asahi TV’s "Morning Show," which aired coverage of this year’s Carp Releasing Exorcism in which 11 men and women and four carp took part. While viewing it, one of the cast members remarked that it looked like they were “pouring a lot of alcohol” into the fish. Nevertheless, after an explanation of the ceremony and watching it, a real-time survey was conducted on the television audience with 36,000 viewers deeming it “understandable” and 8,000 feeling that “it should stop.”

On Twitter and message boards such as 2-channel, the disapproval was much more prominent, however. Comments came down on both sides of the issue but it would seem a majority were against the ceremony.

“It just seems like abuse.” “Isn’t it alcohol harassment?” “Why don’t they all go jump in a river drunk?” “Is this really necessary?” “This is a fishing tradition.” “If we keep ending things because someone gets offended, the world is going to get really boring.” “I don’t think they should do this anymore.” “People are too uptight these days.”

A spokesperson for the event told news site J-Cast News that they received about 20 negative emails and phone calls but only three or four positive contacts. That stands to reason, however, as people generally don’t call in just to say everything is fine.

■ Fish are people too

Despite the criticisms, the organizers of the Carp Releasing Exorcism say that they have no intention of ending the event and are convinced that they are not harming the fish. They claim that there is a dammed lake downstream and they have never seen any dead carp wash up after a ceremony.

The "Morning Show" also contacted a fish expert who said that the alcohol used doesn’t really affect these fish because most of it just escapes through the gills. It’s hard to say whether this is the case here or not, though, and as the online comments reveal, many people are not convinced.

Fish can get drunk, but as you might expect it would take much less to kill them than it would a human so a few swigs from one of those large sake bottles does appear fairly hazardous. There is also the fact that the fish is already out of the water and in a panicked state which doesn’t help matters any.

Controversy aside, it is interesting to witness what appears to be a “fish rights movement” going on among people in Japan recently. Following the outrage over an ice-skating rink’s decision to implant real fish into the ice for “ambiance” and now this backlash, there are growing elements in the land of sushi and dining on still-twitching squid that appear to be changing when it comes to the welfare of fish – even the lowly carp.

Source: J-Cast News via Yahoo! News Japan

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34 Comments
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Must be where the phrase "he drinks like a fish" comes from

3 ( +8 / -5 )

There is a big difference between freezing fish in ice for a gimmick and having them to take a few cups of sake for a religious/cultural event. At least this event we see the fish let go and for what looks like they all live after this event.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

No backlash for slaughtering other marine wildlife, but giving a fish a drink, in a religious ceremony no less?

Priorities are out of whack big time!

8 ( +12 / -4 )

The silly thing is that if the fish was eaten afterwords, it probably would not cause much of a stir, but letting it live is somehow a tragedy for some. Sounds tasty, actually.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

Whatever happened to religious freedom. First the hemp rope ceremony and now sake. Who is trying to target the Shinto Order with Imaginary misbehavior.

2 ( +8 / -6 )

The pouring of the sake down the carp's throat doesn't bother me as much as how long they keep the poor fish out of the water.

They take an awful long time having their picture taken during it and the fish is struggles to breathe and is definitely getting weak.

Do they die? The last part of this video shows a carp sitting absolutely still.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Do fish even metabolize alcohol? I know not all animals do, so it may not even affect them.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

What Speed said.

The fish seem to spend an awfully long time out of the water, their gills are held shut as the sake is poured in (so the claim that most of it just escapes through the gills is very dodgy) and for a fish that has just be released into the water to just sit there not moving - especially after a stressful experience, it should want to get as far away as possible as quickly as possible - is evidence that the fish are NOT 'not harmed'.

For the folk dressed up in their best traditional togs, it seems to be less a religious experience and more a photo op. Very shallow.

Also the claim that they are not harming the fish because they have never seen any dead carp wash up after a ceremony is sheer self-serving hogwash. It's OK to do anything to an animal just so long as you don't actually see it die? The commentary in the video mentions that the carp is used because of its 強い生命力, ie it takes a lot to kill a carp, you can subject it to all kinds of atrocities.

That doesn't mean it's OK to torture the poor things.

They could just symbolically release the fish into the river and drink the sake themselves, to toast them on their way. No need at all to abuse the poor things for the sake of a photo op.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

there is a widely held superstition + it's not an exact science = but there is a kind of logic behind it

Really?

6 ( +7 / -1 )

It's medieval. Even the "logic" behind it is.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

How many people would force liquor down the throat of their beloved pet cat, dog, bird, rabbit ?

appears to be a “fish rights movement” going on among people in Japan recently. Following the outrage over an ice-skating rink’s decision to implant real fish into the ice for “ambiance” and now this backlash, there are growing elements in the land of sushi and dining on still-twitching squid that appear to be changing when it comes to the welfare of fish – even the lowly carp.

good on these people. my hat off to them. You don't have to carve a fish open and eat it while it's still alive to know that it is fresh.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

A very unpleasant sight. Just....don't.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

In the spirit of things, they can all go for a fukahire lunch afterwards.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I fully agree. Stop it. I am also an Optic Nerve activist. People should also stop abusing their Optic Nerves and all LCD screen use should cease and desist.

