Ocean Newsletter

No.550 July 5, 2023

  • An Offshore Wind Power Generation Project~ from the “Umi-gyo” perspective SAKAMOTO Masanobu (President, National Federation of Fisheries Co-operatives)
  • On Collecting and Recycling Plastics that Become Marine Debris SHIMIZU Kentaro (Assistant Manager, Plastic Containers Division, The Japan Containers and Packaging Recycling Association Fish)
  • The Story told by Fish Memorials of the End of Seaweed Cultivation in Tokyo Bay SEKI Izumi (Professor, Department of Humanities School of Humanities, Tokai University)

The Story told by Fish Memorials of the End of Seaweed Cultivation in Tokyo Bay

KEYWORDS Memorial monument / High economic growth period / Rise and fall of seaweed cultivation
SEKI Izumi (Professor, Department of Humanities School of Humanities, Tokai University)
The more than a thousand fish memorials to be seen around Japan are truly a rich source of information, testifying to the history of the local fishing industry as well as the people’s feelings towards other forms of life. After visiting several of the remaining memorials in Oomori and Kawasaki dedicated to seaweed cultivation in Tokyo Bay, I would like to tell the story of its prosperity and ending.
The Story of Fish Memorials
Japanese people have long held memorial services to animals, plants, and even inanimate objects like tools and dolls. Among these memorials, a research group led by Rie Taguchi of the Department of Maritime Civilizations, Tokai University, has paid particular attention to fish memorials (osakana kuyo) for marine life, compiled a list of memorials based on questionnaires and previous research, and examined the relationship between people and marine resources as understood from these memorials in modern times. Based on data collected in 2011, the research group cataloged 1,141 objects broadly regarded as memorials such as stone monuments, shrines, pagodas, mortuary tablets, and mounds dedicated to worship*. Nearly half of these memorials with known dates were constructed after World War II, and more than 10% were built from 1989 to 2019. The sentiment to mourn the lives of living creatures and cherish the livelihood that coexists with these lives is one that transcends time. This article aims to unpack the story of seaweed cultivation as told by these fish memorials.
The History of Seaweed Cultivation in Tokyo Bay as Told by Stone Monuments
Seaweed cultivation in Tokyo Bay is believed to have started in the 1600s using a method called hibitate (a bamboo-installed aquaculture). By the early 1700s, full-scale production was underway in areas like Omori and Shinagawa. This technology spread to Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures in the 1800s. Despite its prosperity, intense disputes over fishing grounds were frequent. 
On the site of the former Omori Fisheries Cooperative, in the yard of what is now the Ota City Children’s Hall, is a stone monument originally erected by the cooperative. 
According to the historical account inscribed on the back of the stone monument, Omori Fisheries Cooperative was established in 1902, the year after the Fishery Act was enacted, showing how the system of and the order related to seaweed cultivation was being established at the time. However, the subsequent upheavals of the wartime period are evident in the organizational changes to the fishing cooperative. In 1938, during the war, the Omori Fisheries Cooperative with Compensation Liability was approved for establishment. In 1944, an order was issued to dissolve this cooperative and the establishment of the Omori Fisheries Association was approved. Then, in 1949, another order came to dissolve the Omori Fisheries Association and re-establish the Omori Fisheries Cooperative. 
On the front of the stone monument, the 300-year history of seaweed production in Omori is succinctly described, starting in 1682 when a local resident, Rokurozaemon Noguchi, and others petitioned the shogunate to start seaweed cultivation in the area. The monument states that from the Edo period, the Omori district was a leading production area for the Asakusa nori seaweed reigning over the nation and played a pioneering and guiding role in the seaweed cultivation industry nationwide, thanks to the efforts of its fishermen. However, the history of seaweed cultivation came to an end in 1964. This closure occurred during Japan's period of high economic growth, precisely when the country was buzzing with excitement over the Tokyo Olympics. The inscription on the monument expresses the fishermen’s regret at having to completely relinquish their fishing rights, a sacrifice made for the land reclamation projects in Tokyo Bay that contributed to the development of the nation and Tokyo. 
