Apocryphal. It’s a word I’ve never used before. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it said out loud. Apocryphal. Cool. Some of today’s story is going to be apocryphal, which means that it’s not necessarily true, but a lot of people believe it is. And because of that, we’ve created this symbol to let you know when things might sort of cross the factual line. So let’s test. George W Bush’s grandfather tried to have a fascist coup of the United States. Gerber baby food failed in Africa because people thought they were eating real babies. I pooped myself on my 30th birthday walking down the street. Oh, no. One size doesn’t actually fit all. Ask anyone who’s ever bought economy underpants, and it’s pretty clear that the term doesn’t always apply. That’s the same with ideas as well. If you take an old idea and move it to a new place, it doesn’t always translate. The Icelandic people nearly starved to death farming in the way that they had in Norway. The concept of Ramadan, not eating when the sun is up doesn’t really work in the 24-hour arctic cycle. And here in Japan, the common people just couldn’t be vegetarians. Not that they weren’t asked to try. The early Japanese nobility had been heavily influenced by Chinese ideas, and one of those specifically was Buddhism. As Buddhism had flooded into the Asian mainland, it sort of trickled into Japan, specifically into the upper class. And so when the nobility decided that everyone was now going to be Buddhist, well that came with dietary restrictions. I mean, what religion doesn’t have strict dietary restrictions? Buddhism was pretty clear on the whole ‘Don’t Kill’ front. At least at the dinner table. In fact they were so opposed to perceived violence that they replaced all those pokey utensils with grabby ones. Slowly but surely, meat was removed from the menu. From the 7th century forward, horses, cows, monkeys, dogs and even chickens were forbidden for about half the year. In fact just after that point, meat was removed entirely, including fish. But the idea just didn’t really translate. Japan simply wasn’t a great place to be vegetarian. Or at least not the strict version of vegetarian required by Buddhist doctrine. They called these new meals “shojin” which means devotion, and that’s probably because that’s what it took to stick to them. What’s more, Buddhist doctrine required that you didn’t just not kill animals. You also didn’t kill plants either, which meant no eating tubers or roots or anything that required replanting after harvest. Japan was already kind of lacking in endemic vegetables and those that did exist were relatively expensive and low in nutrients. Even for the upper-class it would have been tough to get enough nourishment from this new meal, so for the poor people you can imagine how it must have been. Every new rule was basically just another step towards starvation. Like many new ideas, it bent rather than broke. In the 9th century an emperor named Saga, well he really wanted to be a good Buddhist but at the same time he didn’t want the uprisings that empty stomachs so often seem to cause. So he had a new decree, birds and fish, back on the menu. They weren’t exactly vegetables but a lot of people were willing to look the other way. As the story goes, a lot of people thought that rabbit should have been back too. After all they tasted good, they were easy to breed and their fur made pretty good clothing. So these monks decided that they were going to try to go around the imperial decree, at least in this one instance. And they found their answer in linguistics. See, because Japanese and English have a very different counting system. In English you’d put a number followed by a noun such as two fingers. But in Japanese, what you would do is you’d actually take the fingers and turn them into a noun group. You’d call them long skinny things. So if you wanted to talk about a number of beers, you could actually use the same count word, two long skinny things. And that may sound confusing, but don’t worry. It’s not really important to our story. What is important is knowing that in the Japanese language to count something, you don’t just specify the noun, but you include a group of nouns together. So the monks decide, well the best way to get them back on the menu is to lump them together with something not forbidden, and rabbits ears flap and hopping is basically flying right, so rabbits are birds. [Makes] sense to me at least. They think that the easiest way to make sure that this works is to make it impossible to differentiate when counting between the two. They come up with a new count word that describes both sides, ‘wah’, and Buddhism is harmonious again. And, while it’s impossible to say that this is actually the reason why these two animals are lumped together into one count word, it wouldn’t be without historical precedent from other religions. After all in Catholic tradition both beavers and capybara were once treated as fish. Ideas rarely survive intact for long, especially restrictive ones. As our species interacts with each other and more and more, we’re going to find that our societies change alongside it, and the ideas aren’t always going to translate well. If a beaver can be a fish, who’s to say that a rabbit can’t be a bird, and for that matter, a vegetable. This is Rare Earth, a po cry phal apo (apocryphal) You know I think we’re getting better at these. Oh come on.