Posted by: BRiTTNEY MaTT | December 8, 2011

Brittney matt blog 4

Japan is notorious for its whaling industry, which not only nourishes the Japanese, but also sustains their economy and fuels the global success of the marine park entertainment industry. “During the meeting of the International Whaling Commission each year, considerable outrage is directed towards Japan by anti-whaling countries and environmental non-governmental organizations for its desire to hunt and eat whales” (Catalinac & Chan, 1). Opponents of whaling argue that the Japanese engage in an unethical, inhumane practice, but there is little attention given to the sacred cultural traditions that influence whale hunting in Japan.
In the Japanese culture, the value of fish dates back to the worship of Ebisu – one of the seven deities of good fortune that sometimes takes the shape of a whale. There is a ceremony that celebrates the revival of a killed animal. The whales are praised for their suffering and are then “sent home,” where they will be able to return to their ancestors, only to be revived later. According to Japanese folklorist Nelly Naumann, the ceremony of the First Fish consists of consuming the caught animal with company and gathering the remaining bones to throw them back into the water. “The entire ritual is designed to honor the [immortal] fish” (Naumann, 10).
The whale is a deity in the Japanese culture, which is sacrificed, worshipped and celebrated. I argue that Japan should have the right to whale, because whaling has roots in the Japanese cultural traditions, which is integrated into their values and identity. Additionally, Japan should receive respect for their differences in customs and cuisine.
We must analyze the Japanese mythology to gain insight on the cultural beliefs attached to whaling and the god Ebisu. The Britannica encyclopedia provides extensive information on the Japanese god Ebisu:

Ebisu, in Japanese mythology, is one of the Shichi-fuku-jin (“Seven Gods of Luck”), the patron of fishermen and tradesmen. He is depicted as a fat, bearded, smiling fisherman often carrying a rod in one hand and a tai (sea bream—i.e., a red snapper—symbolic of good luck) in the other. He is a popular Shintō deity, and his image is frequently seen in shops and places of commerce

If Ebisu represents good fortune, and he is the patron of fishermen, it makes sense that the Japanese will value this god and certainly hold onto particular beliefs to justify their rituals of killing and releasing of the spirit to be reborn. However, what about today’s whale hunting practice? Why might the Japanese have a whale cult, but kill the very being they worship?

In some Shintō shrines Ebisu is identified with Hiru-ko (usually translated “Leech Child”), the misconceived firstborn son of the creator couple Izanami and Izanagi, who considered him inadequate and set him adrift in a reed boat. Ebisu is also sometimes associated with Koto-shiro-nushi (“Sign-Master”), a son of the mythological hero Ōkuninushi and associated with happiness because of the role he once played as a pacifier in a conflict between earthly and heavenly deities. (Britannica)

It is evident that in some Japanese cultures, the god Ebisu is linked to inadequacy, which may explain some of the desire to release the whale bones into the sea, and perhaps this is done to satisfy the mythological story where Hiru-ko is set adrift in the reed boat. I think that being reborn in a different form in the next life is central to the belief of reincarnation, and perhaps the Japanese hope to give a new, better life to the whales they kill. Maybe this is all optimism…


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