Preserving the Past....Promoting the Future                                                               TMSIDESHOW WORLD

Homage to the Horseshoe Crab




Limulus polyphemus - Kabutogani (Warrior’s Helmet Crab in Japan; Horseshoe Crab in the United States) is a “living fossil”, and as such has outlived the most famous of fossils--the dinosaur. Only four species of horseshoe crabs remain today. One can be found on the East Coast of North America and the other three on the southeast coast of Asia. Surprisingly, they are actually more closely related to scorpions than crabs. In United States, in the ancient time, Native Americans ate the horseshoe crab and used its tail as a spear. The Founding Fathers ground the creature as a fertilizer for their cornfields. Today, a test called LAL (Limulus Amebocyte Lysate) is made of the blood cells of the horseshoe crab’s unique copper-based blue-colored blood. LAL is used worldwide to test injectable drugs and biomedical devices. All the vaccines and antibiotic drugs (including ones for AIDS) for human and animal use are tested with LAL. The eggs of the horseshoe crab are also an essential food source for shorebirds during their annual migrations. The conservation of this creature is considered to be more urgent every year in this country. It might be hard to believe, but they visit the beaches of Brooklyn, New York every spring to spawn as they have done for thousands, possibly millions of years.


As one of the Advisory Board Members of Ecological Research & Development Group Inc. (a non-profit horseshoe crab conservation organization) and the Delaware Horseshoe Crab Research Institute (which also houses a museum), I have been extensively studying and researching peoples’ association with horseshoe crabs. My focus has been comparing the different traditions concerning the horseshoe crab found in the United States with those of Japan. Unlike the United States, people’s lives are very closely associated with the horseshoe crab in my home country of Japan. For centuries, horseshoe crabs have been featured in many artworks, poems and literature. One salient example of the horseshoe crab’s importance in Japanese culture is the phrase kabutogani-no-chigiri, an expression which compares the loving, caring and committed relationship between a husband and wife to that of a pair of horseshoe crabs. In the past, fishermen considered it a good omen to harvest a pair of horseshoe crabs from their first net dropped into the ocean on the first day of the Tai (sea bream) season.


Based on the Buddhist doctrine of Rinne Tensei (reincarnation of life), the horseshoe crabs are considered the reincarnations of Japanese Samurai warriors who sacrificed their lives at battles during the Japanese Civil War (1180 - 1185 AD). Today, the horseshoe crab is an official Tennen Kinenbutsu (Natural Monument), and is cared for by the people and protected by the Japanese government. Having such reverence for these dignified creatures, it was natural that Japan built the first Horseshoe Crab museum in the world. On a personal level, I found my existence closely related to this sublime creature the Warrior’s Helmet Crab. My first name, Takeshi, means “warrior” and I was born into a respectable house of Samurai warriors in Japan.


At the beaches here in Brooklyn, New York, I have collected numerous dead horseshoe crabs. Locals find their odor offensive and ignore or leave them alone. This leaves many carcasses for me to collect and has provided the source of inspiration for this series of artworks. In the course of creating the series, I have re-examined a variety of different mythologies of the world such as the “mermaid” in Europe, “Princess Otohime of Dragon’s Palace” in China, and the “Tale of Urashimatarou” in Japan. (In Asian countries, the dragon is the ruler of Heaven. Dragons also guard the Chinese Emperor, and are a symbol of life force and vitality. Princess Otohime is a daughter of the dragon.) I have also investigated the history and culture of Samurai warriors and the Kabuto (Samurai warrior’s helmet). Samurai warriors originated as security guards of Japanese emperors and nobles, and later they became the ruling class. Near the end of my investigations, I painted portraits of Princess Otohime of the Dragon’s Palace on the backs of horseshoe crabs as well as portraits of noble Samurai warriors. The warrior designs are inspired by Kabuto and Haniwa (clay figures buried with the emperors and kings of ancient Japan). In addition, I have produced a series of intricate pen-and-ink drawings on paper using a dead horseshoe crab’s telson (sword-like tail) as a dipping pen. I find it is truly a remarkable tool despite the fact that other artists have totally ignored using it in this creative capacity.


My artworks are vehicles to please the eyes, uplift the spirit, stir the imagination and express conviction. It is my desire to promote a greater understanding and appreciation of the importance of the global nature of the world, its people and the bonds that mutually bind them. It is my sincere wish that my creativity and its products contribute to the advancement of the glorious culture based on the sanctity of life and true humanism. 


                 Takeshi Yamada


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