The ancient village of Taiji, was the birthplace of the Japanese whaling industry and dates back in the 1600s. Annual festivals and shrines honoring whales and dolphins adorn the streets of this tiny town in Wakayama Prefecture in western Japan where the commercial hunting of dolphins, despite protest from the outside world, remains a major source of income for its residents to this day.
The town’s Isana Festival annual took place on August 14 (every year the same date) where the above photo was taken. Isana is an old Japanese word, meaning whale.
The festival honors the old whale hunts and depicts two rowboats brimming with men clad in red loincloths chasing a 30-foot mechanized whale around the bay.
In the old whaling days, some 200 men went out in dozens of boats armed with knives and harpoons as they came of age in the timeless conflict of man against nature combating a raging animal that outweighed them a thousand times over.
The ancient village, portrayed in the Oscar-winning documentary, The Cove, also conducts cruel annual dolphin hunts as part of a centuries-old tradition. Despite severe censure and criticism by animal activists outside of Japan, these hunts continue.
“We will pass down the history of our ancestors to the next generation, preserve it. We have a strong sense of pride about this. So we are not going to change our plans for the town based on the criticism of foreigners,” said Mayor Kazutaka Sangen.
“Dolphins deserve to be protected because they are different from other animals. They have a brain larger than the human brain. They’re self-aware, like people and like the great apes. They’re not fish, chicken, cows, pigs or other domesticated animals.,” said Ric O’ Barry, who starred in the movie.
Taiji is a tiny enclave surrounded by a small bay of water, which has a population of about 3,500 fiercely independent residents. Surrounding villages have succumbed to the outside pressure the aftermath of the film has generated and joined together to become an international whaling and cetacean research center.
Will the dolphins and whales ever find any peace?
Maybe they too will become activists in the eternal conflict between men and nature in an allegorical protest headed by the great and very angry white whale himself!