Written by Leina Sato, Director of Project Anima, after this year’s ceremony in honor of the cetaceans killed in Taiji’s annual drive fishery. The drive hunts are featured in our documentary film The Cove.
There was no judgement, just a series of “why’s?” This year, I took my children with me to the ceremony in Taiji. My eight-year-old daughter is already attuned to the realities of the drive hunts and knows only too well my love of dolphins. I have named her Nai’a, after all, which is Dolphin in Hawaiian. And then there is my three-year-old son. The strings of questions started as we began preparing for the ceremony.
He watched us, wide-eyed, during a community gathering where we tirelessly and joyfully wove one grass boat after another. Each boat was meant as a prayer, symbolizing a life lost to this drive hunt season. That meant over 500 of them. It was a small nationwide effort and an intergenerational one as well, kids and grown-ups alike weaving away in an expression of love, sorrow and hope.
My son wanted to know what all these boats were for, why they had to be handled with such care. I did not know how to answer him, at first. How do you explain Taiji to a three-year-old? I told him the boats were like prayers, and that we were going to take them to a beach where many dolphins had been killed.
“Killed by who…?” he asked.
“Why…?” He kept on inquiring in typical three-year-old fashion.
Next, he wanted to know why we were not praying for the sharks, too. (He loves sharks.) Sure, let them be part of the ceremony, I said, as they are being massively hunted as well. “WHY?” He did not stop. In Taiji, he kept challenging what he laid his eyes upon. There was no judgement or shaming, just the candor of a child who sets out to make sense of the realities he is presented with.
The burgeoning process of forming his own perceptions and insights about the world. In Taiji, as he looked upon dolphins crammed in a small concrete pool, he wanted to know why they were here and not “out there”- as he gestured to the sea. His only references of dolphins were of them in the wild, swimming and jumping fast and free. Dolphins in captivity challenged his pre-existing references of reality.
I had not planned to bring my children to Taiji, but it turned out to be a blessing. They brought a sense of community to our gathering. Their presence ushered our efforts out into the light, creating the possibility to invite a larger crowd next year. I could visualize the awareness expanding in widening circles, a space for families to come together to grieve and love the Oceans and have it be completely natural.
Two young policemen came, courteous and curious, inquiring about the nature of our presence in the Cove. I explained the symbolism of the ceremony, and as they saw my daughter running to and fro on the beach carefully tending to the release of the boats, their gaze softened and they joined, ever so briefly, their hands in prayer. As for my son, I thank him for the insight he gave me. My Japanese friend pointed out very accurately: “You know, your son has only seen dolphins in the wild until now. That is his perception of what a dolphin is. A being existing in the open ocean. It is the opposite for most Japanese children. Their impression of a dolphin is that of a smart and cute animal performing tricks in a pool. And unless someone points them to a different reality, that first imprint becomes their reference.” My son- and his blunt curiosity- reminded me of my original motivations.
Since the start of Project Anima, I have hoped for the ceremony to serve as a gentle catalyst for the Japanese public to reawaken their sense of curiosity and perhaps reengage with the world as a three-year-old would, taking the time to pause and ask the basic and essential questions of “Why?” and “How do I actually feel about this?” As a younger crowd begins participating in our initiatives, I hope they can inspire in Japanese adults the childlike instinct of questioning the realities we evolve in. And challenging them when they don’t feel quite right, to stand for a saner, more loving and balanced relationship with our non-human Kin.