On Japan’s Coast, Tensions With Activists Return After Tsunami

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People walk through the rubble in Otsuchi, Japan, on April 10, 2011 (AP Photo/Yomiuri Shimbun, Yoichi Hayashi)

In a way, it’s a sign that things are returning to normal. Even the March tsunami that swept away much of the small town of Otsuchi was not powerful enough to wipe out tensions between locals and the Western activists who have been monitoring dolphin hunting in the fishing hamlet on the Japan’s northeast coast.

Activists from the group Sea Shepherd, the organization best known for chasing Japanese anti-whaling boats around the southern seas each year (and featured in the Animal Planet series “Whale Wars”), had been working in Otsuchi before the tsunami hit to record the dolphin hunt that takes place there. The Japanese tradition of capturing dolphins was made (in)famous in the award-winning documentary “The Cove,” but Taiji, where that film was shot, is not the only Japanese town where dolphins are fished or eaten.

Six activists found themselves there in the tsunami’s path on March 11, and they had to go through the horror of that day and the days after alongside the residents whose activities they were there to monitor. Here’s the beginning of Sea Shepherd’s Scott West’s blog entry from the day of the event.

The day started out as normal as can be when you are working on exposing and stopping the largest cetacean slaughter on the planet.  We were joined the night before by three new Guardians: Marley, Carisa, and Mike.  The six of us headed into town to check to see if any of the harpoon boats had gone out in the windy conditions.  Two had.  We also met with the Prefecture police who were waiting for us.

You can read the rest here. Needless to say, chaos ensued: some 1700 people were killed, and all the town’s hospitals were destroyed, along with most of its schools, fire and police stations. The foreigners caught up in it were, by their own account, treated with “kindness and generosity.” West goes on to write: “It confirms my beliefs that Japanese people are warm and kind. The activities of the dolphin molesters in Taiji and the porpoise molesters of Iwate are aberrations and absolutely not the rule.”

According to the organization’s blog, the activists returned two months later to continue their documentation of the dolphin hunt after the disaster. Apparently the goodwill felt on both sides in the aftermath of the disaster had run out on both sides. The blogger, who is not identified in the post, wrote:

Let us not forget why we were in Otsuchi in March.  We were here to expose the wanton slaughter of Dall’s porpoises.  The slaughter happened pretty much year round.  The boats would periodically move to various ports in northern Japan to conduct their evil business.  Otsuchi was one such port that harbored these evil men and their boats.

According to a March 26 article in the Japan Times, local fishermen were peeved to find out the activists had come back when the town was still so far from getting back on its feet. Among the dead, as was the case with many of the small towns on the coast, were the town’s mayor and much of the town’s leadership. As one fisherman told the paper, “Many boats were swept away due to the quake and tsunami, and the fish market is also in terrible condition. There is nothing left to take pictures of.”