Interesting article from September 2009
The Japan Times recently covered the suspended sister city relationship between the coastal towns of Broome in Western Australia and Taiji, in Wakayama prefecture, Japan. Their ties date back at least 100 years to the pearling industry in Broome. At that time, Broome was the biggest pearling center in the world, and many Japanese worked there as divers. Diving deep below the surface was the only option then for finding pearls. Divers risked great dangers to bring oysters to the surface to search for pearls inside the oyster shells.
A parasite may enter the oyster shell, and the oyster protects itself by creating layers of nacre around the parasites. The parasite changes and grows and ultimately, a pearl is formed inside the oyster. Today, however, pearls like salmon and trout, are farmed. A small, rounded bit of shell is inserted into an oyster. The oyster is returned to the water, and the pearl slowly forms in the oyster shell. Pearl formation requires a few years.
Unlike silver, gold and diamonds, pearls need nothing to be finished. They emerge from their shells and are ready for rings and necklaces. Before pearl farming, pearls came from the ocean. Divers dove to the bottom of the ocean searching for oysters. Most of the divers in the pearling industry in Broome were from Taiji. Between the shark attacks and the bends, diving was a very dangerous business. According to some sources, the job killed approximately half of the divers.
The Japanese cemetery in Broome has the graves of 919 Japanese divers who died trying to take riches from the sea. Other divers were lost at sea; their bodies were never found. When World War II started, the Japanese divers were imprisoned in prisoner of war camps. Ironically, the war probably saved many of their lives.
Taiji was a whaling town for hundreds of years and the birthplace of Japanese traditional whaling techniques. These techniques were developed in the 17th century when Wada Chubei introduced group hunting and a new handheld harpoon. Later, a whaling net technique was also introduced. Group hunting lasted for several hundred years until an accident claimed over a hundred lives in 1878. Group hunting then collapsed. Taiji suspended commercial whaling in 1988.
Today in Taiji, commercial dolphin hunting is a major business. Some of the dolphins are sold to aquariums around the world. Other dolphins are slaughtered and sold to eat. Much dolphin is apparently eaten in Taiji and the media has told us about the high mercury content of the dolphins and the Taiji residents who eat them. Taiji has been subjected to both domestic and international criticism and pressure to stop commercial dolphin hunting. Unfortunately, no acceptable alternative employment has yet been suggested for Taiji residents who depend on commercial dolphin hunting for their income.
The town of Broome has recently been subject to both domestic and international criticism and pressure concerning the town’s sister city relationship with Taiji. In late August this year, the Broome local council suspended their sister city relationship with Taiji until commercial dolphin hunting stops. Broome has also requested both Australia and Japan to assist Taiji in developing alternatives. Broome hopes that the people of Taiji can earn their living in another way and the sister city relationship can be resumed.
Author: Tom Aaron