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Update: Japanese Citizens Protest Against Japan’s Dolphin Hunting and Whale “Research”

The Fisheries Agency of Japan is allegedly  planning to start selling meat from whales caught for “scientific research purposes” directly to individual brokers and restaurants in 2013 in a bid to raise more funds needed to cover the continued losses stemming from the controversial program.  They will also attempt to lower the prices of whale meat to encourage its use in school lunches.  This is great news if you love eating whale or are running a whale meat speciality restaurant.

The Fisheries Agency spokesman told JSRC yesterday that he wasn’t sure how the Agency would “directly” sell the meat to restaurants, but will clarify it to us next week. While some Nationalists vigorously defend whaling as traditional Japanese culture, others are beginning to question the practice and the use of taxpayer money to sustain a program that produces international ill-will and meat that very few people want to eat.

originally published on Tokyo – November 24, 2012

By Jake Adelstein

Animal rights activists against dolphin killings gathered in seven major cities of the world on November 24th, and this year for the first time, also in Tokyo.

A group of about 70 activists, including a majority of about 40 Japanese activists staged a ninety-minute rally in the city this afternoon against Japan’s practice of hunting dolphins for profit and killing whales under the guise of research.

It is the first time Japanese citizens have gathered in protest against this practice, although since the Oscar winning movie “The Cove” was released in 2009, Japan has heavily been criticized for continuing to support these activities. (The Cove won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2010.)

The protestors claim these practices are inhumane, unhealthy, and a waste of taxpayer money. Right wing activists have organized a counter demonstration saying that, “Killing the practice of whale hunting is the same as killing the Japanese people.” (Of course, one might point out that there is no recognized group of merchants killing Japanese people and calling it “Japanese population research.”)

In recent years Japan has heavily been criticized in the West for its treatment of sea mammals, but even some Japanese are beginning to find the support for whaling and dolphin killing questionable. Today’s march by Japanese citizens was unprecedented in that it wasn’t led by outsiders but by Japanese citizens themselves.

The dolphin hunt at Taiji takes place not once a year but over several months. During these “hunts”, the fishermen herd hundreds of dolphins into an isolated bay and select between 10 to 70 dolphins to be sold into captivity to aquariums. The rest are slaughtered for their meat, which is consumed locally. The meat is also sold as “whale meat” to foreign countries. As noted elsewhere in the article, the Japanese government has issued warnings that dolphin meat contains high levels of mercury and may be dangerous if consumed.

The protestors held signs saying, “Stop Dolphin Hunting!” and the obligatory photo of a cute dolphin saying, “Please, don’t kill me.”

The Society to Protect Marine Mammals (海洋ほ乳類を守る会)is a small group of Japanese citizens who gathered together over the internet and attempted to organize their first protest on World Dolphin Day this September 1st in Tokyo; however, they were thwarted by opposition. Mr. Satoshi Komiyama, designated as the leader of this young movement said that today is officially the first protest rally against the killing of dolphins for meat in Japan (the previous attempt on September 1st fell apart under the pressure of the right wing activists who disrupted their attempt to march). “There is no official movement to protest against dolphin killings in Japan. I think the Japanese average person is simply indifferent to this matter, they probably even don’t know that in some regions of Japan, dolphins are brutally killed. Wakayama prefecture is providing the license to the Taiji city’s fishermen to kill dolphins, so our goal is to get the government to make this illegal.”

Japanese nationalists held a counter demonstration but did not follow the rally, unlike a smaller nationalist group lead by Takayuki Kanetomo (27).

Mr. Komiyama says that Japanese mainstream media would never broadcast The Cove, especially state-owned NHK.

The controversy over Japan’s state-supported whaling industry was heightened when allegedly nearly 30,000,000 dollars of Japanese taxpayer money marked for earthquake recovery was siphoned off to fund research whaling in the Antarctica this year.

Mr. Nagai, one of the organizers said, “Research whaling and dolphin killing are bad for Japan’s image. The meat piles up in storehouses because no one wants to eat it and Japanese government agencies have reported that the dolphin meat in particular is dangerous to eat because of high mercury levels. It’s time to stop this practice, which benefits no one. It is a problem that has to be solved between the government and the citizens of Japan.”

A Japanese nationalist munching on whale jerky in protest of the people protesting the practice of “research whaling” known also as “killing whales and eating them.”

