On Nov. 8, 1956, the icebreaker Soya, a ship of 1937 vintage originally built in Nagasaki Prefecture as the Soviet cargo ship Volochaevets, left Tokyo Port carrying Japan’s first scientific expedition to Antarctica. Last week, the 48th Antarctic expedition left Narita airport to catch up with the icebreaker Shirase in Australia. Fifty years after the first expedition, the Antarctic project is still a source of inspiration for Japanese.
The first team opened Showa station on East Ongul Island in February 1957 and a team stayed the winter. The memories of the Soya being trapped by ice on its way back home and rescued by the Soviet icebreaker Ob are still vivid for older Japanese.
In February 1958, bad weather prevented the Soya from transporting the second expedition to Showa station. The first winter team was evacuated, but 15 sled dogs were abandoned. The nation was moved the following year when it learned that two of the Sakhalin dogs — Taro and Jiro — had survived. The episode inspired the 1983 hit film “Nankyoku Monogatari (Antarctica).” Earlier this year “Eight Below,” a Walt Disney Pictures remake, was a hit in America.
Japan now has four stations in Antarctica. In 1983 its team discovered a hole in the ozone layer, which helps protect the Earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. This has led to a ban on chlorofluorocarbons. In January 2006, they extracted a 720,000-year-old block of ice from a depth of 3,029 meters. The gases it contains are expected to greatly contribute to studies of long-range climate change.
The 1959 Antarctic Treaty, the basis for international scientific cooperation in Antarctica, effectively set aside territorial disputes. It protects the environment and prohibits military activities, including the establishment of military bases. It also bans nuclear explosions and the disposal of nuclear waste. The treaty should be an inspiration for all the world’s peace-loving people and its ideals should spread.
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