It's very strange for me to read the New York Times article describing how the tsunami wiped out the whaling town of Ayukawa--mostly because when I worked for Greenpeace I spent months in Ayukawa, hoping to shut down that very same whaling operation.
The article begins with a description of a flattened building--the headquarters of Ayukawa Whaling company. Years ago I sat in that building with Michi, another Greenpeacer, as she translated the vague threats the officials made against us: we were anti-whalers in a whaling town, two young women alone, and the officials of the company could not be responsible for what might happen to us. The whalers got drunk, sometimes, we should understand... to be safe, we must leave immediately.
Michi and I stayed to photograph and document the dead whales that were brought into the station. Greenpeace believed the company was taking whales in violation of international law--they were taking females--and if we could prove this with photographs, we could shut them down. But a funny thing happened during the time Michi and I were in Ayukawa: all the whales were brought in at night, and all were pulled up the slipway into the station belly-side down, so we were unable to ascertain their gender.
Our efforts in Ayukawa ultimately came to naught--we were not able to prove our suspicions, and whaling (although slowed over the intervening years), continued until the March 11 tsunami finally stopped it.
Now, reading about Ayukawa, I remember the grinding sounds from the building where the whales were rendered into meat and oil; the blast of--what? steam? smoke?--that would periodically escape like a spirit from the smokestack; the bitter cold as Michi and I kept watch, witnessing in the dark; the whalers who followed us and knew our names; the thickness in the air that made a coating on the roof of my mouth that I could not scrape off; the owners of the inn where we stayed who taught us a befuddling card game where we called "First page" when holding our last card; the children who would gather outside the inn after school, calling "Hello!" and "How are you?"and "Greenpeace-su" until we hung out the window to answer back--at which they would giggle and shriek like we were rock stars.
I still hold in my mind these lines from a poem, The Whaling Basement at Ayukawa, by Scott McVay:
From this hour
I will carry perpetually
millions of molecules
of Ayukawa air
laced with dead whales.
How check the slaughter?
If I knew, I would be a prophet
and put whalers behind other plows.
How should I feel now that the whalers have finally been stopped? The ending has arrived--but in a way that I cannot celebrate, no matter how long awaited, anticipated, and fought for, no matter how long overdue.
(Want to read more about Greenpeace days? Click on the "Search this Blog" box to the right and enter the word Greenpeace.)