The Dolphin Slaughterers’ Defence: a Vegan Point of View
|Whaling and Japan
In many ways, the debate over whale slaughter, which includes dolphins, has not changed or moved on since the 1970s and 80s. 1 In essence, dolphins are small whales or cetaceans. Unlike large whales; dolphins, pilot whales, belugas etc do not have an international body like the International Whaling Commission to regulate their killing but all of their slaughters have a larger part to play in the politics of Japan.
These politics involve a very well established relationships between the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (自由民主党) and its powerbase amongst rural and fishing communities, and the system known as the Amakudari (天下り), an institutionalized practice where senior bureaucrats retire to high-profile and paid positions in the private and public sectors. A practice which is increasingly viewed as corrupt, or used to prevent economic and political reforms, but which remains unchallengeable. 2
To understand the complexity of the whaling issue for Japan, one has to look back in history to the opening up of Japan to the West in the late 1800s. A tumultuous event for Japan which was done entirely for the West’s, and primarily America’s, financial and political benefit. It was a violent act carried out not for democratic or humanitarian purposes but to support the West’s whaling industry. An industry that had wasteful ravaged Japanese waters in the decades prior to it in a manner the Japanese could never have dreamt of.
The second key event is America’s rebuilding of Japan after WWII during in which MacArthur established an Japanese industrialized whaling fleet using obsolete ships from the West. America received valuable whale oil, Japan received whale meat which was then channeled through the educational and institutional systems. It retains sentimental value for older generations for whom it was a treat. It is argued that for these old men, Japan’s ‘victory’ at the IWC was a small compensation for Japan’s overwhelming ‘loss’ of WWII thus explaining its irrational defence.
Hypocritically, Japan’s “traditional” industry was built by the USA and funded by the US tax payers. Given Japan’s subordination to the USA on almost all other matters, whaling remains a rare issue which it adopts an independent stance and attempts to represent a uniquely “Japanese” interest. Why?
To understand why Japan persists with whaling, one needs to analyse the behaviour of Japan’s “Iron Triangle”. The complex network of intimate and intricate relationships between the triad of Japan’s ruling elite. The bureaucrats, politicians and industry who get together behind closed doors and put together deals and policies to run the country with. Japan is not only a nation where “relationships are strong so laws can be weak” but also a nation where the patriarchal government is strong and the people weak by design and education; the term people including civil society and NGOs which are new and relatively powerless.
Given the economic failure of the Japanese political model in the past few decades, the “whaling triangle” appear to seeking to ensure its existence by presenting itself as a defender of Japan’s unique traditions, against a hostile outside world of “Japan bashers”. A stereotype Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd etc actually strengthen enabling the Japanese government to rally domestic support for a program which has otherwise aroused little enthusiasm among Japanese. Those interested in perpetuating the whaling myth are not doing so for Japanese interests, or Japanese consumers who are largely uninterested, but their own. The whaling triangle consists of three parts:
• the Whaling Section of the Fisheries Agency within the MAFF – responsible for Japan’s whaling policy and administers the big subsidies. It promotes whale consumption through marketing campaigns, school and hospital meals, and ‘feeds’ international allies financially. Its ambition is to restore commercial whaling. It is a powerful government body, as the sea supplies about 40 per cent of the current Japanese diet.
• the Institute of Cetacean Research – responsible for Japan’s whaling research and operating the whaling expeditions and selling the whale meat. A highly profitable organization thanks to the proceeds from whale meat sales and also government subsidies.
• the Japan Fisheries Association – a lobby group for the whole fishing industry which again benefits greatly from the whaling subsidies receiving massive payments (16 billion yen in 2007-08) from the Fisheries Agency.
The response from the Taiji town council and fishing chiefs show every sign of having been honed with the assistance of one of the above agencies, explaining why the conservationists’ questions all had to be placed a week in advance and no surprise questions allowed even from the normally compliant media.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, the top government spokesman further commented, “Dolphin hunting has been part of Japanese culture since olden times. There is much criticism, but I hope the people in Taiji will develop their discussions in a way to win understanding” and strangely, “It will become more important in this era of globalization to cherish one’s indigenous culture,” Globalization being read as a code word for the Western Imperalism.