-7 ( +3 / -10 )

Well yes... getting a fish drunk is so much worse than catching in on a hook, throwing into a bucket, and then cutting into pieces and eating it, sometimes after cooking it.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

It's abuse, bottom line, and for yet again an outdated ceremony that no one cares about save those proud and wounded few who must defend it. It's not just the alcohol they force feed the fish, it's the keeping them out of water, struggling, panicking, and suffering that is part of the abuse as well. I hope that people see this and shun the place until it is stopped.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

Women are unlucky at 33 and men at 42. Why? So they pour alcohol into a carp's mouth. Who makes this stuff up?

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Women are unlucky at 33 and men at 42. Why? So they pour alcohol into a carp's mouth. Who makes this stuff up?

People way, way, way, way, back, like close to 1300 years ago, and it is also in Buddhist teachings as well

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yakudoshi

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Shinto ceremony that involves feeding a carp alcohol criticized as 'animal abuse'

Do they force the carp to sing karaoke tunes as well?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Some "medieval" superstition, still running strong in 2017, isn't it Japan in a nutshell ? We should not be surprised.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

This is where the Carp Releasing Exorcism comes in, where alcohol is believed to be a purifying agent and carp are regarded as gods of the river. So this ceremony is done to pay homage to the carp and hopefully earn some good karma in the process.

ok let's dissect this:

alcohol is believed to be a purifying agent

so just drink it. should be enough.

carp are regarded as gods of the river

now, i ask you, is that any way to treat a god? to grab him or her and force liquor down their throat like a frat pledge?

So this ceremony is done to pay homage to the carp

So you pay homage to the carp by forcing liquor down its throat while its struggling to breath?

and hopefully earn some good karma in the process.

Karma- do unto others, unless you want someone to hold you down underwater and force a bottle of sake down YOUR throat- or get waterboarded by sake...

4 ( +7 / -3 )

As long as they use good stuff and none of that mouthwash they serve down my local

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Fish is probably thinking, "Free booze!?" It's a win-win for humans and fish.

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

Its ok cause fish dont have any feelings thats why we can eat them too

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

The whole thing sounds pretty fishy to me...

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Cruel and unusual - no excuses, okay in 16 century Japan, unacceptable in the 21 century.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

StrangerlandJAN. 14, 2017 - 08:41AM JST Do fish even metabolize alcohol? I know not all animals do, so it may not even affect them.

I would think the opposite is more likely to be the case. Species which cannot process alcohol are affected more, not less. Or at least more unpleasantly. This would be because without an enzyme for breaking down alcohol, the creature would have no biological process for reducing its effect. Alcohol is a toxin even with the human body's ability to break it down and eventually excrete it - imagine how much worse it is for creatures who haven't evolved that biology. Likely if they have the neurological ability to be aware of their own self it is an experience akin to force-feeding someone rotten food. Naturally it's not known at all that carp have that neurological ability, but it's understandable that some people would err on the side of caution with a fish-capable mirror test not being easily applied.

UtrackJAN. 14, 2017 - 08:33AM JST Whatever happened to religious freedom.

While there are numerous exceptions around the world, in general most people accept the principle that one's religious freedom ends at the ability to inflict harm on anything capable of being aware of that harm.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

There is a big difference between freezing fish in ice for a gimmick and having them to take a few cups of sake for a religious/cultural event. At least this event we see the fish let go and for what looks like they all live after this event.

The fish frozen in the rink weren't frozen alive, FYI.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

It's abuse, bottom line, and for yet again an outdated ceremony that no one cares about save those proud and wounded few who must defend it. It's not just the alcohol they force feed the fish, it's the keeping them out of water, struggling, panicking, and suffering that is part of the abuse as well. I hope that people see this and shun the place until it is stopped.

Oh please just get a grip will you. You people seem to always over react to the the slightest thing

0 ( +3 / -3 )

It's just a pity when some sectors pick on something that's not an everyday occurrence and peculiar to certain beliefs no matter how antiquated it is. This is simply Jbashing and religious condemnation at its finest! How would some react to the feeding of rats and other pests prevalent in everyday religious belief in other countries while the rest of its country people are dying of hunger? Truly some of us foreigners are having a good life and a good time with plenty of time on our hands to delve even on this little thing in the name of present day kind of humanity sense!

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

"but there is a kind of logic behind it"............

Are you serious? What a ridiculous statement......what kind of journalism is this?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

So it's a very obscure tradition in one place of about 200 years.

I'm not mad about it, it seems completely ridiculous, but, whatever. If it floats their boat, then let them be.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

trinklets2: "This is simply Jbashing and religious condemnation at its finest! "

J-bashing, eh? How about the fact that this is only news because it is JAPANESE complaining and voicing animal abuse concerns? That includes 2-channel, by the way.

Yeah... OOPS!

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Do fish even metabolize alcohol? I know not all animals do, so it may not even affect them.

Makes it ok then I see? There's no way of slicing it. This is pure animal cruelty!!

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

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