The Tooth of Dilemma

Sometimes the world throws you a curve-ball.

In my case, today, a generous gift from my wife ran smack into a long held, but rarely examined, political ideology.

Some background:  My wife and I are in the middle of buying our first house.  All the paperwork has been done, the house is under construction, everything is a go, all that remains is for me to sign some final loan papers.  The loan officer told me I could sign them or stamp them with my hanko (Hankos are, in brief, carved stamps bearing a person's name that are used in Japan like signatures are used in Western countries.  Here's the Wikipedia article for anyone who wants more information.) but that I would need to show the official registration for whichever method I chose.

I have been using a hanko for years, but I had never bothered to have it registered, nor had I ever made the trip to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to get an official registration of my signature.  And since registering a hanko involved only a trip to the city hall vs. a weekday, all day, trip to Tokyo, I figured I would just register my hanko.

My wife asked me to wait as she had been wanting to get me a new, very nice hanko (mine's ultra-cheap) that I could register and use.  Naturally, I agreed, but I was a bit confused, what did a very nice hanko look like and what made it so nice?  She explained that very nice hankos are hand made, from an elephant's tooth.

I graduated from high school in 1993.  Like many kids of my generation I was half-heartedly political.  I knew that there were serious problems in the world and that the wholesale slaughter of elephants by poachers for ivory was one of them.  I knew that the trading of Ivory had had a world wide ban since 1989.  I knew that because it had been on a test in my social studies class, freshman year.  And that was pretty much the last time I had thought about the ivory trade, until now.

She was surprised that I was surprised.  So we talked about ivory and our different impressions of the ivory trade, then I got on the 'tubes and did a little research and found that, yes, Japanese hanko production is responsible for a large portion of the continued illegal ivory trade, as well as the limited legal trade.

Several years ago, my wife and I were in Nagasaki and were quite impressed by the artisans making jewelry from turtle shells, but we had read about the endangerment of the salt water turtles and elected not to buy anything.

My first reaction was to compare the two, but research on the web indicates that elephant populations are rising and that ivory trade may be resumed in very limited fashion in the next few years.  Also, I held one of these ivory sticks in my hand and it is nice; I understand why people like having things made of ivory.  The smoothness and heft of it in your hand is almost sensual in its solidity.

I really want one.

My wife thinks that I should go with another material – a nice dark wood, or crystal, or something.  And that's probably what I'll do.  But.  Should the day ever come when the ivory trade is fully legal again, or should the shop staff be able to prove that the ivory comes from already extinct mammoth or not yet endangered walrus, well, then we'll just have to see.

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