It is not often in Kansai that we get real events that writerly persons can get their literary teeth into, so it was with some real enthusiasm and thrill that I determined to cover the protests against the dolphin killing in Taiji, Wakayama slated for next week.
In case you’ve been asleep in a small dark box in the back of a closet and several miles underground these last two years, Taiji is a town in Japan that has become notorious for its dolphin slaughters, an activity documented for the first time by the Oscar-winning US film The Cove.
The dolphin killing season begins on September 1st each year and following up on the raised attention abroad and in Japan from the film, Ric O’Barry, activist, was planning some peaceful outings in the town. There were dark rumours of the right wing bussing in goons for a counter demonstration and it was well known that the local people and the local police have, erm, negative feelings toward anyone protesting the dolphin hunt.
The other day, I filled in my company leave application forms from the day job for September 1 and 2, checked out hotels and camp sites online, made a list of editors I would contact in advance — one agency I am registered with feeds photos to Getty — planned live blogging through my various wireless devices, sought out proper press accreditation while entertaining a plan to fake some if the real version was too slow to come, and even contemplated buying a new lens for the Nikon — long or wide, or one of each? I had figured out train times, budgeted expenses versus potential returns from selling stories or photos and was energetically burnishing my self-righteousness. Yes, it was a one-person journalistic drool fest.
The threat of confrontation by the right wing had gone beyond rumour and was becoming acute. O’Barry reasoned that, apart from the issue of people getting hurt, a conflict would change the agenda. The defenders of the cull are never shy about presenting the issue as one of Japan defending itself against foreign interference and an actual clash might add fuel to the propaganda machine. Rather than let the right alter the agenda, O’Barry has changed his plans. He will be in Japan next week but talking to the media to try to get his message across.
So that’s me having a very selfish tantrum fit to match the kid on the YouTube biggest freak out video. Somebody spoiled my chance to win the Journo of the Millenium award!
But not all is lost. The occasion gives me a further chance to fulminate some more. In a previous post I rattled on about the idiocy of the arguments of the people defending the dolphin slaughter and it occurred to me later that I could have ranted even more.
Tradition!, they say, and Tradition! they say again. I think we kicked that one out of play, but it is worth noting some other instances of cruelty and tradition.
Whaling and dolphin-ing has been practiced in Japan only since the 17th century. I am not sure how long people have to do something before it officially becomes tradition, but 400 years doesn’t seem that long in a country that has existed as a cultural and linguistic entity for nearly 2,000 years.
Not only is it tradition, but everyone else does similar things too, the cull defenders say. Well, Britain, the US and other countries had a tradition of whaling probably longer and more active than that of Japan. Moby Dick, one of the most famous and celebrated American novels, was about whaling. How about that for being a part of a country’s culture? And yet these whaling countries have successfully given it up without any apparent withdrawal symptoms or any cultural or economic collapse. More recently Britain has banned fox hunting (sort of) over the same kinds of protests trotted out by Japan’s fisher folk. From Countryside Alliance to seaside alliance, as it were.
Even more recently, Catalonia has banned bull fighting and that ‘sport’ is a real cultural pillar in Spain, stronger, more widespread and older than Japan’s tormenting of cetaceans. Most Japanese people don’t realise their countrymen are killing whales and dolphins, for fuck’s sake. What kind of tradition is that?
There was very considerable international opprobrium of fox hunting and bull fighting, but there was also healthy debate within Britain and Spain about these practices and it was internal pressure that put a stop to them. In Spain, the Catalonian ban has very much invigorated the debate about the national sport. The debate has been pretty much drowned at birth in this country.
Oh, by the way, bull fighting is not only legal in Japan, but goes on to this day in certain places. The bull fighting here pits bull against bull, not person against beast. It is a localised idiosyncrasy, a git like dolphin killing. I haven’t heard of any opposition to it.
But in the west there’s cock fighting and dog fighting! Yes, but it’s illegal and when people are caught doing it they go to prison. Not so in Japan, it seems.
And as for the goons, as one wise friend put it, when are these wankers going to realise that this isn’t about them, it’s about the dolphins?
O’Barry and his people are trying to suggest to the fishermen and the town authorities of Taiji that they can still use the dolphins and whales as a source of income without catching or killing them: whale watching and dolphin swimming are great tourist attractions in various places in the world. In fact, Taiji has experimented with a bit of captive dolphin swimming recently, so perhaps they are receptive to new ideas after all. I think that’s great plan B — much better than coshing environmentalists. I’m there.
And after my petulant disappointment over the September 1 plan change, I have my own plan B. Better go and get on with it. Yaroo!