Taking a Stand: One Japanese Protester’s Fight Against the Cove Slaughter

Inside Japan, more and more activists like Satoshi Komiyama are publicizing their opposition to the annual dolphin drive-hunt in Taiji.

Dolphin activist Satoshi Komiyama holds a sign that translates into 'Freedom for Dolphins' at the beach in the notorious cove in Taiji, Japan. (Photo: Courtesy Satoshi Komiyama)

Sep 25, 2013· 4 MIN READ
David Kirby has been a professional journalist for 25 years. His third book, Death at Seaworld, was published in 2012.

The whale and dolphin drive in Taiji is now in its fourth week and protests have been staged around the world, including in Japan. But the annual slaughter has always received far more media attention and public outrage outside the country. Within Japan, most people seem to have little knowledge of the cetacean blood being spilled around the archipelago.

Veteran activists from the hunt, such as Ric O’Barry, star of the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove and head of Save Japan Dolphins, have long argued that if real change is going to happen in Japan, it will have to come from inside. It cannot be imposed by foreigners—no matter how vocal, well-organized, or well-meaning they may be.

I saw about 60 bottlenose dolphins being chased into the cove with my own eyes and dove into the water only to hear them cry out of panic.

“We are trying to get the Japanese people to take ownership of this issue. They are the only ones who can stop this dolphin slaughter,” O’Barry told me earlier this month. “That’s why we’ve been looking for the past ten years for ways to work with them, not against them.”

Slowly, more Japanese citizens are catching on to what is happening, and each year, greater numbers of protestors who show up at the cove now are actually from Japan. It is important that their voices be heard.

TakePart recently conducted a written interview, translated from Japanese, with Satoshi Komiyama, 33, who travelled six hours by train to Taiji this year to make his voice heard. Komiyama first heard about the dolphin hunt 10 years ago, but first witnessed it through watching The Cove in 2009.

TakePart: What was your reaction when you first saw the slaughter on film?

Satoshi Komiyama: I had to question myself why it was necessary, because none of my family, friends, or people I knew had never eaten dolphins in their lives. I thought that we as Japanese people had to do something about it. Since then, I founded a group to protect dolphins and organized demonstrations. At one point, I was the head of a group called AMM (Action for Marine Mammals). We held a demo in Shibuya, Tokyo in November 2012 to protest against the dolphin hunting and whaling. I left AMM in April, and now I have a group called Flipper's Japan to protect dolphins.

What, if anything, do most Japanese know about Japan’s traditional practices of hunting whales and dolphins, including hunts in Japan outside Taiji, and the killing of great whales in the South Atlantic ostensibly for “research” purposes.

Many Japanese people know about traditional whaling. But when it comes to killing whales for a research purpose, it is not too familiar to us. And as for dolphin hunting, people rarely know about that. I feel that Japanese people are obligated to know about the dolphin hunt in Taiji. It's just odd that Japanese people don't know about this even though it is happening in Japan.

What do you think the average Japanese thinks about Taiji, if at all?

The majority of Japanese people do not know about the dolphin hunting, so they have no idea about Taiji either. But when I tell people about what is happening there, they typically say, "poor dolphins," "unbelievable," or "unimaginable." That's why I can say that it's very unlikely for them to think they want to eat dolphins.

What made you decide to get involved?

The Cove. My love for the ocean and dolphins turned me into an experienced skin-diver. That's why it was very shocking to me when I finally saw the dolphin hunting in the movie. I felt that I had to go to Taiji to see it with my own eyes and think what I could do for dolphins to protect them.

Briefly describe your experiences in Taiji—how many other Japanese are there protesting?

We had 10 Japanese people, including me. The day I visited Taiji was September 1, which was the first day of the dolphin hunting season. The boats went out to capture dolphins in the very early morning. I saw about 60 bottlenose dolphins being chased into the cove with my own eyes and dove into the water only to hear them cry out of panic. By seeing the actual hunt and hearing dolphins cry, I realized that I really had known nothing about the dolphin hunting. Visiting Taiji and seeing the hunt have motivated me tremendously.

How have local people there treated you?

Since I stayed there only for a short time, I didn't get to interact with local people. What was impressive was that we were always surrounded or followed by police officers when we were hanging out at lookout points or driving to go somewhere.

Do you see any changes in attitude or media coverage in Japan in regards to this issue?

Media in foreign countries are willing to write or air stories about the anti-dolphin hunting movement in Japan, and their information is accurate. But Japanese media is the opposite. Since we will be having the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, hidden truths, like the dolphin hunt, which could damage the image of Japan, get even more difficult to feature in Japanese media.

What message do you think your presence in Taiji sends to other Japanese?

Although we went to Taiji to take action, it was rarely recognized by Japanese people. Television and newspapers are great ways to raise awareness, but they do not mention the dolphin hunt and our movement to protect dolphins. Only a very small group of Japanese animal rights activists found out about our event in Taiji on September 1 by seeing our posts on Facebook and Twitter.

What do you think is going to end the drives?

Many of us in Japan don't eat dolphin meat and don't want it, yet many dolphins still get killed every year. Their death is wasted. We are not appreciating their lives, which does not really go with Japanese mentality. That's why, if more people learn about the dolphin hunting, more people will speak out, and we will put an end to it. I believe that educating Japanese people is the most effective way to accomplish the goal. In August, Flippers Japan conducted a survey around Shibuya station in Tokyo asking people if they would want to eat a dolphin. One hundred fifteen Japanese people answered. Ninety-five said "no," 19 said "yes," and one person was unsure.

Those who responded yes said curiosity was the motivation, and none of them were eager to eat it regularly. Reasons for saying no were: They are cute; they are not food; I don't want to harm them. One person said, “My brother made me watch The Cove, and I learned what was going on. If I didn't watch it, I would have said yes.” But out of 115 people who took the survey, no one knew that dolphin meat was sold on the market and where these dolphins in aquariums came from. This is the reality of how much Japanese people don't know about dolphin hunting.

What can the average person outside of Japan do to help the most?

So many Japanese people don't eat dolphin meat, yet so many dolphins still get killed every year. The most important thing is to let the world know that fact. If anyone knows about the dolphin hunt, tell their friends and share the information. The anti-dolphin hunt movement will arise from each person learning about the truth. Japanese could find out about it by hearing from foreign media coverage.