October 06, 2014
Let them eat Cheerios
In the universe of The Twelve Kingdoms, Japan and China exist in a parallel dimension that can only be accessed by wizards and kirin ("were-unicorn"), using a kind of (destructive) wormhole called a shoku. From the prologue to Poseidon of the East:
At the ends of the earth was an ocean called the Kyokai, the "Sea of Nothingness."
Two realms sat at the borders of its eastern and western reaches. Although normally cut off from each other, with no communication or commerce passing between them, the same legend had arisen in each--of a land of dreams far across the horizon.
Only a chosen few could visit that blessed and fertile place, where riches gushed forth like fountains, whose people, free from pain and suffering, neither grew old nor died.
In Shadow of the Moon, Rakushun articulates the substance of the legends:
"It's said that the people of [Japan and China] live in houses made of gold and silver, studded with jewels. Their kingdoms are so wealthy that farmers live like kings. They gallop through the air and can run a thousand miles in a single day. Even babies have the power to defeat youma [monsters]."
Rakushun looked at Youko expectantly.
Youko shook her head with a rueful smile. What a strange conversation this was. If she ever returned to her old world, nobody would believe her. Fairy tales, they'd say. And here, her world was a fairy tale as well. She laughed to herself. She'd believed all along that this was the strange and mysterious world. But in the end, wasn't she and the place she came from all the more so?
Actually, Rakushun is onto something here.
Farmers in any developed nation today live longer and better than medieval kings. Vaccinations, antibiotics, and water chlorination can defeat invisible demons once responsible for a 30 percent childhood mortality rate. You can fly from Seattle to Tokyo in 10 hours.
In 1866, Tokugawa Iemochi, the second-to-last shogun, died of heart failure at the age of twenty, presumably due to beriberi. Considering that the third-to-last shogun went bonkers and died at the age of 34, two centuries of inbreeding was probably taking its toll too.
In any case, beriberi is a disease brought on by vitamin B1 deficiency. Thanks to enriched flour, beriberi is almost nonexistent in developed countries today. A bowl of Cheerios a couple of times a month could have prevented it (and many other diseases).
The shogun was done in by a diet of polished white rice the poor couldn't afford. In the time travel series Jin, Dr. Jin Minakata invents yam donuts to save an old lady who won't eat anything but white rice because, you know, she's not poor anymore!