The last player in the whaling game are the sirens of the Japanese “Kisha” media clubs who, held in an armlock by the government, largely repeat its policy unquestioning. A minor player who cannot afford to question or investigate in the same ways as Western media for fear of being locked out of the political game. The media is an extension of the education system tending towards teaching Japanese people what to think rather than how to think, and especially how to think differently or question.
Together with the whaling triangle, the media has helped create a myth about Japanese whaling which the Japanese people, 95% of whom depend on TV for their informational about the whaling issue, have swallowed. The facts oppose their claims. Antarctic whaling only started in the 1930s. Up until the postwar period, whaling was only a “tradition” in a handful of coastal communities such as Taiji. Whaling is of no real importance to Japan, it produces 0.2% of all the meat eaten in the country. In 2006, a survey found that only 4.7 percent of Japanese ate whale “sometimes”. The number being even smaller amongst the young.
Culturally, for 1,000 years Japan was ruled by a Buddhist edict which forbid the eating of meat. Even as late as the 1870s, “we Japanese” would not have referred to ourselves as a single collective and so, in short, there were no such thing as “Japanese” to have a single tradition.
Some local cultures in Japan killed and scavenged whale corpses, whereas others regarded them as gods and killing them would be unthinkable. The majority of people in Japan were tied to the mountainous lands they lived in, unable to travel and dependent on local foods alone. Today the majority of people in Japan are tied to vast metropolitan sprawls for which whaling has no relevance at all. Reality just does not reflect the facts the triangle seek to popularize.
A Vegan View
In Western societies, the whale has been transformed from a living thing that hunters caught in the oceans to an icon symbolic of the environment and humankind’s relationship with it; intelligent, kind and yet endangered and exploited. 3 In Japan, its emotional value remains with a Post-War generation for whom its meat was grateful received rich food after the deprivations of the WWII and defeat. Whales have been as much part of coastal diets in the West as in Japan.
One of the key defences of the Taiji dolphin slaughtermen is that dolphins are no different from pigs, cows and chickens. Their logic goes that as most Westerners eat pigs, cows and chickens, no Westerner has any right to tell any Japanese what to do. From a Vegan point of view, this is a fair defence given the abuse suffered by industrially farmed animals and it is a hypocritical of a steak eating, kangaroo hunting individual to accuse a Japanese fisherman. However, as Paul Watson states, “no abattoir in the world would tolerate the cruelty to cows that the Japanese inflict upon the whales and dolphins“.
This logic also fails because the groups and individuals who campaign against dolphin and whale slaughter do not represent the equally mythical “West”. A place which exist in the Japanese mind largely as a single entity, anyone coming from which is an outsider to its village mentality. It fails because the animal rights and environmental movements are not responsible for the mass slaughter of other mammals and do not support it a message which has not been well made.
It fails again because dolphins and whales are of a different order to native and domestic creatures. Their realms do not exist exclusively within human defined nations. They are no one’s and no nation’s property and yet, to the commercial slaughtermen, they exist as nothing more than a “nature resources … to be used effectively“. Entirely deanimate. Not even a living thing.
Dolphin species are almost unique within the wild for their desire to seek out human beings and interact with them for the apparently sake of entertainment and pleasure. They have displayed, on countless ocassions through out history, a benign attitude towards human beings, saving them for example from shark attack and drowning. Perfectly evolved to their environments, numerous arguments exist to support their intelligence and self-awareness or sentience.
Village fishermen defended the hunt as part of a centuries-long tradition. It is not. Their claim to tradition evaporates when it becomes apparent that the financial benefits of dolphin hunting lay in feeding a very modern and Western “tradition” of marine parks and dolphin shows. One which O’Barry himself helped establish. Was it limited to indigenous scale and method of subsistence hunting, likely no one would complain. It is not. Its tradition goes back no further than the 1970s. It is highly industrialized and dependent on Western developed technologies; the internal combustion engine, electronics, communication systems. It is not “Japanese” at all.
