Coexistence - Story

Tomyozaki Cape

This used to be the general headquarters, where about twenty of the Yamamigata, hereditary whale watchers, took turns to reside. The role of the Yamamigata were to find whales, to distinguish their kinds, to signal boats to start, to keep track of their positions, to decide where to whale according to the situation of the tidal current, and to give instructions on the whaling operation in general. The system of whaling was integrally related to the everyday life of the local community in Taiji.

to the top

The Stone Monument of Kibino Makibi

This monument was built for Kibino Makibi who was sent to Tang (China) as a vice-ambassador. He was washed ashore after being shipwrecked by a storm at this cape when it was called Muronomisaki(Muro cape) in the Era of Emperor Koken (753 A.D.). Muronomisaki was the first name of this cape later to be changed to Taijisaki. It is now called Tomyozaki.

to the top


The Yamami/Lighthouse

This Yamami (lookout/lighthouse) was the place where watchmen looked out to sea in search of whales they migrated through the 'path of whales' off the coast of Taiji. At one time in ruins, the site has now been recently restored. The first lighthouse in Japan which used whale oil for its lantern was built here on October 3 in 1636. Its foundation stone still remains here. This lighthouse was restored according to information acquired from ancient records. This place was also used for communicating with ships at sea by lighting signal fires and putting up flags. Once caught, whales were completely utilized leaving no waste; its meat for food, its bones for tools and crafts, its oil for lanterns, etc.
The way of traditional whaling was very co-operative in ancient times and had a very clear and systematic structure where each person had a distinct role to play. Even today, some of the names of those roles remain as family names such as 'sujishi' which describes the job of the person who processed the sinews of whales and prepared the materials out of which the tools for whaling were made.

to the top


Kujirakata Hyoryunin Kinenhi

This monument was constructed to commemorate a group of whalers who got shipwrecked after whaling for a mother whale and a baby whale. This was in violation of the traditional teaching to never go after a whale with a baby. This was one taboo handed down by word of mouth among whalers: 'Never touch a humpback whale when with its baby.' People were suffering from a bad catch and famine that year, and were waiting to see a signal from the yamami (watchman). When it finally came, it was pointing to a mother whale and a baby. The whalers decided to whale in violation of the taboo and in spite of the bad weather. They never to returned. They built this monument as a warning to hand down to their descendants.
to the top


This picture of the Taiji whaling fleet is owned by the Whale Museum in Taiji Town. Whaling has similarities to war at sea. It is perhaps through whaling that the old Kumano Navy became so strong. The technique, strategies and organized force of whaling naturally would prove useful in real battle as well. In ancient times whalers used to catch whales which came close to the coast by using a bow and arrow. Later, Kakuemon of the Wada family, who was the chief of Kumano Navy, improved the whaling technique with the 'Tsukitori ho' (stabbing method) which used harpoons in a group called 'Sashite gumi' (harpooner group). Later in 1675, he also contrived the 'amitori ho' (net method) where the net first catches a whales head after which a harpoon was used. This method spread swiftly all over Japan as the 'Taiji Whaling Method'. This picture, displayed in the Whale Museum, depicts a traditional whaling expedition in progress.
to the top

Kujira Odori

Kujira Odori (whale dance) is a traditional performing art preserved in Miwasaki ward in Shingu City. This precious cultural tradition tells of the history of the local traditional whaling culture. The dance was created some 300 years ago as a way to show how the whalers challenged whales with only simple fishing tools and boats that they rowed out to sea. The 'Denchu odori' (Denchu dance) shows how they would cast their net and surround the whales, and 'aya odori' shows how they caught the whales using their harpoons. This dance has been designated as an intangible cultural treasure by the prefecture as well as the city government. This dance is held during the Miwasaki Hachiman Shrine Festival in September and attracts a large number of tourists.
to the top

The Tools of Traditional Whaling

The photo here shows three harpoon heads used by local whalers. The larger harpoons are about 1metre in length and weigh more than 2kilograms.

Instead of throwing the harpoons directly at the whales, they were thrown high into the sky so that they would fall vertically in order to stab deeply into the whale's back. After the whale was harpooned, the rope attached to the harpoon was pulled to bend the handle so that the harpoon would not come out easily. The handle was therefore specially made to bend easily.
to the top

Nigishima Memorial

A whale memorial stands quietly at the foot of the Sengen Shrine in Nigishima. This was built long ago as an expression of compassion and gratitude towards nature. Kumano is considered the area where whaling in Japan originated. In Nigishima a whaling treaty called 'kujirabune sadame' is preserved which is believed to have been a treaty between various groups of whalers called kujirakata who hailed from places like Nigishima, Yuki, Isozaki, and Kinomoto in Kumano City.
to the top

Whale Museum

As an attempt to foster international understanding of the local whaling culture, Taiji Town built this museum in 1969 when whaling began to be criticized around the world. This museum is full of whaling artifacts and is also a research facility for studying whales and their habits. After 21 years of voyages to the Antarctic Ocean the whaling ship 'Kiyomaru #11' can be viewed as a museum artifact and is situated just outside the whale museum. A plan to establish an international whale research institute is now under way at the moment.
to the top

Back to Coexistence Menu Go to Main Menu