Jay Alabaster, for JAPAN Forward

Perched on the southern tip of Japan’s main Honshu island, Taiji has long been a whaling base. But it is best known for its local dolphin drives, which begin each September. A small group of local fishermen prowl the local waters for pods of approved species, then drive them into shore to be killed for meat or captured live for sale to aquariums in Japan and abroad.

Protestors have been coming to Taiji for nearly half a century to decry the hunts. Most travel from the other side of the hemisphere, where intentionally killing a dolphin is almost unthinkable, a cruel environmental sin.

The Taiji hunters, many of whom are themselves former whalers or family members of whalers, take offense at the attack on their way of living, a part of their local culture and tradition. They even named their union “Isana,” or “brave fish,” the ancient word whalers once used to describe their prey.

Year after year the debate has gone on – Western ideals versus Japanese tradition. In 1980, the Associated Press reported that the “director of the Greenpeace Foundation conservationist group has offered to pay $850 for some 200 whales caught by Japanese fishermen.” Forty years later, Kyodo News noted the start of the hunt earlier this month, describing Taiji’s “traditional ‘drive-hunting’ method that animal-rights groups at home and abroad have labeled as cruel.”

In recent years, September protests against the hunts have popped up around the world. Female activists in Paris strip down and pose as bloodied dolphins in front of the Eiffel Tower, while in London they inflate a giant mylar dolphin in front of the Japanese embassy.

One common interruption to the debate has been the massive storms that parade up from the Pacific. September is typhoon season, and each year a string of violent tempests chase away summer and batter the town’s ancient streets with swirling wind and rain. When they come, there is little for the local activists or hunters to do but hunker down and wait. The old wooden houses that line the main streets of the town, many over a hundred years old, shrug off yet another season of storms, and Taiji’s harbor shields the local boats from the raging sea.

But this year has been different – Taiji has largely been spared both types of storms.

A view of Taiji with quiet protestors | Photo by Jay Alabaster / © JAPAN Forward

Typhoon Haishen, which battered southern Kyushu with record-breaking winds, veered off before it reached Taiji, while Typhoon Dolphin, once predicted to run directly over the town’s own dolphin pens, largely petered out before it arrived.

Meanwhile, the foreign protesters also never arrived – immigration restrictions imposed by the government to battle coronavirus have largely blocked short-term visitors, tourists and activists alike.


By - grape Japan editorial staff.

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