Whereas, without any doubt, much of the popular anti-whaling rhetoric has become colored by inherent racist sentiments, the core of the eco-movement certainly is not. Those pioneering the environmental and animal rights movements would never associate themselves with nationalism nor any form of cultural imperialism. Indeed, within their own nations they are equally reviled, ridiculed and unloved by their own establishments and are part of the defence of diversity. Unfortunately, pioneers – or those operating beyond acceptable groupthink – are not welcome in Japan either. Western or Japanese.
Chisa Hidaka of Dolphin Dance recently commented that most Japanese will not want to become involved in an ugly fight and suggested that the the reactionary elements within Japan do not want the conversation to become rational or cooperative because they fear that if it does, Japanese citizens will show their support for protecting whales and dolphins.
She suggests that if we want Japanese people to be more involved, pro-dolphin activists need to walk away from the ‘fight’ and use a more rational and cooperative approach. “Only then, can we expect cooperation and a reasonable response“, she suggests. A sound suggestion but one that is likely to fall at the feet of a few men being as old men are in all nations.
The commercial dolphin slaughters have also been educated in the language of the Whaling Triangle. They attack NGOs such as Sea Shepherd, the Whaleman Foundation and the Oceanic Preservation Society who funded The Cove, as “only doing for the sake money“. A position which ignores, of course, that they are only slaughtering the dolphins “for the money” in the first place, as are the Western marketing men who advise them on their position. The fishermen’s condescension towards the groups has gone as far as refusing to accept the market value for the release of dolphins back into the wild because the money was donated rather than ‘properly’ earned. Ignoring again that the donors of that money were very providing funding where they could not provide time and other commitments in full support of their aims.
To understand this, one first has to appreciate the weakness of the Japanese civil society (charities and non-profit organizations). A history which only goes back as far as 1998. Prior to the Kobe Earthquake disaster, which illustrated the State’s inability to respond quickly and coordinately enough to a large scale disaster, the establishment of NGOs had been so expensive as to exclude the possibility of independent citizen’s groups creating them.
NPO remained government and big business controlled, carrying out the duties and policies which were inconvenient or impossible to do through the route of normal governance. Their job was not to make changes. Whereas in the West, charitable giving and work, social activism and even religious activities are highly regarded, in the re-modeled secular Japan, capitalism – money – is king. Lacking the safety nets of many Western societies, and under the duress of impossible working demands, Japan can do little but conform.
Many small-scale, local community groups have flourished since 1998, an extension of Japan’s village past and civic pride, but campaigning NGOs and NPO in the areas of animal rights and the environment are very few, very weak, very under-resourced and under-skilled. They are also more likely to be at conflict with themselves. The authorities just do not have to deal with organized opposition and fairly immature defenses effective, e.g. The Cove movie was decried because it used “sneak cameras”. It “cheated” because it did not repeat the partyline. What else is an investigative documentary expect to do?
Since the heavy State clamp downs of student and worker demonstrations in the 1960s, direct action is almost unknown and conflict not part of campaigning language. With life and career destroying tools in place such as detention without representation for up to 23 days, no state-funded legal defence, 12 hours a day interrogations with no lawyer present and no recordings made, activists have very strong incentives to find other channels for their concerns than the civil disobedience favored in the West.
Lastly, one issue remains that only the vegan movement can argue. The tradition of eating whale and dolphin meat depends on the fallacy that humankind needs animal based protein to survive. It does not. The Vegan experiment of the last 70 years has proven that. We have no need to slaughter, only want and greed.
From a Vegan point of view, we would love humanity to renounce the slaughter and exploitation of all animals, “as far as is possible and practical“. In the case of whales and dolphins, this is easy to do.
Any opinions or concerns regarding the dolphin slaughter licenses and policy should be directed to:
|Governor of Wakayama, Mr. Yoshinobu Nisaka
Prefectural Office of Wakayama
1-1 Komatsubaradouri, Wakayama-shi
Wakayama-ken, 640-8269 Japan
Prime Minister Naoto Kan
|Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, Mr. Seiji Maehara,
Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Japan
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8919
Tel: +81- (0)3-3580-3311
Minister of Tourism, Mr Sumio Mabuchi