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A Day at the Squid Races

Dec 13, 2005
Not modified RC cars. Actual live cephalopod racing.

It's squid-racing season in Shimofuro, a two-road fishing town in the northernmost reaches of Japan's main island of Honshu.

I've got to focus. Hiroko and I toured the "paddock" a few minutes ago, selecting a likely winner from the massive cylindrical tank of lethargic squid, obviously the leftovers from a recent fishing haul. Now I'm crouched at the side of the track, a massive water-filled oval easily thirty feet long and ten wide, along with five other lucky contenders. The starting bugle sounds... The plastic wall holding the racers back lifts... And they're off!

The point is to shoo your squid around the oval with the help of a plastic "riding crop." The elderly guy on my right is a natural-born squid jockey, whisking the water a few inches behind his charge exactly the way the emcee demonstrated a few minutes ago. And the ten year old on track three has a winner on his hands: his squid rocketed out of the gate in an apparent bid for escape without any prodding at all. Meanwhile, I've got a mean bastard. His (?) chromatophores pulsate through a cycle of angry purples and reds as he furiously attacks the crop, balling his little tentacles around it like a tiny alien fist, drawing it into his angry little beak. I concentrate on shaking him off and that's when it hits me: I'm paying money to whack a squid with a stick. Good lord, what have I gotten myself into?

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