Wildlife in Asia: Cultural Perspectives

By John Knight | Go to book overview

4

JAPANESE PERCEPTIONS OF WHALES AND DOLPHINS

Arne Kalland


Introduction

In the article ‘Why the Japanese are so stubborn about whaling’, two American environmentalists residing in Japan suggest that the ‘problem’ of Japanese whaling can be solved by educating the Japanese: ‘Increased education about marine mammals…will allow Japanese traditions to be altered in positive ways from the inside’ (Glass and Englund 1989). However, Japanese attitudes toward whales are more complex than these two environmentalists seem to believe. First, the Japanese do not have less factual knowledge about whales than people in Australia, England, Germany and the United States (Freeman and Kellert 1994). 1 What is at issue are different kinds of knowledge, not the amount of knowledge per se. Second, new attitudes to whales do not necessarily replace old ones. As pointed out in a recent publication, Japanese perceptions of nature are not static but are continuously changing with new dimensions or interpretations being added to, rather than replacing, old ones (Kalland and Asquith 1997:7). This also applies to peoples’ perceptions of whales and dolphins. Third, there is not necessarily a contradiction between ‘loving’ animals and killing them for food. In contrast to the ‘no-touch’ approach to nature held by many environmentalists in the West, Japanese recognize that it is the nature of things that one organism feeds upon another, creating relations of indebtedness in the process (Kalland 1995a:246-247).

In this chapter I shall present an outline of Japanese knowledge of whales and indicate the important place of whales in Japanese culture. In the second half of the chapter I shall consider the extent to which this ‘traditional’ understanding of people—whale relations is changing in the present-day, in the light of the emergence of whale-watching and other forms of cetacean-related tourism.

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