Japan from the inside out

Giant sea theater

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 12, 2009

The nature of the mass media today is such that the truth is irrelevant.
– Paul Watson

IT’S LATE FALL AGAIN, the time of year the Japanese government-funded whaling fleet departs Shimonoseki and heads for the South Pacific hunting grounds, with the rich celebrity-funded ships of Sea Shepherd, skippered by Cap’n Paul Watson, in hot pursuit. In years past, the organization’s vessels have flown the Jolly Roger, an image that captures both their behavior and drugstore buccaneer attitude. Watson considers people who eat whale meat to be “cannibals”, which isn’t so surprising once you’ve seen his photograph. One of the SS’s crewmen called what they do “giant street theater”, and that meshes well with the 24/7 needs of the infotainment business.

This AFP report takes a vague stab at describing the concerns over any mishaps that might occur when the curtain comes up this year; the remoteness of the area would make rescue operations difficult. The AFP explains the potential for mishaps by referring to what it calls a “collision” last year between the SS’s Steve Irwin and one of the whaling ships. Those who would like to see last year’s two “collisions” for themselves can do so by accessing the video provided by Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research (link on right sidebar). Another “collision” two years ago was even more blatant, as the ICR video showed an SS ship ramming one of the Japanese vessels from a 90 degree angle. The intent was obvious to anyone who has ever been a six-year-boy that played with other six-year-old boys by crashing toy trucks together.

That same year, the SS outfitted the Steve Irwin with a seven-foot steel blade on the starboard side to maximize the damage to the hulls of the ships it rammed. Demonstrating either their distinctive sense of humor or their personal fetishes, the SS called it a “hydraulic can opener” and threatened to give the Japanese a “steel enema”.

Ramming ships is one the many reasons people, organizations, and governments try to keep the SS at arm’s length. They’ve already sunk 10 vessels throughout the seven seas. Greenpeace refuses to even discuss them, while the anti-whaling Australians and New Zealanders have provided the Japanese whaling fleet with updates on SS ship movements. Here’s another taste of SS humor: They’ve painted the flags of the 10 victim ships’ countries of registration on the hull of one of their vessels, as if to cop a feel from World War II fighter pilots with little Rising Sun emblems painted around the cockpit. In addition to installing can openers, they’ve purposely reinforced the ship’s bow with concrete and steel. All the better to ram you with, my dear.

Greenpeace threw Watson out of the organization because it considered him a violent extremist that brought more harm than good to their cause. The vote of the Board of Directors was 11-1, with Watson himself being the lone dissenter.

The AFP merely refers to the SS as “militant protesters”. Unfortunately, the AFP can’t find the space to infotain their readers by dissecting Cap’n Paul’s nutzpah claim from last year that a sniper on one of the Japanese ships fired a gun at him. He tried to prove it by holding up a metal fragment for a TV crew on board ship and getting all in a huff’n’stuff.

How lucky for him that he was the only one of his crew to be wearing a bulletproof vest at the time, that “the bullet” struck an anti-poaching badge on his chest without leaving any marks, and that “the bullet” was nothing but a twisted piece of metal. In his book Earthforce!, Watson admitted that he’s down with the idea of making up facts and figures as a way to manipulate the media.

For their part, the Japanese authorities say they used flashbang devices against the SS ships, which are designed specifically to prevent shrapnel injuries.

Believing Mr. Watson would require that one also believe the Japanese were ready to abandon more than a half-century of pacifism and ruin their reputation for the rest of the century by taking a pot shot at a media whore parading in front of video cameras in the middle of a confrontation. These are the same Japanese whose national legislators twist themselves into pretzels over the question of whether to allow their military personnel to carry sidearms for self-protection during an assignment to a real war zone.

To steal a line from the American comedian Chris Rock: When did the words “crazy” and “ram” get eliminated from the dictionary?

International interest

The AFP also conveys the furrowed-brow concern of the foreign ministers of The Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand, who hope that no one breaks any laws. The Dutch are involved because the SS ships are registered with that country and fly their flag of convenience. The vigilante fleet wound up with Dutch registration because Canada, the U.K., and Belize revoked theirs. It turned out those fun-lovin’ guys of the SS had claimed their ships were “pleasure craft”. Now even the anti-whaling Dutch say they are putting together legislation to wash their hands of them. Part of the deal to obtain Dutch registration was that the SS sign an agreement to comply with safety rules and not resort to violence.

