Cotton feels nice and crisp against the skin. But cotton also resists wear and tear.
In 1984, Japanese adventurer Naomi Uemura climbed Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America. At the summit he planted two flags--Japanese and American. Then he disappeared.
Three months after Uemura went missing, a rescue party recovered the flags. The Japanese Hinomaru national flag was intact despite months of exposure to severe winds. It was made of cotton. But the American Stars and Stripes, made of a synthetic material, was in tatters and there was little left. I have seen both on display at the Uemura museum in Tokyo.
But I now understand synthetics can be pretty tough, too. Reports say nylon U.S. flags still stand on the moon, decades after they were planted there by NASA's Apollo crews. The lunar surface is windless, but there are intense ultraviolet rays and temperatures fluctuate by as much as nearly 300 degrees in a day. The flags have withstood such severe conditions for four decades.
From 1969 to 1972, the United States conducted six successful lunar missions. Astronauts planted a flag each time. New images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter apparently show shadows of flags at all Apollo landing sites except one.
Planting a national flag can be interpreted as an act of claiming territory. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 declares: "Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty." But hoisting a national flag is the privilege of the country that gets there first, and the sight of their flags on the moon must make Americans proud. Their spirits surely soar, just as when they hear the stirring tune "Stars and Stripes Forever" by John Philip Sousa (1854-1932).
"The Star-Spangled Banner," the American national anthem, was played nearly 50 times during the London Olympics. The Americans love their flag.
But "powerful" and "hateful" often comprise two sides of the same coin. No other national flag comes even close to Old Glory as the most frequently burned flag around the world.
Incidentally, I understand that the main component of cotton is cellulose, a highly flammable organic compound that is also found in paper.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 17
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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