GUEST AUTHOR: Tracie Sugo
Japanese Culture versus Western Culture and where dolphins fall in-between it all.
Being half-Japanese, I was raised heavily immersed in the country and culture. I have a great love for Japan and for its people. Although I have been to many parts of Japan over the years, I have never seen dolphin or whale meat until coming to Taiji and the surrounding area. This area has a deep history of sustenance whaling dating back to the Edo period (1608-1868). Although I don’t like the idea of whales being killed, I am able to respect that heritage.
Wakayama prefecture in which Taiji is located, released an official view on Taiji’s drive fishery, defending the practice by primarily discussing why dolphin meat is valuable. This document does NOT discuss the most notable and most profitable aspect of the drive hunts: the captivity industry.
Dolphins are technically whales, but modern drive hunts do not qualify as traditional whaling. In the drive hunts, a fleet of high power vessels chase and terrorize dolphins into the shallows of the cove. There, trainers stand by to select which dolphins to take into captivity, that can be sold for thousands of dollars to the dolphinarium industry. During my time in Taiji, I witnessed several drives that were purely live capture with no slaughters. This is not heritage or tradition. This is extreme cruelty for the purpose of supplying human entertainment.
When approaching Japanese people on this topic, there are many cultural aspects to consider. Japanese culture is a collectivist culture, where as Western countries are more individualistic. Being too direct in Japan can be considered rude. Japanese people value privacy and tend to be more reserved than people from Western countries. In Japan, satisfaction and pride is meant to be found within the a group they belong to, or their country. On the contrary, in the United States, people tend to find satisfaction in their own personal accomplishments and focus on their own aspirations. Japanese people also tend to follow rules more seriously, even something as simple as putting trash in the correct bin. Causing others inconvenience is frowned upon. With all this in mind, protests and demos are not easy for Japanese activists to put on here. The Japanese media is unwilling to talk about drive hunts and dolphin captivity, adding another difficulty for people who speak out against it.
Nothing good comes from hate and anger.
Many Japanese people who don’t eat whale and dolphin meat or understand the captivity aspect feel like their country is under attack by foreign activists. Exruciatingly negative comments made by audiences online leave a large impact on them and leave many unwilling to work with foreigners on the issue. Even being half-Japanese in America, I have received several nasty and racist comments in relation to the drive hunts both online and to my face. The whole “boycott Japan” idea is likely to stir more negativity and cause much more harm than good. When working in conservation, the strongest and most lasting change comes from working with people, not against them.
Another aspect of Japanese culture is the appreciation of nature. The Japanese have a great appreciation for nature, as seen in many seasonal festivals across the country that celebrate the beauty in nature (cherry blossom viewing, fire festivals, moon viewing and snow viewing). They also value cleanliness and take littering a lot more seriously than Western countries. Even in Taiji, there are several signs that say “wildlife protection area.” Somehow this does not apply to the dolphins, as they are subject to being captured to be put in captivity – an environment far from nature. Dolphins are sophisticated animals that live long lives and reproduce slowly. Their populations struggle to recover when depleted, affecting the balance of the marine ecosystem.
The issue of dolphin hunting is a complex one. A very small part of the Japanese populations take part in the hunts but they are fueled by demand coming from countries all over the world in the dolphinarium industry. It deeply saddens me that such a cruel practice takes place in this beautiful country that I love. The most significant part of the hunts is their connection to captivity. As long as people keep buying tickets to dolphin shows all around the world, the demand for brutal live dolphin captures will continue. I believe peaceful education and awareness is the key to ending this cruelty.
This experience was life changing. Although I have spent a lot of time with wild dolphins as a marine mammal naturalist, I have seen them in a starkly different light here and have gained a deeper love for them as well as a stronger passion to give them a voice
Featured image: Taiji’s whaling festival, Japan. Credit: Hans Peter Roth/DolphinProject.com