If you’re ever in Japan, drink tea; by Steve Sipman
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1995:
On a cold gray December day in 1978 the late
Dexter Cate and I walked along the Ginza in downtown
Tokyo looking for a cheap cup of coffee and a warm place to
sit and think up a way to stop the dolphin kills at Iki Island.
The day before, I was at home in Honolulu, stuffing my
tropical collection of cold weather clothes into my backpack,
glad to escape the responsibilities of being a notorious dol-
phin-napper. I had been hired by John Perry as a whale saver
in a small traveling show, and we planned to do some pub-
licity stunts on the Ginza the next day.
Dex and I talked about sonic deterrents, to move
the dolphins away from Iki, but I was skeptical. Dex had
been working with the government, Japanese scientists,
local and international environmental groups, the fishing
unions, and the press, trying to develop a climate of opinion
against killing cetaceans and to find some alternative to satis-
fy the fishers. I leaned more toward direct action. Perhaps it
would be better, I thought, if we moved the fishermen.
That’s when Dexter told me a story illuminating the Japanese
way of solving problems. There was a small village and
every day the children would walk along a certain path to
and from school. A man would hide behind a tree beside the
path and expose himself when the children walked by. The
villagers met and discussed what to do. Rather than confront
the man, they decided to cut the tree down.
The Japanese government dealt with Iki in a similar
manner. The fisheries around Japan were and are overex-
ploited by a fishing industry with tremendous political clout.
But rather than confront the fishing unions and companies
with the idea that they were at fault for declining catches,
the Japanese government in 1980 put a bounty on dolphins.
But just because Dexter and others who went to
Japan years ago were unable to stop the Iki slaughter has not
meant that they labored in vain. By the time Paul Watson
and crew showed up in Honolulu harbor in 1982, ready to
sail for Iki, valuable entries into Japanese culture and con-
sciousness had been delicately forged by Cate’s long, soft
approach. He once told me you could pull a ship through the
water more easily with a rubber band than with steel cable.
By 1982 a handful of dedicated environmentalists
had put much time and money into “raising Japanese con-
sciousness” about killing cetaceans, for food or otherwise. I
watched some become cynical. International media attention
to the Iki killings and the whaling issue had created strong
opinions in Japan where there had been none. Conversations
with Japanese often developed into lectures punctuated by
the phrases, “we Japanese” and “you westerners.”
As luck would have it, I was up for sentencing for
the Kewalo dolphin escape (described on page 5 of the
November 1994 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE) the same
week Watson was in town threatening to interfere with the
impending 1982 Iki slaughter. Kaoru Iijima and I had
planned our own approach to the overall situation in Japan,
and planned to go to Japan soon after my sentencing––if I
wasn’t in jail. Meanwhile, we were desperate to stop the
Sea Shepherd from sailing. We talked with the crew,
showed them Hardy Jones’ film of the Taiji dolphin mas-
sacre, gave them written information expressing the
Japanese point of view, and tried to give them a banner
printed in Japanese, promoting tofu instead of whale meat. I
don’t think they appreciated my resolve. I considered resort-
ing to the old prop-jam technique that friends of mine used
on whaling ships once or twice. Dexter decided to talk with
Paul before I did something that Paul would have approved
of had I done it to a different ship.
Instead of jail, the judge gave me 500 hours of
community service and ordered me to buy two dolphins to
replace the ones I helped escape.
Paul went to Japan without his ship. Thank you,
Captain. Kaoru and I did a low-profile tour of the vast and
fashionable Japanese surfing community, passing out peti-
tions and the first save-the-whales bumper stickers printed in
Japanese in Japan. We made a lot of friends, got a lot of sig-
natures to show support for a ban on whaling, had fun surf-
ing, and pulled off 250 hours of community service credit.
Dexter and I never did find that cheap cup of coffee
on the Ginza that day. The next day the police hauled me
and John Perry and crew down to the station for floating a
40-foot whale balloon in the Emperor’s moat. Since then,
Kaoru taught me a lot about dealing with Japanese. If you’re
ever in Japan, drink tea.