The Book! Part Five: Adaptability.

Thanks to the wonders of the modern dictionary, I am able to understand that about two-hundred years ago, sometime around 1790 to 1800, the word ‘able’ that I just used was added to the word ‘adapt’ to make the word ‘adaptable’. I read that the word is an adjective and that from that comes a related word, a noun: adaptability. That same dictionary informs me that the meaning of adaptability is: “capable of being adapted” or “able to adjust oneself readily to different conditions: an adaptable person.

Now I would be the first to accept that the history of man, the long history of man, reveals a species, namely us, that is incredibly adaptable. Yet, (and you knew there was a ‘yet’ coming!) my sense of how adaptable any one person might be is inextricably wound up with change, and change is often a bitter fruit to taste.

You may recall that I closed the chapter on The process of change, in Part Four, with a snippet quotation from the film Interstellar: “We all want to protect the world, but we don’t want to change.”

That sentiment could be applied to so many aspects of our lives, especially to any form of change that heralded perceived uncertainty, or potential vulnerability; indeed anything that might be regarded as taking us outside our ‘comfort zone’. Granted not everyone, all of the time, yet not no-one at any one time.

Dogs, just like us humans, love routines. However, what strikes me from having lived for a number of years with a great many dogs in the home, variously from sixteen to the nine we have at present[1], is how amazingly easily a dog will adapt to new circumstances, both temporary and long-term changed circumstances.

Somewhere in my research, and I regret not being able to quote the reference, I came across a review of the author Jean Donaldson[2], in connection with her book Culture Clash. This book has shaped modern thinking about the behaviour of dogs and the relationship between dogs and humans.

The reviewer, in discussing the adaptability of dogs, proposes, “Maybe it’s the simple way they view their world. Each thing in their lives seems to fall neatly into its place in their world view. Things to seek out, things to avoid, things to keep, and things to leave behind.

Then a couple of sentences later, the reviewer adding: “I would guess that scavengers need that kind of mind set. Take it as it comes, deal with it, and move on. Dogs seem to have developed a sense of adaptation. They see what needs to be done and simply find a way to do it no matter what the impediments might be.

That last sentence describes an attitude towards adaptability that, in my opinion, would be very rare to find in a person.

I am going to devote the balance of this chapter to a true story. The true story about an Akita breed of dog that lived with its owner in Tokyo back in the first quarter of the 20th century. I included this account, despite the main theme of the story being about the extreme loyalty of the dog, because the dog’s ability to adapt is equally as impressive.

In 1924, Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor in the agriculture department at the University of Tokyo took in an Akita breed of dog as a pet and named him Hachikō. During his owner’s life, Hachikō not only saw Professor Ueno come out from the front door each morning but quickly learned to greet him at the end of the day by going to the nearby Shibuya Station. Hachikō continued this daily routine of going to the station until a day in May 1925, when that evening Professor Ueno did not return on his usual train. The reason being that the professor had suffered a cerebral haemorrhage at the university that day, had died and, therefore, never returned to the train station where his doggy friend was waiting.

Kind persons found Hachikō another home after his master’s death but he routinely escaped, showing up again and again at his old home. Eventually, Hachikō in some doggie manner realised that his master, Professor Ueno, clearly no longer lived at the house. So Hachikō went to look for his master at the train station, where he had accompanied him so many times before. Each day, Hachikō waited for Professor Ueno to return. And each day he did not see his friend among the commuters leaving the station.

Now almost a permanent fixture at the train station, Hachikō inevitably attracted the attention of other commuters. Many of the people who frequented the Shibuya train station had seen Hachikō and Professor Ueno together each day. They now brought Hachikō treats and food to nourish him during his long wait – Hachikō waiting at the train station at the end of every single day.

That same year, it happened that another of Ueno’s faithful students, who had become something of an expert on the Akita breed, saw the dog at the station and followed him when he went back to the home of the former gardener of Professor Ueno: Kikuzaboro Kobayashi. There the student learned the history of Hachikō’s life. Shortly after this meeting with Kikuzaboro, the former student published a documented census of Akitas in Japan. His research found only 30 purebred Akitas remaining, including Hachikō from Shibuya Station.

