Recently, a newly formed Japanese grassroots group marched in protest against its country's whaling policies. It was the first open resistance from within Japan itself. Digital Journal spoke with Action for Marine Mammals' (AMM) leader, Satoshi Komiyama.
Each year the Japanese government authorizes the killing and capture of thousands of whales and dolphins -- either for meat or to sell animals to the captive marine industry. Yet so far, resistance to the annual whaling and dolphin drives in Taiji, Japan, has primarily been an external affair.
For various reasons, few Japanese citizens ever speak out against the hunts and many remain oblivious to their nature. In a country that encourages conformity, being outspoken or questioning the "norm", is strongly frowned upon.
But this all changed last November 24, when Japan's first open opposition group, 'Action for Marine Mammals', protested against the country's whaling practices at the busy Shibuya Station intersection in downtown Tokyo.
The march was both coordinated and peaceful until a group of around 30 Nationalists appeared at the demonstration to protest the protesters. Seeking to impose their own views, Nationalists attempted to disrupt the march by screaming ''Go Home!", and even in some cases, spitting on the participants rallying for the dolphins and whales.
Despite the animosity posed, Tokyo police managed to maintain order and with dignified restraint, the pro-dolphin and whale march continued unabated. It was heralded a tremendous success by the international activist community and was recognized as a welcome first step in tackling small and large whaling from within Japan.
Digital Journal recently caught up with the leader of AMM, Satoshi Komiyama, to ask about future plans for the group. The conversation that followed was kindly translated by Toshiaki Morioka, the AMM's Sub leader and public relations section chief.
So how was the group formed, when it was formed and who are the main people who oversee the group and its activities?SK: 'Action for Marine Mammals' (AMM) is created by a grassroots movement. The leader is myself, and the sub leader is Toshiaki Morioka. We have several core members.
Was the group involved in an anti-fur rally first? Did you receive more resistance for the anti-whaling march than the anti-fur march?SK: AMM did not organize "No Fur" demonstrations, but many members are also animal rights activists who are active and often participate in the "No Fur" demonstrations. By the way, No Fur demonstrations are not rare in Japan. But we, AMM, gather to demonstrate against dolphin and whale hunting. Both No Fur demonstrations and the Anti Dolphin and Whale Hunting demonstration received some responses.
I understand the Nationalist group that attempted to disrupt the anti-whaling march spat at your group?SK: Yes, as you asked, some participants spat on pro-dolphin protesters.
However, it was the first demonstration for the anti-dolphin and whale hunting, so we do not have any past examples to compare. We just hope that we will not face this kind of disrespect in the future.
What is next for the group moving forward, and what do you hope to achieve in the future?SK: AMM will proceed to protect marine mammals by protesting or demonstrating at the appropriate places, to the appropriate people, and work to protect marine mammals. We will use the Internet, flyers, brochures, etc., to provide the right information about marine mammals including their behaviors and their current environment.
We will try to protect marine mammals by using any other effective means. We always seek the best possible ways to protect them. We will do all of the above and try to improve marine mammal life and fight against the deprivations of their quality of lives.
Up to now, there have been many discussions about the pros and cons of dolphin and whale issues in Japan. However, they were not done by the majority of Japanese, but done by a rather smaller number of people who have an interest in the dolphin and whale issue. And even during these discussions, the number of dolphins and whales keep being killed. Arguments and discussions do not save dolphins and whales. Now, we think ACTION is important, not discussion! We have not much time left. We have to hurry before whales and dolphins (and other marine mammals) go into extinction!
Many Japanese do not have accurate information about dolphins and whales. Some think dolphins are fish, or some think dolphins become whales as they grow up. There are many Japanese who are not aware of the fact that dolphins are eaten in some areas.
If you cannot believe this, please ask the following questions to a Japanese person on the street. What is the biggest fish on this planet? The expected answer would be a "whale". When did you eat whale or dolphin meat last time? "Several years ago" or "Never". Have you eaten whale or dolphin meat? The expected answer from many young people is "No".
Believe it or not, you will hear those answers above. This is the current Japanese awareness. Therefore, we would like to send "accurate" information about dolphins and whales.
What important facts would your group like Westerners and Japanese people to know?SK: Many Japanese do not agree with dolphin and whale hunting, nor 'research' whaling. We would like to tell this fact to the world. Also, to Japanese, we would like to give correct information about dolphin and whale behavior, their surrounding environments and circumstances, such as dolphin hunting, research whaling, and the current situation of aquariums and delphiniums.
How difficult is it for your group to oppose something within your own culture?SK: When we think deeply about dolphin and whale hunting done by Japan, the main cause seems to be from handful of fishermen or hunters, but really the fundamental causes are ignorance and indifference of Japanese citizens and the Japanese government.
Regarding the ignorance and indifference of Japanese citizens, we can see the bright side when we hear peoples' reactions to dolphin hunting in Japan. Many peoples' reactions are "unbelievable ... unforgivable ... so cruel ... wasting of our tax money", etc., we take this as a huge potential for mind shift of Japanese people.
Our toughest issue is how to take action or protest to Japanese government effectively.
Have there been any difficulties since the demonstration?SK: At this moment I can say that we are a newborn group and there are so many things that we need to learn. First, we should learn about these issues as much as possible, as fast as possible. Later we will start working out more concrete problems and cultural challenge. This is all I can tell you now.
Is there anything else that you would like us to know?SK: I was born in 1980 and have never eaten whale/dolphin meat. I have never seen any at the dinner table at my house nor at school lunch. This is true for the majority of my generation. Based on this fact, we do not understand why so many dolphins and whales keep on being killed every year. Japan has so many stocks of whale meat.
We are in an age of plenty now. Not only animal activists, but also all the Japanese should think about the meaning of hunting wild animals. Japan is a nation of dolphin hunting and whale research with government permission.
Therefore, we need to start a Japanese movement.
Many foreign groups come to Japan and are active in protecting dolphins. However, since they are not permanent residents of Japan, I assume that there are various limitations and difficulties for their activities in Japan.
However, AMM consists of Japanese people, therefore, we have the potential to work on these issues where foreign activists may find it difficult. Also we are Japanese communicating in the Japanese language therefore we expect to receive different responses. We will create a new movement for the dolphin and whale issue in Japan.
Komiyama also told Digital Journal that his group appreciated "very much the support from all over the world for our demonstration on Nov. 24th. "We will continue to be open any kinds of support from the world" he said, "we do need them."
AMM is planning another demo against "Research Whaling" on Feb. 9th at the Shibuya Station intersection in downtown Tokyo. Like their last protest, AMM is hoping the event will become an international affair. This will be the first demo/march they told Digital Journal, where the initiative will be undertaken by a Japanese group.
For further information on AMM and future group activities in Japan, or to offer help to the group, visit their Facebook page. As a newborn activist group they welcome donations, and hope to have an account set up on a new website shortly.