Then again, one wonders how much of a priority this is for the Dutch. The Norwegians issued an arrest warrant for Watso after he tried to sink some of their smaller whaling ships in the early 90s. The Dutch took him into custody and held him for 80 days, but refused to extradite him. Maybe they were miffed that the Norwegians didn’t want to join the EU.

The Australians and the New Zealanders have gotten involved because their islands happen to be in the vicinity, they think whales are cuddly, and the Australians think they should be treated better than the way they themselves treat wallabies and kangaroos. That’s no excuse for the international news media to think the Australians and New Zealanders are more worthy of attention than other anti-whaling nations, however. Yes, they are close to the region, but they’re not directly affected by the Japanese activity. The Australians claim jurisdiction, but no one else recognizes the claim, and even they refer to it as “tenuous”.

Could it be that they receive coverage because they’re the closest countries whose population is mostly Caucasian? If you think that’s not a factor, imagine how interested the media would be if the whales were frolicking somewhere in the Indian Ocean and the two countries complaining were Madagascar and the Seychelles. But I digress.

The sailors’ tactics

Last year, the Japanese sprayed the SS ships with water cannon and played an amplified recording of noise that was said to resemble that of a smoke detector. This year the SS decided to bring some noise of their own, as the green gossip blog Ecorazzi reports:

Pete Bethune, captain of the new Sea Shepherd stealth boat “Ady Gil”, has revealed that he’ll be blaring the song “Tangaroa” from NZ musician Tiki Taan. “It’s a pretty spooky dark song and it’s got this sort of ethereal Maori chant going on it and I don’t think they’ll like it at all,” he told a NZ Radio station.

Here’s the YouTube video of Tangaroa. Listen for yourself to what the mocha latte warriors consider spooky, dark, and ethereal. Some might think it resembles the crowd noise during the second half of a rugby match instead. Cool dudes that they are, they probably also dug the skull on the t-shirt and the neck tattoo. Keepin’ it real!

The political tactics

Meanwhile, the new Japanese government seems to have developed a good cop, bad cop routine.

Remember, whatever you do, don't mention the war--er--warhl--uh--whale, yes, whale, that's it, never eat it myself, can't stand the taste.

The good cop is played by Japan’s Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio. Mr. Hatoyama, who doesn’t seem to be the type to have smashed trucks at age six, met with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende at the end of October and asked his government to deflag the SS’s mini-navy. That should have been enough, but no–for some reason he felt compelled to expound on his dietary habits, telling Dr. Balkenende, “I detest whale meat.” The Dutch prime minister promised that he would have legislation drawn up to allow for the deregistration of the SS ships.

Guess which part of the story got hit by the international news media spotlight. Guess what legislation hasn’t been written yet. Guess who has no one to blame but himself.

This wasn’t the first time the prime minister got entangled in some dippy diplomacy. Here’s an excerpt from a previous post:

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith met on the 26th (2008) for talks with Hatoyama Yukio, the secretary-general of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. Here’s a story the latter told Mr. Smith, according to a report in the Sankei Shimbun.

“Actually, my wife served some home-cooked whale this morning. I don’t believe in eating whale, so I turned it down, but it is in fact a popular dish on the Japanese table.”

Back-translating from the translation into Japanese, Smith’s reply was, “You’re a braver man than I. My policy is to eat everything my wife serves.”

Mr. Hatoyama later said his wife had made a type of whale stew for breakfast. He also explained that he didn’t eat whales because people from the district he represents in Hokkaido were trying to develop whale watching as a tourism resource.

And yes, it is stretching it a bit to have us believe that the wife of a politician in his 60s doesn’t know he refuses to eat whale and serves it to him in a breakfast stew on the very morning he is to meet the Australian foreign minister.

I’m not sure that Mr. Smith swallowed the story about the breakfast any more than Mr. Hatoyama swallowed his wife’s whale stew.

Well, what’s the real story? Does he refuse to allow whale meat to pass his lips because of his constituents, because he’s a politician who’ll say anything, or because he thinks whale tastes terrible? Having eaten whale in Japan that was better than beefsteak, and knowing this is not a hot-button issue for the Japanese, I’d place my chips on number two.

