An interview with Japan’s Sacred Cow
I called North Village, a park in Northern Okayama Prefecture, to ask permission to interview their famous cow, Genki-kun.
“Sure,” they said, “but Prince and Princess Hitachi are coming that day too. Will that be OK?”
“Sure,” I said, and prepared to go meet the prince, the princess and a cow.
I arrived early, and all the roads were blocked off in preparation for the arrival of the prince and princess in a couple of hours. I would have some quality time with the cow before all the activity started. I walked around the park and finally came to the pasture and barn. It was a beautiful day, so I was surprised the find my interviewee inside the barn lying down.
Even lying down, I was taken aback by the bull’s size.
“My, what big horns you have!” I exclaimed. The cow said nothing.
“And what a large nose ring you have!”
The cow ignored me. A big sign hung on the outside of his stall: “Genki-kun.”
“Nice to meet you, Genki-kun,” I said, and introduced myself. But Genki-kun just sat there chewing his cud.
I got a few good photos of him, and he moved his head this way and that, giving me different camera angles. But he did not stand up. As a matter of fact, when I asked him to stand up, he acted like he hadn’t heard me.
He seemed disinterested, but then again, being such a famous cow, he was probably just tired of all the attention. We sat there staring at each other in silence. “How am I going to get this guy to talk?” I wondered.
“Um,” I started nervously, “I’ve read so much about your bovine bravery.” I brought out the book to show him, and he snorted on it approvingly.
I put out my left foot, gave it a shake and said, “Moooo!” Anyone who has seen the “Dr. Doolittle” movie knows that this gesture means “Hello” in cow language. Genki-kun looked at me approvingly, fluttering his long, black eyelashes.
“I understand that journalists have told your story through your publicist and various anonymous sources. So, I thought we’d steer clear of that, um, pardon the pun, and get the story from you.”
At this point, he put his left cloven hoof out in front of him. I took it as a gesture of approval and waited for him to speak.
Genki-kun: It was a dark and stormy night. Okayama Prefecture is called ‘hare no kuni’ (the sunny country), so Ishikawa Farm was usually a warm and pleasant place. There were about 180 of us in the herd. I was just 6 months old when the first storm came to the farm bringing heavy wind and rain. The Yoshii River, which ran past our farm, flooded in the middle of the night and inundated the barn and pasture.” He chewed his cud a few moments before returning to his tale. “Of course at the time, we didn’t know what a typhoon was, so we called it ‘mizu no obake’ (water ghost). There was so much water overflowing from the river that it swept all of the cows away. We were all so bull-headed we were sure we knew how to swim, but actually doing it was much harder than we had imagined. It was bovine madness as everyone struggled to stay above water. Among the panicked moos some of the cows skewered themselves on posts shouting, ‘Here’s the beef!’ The herd mentality didn’t help, and many more cows gave up their lives right there. It was rare meat everywhere. The rest of the herd tried to stay together, but the water was moving so fast, and we couldn’t see anything in the dark. I was so young, I didn’t even know what a meat cleaver was, so I just kept fighting for my life. Suddenly I found myself floating all alone down the river. Then the river became very wide, and when the sun came out, I could see islands in the water. I swam as best I could to one of the islands, where I climbed out of the water and lay down exhausted and waited for help.”
Dazey May: What happened after that?
GK: When I was found on Kijima Island, they traced me back to Ishikawa Farm. Of course, if they had just asked me, I would have told them where I was from. Anyway, when I arrived at the farm, I was surprised to see that none of the other herd members were there. That’s when it hit me — it was a miracle I was still alive.
DM: How many cows perished?
GK: You’d need a cowculator to add up all the carcasses along the river, but I heard the final body cownt was 150, with 29 never found. The news traveled fast — the TV came out the next day, and soon everyone knew about me.
DM: What did you think about all that?
GK: Personally, I just wanted to kick back for a while, maybe take a trip to Moscow, or even just sit on the cowch and watch “The Simpsons” on TV — cowabunga! But I was bullied into becoming a celebrity instead. Then after I grew up and wasn’t so cute anymore, and my owners had milked my celebrity for all it was worth, I was put out to pasture. That’s when they moved me here to North Village park. Which isn’t a bad place to be, mind you. It’s just that — well, I hate to blow my own horn, but I didn’t make one gold bullion out of the whole celebrity thing. And to think I had dreams of going on to Oxford!
DM: What would you like to do now with your life?
GK: Cows can do a lot of good in the world. Look at the sacred cows in India. I think I could spread peace, cownter terrorism. But I’ve learned that the world is not so black and white. My owners butchered my proposal, saying it was a bunch of bull, and told me to round up some moolah elsewhere. Cowards. No sense cowering in a corner about it, I suppose. You know, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
DM: That’s true. And you have become a sacred cow of sorts. They’ve built a shrine in your name, Genki-kun Jinja, on the grounds of North Village.
GK: Yes, it’s quite complimentary. It behooves me to stay here for the moment.
DM: And they wrote a children’s book about you called “The Miracle Calf.”
GK: Yes, that was a nobull cause. And all this fame has helped me avoid being served as fodder in a calfeteria. I really can’t complain.
DM: Do you have any other dreams, Genki-kun?
GK: Just two. One is to see Prince Hitachi and his wife, who, according to today’s bulletin, are visiting North Village park today. I would also, just once in my life, like to ride the bullet train.
After I left Genki-kun, I walked back through North Village. The prince and princess had already arrived and were having lunch at a restaurant in the park. Many people were gathered outside waiting, holding paper Japanese flags. I stopped to take a look when a woman ran over and gave me a flag. “The prince and princess will come out of the restaurant in five minutes. Please wave this flag as they pass!” she said. When the prince and princess finally walked out, everyone waved their flags. Everyone except me, that is. I was cowtowing to them on behalf of Genki-kun.