To Tonga and Tokyo Part VI: Changes in latitudes (and attitudes!)

The following post is from Patrick Ramage, IFAW's Global Whale Program Director.

Erica Martin and I have been co-workers and friends for years, and like most all of my IFAW colleagues I look up to her in both the literal and figurative sense. For Erica is a long, tall drink of water -- a striking and savvy lobbyist and seasoned advocate who after several years as IFAW Communications Manager for the Asia Pacific Region, took on the challenge of directing our regional presence based in Sydney, overseeing all our South Pacific work. Since I am on a rare visit to her region, "E." has flown in to Auckland for an afternoon and evening of catch-up and planning discussions. For the next six hours, we try out ideas on each other for next steps in our whale campaigns and outreach work. We share the latest political "goss" from government circles, compare gleanings of Australian, New Zealand and US moves in the effort to reduce and finally end whaling for commercial purposes by Japan, Iceland and Norway and kibitz about budget priorities in IFAW's new fiscal year. Erica urges me to increase emphasis on IFAW's whale watching work, long a priority for her office. With Erica's help, I earlier this year joined Australian Minister for the Environment Peter Garrett in releasing a major new IFAW report on the global economic value of this new ecotourism industry highlighting the massive contribution living whales are making to coastal economies worldwide -- including in Japan, Iceland and Norway! (See the picture below) 


 We brainstorm ideas into the evening and finally arrive at the notion of organizing a major international whale watching conference next year -- in Tokyo, Japan!

After joining Erica to conclude our discussions over a very early breakfast, I am off to the airport for my 12 hour flight to Tokyo. By now I have become expert in switching off and zoning out for a few hours, impervious to the discomforts of the cramped quarters as the minutes and miles pass by. My trancelike state is only interrupted by the interested queries of a retired New Zealand Air pilot I encounter while standing and stretching in the galley. Elliot Dowdie is taking his two young sons on their first trip to Tokyo. "That's so great," I tell him, "what a fantastic experience for them." Like me, Elliot seems to revel in the foreignness one can still experience in modern-day Japan. Before we finish speaking, I have offered to meet Elliot and the boys at their hotel Friday morning for a trip to Tokyo's famous Tsukijii fish market, a "must-do" for anyone visiting the city.


On arrival Tokyo, I take the train to Shibuya and walk to the Tokyu Inn, a small, apartment style hotel where I have stayed before. The old man at the desk welcomes me back warmly and reminds me of the peculiarities of the door key, the small breakfast area, and other procedures unique to this little-known and inexpensive lodging.

For the next two days, I am in non-stop meetings with IFAW's Japan representative Naoko Funahashi and our team of contractors working to make progress on the difficult issue of Japanese whaling and raise political and media awareness of IFAW in the challenging Japanese non-profit sector. While I don't "look up" to Naoko or most of my Japanese colleagues, I cannot help but come away moved and impressed with her level of commitment, professionalism and expertise. It is one thing to campaign on behalf of whales and dolphins in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, France or Australia. It is quite another in Japan, China or Russia. Naoko and her colleagues are sometimes swimming upstream against their own society and culture. The political undercurrents are changing rapidly though. With the recent election of the DPJ, or Democratic Party of Japan after 50 years of dominance of the Liberal Democratic Party or LDP, a political tsunami has taken place in Japan. The implications of this change are just beginning to become clear. But given that the DPJ campaigned on a platform of increasing transparency in policymaking, eliminating stupid taxpayer subsidies, clipping the wings of senior government bureaucrats, and providing international leadership on environmental issues, our team sees new opportunities for headway, even on issues as controversial as whaling and the killing of dolphins on Japan's coast. On Thursday, I meet with Japanese officials to discuss these issues, am assured that a process of reassessment and change is already underway. The results will have to be assessed as they become visible, but the process of political change itself is encouraging.

On Friday morning before I head to Narita Airport, I shepherd Elliot and his sons to Tsukijii, where I have taken so many friends and colleagues over the years. The boys are amazed at the size and number of tuna at the 5:30 a.m. auction, and also at the whale meat for sale at the small stall in the center of the market. Photo

I return to the hotel blurry-eyed and tired to pack, confident I will find time to sleep on the 21-hour trek home. The trip takes longer thanks to a delayed flight from Chicago. When I finally stumble in the door on Cape Cod, it is past mid-night and Georgann is already dozing on the couch in front of the TV. "How was it?" she asks as I hug her. "It was incredible," I tell her. "Really, really, great."

"I'm so glad your home," she says. "Me too," I say, meaning it. "Me too."

Comments: 1

8 years ago

Hi I live on 'Eua island in tonga, and thought you would like to hear the good news about Tonga setting up some guide lines on whales watching and swimming with the whales. The whale watching industry have finally thought that maybe the number of operators in Vavau ( island) is to high and they are thinking of limiting the amount of operators there. Here is a link to the new whale watching guidelines for Tonga. Here's the link Tell me what you think.

Post a comment