What Mr. Hatoyama did was put into practice an old Japanese proverb: Uso mo hoben, or, a lie can be expedient. Having also been on the receiving end of an expedient lie or two soon after coming to Japan, I can testify they do more harm than good. The listener knows dang well he’s being lied to, and suspects the expedient liar thinks him incapable of understanding something that’s easily understood to begin with.

Instead, he came off as what the Japanese call a happo bijin—literally, a beauty in eight directions, and figuratively, a phony who tries to please everyone.

And if that weren’t enough, why should he bring himself down to the level of Paul Watson?

It was something of a surprise, however, that the new Japanese government debuted a bad cop this year in the person of Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya. Demonstrating that there is more to the Japanese political pond than jellyfish, Mr. Okada told the Australians that the two countries’ food cultures were different and to get used to it. Only he said it more diplomatically.

This is a change from the previous Japanese insistence that they were whaling primarily for scientific reasons. The Institute of Cetacean Research actually does perform research into the tasty cetaceans brought back from the South Pacific and has had the results published in scientific journals, but the world has always assumed that was another expedient lie.

Bully for Mr. Okada, whether he eats whale meat or not. The Japanese political class might finally have become fed up with all the malarkey despite conducting themselves in exemplary fashion for more than a half-century. Some foreigners think they’re devious bastards that are a) ready to march back into East Asia at the drop of a hat, or b) ready to monopolize the world’s automotive and consumer electronics industries if they aren’t able to do a). Others think they deserve to have a voice in the content of Japanese school textbooks and the schedule of Japanese prime ministers on national days of memoriam. Still others expect them to behave as ATMs for the world whenever some other country comes up with another grand international scheme and demands cooperation.

It wouldn’t be surprising if a consensus of sorts of sorts has developed that, by Jingo, if they want to make us jump through all these other hoops, then we’re going to catch all the damn whales we please. And eat them, too!

If I might make so bold, perhaps it would be profitable to take one more step. Seeing as how the Australians insist on having a voice in the matter of Japanese whaling, it would be only fair to apply Australian rules to the game. To wit:

Australian Maritime Law, the Crimes (Ships and Fixed Platforms Act) 1992, Part 2, Division 1, Section 10:

“A person must not engage in conduct that causes damage to a private ship or its cargo, knowing that such damage is likely to endanger the safe navigation of the ship.

Penalty: Life imprisonment.”

They’ve already asked Interpol to issue arrest warrants for Watson.

This could cut two ways, however. On the one hand, it would have the benefits of giving him what he deserves and putting him out of circulation for a while. On the other hand, the huckster-at-heart might not mind that much; he’s seen the inside of jails in other countries before, and a stretch in what the Japanese call the pig box would give him the chance to play the martyr.

It might even give him the idea of channeling another vege-maniac on a mission who once led a band of misfits with a taste for street theater. After his release/parole/expulsion, he could write a book about his experiences and call it My Struggle.

Reader Kushibo writes in to scold the “pro-whaling movement” for making Watson and SS the face of the “anti-whaling movement”.

I think not. The anti-whaling movement has got just the guy they want as their front man.

It takes a lot of money to purchase, outfit, equip, and operate ships on the high seas throughout the year. It also requires registration with a country. Watson doesn’t have any problem getting either.

The man has a rap sheet more than a quarter of a century long, but the Dutch asked him to sign an agreement that he would be a good boy. Are we to believe they’re surprised he didn’t live up to it? The Australians and others governments give him some mild harassment, but it amounts to little more than a perfunctory, “round up the usual suspects” gesture.

If the anti-whaling movement/governments didn’t want him as their face–particularly as their PR man for the media–he’d have been history long ago.

There are several other posts linked to the Whales tag, but perhaps this one has the most intriguing opinion from an outside observer.

11 Responses to “Giant sea theater”

  1. kushibo said

    So the existence of these nutjobs means whaling is okay?

    It seems that for the pro-whaling crowd, they are a godsend because they distract attention away from the real issues. It’s a great media play for the pro-whaling crowd to latch onto this group and make them the public face of the anti-whaling movement.


  2. ampontan said

    For me, the issue is:

    “Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you, and be silent.” – Epictetus

    Update added to original post.

