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Anti-whalers need to win over Japanese public

By Junichi Sato - posted Thursday, 21 January 2010


Reports in the Australian media continue to confuse the actions of the Sea Shepherd Conservation group in the Southern Ocean with Greenpeace.

Many would be surprised that Greenpeace has not sent a ship down to target the whaling fleet for the past two years.

Instead, we have been campaigning on the ground in Japan. It may be less sensational, but what will ultimately stop whaling is to win the hearts and minds of the Japanese people. The way that we can do that is by ensuring that the Japanese public hears the truth about vested interests in the continuation of whaling. Whaling is riddled with corruption and embezzlement. I know, because I am facing 10 years' jail for exposing it.

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While years of Greenpeace expeditions in the Southern Ocean galvanised essential international pressure, especially in Australia, they caused little more than a ripple in Japan. The limited information Japanese people receive comes from the government-funded arm for whaling, the Institute of Cetacean Research.

In fact, Australians would be astonished to learn how little the Japanese public knows about whaling. A survey commissioned by Greenpeace revealed that more than 92 per cent of the Japanese public don't know that their government is killing hundreds of whales in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary every year. A mere 5 per cent of Japanese actually eat whale meat.

Although few Japanese eat whale meat and even fewer benefit from its sale, the Institute of Cetacean Research, which devises the so-called research program, has been successful in promoting whaling as a cause for national pride. More recently, it has decided to make actions on the Japanese whaling fleet look like cultural attacks. This has been the angle taken up by the largely pro-whaling media, encouraging more of a nationalistic backlash in Japan than generating sympathy for the whales. That is why Greenpeace took the decision to focus our campaign in Japan. We need to demonstrate that whaling is a domestic issue by showing that it's a drain on the national purse.

The whaling industry costs the Japanese people more than Y1.2 billion (about $15 million) annually in taxpayers' money. Trillions more yen are spent as part of the government's foreign aid budget to recruit countries to the International Whaling Commission. Further, the Institute for Cetacean Research has outstanding loans to the government of Y3.2 billion.

In 2008, Greenpeace tackled the secrecy within the whaling industry head on by exposing evidence of a large whale meat scandal in which whalers were skimming choice cuts of whale to sell on the black market, making money from a taxpayer-funded program. This generated headlines in Japan and rocked the industry. When my colleague Toru Suzuki and I exposed embezzlement in the industry by handing to the authorities illegal whale bacon being secretly shipped as cardboard, the government responded heavy-handedly.

Those few who benefit from whaling have a lot of power within government. Instead of investigating the whaling industry, the government raided Greenpeace offices and arrested Toru and me. We were jailed for 26 days and we are still awaiting trial. We face up to 10 years' jail for stealing property of a whaling crew member.

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In running our grassroots campaign against whaling in Japan, Greenpeace has had the greatest success with providing information to Japanese people about the billions in government subsidies enjoyed by the whaling industry and the waste of public funds spent on killing whales for meat that the public does not want to eat. This is the message the Japanese need to hear.

The Rudd government can add pressure by ensuring the full details of the whale meat embezzlement scandal are investigated by the IWC.


Background to the case

April 2008, Greenpeace began an investigation into whistleblower allegations that organised whale meat embezzlement was being conducted by crew inside Japan's so-called "scientific" whaling program, which is funded by Japanese taxpayers. The informer was previously involved in the whaling program, and following his advice Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki began an investigation, eventually discovering firm evidence that cardboard boxes containing whale meat were being secretly shipped to the homes of whaling fleet crew - and then sold for personal profit. Junichi delivered a box of this whale meat to the Tokyo Prosecutors' Office in May 2008, and filed a report of embezzlement. However, the embezzlement investigation was dropped on June 20 - the same day that both men were arrested and then held for 26 days before being charged with theft and trespass. They are currently facing ten years in prison for their actions. Much of the key evidence needed for their defence has been concealed, with a total of 15 pages missing from important statements. The court-case is being heard in the District Court, where the trial will begin on February 15.

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First published in The Australian on January 18, 2010.
 
Junichi Sato is one of two Greenpeace activists on trial for intercepting a box of whale meat as part of an investigation into an embezzlement ring within Japanís taxpayer-funded "research" whaling program. Better known as the Tokyo 2, Sato and Toru Suzuki are charged with stealing a box of whale bacon. The court-case is being heard in the District Court, where the trial will begin on February 15.



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About the Author

Before his arrest, Junichi Sato was the director of the whales campaign at Greenpeace in Japan.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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