Tsunami destroyed Japan's whaling industry.
An end to whaling!!!
Published: March 24, 2011
AYUKAWAHAMA, Japan — At first glance, it seemed like just one more flattened building in a seaside town where a tsunami had leveled hundreds of homes. But survivors gathered at this one to stand and brood.
Ko Sasaki for The New York Times
The New York Times
They came to what had been the headquarters of Ayukawa Whaling, one of only a handful of companies left in Japan that still hunted large whales. Those who gathered on a chilly recent Thursday spoke as if the company’s destruction two weeks ago had robbed the town of its soul.
“There is no Ayukawa without whaling,” said Hiroyuki Akimoto, 27, a fisherman and an occasional crewman on the whaling boats, referring to the town by its popular shorthand.
Japan’s tsunami seems to have succeeded — where years of boycotts, protests and high-seas chases by Western environmentalists had failed — in knocking out a pillar of the nation’s whaling industry. Ayukawahama was one of only four communities in Japan that defiantly carried on whaling and eating whales as a part of the local culture, even as the rest of the nation lost interest in whale meat.
So central is whaling to the local identity that many here see the fate of the town and the industry as inextricably linked.
“This could be the final blow to whaling here,” said Makoto Takeda, a 70-year-old retired whaler. “So goes whaling, so goes the town.”
The damage was particularly heavy here because Ayukawahama sits on the tip of a peninsula that was the closest land to the huge undersea earthquake 13 days ago. The resulting tsunami tore through the tiny fishing towns on the mountainous coastline, reducing Ayukawahama to an expanse of splintered wood and twisted cars. Three out of four homes were destroyed, forcing half of the town’s 1,400 residents into makeshift shelters.
At the offices of Ayukawa Whaling, only a light green harpoon gun — which once proudly decorated the entrance — and an uprooted pine tree were left standing. Across a parking lot stood the skeletal frame of the factory where whale meat was processed. A beached fishing boat and crumpled fire truck lay on the raised platform where the whales were hoisted ashore to be butchered.
The company’s three boats, which had been sucked out to sea, washed up miles down the coast with remarkably little damage. But they remain grounded there.
Ayukawa Whaling’s chairman, Minoru Ito, said he was in the office when the earthquake struck, shattering windows and toppling furniture. He led the employees to higher ground.
All 28 of them survived, he said, though he later had to lay them off. He said he fully intended to rebuild, hopefully in time for an autumn hunt off the northern island of Hokkaido, though he acknowledged the recovery might take more time. He said the most costly part would be getting the whaling ships back in the water, an undertaking that the company cannot afford without government help.
Once the ships are ready, he wants to hire back the employees. However, he admitted that the waves might have scared some employees away, from both whaling and Ayukawahama.
“If we can fix the ships, then we’re back in business,” said Mr. Ito, 74, whose father was also a whaler. “They should not be afraid, because another tsunami like that won’t come for another 100 years.”
Other residents were similarly undaunted. Mr. Akimoto, the occasional whaler, who came with a friend to see the ruined company, said the town needed to resume whaling as soon as possible to lift its spirits.
He said the year would be a sad one because the town would miss the April hunting season, during which coastal whalers like Ayukawa Whaling are allowed to take 50 minke whales under Japan’s controversial whaling program, which is ostensibly for research.
Ayukawahama and the other three whaling communities — among them Taiji, made infamous by the movie “The Cove” — hunt only in coastal waters. Japan’s better-known whaling in the Antarctic is conducted by the government.
Mr. Akimoto said April was usually the town’s most festive month, especially when large whales were brought ashore. He said he would miss that feeling this year.
Added his friend, Tatsuya Sato, 20, “We are so hungry that if they brought a whale ashore now, the whole town would rush down to eat it.”