Brave Tama-chan takes fame in his stride

Fresh from a terrifying brush with kidnappers, Japan's most famous hairy foreigner speaks exclusively with The Japan Times

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If ever an amphibious mammal was catapulted to the forefront of a nation’s consciousness, Tama-chan, the bearded seal who has taken up residence in Yokohama’s Katabira River, is that animal.

Following the cosmopolitan rumpus that greeted plans to grant Tama-chan local residency status (he was awarded a “juminhyo”), the torpedo-shaped carnivore made headlines again recently by escaping the clutches of animal rights activists looking to repatriate him to the Bering Sea.

But who is the real Tama-chan? What lies behind that wistful mien?

This week, the nation’s most enigmatic river-dwelling creature is the focus of an in-depth interview aimed at revealing how Tama-chan is coping with the pressures that accompany being a resident.

Japan Times: Your gripping encounter with members of Marine Animal Lifeline must have left you a bit shaken. How are you feeling now?

Tama-chan: Arf-arf. . .

J.T.: You’re clearly a target for groups interested in your welfare. Will you be taking any extra precautions in the future to keep you safe from these do-gooders?

T-C: Arf.

J.T.: Greg Jakush, a representative of the group, claimed later that you are not really happy as you are living in a polluted river. Those who want you to continue enlivening their lunch breaks with your good-natured lolling say the pollution hasn’t made you sick, and if it does you can be quickly moved. But animal rights groups say that if you do fall sick it’ll be too late to help you. Our readers have to know; are you a happy and healthy seal?

T-C: Arf.

J.T.: But surely you must get lonely from time to time. Don’t you miss the camaraderie of the open sea? Crashing into the foaming breakers, dive-bombing for fish and chasing fur with your mates down at the local sand bar?

T-C: Not arf!

J.T.: A poignant subject, clearly. But if you were to find a mate here in the river, how much of your fish would you share with her?

T-C: Arf.

J.T.: Joining you recently as a Japanese resident was popular comic-book character Astro Boy. Kenji Suda, the mayor of Niiza City, Saitama Pref., personally intervened to secure the eternally prepubescent android’s status. Will you be using your fame and new status to enlist the help of any powerful figures in fighting for other minorities, like tax-paying foreign residents married to Japanese people who have no juminhyo and are therefore listed as “missing” in their Japanese family register?

T-C: Arf?

J.T.: Internet chat rooms and messaging boards have been flooded with inquiries as to your marital status. As a celebrity, with residency status, are you worried that your female followers may be less interested in the real Tama-chan, and more interested in using you to get a spousal visa?

T-C: Arf.

J.T.:In the preface to his “Philosophy of Right,” G.W.F. Hegel states that “when philosophy paints its gray on gray, then has a form of life grown old, and with gray on gray it cannot be rejuvenated, but only known; the Owl of Minerva first takes flight with twilight closing in.” What do you think?

T-C: I agree that certain developments in society are necessarily prior to the conduct of substantial philosophy — “the owl of Minerva flies only at dusk” — that is, full wisdom about events occurs only in the later, mature stages of the development of a society. This is a necessary (indeed, obvious) concomitant of a dialectical account of the emergence of Geist.

J.T.: Can you use chopsticks?

T-C: Arf.

J.T.: The war in Iraq has inevitably raised the specter of oil shortages, Mideast chaos and a flow of refugees streaming across the Iraqi border. It has also raised Japanese fears of toilet paper shortages. Reports have reached us that some supermarkets in Tochigi Prefecture are charging exorbitant prices for a 12-pack because of the war. Should the Japanese government step in to stabilize toilet paper prices in light of the Iraqi crisis?

T-C: Arf!

J.T.: For a foreigner who hates the trip down to the Immigration Bureau and would like to get a residency certificate like yourself, would you recommend lying naked on the banks of the Tama River, not shaving, refusing to pay taxes or hold news conferences, and eating raw fish?

T-C: Arf! Arf! Arf! Ar . . .

Is there something you’d like to ask Tama-chan? Send your queries to Japan’s No. 1 moustachioed mammal at: