Ueno Zoological Garden, Ueno Park
“Zoo animals, too, suffered in the war. The fate of the elephants at Ueno is especially well known: they were killed by grieving attendants – so the story goes – to prevent a stampede in the event of bombing … Indira was presented by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India in response to a request from war-saddened schoolchildren in Tokyo. Indira, of course, was named after his daughter, Indira Gandhi.
“The images of Indira’s arrival in 1949 are stunning. She walked from the port of disembarkation to the zoo, where she immediately became queen of the realm … greeted by cheering, flag-waving crowds. One of her attendants recalls how unhappy she was, at least initially, with the commotion. She refused to step out of the freight car. And elephants, when upset, apparently develop diarrhea. She soiled the attendant’s fanciest uniform before the festivities had even gotten underway.
“All over Japan, in the days when people were still hungry, they brought offerings – typically sweet potatoes – for Indira. Her attendants enjoyed what she could not eat. No media star could have competed with Indira, except perhaps the newly democratized emperor, surveying the devastated land and inspiring the exhausted people. Indeed, with the flags and the throngs, Indira’s procession properly recalls an imperial progress.
“Is it testimony to the power of modernity that people think to wave national flags at an elephant … [w]as it only children who were more cheered by Indira the Elephant than Hirohito the human emperor?”
– From My Grandmother’s Bedside, by Norma Field, 1997
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