Sunday, October 17, 2010

Turtles, Mr. Popper's Penguins, and a Kid Growing Up in Japan

Turtles and Mr. Popper's Penguins

I have written many times before that TV is very bad for children and how parents must take the time to teach their children to read from a very young age.

But, today, for your Sunday morning pleasure, I'd like to tell you about how reading a book with children can have good and sometimes, to the chagrin of parents, unintended consequences...

When my son was 3 years old, we started to read Mr. Popper's Penguins together. Since that time, we have read that story together at least a dozen times. I also bought the (now unavailable) audio cd from Amazon and we have listened to that in our car at least three or four dozen times. My son knows that story by heart.

In Mr. Popper's Penguins, the hero of the story, Mr. Popper, receives a penguin from the South Pole and, when by itself, the penguin languishes and nearly dies. Later, when Mr. Popper receives another penguin that had been sick in a zoo, the two penguins become happy together and thrive. They then have children and the entire family go on to become a show business hit.   

But the title of this story is Turtles and Mr. Popper's Penguins. What do turtles and Mr. Popper's Penguins have to do with each other? 

Yesterday, the Seta Tamagawa Shrine near out house held their annual festival. It is typical Japanese festival with the only thing different is that, in spite of being a smaller shrine, it has all the attractions of larger shrine festivals: food, traditional Japanese singing and dancing and traditional Japanese games like scooping up goldfish or turtles with "paper nets."

If you've ever tried scooping up a goldfish with a paper net then you know it is almost impossible. (How this guy in this video does it is beyond me!) Capturing the turtles is even more impossible, it seems, as while they are much slower than the goldfish, they are much heavier. 

I took my wife and now six-year-old son to the festival last night. We ate the food and my son played the games. While he failed repeatedly at every attempt at capturing a goldfish, by some fluky miracle, and to my shock and horror, he caught a turtle.

Not only did he catch one, he caught three! When the old man at the turtle scooping booth was about to pour the three turtles into a bag so my son could take them home I told him, "Thanks, sir, but one is enough." 

So my son took home one turtle.

That wasn't supposed to happen.

So pleased was my son when we brought his prize home last night that he sat for hours watching the turtle waiting for him to move but all the turtle did was sit there and sleep. I had to admonish my son a few times and tell him to quit picking up the turtle and throwing him in the water to get him to move.

Son with new addition to the family

I found out later, from my wife, that my son had named the turtle, "Jimmy." Jimmy, as you might know, is the informal name of James, one of the 12 Apostles of Christ. Recently, due to school, my son has become very interested in the teachings of the bible and prayer. I found this naming to be interesting - and surprising. I expected something from Poke-mon or the like.

But I digress.  

Back to what Mr. Popper's Penguins have to do with a little kid in Japan and a turtle...

This morning when my son awoke he told me that he wanted another turtle. I immediately thought, "No way!" I didn't want him to win even one because they almost always either die quickly or, in the rare case, they have a habit of getting big really quick; and what do you do with a big turtle and a limited back yard especially in Tokyo? 

Either way, it's a no-win for the parents.

Fact of the matter is that my son had a turtle a few years ago and it died a few days after we brought it home. My son was very upset at the time and cried.

When I told my son this morning that we couldn't have another turtle because one was enough, he strongly protested. He countered, "But daddy, in Mr. Popper's Penguins, the penguin almost died because he was alone. It wasn't until another penguin came along that he became healthy and happy again. I don't want Jimmy to die!"

You know he is absolutely correct. That's what happened in the story. As parents, we read books to our children to teach them to read, to learn and to understand life, and to have trust and teach them what is right and wrong. So, call me a wimp but I think he had me in a corner with this argument. 

When a child comes back with logic like that, what can a parent say? How could I pass along a death sentence to the very same turtle that my son had just won the night before and even given a name to? Heck, that turtle is my son's baby now.

So, today, once again, we are all going back to the festival and my son will try to win a friend for his turtle Jimmy.

So now all I can do is raise my fist in the air and exclaim, "DARN YOU MR. POPPER AND YOUR PENGUINS!!!!"  


Now, for your pleasure, here's some photo's from the Seta Tamagawa Shrine festival:

Front of shrine

Carrying the Omikoshi

Japan festival

Imagine thousands of events like this all over Japan... There's no shortage of these turtles... Otherwise, they could never afford to give them away by the hundreds for a few dollars.

Taiko Drums

1 comment:

Ira Hata said...


I grew up around aquariums (we had eight in our home in LA back in the day) and can tell you that the way most people raise them are all wrong.

Go out to your local DIY store and buy a small 5 gallon tank. They're super cheap (maybe 1,000 ~ 1,500 yen) and easy to maintain. Then, fill it up at least halfway with water. Don't put any rocks in it that are above the water line. After that, put your turtles in. As long as you keep the water clean, your turtles will stay healthy and live a long time.

They'll start to get big over time and you'll have to upgrade your aquarium but your son won't end up crying.