Professor Ueno’s former student returned frequently to visit the dog and over the years published several articles about Hachikō’s remarkable loyalty. In 1932, one of these articles, published in Tokyo’s largest newspaper, threw the dog into the national spotlight. Hachikō became a national sensation. His faithfulness to the memory of his master impressed the people of Japan as a spirit of family loyalty that all should strive to achieve. Teachers and parents used Hachikō’s vigil as an example for children to follow. A well-known Japanese artist rendered a sculpture of the dog, and throughout the country a new awareness of the Akita breed grew.

Hachikō was so loyal that every day for the next nine years he waited, sitting there amongst the town’s folk, appearing precisely when the train was due at the station.

Hachikō died on March 8, 1935. He was found on a street in Shibuya. His heart was infected with filarial worms and 3-4 yakitori sticks were found in his stomach. His stuffed and mounted remains are kept at the National Science Museum of Japan in Ueno, Tokyo. Hachiko’s legendary faithfulness became a national symbol of loyalty. There is a memorial statue of Hachikō in front of Shibuya Station.

This tale of Hachikō is an astounding tribute to the adaptability of the dog.

1,123 words. Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

[1] December, 2014

6 thoughts on “The Book! Part Five: Adaptability.

  1. Hi Paul, hope you’re well. Just tried to order your book from your website here. Had trouble: had it not been you I would have given up, but I persevered… unfortunately I couldn’t leap the hurdles in my way. I thought you might find some notes on my experience useful…

    Hurdle the First
    As I don’t wish to harm any more trees than needed, I decided to opt for an e-book version. I didn’t know which of ‘mobi’ or ‘epub’ I needed. I found this link useful; it suggested I might best be served by downloading an ‘epub’ (and using a thing called ‘Calibre‘ to convert it to ‘mobi’ format (I have a Kindle — long, irrelevant story — I’ve never actually used it!)

    Hurdle the Second
    Your website does not allow secure connections. leads to a scary ‘This connection is untrusted’ message. If I weren’t sending personal data, this would not normally worry me. However, to place an order, I would need to send personal data. Again, if it weren’t you, I would have given up at this point. However, I decided to continue without a secure connection on this occasion.

    Hurdle the Third
    Your shopping cart only accepts payments via PayPal with a valid PayPal account. It doesn’t offer the option of payment with a credit card via PayPal (a technique that I’ve used several times just recently). I would have used this facility, if it existed, because:

    Hurdle the Fourth
    I have three PayPal accounts (back in the day — no idea what their current rules are — PayPal had three different charging structures, so I set up an account for each of these three to use when appropriate). But I haven’t used any of them for years, because some years ago PayPal began insisting that I send them proof of my identity; something I steadfastly refuse to do on the grounds that, were I to send documents proving my identity, these could be abused to steal my identity! (Ironic, huh?) Once again, I would have given up at this point. However (because it’s you) I thought I’d check to see if my accounts were still ‘limited’ (i.e. totally useless); things change. Interestingly, it seems that the PayPal system has changed somewhat since I last tried to access these accounts. As far as I can tell, at least one of my PayPal accounts should now be usable to pay you via credit card… except that:

    Hurdle the Fifth
    After all that — it didn’t bloody work. PayPal gave me some typically non-specific message to say it couldn’t process the transaction. Whether that’s a problem at your website’s end or at PayPal’s end, I can’t tell. (I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that my accounts are flagged as ‘inactive too long’ or ‘awaiting proof of identity’ or something equally daft.)

    TL;DR Take-home message: you’re losing potential sales here. Whether it’s worth your while addressing any of these points is, of course, another matter.

    And now, of course, I’m going to hit ‘Post Comment’ and will probably be presented with some error message that will mean I’ve wasted another fragment of my allotted threescore-and-ten (except I’m wise to that one now… copied to buffer, just in case).

    Ah, the wonders of modern technology…


  2. A thousand thanks. Do I have your email address? Plus would love to arrange for a copy of the paperback version to be sent to you as a token of my appreciation. But let’s converse via email.


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