National

American researcher aims to give Taiji a balanced image

by Kanae Ayukawa

Kyodo

An American researcher studying the centuries-old whaling culture of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, is using the Internet to give people overseas a more nuanced picture of the coastal town, which gained international notoriety through a documentary about its dolphin hunting practices.

Jay Alabaster, 39, visited Taiji as a foreign correspondent for the first time in 2010 after the U.S. film “The Cove” drew attention to the town, where traditional Japanese whaling techniques were developed in the 17th century.

Alabaster became interested in whaling culture and moved to Taiji as a graduate student at Kansai University in Osaka in fall 2013.

He believes the town is often subjected to biased criticisms in English on the Internet by anti-whaling groups, while few people know that the town sent many emigrants overseas for fishing and marine product industries in the late 1800s until the early 1900s.

This year in the United States, an association of people from Taiji will mark its 100th anniversary since its launch.

Alabaster is disseminating his findings on the town’s history and culture in both English and Japanese on the Internet. He said he wants to provide the world with “objective information” on life in the whaling town.

He has also helped arrange exhibitions at the Taiji Whale Museum. Thanks to his ideas, the museum has become more interactive for visitors.

Many anti-whaling activists continue to visit Taiji from abroad. Townsfolk initially regarded Alabaster with suspicion, thinking he might be an activist.

He says he bonded with local fishermen after drinking with them, and he also danced with local residents during the town’s autumn festival.

Alabaster plans to gather townspeople’s accounts of ancient whaling techniques and continue studies after returning to a university in the United States this summer.

He has no intention of saying whether whaling is right or wrong.

But “I want the rest of the world to know more about the history and culture of Taiji,” he said.