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Saturday, Nov. 5, 2005

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Holy cow, Genki-kun -- it's a typhoon!


With all the typhoons and hurricanes around the world, I thought it might be time for an uplifting story of storm survival. As I was looking for stories, a "Planet Japan" listener named Ty Cedars tipped me off to an animal who overcame all odds and survived a devastating typhoon. This animal's story was so inspiring, there was a children's book written about him. My interest was piqued after I heard the title of the book: "The Miracle Calf."

News photo
Amy interviews Genki-kun.

I decided to go ask the now-grown calf to tell his story. Even though he was a bull, it's always better to get the story straight from the horse's mouth.

I called ahead to North Village, a park in Northern Okayama Prefecture, to ask permission to interview their cow. "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.

"It was a dark and stormy night," he recalled. "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."

So, can you explain how you became a celebrity?

"Oh," he mooed, "That's another story. Have you got time?"

Join us next week to hear about Genki-kun's rise to celebrity cow status.


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