In Defense of a Giant Squid Statue

Ah, the Noto peninsula…When I am feeling nice, I describe it as the heart of Japan, as it roughly sits in the middle of Japan’s northern and southernmost points, but on other days I think of it as Japan’s most central dead-end.

A place where the only local cash machine that accepts Visa shuts on Sundays, Bank Holidays and Saturdays after 3pm, while the abundant rice polishing machine stations are all open 24 hours a day. The priorities are different here, and I love it!

In May 2021, about 2 months after an approx. €230,000 squid statue was erected next to the road station in Tsukumo Bay, about a kilometer from my house, something very strange happened…

Newspapers across the world all published an identically worded Reuters article on Noto’s newest attraction; right down to the final conclusion of one anonymous Twitter user that, “No matter how you look at it, this is wrong.” I read at least 7 different articles that friends forwarded to me, most of them identical, word for word, and all unanimous in their criticism of the giant squid statue.

While I cannot explain how so many different news outlets would publish such identical opinion pieces on Noto’s newest attraction, I can explain why I see the matter somewhat differently.

For the last 15 years I have lived on the peninsula, about 15 minutes walking distance from the squid statue. In this time I have seen a lot of public funds wasted in what, to me at least, can only be described as either incompetence or corruption.

From building tens of kilometres of roads that no one uses – I have heard estimates of the cost of a new road in our area is around €8m per km – to a concert hall with acoustics so bad that no one wants to perform there, a lot of our public funds have been wasted.

Ushitsu has also recently built a new town hall, replacing a perfectly decent old one, in order for our local politicians to move around 50 meters further inland. It was done because of a supposed Tsunami risk that they were all concerned about after the Fukushima disaster in 2011. Never mind the hundred or so residential houses that are closer to the sea than our new town hall… a better sea defence might have been a more reasonable investment, if there is in fact a genuine risk of a tsunami in our quiet inland facing peninsula bay.

“No matter how you look at it…”, there certainly has been a lot of missed opportunities in the struggle to attract visitors to the local area.

For me, the biggest mistake of all was probably the closing of the Noto Railway, a total of 61 kilometres of train track that connected 30 stations along the peninsula coastline down to Anamizu town, from where faster trains run to Nanao, Kanazawa City and the rest of Japan.

Ignoring the fact that there are thousands of train enthusiasts around the world that would have loved traveling on the big-windowed carriages that passed countless beautiful coastal views and stopped at the Sakura covered stations in the middle of idyllic Japanese villages, it was also a waste of a hugely valuable existing infrastructure.

The rail tracks, stations, bridges and tunnels that used to give the mostly elderly population of Noto a comfortable and affordable connection to neighbouring towns, supermarkets and the rest of the country are now adding to the general feel of decay and abandonment that this area is really struggling with.

The train line was shut on April 1st, 2005, like some bad April Fool’s joke, and replaced with an overpriced bus service that is slower, far less scenic and frankly unpopular, even with the locals, let alone overseas visitors.

There has been a lot of mismanagement in the Noto area. Promoting the area as an Eco paradise, a nature reserve of traditional farming and fishing, full of delicacies from the clean forest, fields and sea would certainly have been more of a longterm attraction for tourists than continuously adding to the existing road network, as if that was the reason people didn’t choose to come here.

The one recent investment that has been a relative success is the road station in Tsukumo Bay, the Tsuku-Mall. It sells the locally fished squid in its restaurant, organises boat tours and exclusively offers products made by local businesses in its popular shop.

Using the Corona Relief Funds for local businesses to build a cool, photogenic and thankfully not cutesy squid statue right next to the already popular road station was, in my opinion, actually a really good idea.

The tourism from within Japan has picked up significantly, and all that at a cost of around 40 meters of local road, so why is it being so heavily criticised by so many different news outlets around the world?

Of course the readers enjoy articles about the weird and unusual from around the world, coupled with pictures of an impressive squid statue, it obviously makes for a better article than an analysis of Noto’s history of public spending, but why the united criticism of it?

The article never bothers to explains why it was “wrong”, it just makes a big deal out of the price, as if that number doesn’t pale into insignificance when compared to the cost of, for example, an unnecessary new town hall.

The fact that supposedly reputable newspapers all printed such a poorly researched article that hilariously cites “a twitter user” instead of a single local resident or representative is a rather worrying indicator of the state of journalism today.

Sadly it seems to be just another example of news around the world straying further and further from its duty of objectivity into opinion-based content designed to evoke specific emotional responses.

Many readers won’t even notice that they were actually given very little factual information on the topic and instead mostly told how they’re supposed to feel about it.

Ironically, the articles actually prove how good this giant squid statue is at drawing attention and making people aware of the existence of the Noto peninsula, but someone really needs to tell all of the misinformed readers that the squid statue was probably Noto’s least wasteful use of public funds in the last 15 years…

The author’s wife captured by the squid’s (ch)arms