The Taiji Story

First, the disclaimer; I do not represent any organization or group. I am writing my personal reactions, reflections, and questions. The views I express here are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

It’s about the dolphins, about their being culled annually for meat at a place called Taiji. Most people from Japan would say, “Taiji?” Where?” Most of us never heard of such a place, let alone thought of dolphins as food. We, too, adore dolphins for their beauty, intelligence and good cheer. They symbolize innocence, joy and unconditional good will. Who would ever think of hurting them, let alone hunting them down into the bloody pool of brutal death? And yet the documentary “The Cove” has taken us to Taiji in southern Japan and shown us the slaughter. Cameras don’t lie. It is a frightful sight.

The filmmakers sought to stir emotions worldwide and apply international pressure on the people of Taiji and their government. The results are already showing in far places like Broome, a costal town in northwestern Australia. Broome and Taiji became sister cities in 1981, after the Japanese helped develop the pearl cultivating industry in the area.

Since the screening of the film in the beginning of September, the council of Broome received 8,000 emails in a week questioning its relationship with Taiji. Fearing social and economic sanctions, the council decided to disassociate itself from Taiji and suspend its sister-town relationship. No doubt many messages will be sent to Taiji from all parts of the world urging it to stop killing the dolphins. Will Taiji listen?

The article “The Killing Cove,” in the Nichi Bei Times of July 16-22, 2009, gave us the director of the Save Japan Dolphin Campaign, Richard O’Barry saying that his campaign is not to repeat the Save the Whales, Japan bashing of the past, which brought about negative per[secution of] innocent Asian Americans and helped some ugly racism to flare up. His purpose is to offer information to people in a gentle way. His cultural sensitivity is well noted. Nonetheless, I found the documentary “The Cove” very disturbing. It has left me with many questions. How can we get to hear the voice of the Taiji people? I’d like to hear what they have to say. So far the Japanese media have been silent of the issue. Why the secrecy? Who are behind those 236 fishermen profiting from the hunt? A dolphin that is marine park show quality, can fetch $150,000 or more. The dolphins sold for meat are worth $600 each, and there are 36,000 of them sold every year. What political connections are involved?

Then there is such a thing as cultural relativism. If the people in the land-poor costal town choose to eat cetaceans and poison themselves with the high dose of mercury, isn’t that their choice? I don’t know the hunger for animal protein. I have the luxury of being a soymilk and tofu person. I would not impose my sensitivity on others just because I don’t eat meat. I don’t have the right to decide what is proper food for other people, especially the ones who are in different circumstances and have different customs, which have developed over many years.

Suppose that a small group of people from a place where cows are revered and pampered and never eaten decide to come here and document on film the while process of our beef production business, wouldn’t we have the similar stain on our hands as the people in Taiji? If not cows, how about wild horses being “harvested” for pet food industry? In some parts of the world, dogs have been routinely eaten for thousands of years.

We must eat to live and often it involves killing, however repulsive it may be. If we are to respect cultural diversity, we might be willing to get into others’ shoes when considering what is right. I wish the dolphin killing would stop, but I’m willing to hear what the people in Taiji have to say.

Kimi Takemura is the former Nichi Bei Times Berkeley Branch chief.

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