When Are Rabbits Vegetables?


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.

100 thoughts on “When Are Rabbits Vegetables?

  1. I heard that there are vegan restaurants in Japan now. Slowly slowly countries start taking examples from each other.

  2. Great video! "…Evan who apparently isn't great at determining which mountain we were supposed to climb before reaching the top" Now I want to hear that story!

  3. 5:56 I like the last two sentences, "Always research what you see on YouTube. Don't let anyone think for you; most people can barely think for themselves."

  4. Aand this is why legalistic religions don't work. Ones like Christianity, where it's about the principle behind it, are the ones that do work.
    A good long while ago, Jewish law said you may not work on a Sunday. So the Pharisees looked at the implications of that, and said that thaears you can't walk more than a certain number of steps, can't even give a starving person bread because that all counts as "work". Eventually it was more work for the Jews just to keep those laws…
    In Christianity, some common sense is applied – each individual person needs to think and decide whether what they plan to do on the Sunday would be work (eg leaving your homework 'till then) or not (eg painting for enjoyment).

  5. Ramadan still implies in 24 hours of daylight, you just "assume" its a normal day.. ?

    Is it ethically right to say "rabbits are birds" so as to eat them?

    Or wealthy people's donations is a must; therefore rubbing them is legal?
    Civilians contribute to the war, so they are also a target?
    (know its an extremely example, but whatever).

    So the question, can ruls be bent for our needs?

  6. Odd that we don't have a word for this kind of paper-thin rationalisation. The closest is probably "bullshitting".

  7. You have a neat channel going, but it's mostly just "Rare Japan" which isn't that rare a culture nowadays : P
    Would you please make videos on more obscure cultures? You'd hava a new watcher here.

  8. I don't understand why your head pops up every so often. You explained that it means that a story isnt true then. So is your entire story made up? Im confused. Made me stop watching.

  9. Sir, your video is nuanced, attempts to inform the viewer, avoids absolutes and refuses to demonify any modern group in it's conclusions. Remember this is the Internet were people come to argue such weighty matters like if Genghis Khan would have preferred a Bren or Spandue machine gun.

  10. Well like vagetables you can't live by only eating rabbits, you would actually die from it as it lacks vitamins, and you actually used more of those by eating the rabbit so you always get a net lose.

  11. That's similar to why rabbits are fish and fish&chips is no Friday in England: an old Elizabethan law to stimulate the fishing industry forced everyone to eat fish on Fridays, but for those too far inland they were allowed rabbits

  12. Apocryphal to me is the 7 books in the old testament that are in Catholic Bible's but not Protestant Bibles. Yeah! Lol just took my Religion exam today.

  13. The burger is only as good as the beef.
    The beef is only as good as the cow.
    The cow is only as good as the grass.
    The grass is only as good as the manure.

    So next time you have the perfect burger, think of what wonderful shit went into making it…

  14. Thanks to everyone who asked about our Patreon. I'll put out a full video when I get the time, but for those who want to jump the gun and get on board from the start, here's the link: https://www.patreon.com/rareearth

    It means a huge deal that so many have asked us to start an account. I never thought anyone would watch these videos, let alone support them.

  15. I believe the counting system originates from the Chinese language rather than Japanese.
    And monks, in general, have no knowledge of nutrition or consistent moral values.

  16. wait.the baby story was in QI, not that it must be true..just that i heard it before.. but id like to know what happened really? too expensive?

  17. Noticing the camera man back up through the gap in the little gates, I gotta ask, how often does he back up into things and trip?

  18. Interesting… in Stardew Valley, rabbits are put in coups with the dinosaurs (noting that birds are dinosaurs, and there is an explicit non-avian dinosaur in the game as well), rather than in the Stable with the mammals.

    Of course, this likely had far more to do with size when the developers were classifying what goes where, but still… that the Japanese have the same counting class for both rabbits and birds seems interesting when combined with the games classification system.

  19. We always institute our sacred ideals. Yet once inherent problems unavoidably collide with reality — people being people — we usually overreact to our sudden distaste for our status quo — and diametrically opposite to every established ideal — we often institute disruptive and antagonistic alternatives. This typically leads to a period of chaos and eventually a hybridized system of thought derived from the wreckage — which then becomes a new status quo, and the starting point of the next cycle.

  20. Buddhism created chopsticks? Sounds like another apocryphal story to me? According to this article, metal chopsticks were found dating from 1600–1046 B.C. More than a thousand years before the birth of Gutoama (Buddha). https://www.theepochtimes.com/chopsticks-their-origin-and-significance_1917256.html

  21. Apocryphal… Though not a common word, I've heard it many times, most often speaking of religious scriptures. On a different note, shouldn't you say beaver is fish rather than beaver are fish? English has its collective nouns also 🙂

  22. The Buddhist temples in Hawaii are from Japan, they eat meet and drink beer, and the monks ate called ministers.

  23. Christiany makes a point about not having dietary restrictions. It's in the book of Hebrews I believe. (Catholics do forgo meat during lent)

  24. This is why counting different things in Japanese is strange, and counting rabbits there's different words. Sorry I don't know it.

  25. I really hate this story, it dug up a suppressed memory. I was a foreign exchange student to Japan in high school. I confused this with the particle "wa" when I read it in a text and never bothered to learned how to properly use it until in Japan. So instead of saying "ichiwa" or whatever it was, I just made up my own gibberish in front of several peers.

  26. in medival times you could not eat meat on sunday's
    so what some peasents would do was to push a cow into the water.
    since it came from the water it was fish

  27. Thanks! NOTE: As a general rule, vegetables aren't "endemic", though they can be indigenous. Also, I think Elmer Fudd would have really been confused as to whether it was Duck Season or Wabbit Season! (until he figured out it was both) 🙂 tavi

  28. Japan has a nasty history of not having a complete or authentic transmission of Buddhism at many points in its history. I'm not saying it didn't have it in some places or times, but a lot of people were not practicing authentically, and this was an endemic problem.

    I'll give an example: the idea that you can't kill plants was only prevalent in some forms of Buddhism, and not all. They didn't know this though…

    Or the warrior monks of Japan who fought in wars. Their temple complex was burned down and they were all killed.

    Or Zen becoming watered down and very political. There were many issues.

    Dogen and Kukkai were the main two heroes everyone should know about in Japanese Buddhism.

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