Taking the whaling debate to the Japanese people

Feature story - 26 January, 2009
We have officially opened a new Communications Centre in the northern fishing district of Aomori. As we mark 20 years of non-violent environmental campaigning in Japan this year, we're bringing our message of healthy oceans, whale protection, and sustainable fisheries direct to the people of this port city, along with information about our campaigns to prevent dangerous climate change and stop genetically modified food.

Our communications centre in Aomori, Japan, is now open to the public.

A traditional sake barrel-breaking ceremony marked the launch of the new Centre, which is located in the heart of Aomori. The trial of two Greenpeace activists who exposed corruption in the whaling industry will also take place here later this year.

A change in perspective

The head of the fisherman's union for Oma, a town in Aomori Prefecture, and one of the most influential local farmers both spoke at our opening ceremony, which was heavily attended by local and national media. Both guest speakers spoke of Greenpeace as being misunderstood in Japan but expressed hope that the people of Aomori would take the time to listen and understand the true nature of Greenpeace.

The fisherman, Hirosumi Hamata, noted that we share a common goal in creating sustainable fisheries. He said he had been wary of Greenpeace until he met one of us in person: Wakao, one of our campaigners in Tokyo. Now,  he says, he is keen to see what we have to say and what our Japanese office has planned.

The Aomori Communication Centre will be a hub for information and discussion on Japan's whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. According to opinion polls, a majority of the Japanese people don´t support whaling in the Southern Ocean, and nearly 87 percent are unaware that their taxes subsidise the programme. 

Many Japanese imagine modern whaling that involves small boats hunting individual whales along Japan's coastline. Images of the massive factory vessel, which sails each year to the Antarctic leading a highly industrialised fleet of whaling ships, often come as a shock. Japanese media had paid relatively little attention to the whaling issue until Greenpeace broke the news of the whale meat scandal.

Sustainable conversations

Our Communications Centre is open to the public and is the perfect opportunity for us to reach out to the whole community with our message of healthy oceans and the importance of marine reserves. We will host a series of public events in the coming months including a conference on sustainable fisheries. 

We're out to challenge misinformation about Greenpeace, and remind the people of Japan of campaigns we've run against nuclear waste dumping in Japanese waters, nuclear energy and the genetic contamination of food, among other global sustainability issues that have a special relevance to Aomori. This is one of Japan's most important fishery and agriculture centres, so we're here to provide support and discuss problematic issues like the impacts of industrial fishing, which stand in the way of communities like Aomori finding a more sustainable relationship with the oceans.

Free the Tokyo Two

With two of our activists facing the possibility of prison for their role in defending the whales, we also want to bring to the people of Aomori an understanding of a basic Greenpeace premise: non-violent direct action.

Peaceful, effective action is at the heart and soul of what Greenpeace does, and we'll be doing our best to foster greater understanding of why we take action against environmental crimes, why we bear witness to ecological injustice, and why we risk the disapproval of society in order to spark the discussions that change a society.

When Greenpeace first brought the world's attention to the whaling issue, the Soviet Union, Brazil, Peru, Chile, and Spain were all whaling nations. Together with other environmental groups, we stopped all of them, with actions on the high seas and efforts at scientific and political fora. We directed public pressure towards a moratorium on commercial whaling that was agreed in 1982. Iceland, Norway and Japan still hunt whales, in defiance of world opinion.

Whaling: Who needs it?

The whaling programmes of all three nations are on their last legs, as demand for whale meat plummets, surplus stocks increase, and more and more people in the business and political communities ask why whalers continue to enjoy subsidies for research nobody needs, and whale meat that nobody wants. 

In December, we brought the last captain of an Australian whaling vessel to Tokyo, to talk about how his country, his town, and he himself made the transition away from whaling.  "There is life after whaling," he said.

That's one of the visions we want to promote in Aomori -- a recognition that whaling's days are numbered, as we look to a future of marine reserves and other measures to protect our Oceans and our Earth, to provide sustainable livelihoods and a healthy planet.

Whale watching is of much greater value in all three countries. When hit with economic crisis a whale makes more business sense alive than dead

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