Online Event – Japan’s Forgotten “Non-Whaling Culture,” 1600-2019

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Japan’s Forgotten ’Non-Whaling Culture’, 1600-2019

Friday, 10 November 2023, 9:00 – 10:00 CST

Hosted by Northern Environmental History Network

Fynn Holm will give our November seminar paper on “Japan’s Forgotten ’Non-Whaling Culture’: Living with Whales in Northeast Japan, 1600-2019”

This talk challenges the common portrayal of Japan as a ‘whaling nation’ with an allegedly centuries-old homogenous ‘whaling culture’. Instead, it is argued that coastal communities in Japan’s northeast have protected whales against whalers from other regions, as whales were believed to be the gods of the sea that brought fish to the shore. Most famously, on 1 November 1911, over 1000 fishermen burned down an industrial whaling station of western Japanese whalers near Hachinohe in northeastern Japan. This outburst of violence was only the latest example in a series of anti-whaling protests that can be traced back to the seventeenth century.

So far, human interactions with whales in the early modern period have been seen through the lens of (proto-)industrial whaling. However, by focusing on Japanese non-whaling communities, we find that humans have profited from the presence of whales in various ways, even when whales were not actively pursued. It is argued that human interactions with whales were much more diversified than the basic hunter–prey relationship that current whaling historiography describes.

With the advent of industrial whaling in the early twentieth century, the centuries-long non-lethal relationship between humans and cetaceans was destroyed over the span of a few years. In its stead, communities in northeastern Japan adapted elements from western Japanese whaling cultures and invented new whaling traditions, making the Northeast the centre of Japan’s industrial whaling culture. Today, the Northeast’s historical roots as a non-whaling region have been largely forgotten.

Feature Photo Credit: Fynn Holm
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The Northern Environmental History Network provides a platform for PGRs and ECRs working on environmental history at universities in Northern England and Scotland to come together, collaborate, and exchange ideas.

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