Ecowarrior: Toru Suzuki

G Magazine

As half of the ‘Tokyo Two’ that made headlines three years ago for intercepting embezzled whale meat, Japan’s Toru Suzuki is continuing his battle with his country’s government-aided whaling industry.


Toru Suzuki, fighting from the inside.

Credit: Greenpeace/Andrew Taylor

- Advertisement -

With spare time suddenly on his hands following the sale of a successful motorcycle business, ex-motorcycle racer Toru Suzuki found himself volunteering with Greenpeace Japan. A fresh face to the environmental organisation, he soon found himself as a whale activist for their anti-whaling campaign when two months later, in mid-2008, Greenpeace was contacted by a whistleblower from the whaling program. With vital information and research at hand, Suzuki, along with Junichi Sato, intercepted a box of prime whale meat cuts embezzled by members of the whaling industry, labelled ‘cardboard’, and handed it to authorities. An investigation was begun by the Tokyo District Prosecutor Office.

One month later, the investigation was dropped and Suzuki and Sato were arrested and held for 26 days, 23 of those without charge as they were questioned without a lawyer and interrogated for up to 12 hours a day. They have since been sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended for three years. G caught up with the passionate Japanese whale activist on his visit to Sydney earlier this year.

Suzuki became involved with the whaling sector of Greenpeace and, soon after, learned of the incredible corruption in the industry.
“People are always confused! They always think I’m an expert on Greenpeace, but I was the new guy [when arrested]. When I started working with Greenpeace and did my homework, I learned that Japanese whaling is full of corruption and no demand. I call them the zombie company, they’re already dead but still walking around. There’s no demand from the market, and I really hate that, because the business just doesn’t make sense. It’s also funded by our tax money, so they’re just throwing out our taxes to be wasted. So I got involved and I was lucky that we got a really ripe project.”

His involvement in the scandal, along with Sato, took place shortly after, catapulting him into a fast-moving series of events.
“When we intercepted the box [of whale meat] and took it to the hotel room and opened it, we were really shocked. It felt like we were opening the box of a dead human body, it was so shocking. At the same time, all the stories that were told to us by the whistleblower who is a former crew member were really happening; that was real, so we were so shocked. We were arrested [a month later], my colleague and I – they sent 75 police officers out for just the two of us. It’s kind of weird that they overreacted. I asked one police officer; ‘if I stole the goods of the same value for personal gain, how many police officers would come get me?’ He just laughed and said, ‘normally two’. The police officers were formed by a national security breach – they treated us like we were terrorists. So then, under custody for 26 days, we were charged with theft and trespass. It took us two and half years for the trial, and we got a verdict of 12 months suspended.”

Treatment of Suzuki and Sato by Japanese authorities was arbitrary and contravened elements of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“We thought the worst scenario would be 3-5 years in jail, but when the prosecutor requested the term it was 18 months, and then the judge decided to do 12 months suspended for three years, meaning if we don’t do any other crime in three years the sentence disappears, you don’t have to go to jail. Still, we are so angry, because it’s ‘guilty’. We got international support for this trial, even the United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention spoke to the Japanese government saying that they shouldn’t have arrested us in the first place. It’s become a big thing internationally for human rights too.”

While public perception of whales in Japan has been similar to those of Australians, particularly of the younger generation, Suzuki says it has been even more so in the last couple of years.
“Exposure of the whale meat embezzlement gave us significant impact on Japanese society. I think it changed a lot in the last two years. Straight after we held the press conference we got a big backlash from the Japanese media and the public, but it took a little bit more time to get them to understand what’s really going on. So now people really show an understanding and the tone of the media is changing. Also young people have no idea about the real face of Japanese scientific whaling, they have no idea that whale is edible, no idea that the tax-funded program of going to the Southern Ocean is happening, and the killing of thousands of whales. Young people look to the whale as the Australian people do, it’s the symbol of wildlife. I met with a high school friend in the last week and we haven’t seen each other for about 25 years. He asked questions about my case and just clearly stated; ‘if there’s no whale meat in Japan, who cares?’ So nobody, virtually nobody, wants whale meat in Japan now. So I came here to bring the message to the Australian public: don’t attack the Japanese public, because they’re no different from you guys. Target the Japanese government officials. They use the bureaucratic power to keep it going but practically it’s already dead.”

While he believes progress is still being made in bringing an end to whaling, Suzuki believes we need
to change our tactics.

Anti-whaling activity and tactic has very much shifted after our exposure from the scandal died off. Greenpeace sent ships to the Southern Ocean for a long time, for decades, but since this scandal we are working really hard, and it’s happening in Japan; we are gaining a lot of success. Last December the fishery agency made a special press conference to say sorry, and that they have to punish the five officials because they were receiving illegal whale meat. So now we need to have different tactics. I believe where we are going right now, where we are focussing, is the right way. It’s not the easy way but it’s the right way and we
are succeeding.

Japan should restart the investigation on embezzlement because [according to] the statement by a former crew member there are so many parliament members that are receiving meat. So last December was just the tip of the iceberg. The whaling industry is in really big trouble to fund the program because they can’t make money by selling the meat, so stocks have piled up. They are relying heavily on government subsidy, and we already had a huge financial crisis over there – we need to put pressure on the Japanese government to stop the subsidy. It’s a total waste of money. Australia can help so much because you’ve always been a front runner and leader for anti-whaling. So now it’s the last stage and we need to have this different tactic where the [Australian] government and public should do everything to pressure Japan – not Japanese public – the government, and to keep pressure on them.