 

Mr. Shun, the Japanese spokesman and video translator for “Texas Daddy’s Japan Secretariat” *, a Japanese group with conservative political views lead by a man from Texas, USA*, said in an interview with JSRC that he does not take a position on the consumption of dolphin meat, while stressing the fact that he does love animals. He strongly insisted that he opposes people who kill animals for no purpose, but “intruding in lives of some people who live upon the dolphin meat industry and interfering with how they earn their living is unfair.” According to him, the existence of the dolphin flesh industry in Japan is a matter of supply and demand. “This industry [dolphin slaughtering] exists in Japan for ages and still does, because there is a demand for it. Japan is a democracy, people have the right to chose what they wish to eat. Whether it is healthy or not, the decision should be made by the marketplace.”

Mr. Shun, the Japanese spokesman of “Texas Daddy”, said his group had no ties with the  Japanese nationalistic group Zaitokukai ** which gathered in a counter demonstration in another location, 50 meters away from the dolphin activists’ meeting point. The Zaitokukai did not follow the rally unlike a dozen Japanese patriots lead by Takayuki Kanetomo (27), member of another “citizen’s group,” that has no ties with Zaitokukai either.

The anti-whaling protestors chanted, “We don’t need dolphin meat!” which is actually a pun in Japanese.  “いるか肉はいらない!” “いるか肉は要るか?”

It is questionable that there really is a marketplace for the meat which some Japanese media reports as being stockpiled in warehouses.

Ironically, it’s the living dolphins rather than the ones killed that make dolphin hunting a profitable industry.

According to a report released by Elsa Nature Conservancy*** and the Trade Statistics of Japan by the Financial Bureau, the number of live dolphins exported from Japan (mainly Taiji), increased from 17 in 2002 to 62 in 2011, peaking in 2010 at 79 dolphins. According to the report, Japan sells the captured dolphins mainly to China, Korea, Ukraine, Turkey, Iran, Thailand,the Philippines and Saudi Arabia for  prices that vary between 1,351,000 yen ($16,395) to 7,712,000 yen ($93,585) per animal.

Rie (31), a protester present at the rally this afternoon in Tokyo who declined to give any further information about herself due to fear of right wing retaliation said, “Nobody in Japan wants to eat dolphin meat. Modern Japanese people don’t want to eat dolphin meat. I think it is since Sea Shepherd started to make the headlines in the news that I learned about these awful practices.”

The group of 70 protestors, was mostly Japanese, with 40 Japanese citizens amongst them. They held signs warning that dolphin meat is full of mercury and unhealthy.

Sea Shepherd’s annual $4.6 million (\365 million) operations against whaling helped decrease the whalers’ catch down to nearly a third of their target, according to Kyodo news. The Antarctic hunt was suspended for the first time during the 2010-2011 hunting seasons because of the interference of the activists.

Reportedly, some tactics used by the Sea Shepherd’s activists have been challenged in court by the Institute of Cetacean Research, which supervises Japan’s whaling, pointing out that its actions are unsafe. However, the Institute’s suit was dismissed. (Correction:  “The law suit filed against Sea Shepherd by the Institute of Cetacean Research in the U.S.A. has not been dismissed. A request for a preliminary injunction was denied and the ruling appealed by the ICR. A ruling on the appeal heard on Oct. 9, 2012 by the 9th CIrcuit of Appeals in the U.S. is pending.”)

The police were very good at keeping the angry Takayuki Kanetomo (27) away from the protestors.

Mrs. Hemmi Sakae, a Japanese expert on dolphin mercury contamination, and Secretary General of the Japanese organization Elsa Nature Conservancy, told JSRC that one of the major reasons why some Japanese people still consume potentially hazardous dolphin meat is out of sheer ignorance. “Although the Japanese Health Ministry has posted a list of mercury contaminated food, including dolphin meat on its homepage, it supplies this information with guidelines to consume it without harm.”

The Ministry of Fisheries, after several phone calls made to their media office, declined any comments regarding the dolphin fishing issue.

The city hall of Taiji did not respond to JSRC’s request for information, sent by fax to their offices.

This year’s “whaling research mission” is expected to reach Antarctica before the end of the year.

For reasons unknown, a right winger made a “Heil Hitler” gesture during the protest. Perhaps he was confusing Jews with Dolphins.

* “Texas Daddy” in an interview with JSRC said he formally apologized to the mayor of Taiji city for  all the “westerners who had intruded their daily lives” in the past. This is how he became one of the rare people to enter the closed sphere of Taiji’s fishermen association. Texas Daddy’s spokesman, Mr. Shun told JSRC he receives visits from Japanese right wing politicians.

** Zaitokukai is not officially registered as a uyoku or Japanese right wing group.

***Elsa Nature Conservancy (ENC) is a Japanese organization working on environment and animal welfare since 1976, and claims to have no connections with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS).