Jim Nollman , Japan 1995 Report

The Interspecies Tour of Japan resulted in personal interviews that appeared in ten magazines, twenty newspapers, several radio and TV news shows. Two TV documentaries were shot about the tour. I took part in two symposia at the Japan Ecology Center, the first one in a question and answer with one of Japan's reigning pop musicians, the other one with a master of Chi energy. I led a weekend workshop at the old whaling town of Kamogawa entitled (by my Japanese producer) "Be Nature". Three weeks later I directed another weekend workshop on the tiny volcanic island of Mikurajima, a night's boat ride south of Tokyo. The simple gesture of asking people to sit in silence for half an hour on the top of the mountain was later lauded by most participants as the weekend's most treasured moment. I gave a lecture to the incoming freshman class of the Tokyo University of Broadcasting Arts speaking to budding TV producers about the Media's responsibility in creating our culture's future relationship with nature. So on and so forth. Everyday for four weeks.

The biggest event of the tour occurred in Muroran, located on the southern tip of the northern island of Hokkaido. Traditional Industries in the area dependent on logs and minerals are now on the verge of running out of resources. Unemployment is up. But hope is on the way in the form of a billion dollar tunnel recently completed that connects Hokkaido to the main Japanese island of Honshu. Muroran is located right on the main highway that connects the tunnel to the northern capitol city of Sapporo. Tourism is being touted as the next wave of business for Hokkaido. But not just any tourism. The civic leaders of Muroran are hoping to establish their town as the whalewatching center of Northern Japan. I was invited there to promote relations between human beings and whales.

The details of our stop in Muroran can only be described as a media blitz. I was asked to play music to whatever cetaceans we found on the sea to the accompaniment of two entire ships filled to the brim with newspaper and TV journalists. The skipper told us we might encounter brydes whales, pilot whales, possibly sperm whales, orcas, and definitely Pacific white-sided dolphins. We were on the water at five AM, motored two and half hours on a windy, cold, rough sea to the place the skipper expected to find his whales. All the way out to the meeting place, the fish finder displayed an immense sixty meter thick column of living creatures, which our host identified as krill. One would expect huge herds of whales to feed on the krill. But there were no whales, which suggested to me that they had all been killed. We sat awhile, then the two boats full of mostly seasick people motored another hour until we came upon a small pod of twenty white-sided dolphins. I hooked up my system and started playing while the cameras clicked and whirred, and continued playing as a young TV actress appeared and stood beside me, acting enthused while more cameras flashed. Interacting with the White-sided dolphins was a difficult task to make real, since such small dolphins vocalize in a range far above the upper limit of human hearing. The few vocalizations we may discern sound like the hearing tests we all took long ago in elementary school. I played and played. Then suddenly the dolphins turned toward the boat, swam right at the speaker. One of them vocalized a few notes lower than anyone expected and in the same key as my chord riff. People started shouting as if a miracle had happened. The cameras flashed again, a hundred people stood against the railing wide-eyed and open-mouthed and caught their own fleeting glimpse of the dolphin dreamtime. The dolphins turned, swam away. It was a promising start to what I hoped would develop into a longterm relationship between the local dolphins and the brand new whalewatching community of Muroran.

What it's For

Despite continuing bad news about the whaling industry of Japan falling on ever more fraudulent schemes in the cause of decimating the world's dwindling whale populations, most of the Japanese people seem hardly even aware of the problem. After all, images of living whales and smiling dolphins currently beam out from countless TV commercials and subway posters until they must be counted as among the predominant icons of contemporary Japanese advertising. This saturation of media images does not exist in a moral vacuum. The very rapid growth of both whalewatching and dolphin swimming is occurring just about everywhere in Japan that cetaceans venture close to shore. The sheer number of people now spending their leisure time in the presence of living whales somehow must be taken into account by environmentalists who continue to uphold the international image of Japan as a mechanized whale killing machine. As a foreigner out on a tour that actively encouraged this participatory interspecies relationship, it sometimes appeared exactly the opposite---as if the Japanese people were the world's foremost congregation of cetacean lovers. In my role as spokesperson for the intelligent, interactive whale, I have now visited several of these places over the past two visits. In some locations, the same men who were operating shore whaling stations just a few short years ago, have now converted their killer boats to whalewatching facilities.

For those who would disparage an entire people for the aggressiveness of a declining resource industry, there is another crucial aspect of this issue that must be taken into account. Japanese culture has deep roots in Shinto and Buddhism, and both these religions encourage a very evolved, spiritual relationship between human beings and nature. I discovered the essence of this foundation, not by reading nature or religious texts, or even by listening to the many avid promoters of Japanese culture that crossed my path, but by attending one of the enormous urban parks that grace central Tokyo during a uniquely Japanese holiday called "Iris Viewing." Imagine, a modern country that has several national holidays predicated on the moment when various species of plants bloom or fruit. I sat on a park bench and watched hundreds of people strolling past my outlook. An inordinate number of them paused in front of a large glade of ferns. They stared, smiled, stood back to get the wider view, and then moved in close to run their hands just an inch away from the surface the fronds without ever touching. After it happened several times, I inferred that all these people were trying to gather to themselves some invisible green energy field that they felt emanated from the vegetation. And, perhaps, give to the plants some of their own two-legged, mammalian energy.

This organization, Interspecies Communication Inc. , was practically founded on the premise that the environmental crisis is a crisis in perception. In other words, nature will not thrive again until every human being in the world learns to honor and cherish the gift that nature bears for all who are willing and able to receive it. Japanese culture already teaches that wisdom in its center although, of course, Japanese industry knows this abiding lesson no better than industry anywhere else in the world.

After five visits to Japan, I draw this conclusion. Japanese culture holds a key piece of the puzzle to help heal the human psychosis that destroys nature. It is not words. It is not precisely a lesson we can teach our children in school. Talking to my Japanese colleagues about their perception of nature as a subtle energy field, most agreed that they all responded to nature that way, although no one ever thought much about it. They didn't think it was anything important. But they all agreed that this unconscious sensibility towards nature existed very deep within their culture. It provided, perhaps, the major source of grounding in their own lives. When I mentioned that the rest of humanity would benefit immeasurably by somehow learning---as if by osmosis---this Japanese cultural regard for the gift-giving aspect of nature, one woman responded that everyone she knew felt it, although she didn't feel that anyone could actually describe it. She could not tell by what process she got it, although it happened at a very young age.

But there's a catch. The so-called "rest of the world" will never be able to hear about this individualized, perceptive relationship with nature for the precise reason that most of us have been taught to well that Japan is the world's foremost despoiler of nature. In fact, this deep regard for nature, seems to end at the Japanese border. For instance, although there are at least as many healthy dolphin and whale populations swimming near the Japanese coastline as anywhere else in the world, the Japanese whaling industry presents itself as trying to kill every last whale around Antarctica. Organizations like Greenpeace present this image without making the important distinction that it is Japanese industry and not "the Japanese people" who kill whales. It is the same with fisheries. The Japanese have some of the strictest regulations in the world governing their fisheries. But they have been booted out of the protected waters of country after country, including the USA, Mexico, and New Zealand, for illegally taking fish to the point of collapsing the resource. Then there is the winsome case of the "new" allergy occurring affecting people in Tokyo. Eyes are running because, apparently, the Japanese timber industry currently imports so many American, Canadian, and Indonesian logs that their own forests have regrown to maturity. Suddenly, for the first time in several generations, enough tree pollen takes to the air each May and June to cause allergies.

By the end of my Japanese tour, presenting this difficult subject had risen to the top of my lecture agenda. For instance, when I spoke to the students at the college of broadcasting, I began by describing the deep individual regard for nature I had witnessed everywhere in Japan. Then I declared that Western people needed to hear this message. But, in fact, no one in the West would ever take it seriously as cultural export from Japan because we have been so thoroughly indoctrinated by the idea and image of Japanese people as the world's foremost whale killers. "You have to know," I stated, "that many people in Europe and America see you, foremost, as whale killers." This statement was deemed so severe that my translator flat out refused to speak the words in Japanese until I insisted that she do so. I promised I would not leave the statement hanging.

I went on to note that the Japanese spiritual regard for nature was, potentially, a far more crucial export for all our mutual future than Hondas or Sonys could ever be. I also acknowledged that the whale killer image was incredibly unfair. Whaling is a minuscule part of the Japanese economy. It essentially buttresses eight or ten restaurants and wholesale markets in four or five cities. That the issues surrounding this tiny industry could have ever developed into the major defining aspect of an entire culture clearly demonstrates how high a regard the rest of the world holds a protected whale population. Yet a show of hands demonstrated that not one student in the audience had eaten or even wished to eat whale meat. That none of these students was even aware that whaling played a part in defining the Japanese image abroad---in fact their own image as human beings---should make it evident how absurd is the Japanese government's insistence on promoting the continuation of whaling even as they suppress any valid discussion about the issue within Japan.

I told the students that, clearly, Japanese people have a serious public relations problem. Two challenges face them in their own role as Japan's future media producers. Unless they desire to have their magnificent culture forever tainted by the whaling issue, they need to work very hard to stop whaling by opening up the media to a dialogue about the issue and its effects. Simultaneously, it is their job to invent new ways to package the ecological and spiritual message inherent in Japanese culture so that it can be clearly heard on the international cultural stage. The rest of the world desperately needs to hear their message.

copyright, 1995, Jim Nollman

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