It’s Friday Fictioneers time again. Thanks once more to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, who provides a weekly photo prompt for our 100 word stories, and gives feedback on all the contributions.
His Last Kill
Kazuki enters the shrine with a heavy heart, struggling to concentrate on the familiar ritual. He prays for the soul of the creature which has given itself to his harpoon, and begs forgiveness for taking its life, seeing again the red cloud that rippled, silk-like, on the ocean.
He is old, diminished. He will become dependent, now, on eldest son Susumu, who sparkles with new ideas, like sunlight on granite. Susumu speaks of nets, huge whaling fleets, wealth unimagined.
Kazuki smiles as clever Susumu welcomes him home, but Kazuki hears the keening of the distant whales, and senses a crumbling at the edge of things.
Kazuki is retiring on the cusp of a dramatic change in whaling methods. Like generations before him, he used his hand-thrown harpoon to hunt whales from his whaling boat at sea. The targets were most likely spotted from observation posts on shore, chased by the whaling boats and killed with harpoons. This was a dangerous and highly skilled activity, where the whaler might need to climb onto the whale to cut a hole near its nose to attach a tow-rope, by which means the animal would be brought to shore for processing.
Kazuki and his forebears held deep reverence for the spirit of the whales killed, engaging in rituals to ensure the ghost of the whale did not return to haunt other whalers. Whale stocks were not over-exploited, and virtually every part of the whale was used.A Japanese proverb has it that ‘there’s nothing to throw away from a whale except its voice.’
In 1675, the net method of whaling was invented by Wada Kakuemon, in Taiji. Using large fleets of whaling boats and enormous nets, groups of whales were driven into controlled areas near on-shore processing facilities, and, thus confined, many more were able to be killed. This new method spread rapidly, as whalers travelled widely to different whaling centres to learn new techniques.
The new method required substantial capital investment, and wealthy individuals became involved in financing the operations. Whaling quickly developed from a local, village focused operation to a large scale enterprise.
No need for me to point out how all of this, not to mention the arrival of the technology of our own time, impacted on whale numbers. Kazuki’s fears were justified, I believe.
**Kazuki means ‘harmony’, and Susumu means ‘advance, proceed’.