  3. mac said

    In ancient Greece, to kill a dolphin was equal to killing a human and was a crime punishable by death. Epictetus wrote before the ocean were full of industrial waste.

    On NOvember 11, Mizuho Fukishima, the new minister of food safety and general affairs, social affairs and gender equality was collared over the dolphin and whale issue from a new angle … food safety.

    Since the 1980s, scientists from Japan and around the world have found alarmingly high levels of toxic substances in cetacean products on sale in Japanese supermarkets. Concentrations in some samples exceeded the Japanese Government’s own safety limit for mercury by up to 5,000 times.

    Mercury and other toxic substances are known to cause neurological disorders, the hreats to children include autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and yet they feed them to school kids in a sad attempt to indoctrinate them into a lifetime habit.

    A survey conducted by Elsa Nature Conservancy in 2008 found that more than 90 percent of Japanese were not sufficiently informed about the high levels of toxic substances in cetacean products nor aware of the serious health risks.

    The National Institute for Minamata Disease (NIMD) has recently collected more than 1000 hair samples from Taiji, in Wakayama. According to a report published in AERA, the weekly magazine of Asahi Shimbun, a ‘significant’ number of cases reported levels of mercury more than 20 times higher than national average levels and higher than levels known to cause central nervous system damage.

    Given the disgusting treatment of the victims of Minamata disease in the 1950s (1,700 died, many victims waited decades for compensation and support), it is not even more shocking that the Japanese government is not taking a precautionary response to the current problem?

    You can have your joke on this one … and sink to tabloid levels of equivalent idiocy with it … but I think it contradicts your usual position on the tax sponsorship of fatten and redundant industries as doled out by ‘big government’.

  4. mac said

    Mercury Contamination in the Red Meat of Whales and Dolphins Marketed for Human Consumption in Japan – T. Endo, Y. Hotta, K. Haraguchi, and M. Sakata, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Health Sciences University of Hokkaido.

    Total mercury concentrations exceeded the permitted level by about 200 and 160 times.

    So who is doing who a favour?

  5. bender said

    Not only do I avoid whales, I also avoid tuna and swordfish- they’re reported to be high in mercury content. By tuna I mean maguro, not skipjacks.

  6. […] Sea Shepherd eco-theater is about to begin once again this year in the Antarctic.  I wonder what nonsense and lies Paul Watson and company will come up […]

  7. deet said

    The JSDF should sink the moron.

  8. mac said

    > The JSDF should sink the moron

    They cannot. they are not fast enough …

  9. no happy ending said

    The great sea drama has landed …

    News from the dolphin slaughter capital of Taiji is that the Uyoku Dantai have finally been rolled out with their sonic weapon riot buses drowning out peaceful environmentalists whilst … get this … blaming America for eating cows and demanding that President Obama apologise for Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  10. mac said

    Following on from the Uyoku Dantai rolling out the sonic warfare trucks against Heroes starlette Hayden Panettiere’s visit to Taiji, the latest new is two fold.

    The latest is that Taiji residents have now employed a lawyer better known for defending Yakuza syndicates to promote their interest threatening venues interested in showing The Cove documentary.

    If that is not a clear enough message of the changing tide, CNN filmed the Right Wingers rent-a-mob noise crew turned up to harass the films Japanese distributors’s offices, see:

    Our friend journalist Gavin Blair being verbally and pushed about with police only interfering to manhandle him out of the way … not defend him at all and not pushing demonstrators back to their line.

    There are, of course, various issue arising here now,

    a) the issue of whale and dolphin hunting and,

    b) issues of free speech and. potentially, police impartiality.

    It will be interesting to see how this evolves and how the nascent Japanese animal rights movement deals with it.

  11. mac said

    More from the Whale Wars.

    It is one thing that Japanese tax payers’ Yen is being used to keep afloat the whalers’ ailing private industry at great expense and diplomatic effort

    … but it is another when their taxes are being used to provide Japanese prostitutes for visiting Africa ministry workers.

    The Sunday Times lifts the lid on corruption at the IWC where the Japanese government has been handing out cash for votes … not just to nations as “aid” (in the West it is called bribery) but as “comforts” to oversea individuals.

    Meanwhile down in Wakayama, near Taiji, questions are being asked about the death of a local politician.

    Not things one really read in the national press over here.

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