Living with Whales…Taiji Town

For the Japanese, the whale was a special creature and the subject of worship.
The people were in awe of the giants that swam the vast seas, but when whales occasionally beached, their carcasses were used for food and for tools, which supplemented the locals’ livelihoods.
Later, the local people started hunting whales for subsistence.
During the Edo period, descendants of the venerable Kumano suigun naval force living on the Kumano-nada Coast established whale hunting techniques and methods for distributing their catch.
Whale hunting has been their livelihood since that time.
Many reminders of whaling’s history can be observed in the area, from festivals and foods to whaling-related art.

History of old whaling

The coast of Kumanonada bears steep mountains in the back, and keeps a saw-tooth coastline with reefs such as Hashikui-iwa. Kuroshio or an ocean current run at 4 knots from south to north along the coast which provides plenty of seafood.
This area had satisfied the most important necessary conditions for old whaling. Whales migrate near the land very often. A high land where people can find whales quickly at once. A beach on which people can pull up whales.
And people depend food on sea, have a deep skill on ship building and steering, be good at swimming, have a profound knowledge of sea. This can be understood by seeing people played an active part in Genpei War as a Kumano-Suigun.

In Edo period whaling was promoted as a new industry. In order to get whales, it is needed by working together with many ships, casting a big net which was 45m to 60m long, then harpoon a whale. Fishermen were demanded courage and unified action because they were faced in danger of their life. In this point, whaling is a fishing the knowledge and technique cultivated by the forces can be made the best use. It was described in old paintings like “Kishu-Kumano-whaling” screen.
When whaling, more than 500 people did their part and the whole community cooperated to make whaling. Each part was watch who find a whale and tell people of it, “Yamami” who informs the situation of whaling and the lack of materials, “Amibune” who ties a whale with a rope, “Hazashi” who harpoons a whale, “Mossoubune” who carries a whale, “Nayabune” who carries materials and food, “Oonaya” who controls materials and repair them.

Dissection of a whale was caried out by “Kujira Shimatsu-kakari”. They were consisted 80 persons such as “Kabachi-Nakama” who rotate a wheel to pull up q whale, “Uokiri” who cut a whale, “Saiyu-Kakari” who boil a whale in an iron kettle and get whale oil. They pickled a whale with salt and send it in casks. Mustache and a muscle were used as materials of tools, bones and powder of blood, food in the stomach were made to be a fertilizer. They used all of their knowledge and technique to use the all parts of big whale.
Whale was said to flourish seven villages. A black right whale valued 120 ryo. In 1681, 95 whales brought colossal wealth as 6,000 ryo. More than 200 people were lived in a row house which was made of Japanese cypress. There were 80 ships and a Torii Gate made of whale born was made.

Culture cultivated by whaling

Festivals related to whaling and traditional performing arts have been handed down today. For example, in the case of “Oyumi-Matsuri” of Tobishima Shrine and “Semi-Matsuri” of Shiogama Shrine, people use “Semi” or dummy made of straw ropes and wood for praying safety of voyage or good catch of fishes. When “Kouchi-Matsuri” goes to its highlight, the passage of a whale ship with gorgeous ornaments took place.
A whale dance once was done sitting on the wood over the ship with whale song which celebrates good catch of fishes, or done on the beach. A perfectly coordinated action of this festival reminds the desperate fight with whales. In Shingu city and Taiji town students of a primary school learns this dance and they will become a supporter. It is showed off in the festival of a shrine or in an annual festival.
Meets got by whaling is got attached to local specialty.

In everywhere along the Kumanonada coast, hills for watching whale, ruin of a signal fire, ruin of a room where people command remained. It reminds a brave and lively scene of whaling.

A part of stone walls remained in the Taiji fishing port, “Wada no Sekimon” or stone gate stands at the entrance of a village remains an image that this area worked on whaling as one community. It shows a vestige of whaling which was fundamentals of industry and culture of this area from an earlier time.

By Masa

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