The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Animal Rights

Sorry for the length of time taken in writing this: (not writing, or writing this on a laptop and being unable to get on the internet to post it for a day or so): I just seem unable to get a spare half hour to myself these days to collect my thoughts and jot down a note here on the day I`ve just had, or had a while ago, or had ages ago sometimes, so much so, that I actually give up writing the piece I had planned. Old news and all that.

But this Sunday JUST gone was a day I do want to write about. Thanks to the kind recommendation of the very talented snapper, Will Robb, I found myself in Shibuya on Sunday photographing an animal rights demo.

As I have written before, the Japanese love their animals (except whales and dolphins it seems) indeed sometimes they love them too much. But Japan also loves anything boomingly popular and against all the odds and the earlier support of important and influential people in the catwalk biz, fur is back as a must-have item for the sartorially inclined and is, of course, being bought and worn massively by the young followers of fashion here.

I have never thought people should wear fur unless they killed the animal themselves or are using it in a place where the warmth provided by nature`s best insulation material is life-preservingly useful rather than just momentarily “hot”. A friend of mine, a noted and respected environmentalist and adventurer, agonized over using a good self-portrait of himself for marketing because he appeared in the image wearing a fur-lined hood. The fact the image was taken in Antarctica or some other bitterly cold place made the fur a necessity, or at the very least a welcome addition to his choice of protective layers, but still the image gave all the wrong messages in my friend`s mind.

These dilemmas are not something the “in crowd” of Harajuku, Shibuya and Nagoya worry about though, for them fur is literally and metaphorically  unconnected to the animals it came from. Something the anti fur demo I went to hoped to correct.

Organized by Animal Rights Center (ARC) over two-hundred people marched through a cold and grey Sunday afternoon carrying pictures and chanting slogans asking people to connect their love of the latest fashion fad to the harrowing cruelty of the fur farm that feeds it. The images and information provided pulled no punches: the small van that led the parade had photographs of skinned rabbits and caged cats all over it; two attractive women led the parade wearing furs and carrying placards that said,”we are wearing dead animals”; and four men carried a sheet behind them on which a pile of unwanted fur clothing was piled in a solemn funeral procession.

I`m not an activist on this issue and as I talked to the marchers after, it became clear that my ethics, though I thought them ethical enough, cut no ice with people there who took their opinions more seriously. I am not a vegetarian or vegan, I tend to put people first in the world`s list of to-do problems and I thought that to hate someone for their choice otherwise is not justified. Granted some things are beyond the acceptable, I don`t think anyone likes cruelty to animals and I abhor it, but I do eat meat and my usual, laugh-along justification for eating only chickens and sheep because they are stupid got cold stares because to many of the people there, any death of an animal for our benefit is cruel and unwarranted and of course they are more than right on that fact: stupidity is no justification at all to kill and eat something.

I may not be the perfect animal lover but I do love nature and don`t like people wearing fur and that is why I could support this march as I photographed it and hope to spread some of the images I took far and wide to raise the issue. The extrapolation of this understanding of right and wrong to the likes of the Animal Liberation Front and its stronger, more direct and dangerous actions I could make less easily than some of the others there that day but that is maybe because I see less of a problem than they do. When I take the same point of view something I am passionate about like the Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd group`s actions on Japanese whaling the connection from ineffective but polite to effective but aggressive seems more obviously necessary and understandable. Something perhaps a Japanese fisherman wouldn`t see however.

There is no clear cut issue for me to hang my hat on: I cannot choose sides in the total right of all animals to exists removed from service to us. Basically I have some moral compass on this regarding the rights of wild animals and what is an isn`t acceptable for the rest but am still hopelessly lost in my own accidental duplicity as an evolutionarily-designed omnivorous mammal. If I`m honest this is what I hope is true for most people which is why I was so struck with the fact that young Japanese women, most often seen as unthinking, fad-fed zombies, were taking part in the demo. That they cared, that they cared enough to take a stand and be seen publicly going against the power of their peers and a general apathy of opinion was humbling. That they didn`t do this as yet another fad of protest but genuinely researched, worried, stressed and tried to change what they had discovered and determined to be wrong was amazing. I have recently been photographing and researching a lot of this growing political maturity in the Japanese. Some might not exactly know why they care about an issue so deeply and some, I`m sure, feel that merely paddling in those heady waters of revolt is quite deep enough for them, for now, but many people in Japan are beginning to go out and make their voice heard and are prepared to stand up for their beliefs in way that is not expected or easily accepted in this country and you have to admire that.

That`s all for now, got a lot to do (see above) will talk soon.



One response

  1. Very nice pics and very well written as always. I was looking forward to seeing these pics.

    Like you, I put people before animals, I’d rather do my bit to ease human suffering, I am a meat eater, but I don’t see the point in animals suffering in cruel conditions to provide someone with a nice scarf to wear about town. If they catch it, they can do their thing as far as I am concerned.

    I am however impressed that Japanese youth are getting interested in something. So many do fit into the unthinking zombie stereotype, I do often have serious doubts about the future of this country based on the apathetic people being spoon fed irrelevant tosh through the media, so seeing young people breaking the mould and getting out there and doing something positive for any cause is well worth applauding.

    October 30, 2009 at 6:06 am

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