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Project Anima: Supporting Whales and Dolphins in Japan

OPS believes in the power of art to change the world.  Art transcends cultural, socioeconomic, and geopolitical boundaries like no other media can, fostering new ways to view the world and promote understanding through shared appreciation of creativity, beauty, and emotion.

Our outreach in Japan to inspire the hearts and minds of local communities and foster appreciation of whales and dolphins has taken many forms, including our documentary The Cove, which exposed the dolphin drive hunts in Taiji.

Abandoning or reshaping cultural traditions is a challenging process, and we are hopeful that a new initiative called Project Anima will help to inspire a new ethic towards whales and dolphins in Japan.

Project Anima will explore the power of music, art, and ritual to support whales and dolphins in Japan.

Leina Sato, Project Anima’s Director, notes that the mission of Project Anima “is to spread awareness in Japan about the plight of cetacean populations and to shift the mind and hearts of the people in Japan on the captivity issue. Although the annual dolphin drive hunt and commercial whaling have been widely exposed in the rest of the world, these realities remain largely suppressed in Japan. Our ultimate goal is to contribute to the creation of the first rehabilitation/release/retirement center in Japan for cetaceans previously held in captivity.”

Throughout the next few years, Project Anima will develop an inter-species communication project in collaboration with Japanese artists, drawing inspiration on the work of Roger Payne and Jim Nollman, pioneering artists in this field. Their hope is to engage with different species of cetaceans in Japan through music, both in the wild and in captivity. 

Music is an artform of universal expression that transcends the need of a shared language and has been revealed as a particularly appropriate pathway of communication with cetacean species. 

Project Anima’s hope is for music to serve both a symbolic and real pathway to restore dignity to whales and dolphins, and convey to them feelings of solidarity by acknowledging the wholeness of their identity as free beings belonging to the wide ocean. 

The Project will work to convey the truth of the stories of the dolphins and whales in captivity and invite the Japanese public to see them with new eyes through music, ritual, and dialogue.

How will Project Anima do this?

Japan is a country of traditions and rituals. On April 3rd on the day of the Hamauri Festival, which celebrates the connection to the living sea in Japan, Project Anima will launch by starting a new annual tradition of “Matsuri” (Japanese Cultural Festival), a celebratory musical event with humpback whales on the Island of Amami, where they migrate every winter.

There are multitudes of festivals held in Japan every year. Amongst them is the Kujira Matsuri held annually in November in the town of Taiji in celebration of their tradition as a whaling town since the 17th century. 

After the launch on April 3rd on Amami, Project Anima will perform a Matsuri of a different nature to plant the seed for a new relationship between Japan and its Dolphin and Whale populations in Taiji in November.  

The journey of the Matsuri will end in Taiji in late April. Leina and Project Anima will bring 563 grass boats braided by people throughout Japan to float in the waters of the Cove. These boats will symbolize the lives of the 563 cetaceans who lost their lives in the drive hunt this season. Through the ritual of song and dance, the ritual will honor their memory and wish their spirits a safe voyage as the boats drift out to the open sea.

The official “music video” of the ceremony will be shared with the public to assist in finding sponsors who can support the next steps of the Project as they reach out to the dolphins and whales held in captivity in sea parks and aquariums throughout Japan. 

Through these ceremonies and rituals, Project Anima will build connections through engagement with Japanese citizens, authorities, and policymakers while honoring a sacred bond with the whales and dolphins of Japan.

What you can do!

To learn more about the philosophy behind the project and other details, visit projectanima.org

Watch a video of Leina Sato’s Project Anima in Taiji.

Read Leina’s powerful and heartrending account of her time in Taiji.

Take action to end the dolphin hunts in Taiji.

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