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Chivalrous Spirit, Scarlet Peony, and Japanese Scientists’ Study of the Sexes

Researchers at the University of Tokyo are looking for traits “characterized by a willingness to help the weak without regard for one’s own loss or gain.”

The Sankei Shimbun

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Did you ever wonder why living organisms evolved into different sexes? A Japanese research group may have discovered the answer.

Fifteen years ago, a research team led by Dr. Hisayoshi Nozaki from the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Tokyo appeared to have stumbled upon the key to answering that question. 

New analyses of samples of a kind of freshwater algae called Volvox, which were collected at that time, show that males of the species have a male-specific gene. Nozaki dubbed the distinctive gene OTOKOGI, meaning “manly” or “chivalrous.” 

Later, he also discovered a female-specific gene he called HIBOTAN, or “scarlet peony,” which happens to be the nickname of the heroine of a series of yakuza movies about a female gambler named Oryu. (Not surprisingly, Dr. Nozaki is a big fan of films whose heroes or heroines are honorable, chivalrous gangsters.)

In Japanese, an alternate way to write otokogi or “chivalrous spirit” is with two characters that literally mean “man spirit.” The authoritative Daijirin dictionary defines otokogi as “of a manly disposition or temperament; characterized by a willingness to help the weak without regard for one’s own loss or gain.” 

The Odakyu Incident

Friday evening, August 6, in Tokyo, there occurred an incident that was an expression of something far different from such a chivalrous spirit. A 36-year-old male boarded an Odakyu Electric Railway commuter train brandishing a 20-centimeter-long butcher’s knife. After being arrested on suspicion of multiple counts of attempted murder, the suspect reportedly told police investigators that he was angry for having been made fun of by women when he was in college and rejected on dating sites. 

The assailant also said that seeing young women who appeared happy made him want to kill them. During his rampage on the train, the man injured 10 passengers, leaving one coed he stabbed in the back and other places hospitalized in serious condition. He even doused the floor of the train carriage with cooking oil in an unsuccessful attempt to start a fire. 

We should take warning that such a tragedy can result if men have a warped way of looking at women.

Japanese macaque, aka “snow monkeys,” with her baby.

Boss Among Japanese Macaques

Speaking of otokogi and hibotan, recently there was startling news about the Japanese macaques at the Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Gardens in Oita Prefecture. The monkeys at this local zoo in southwest Japan are divided into two groups. A female monkey, nine-year-old Yakei, has emerged as boss of the larger “B Group,” comprised of 677 macaques. 

This is the first time in the roughly 70-year history of the zoo that an alpha female has sat at the top of the pecking order in one of the two troupes. She took control after winning a fight with the male monkey named Nanchu, who had been the boss for more than five years. Thanks to the “regime change,” B Group now has a female in charge.

Whether or not Yakei remains “top macaque” for a long time will depend on her ability to mediate quarrels within the group. In other words, it depends on whether she can display chivalrous “manly spirit.”

Oops, better make that “feminine spirit.” 

(Read The Sankei Shimbun column in Japanese at this link.)

Author: The Sankei Shimbun