In addition to the fisheries memorial stone monument erected by the Omori Fisheries Cooperative, there are other stone monuments in the Omori district related to seaweed. In this section, two monuments representing the conclusion of seaweed cultivation (nohitsu no hi) will be introduced. One is located at Suwa Shrine in West Omori and was erected by the Omori Fisheries Cooperative and the seaweed manufacturing industry. The other is found at Kifune Shrine in East Omori and is marked as having been erected by the Hamabata Federation. These monuments detail the history of the development of seaweed cultivation from the Edo period onwards and the events during the high economic growth period when the construction of the first expressway led to plans for land reclamation of fishing grounds. They go on to state that after multiple rounds of negotiations between fishermen and related organizations, an agreement was finally signed on December 3, 1962, for the complete relinquishment of the fishing grounds. The inscriptions on these monuments conclude with prayers for the continuation of fishing traditions and for divine protection for future generations. 
Kawasaki Daishi, located in Kawasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture, which is quite close to Omori, is a temple warding off evil spirits, which attracts believers from across the country. Within this temple, there are also two stone monuments related to seaweed cultivation. One of them is a monument to the achievements of seaweed cultivation, which was erected in 1920. This monument commemorates the prosperity of seaweed cultivation that began in the areas near the mouth of the Tama River and chronicles the history of seaweed cultivation in the region up to that point. According to the inscription on the monument, seaweed cultivation in this area was started in 1871 by four villagers: Shirobe Ishiwata, Chobe Ishikawa, Kanzaemon Kawashima, and Sashichi Sakurai. Initially, the rights to use the sea surface were limited to about 66,000 square meters, and the quality of the seaweed was poor, resulting in an annual production value of only 10,000 yen. Eventually, the fishing grounds expanded to over 575,000 square meters, and a seaweed harvesting business association was organized. Due to improvements in quality and expansion of sales channels, the production value increased to several hundred thousand yen. Seaweed cultivation became a major bedrock industry in the region.
Right beside this monument, which speaks of the glorious development of seaweed cultivation, there is another monument erected in 1986 by the Kawasaki Fisheries Cooperative Association and its members, known as the Seaweed Memorial Prayers Monument. Thanks to continuous technological improvements, seaweed cultivation, known nationally as daishi nori, involved more than 500 cultivators at its peak. However, as the period of high economic growth set in, land reclamation projects around the river mouth progressed, and industrial factories began to proliferate. The Kawasaki Fisheries Cooperative Association had no choice but to relinquish their fishing rights in September 1971, when it was decided to reclaim the sea area: “Even if this is the trend of the times, one can't help but deeply empathize with the sorrow felt by those who have long been engaged in the business of seaweed cultivation. Here and now, we summon the spirit of the rich seaweed that once sustained our livelihoods and earnestly carry out this memorial service as an expression of our gratitude. It is truly an honorable and pure occupation.” As the times change, these monuments express a sense of sadness in seeing an industry that supported the community come to an end. They also express the regrets of the fishermen who can no longer go out to sea and, above all, the gratitude for the seaweed that has sustained their lives for many years. The inscription truly seems to capture a variety of emotions. 
It continues as follows: “We pray that, starting with the honored Yakuyoke Kobo Daishi, the heavenly guardians, and the meritorious leaders of today's Kawasaki Fisheries Cooperative Association, prosperity may be bestowed upon each household and may their descendants thrive for generations to come.” It concludes with the Buddhist saying, ‘Ichibutsu jodo, kanken hokkai, somoku kokudo, shikkai jobutsu,' or the wish that all things attain Buddhahood.
Fisheries memorial monument at the former site of Omori Fisheries Association

Fisheries memorial monument at the former site of Omori Fisheries Association

Two stone monuments to seaweed farming erected at Kawasaki Daishi

Two stone monuments to seaweed farming erected at Kawasaki Daishi

Connecting the Narrative
While Japan's economy prospered during the high economic growth period, it came at a significant cost—environmental changes due to large-scale coastal land reclamation, numerous pollution issues, and the weakening of primary industries. The inscriptions on the monuments related to seaweed cultivation we have examined express both deep pride in the long history of the industry and a sense of regret that it could not withstand the changes brought by modern times. These monuments act almost as memorials, lamenting the end of the seaweed cultivation these individuals were involved in. 
The fish memorial monuments aim to document the memories of fishing and daily life in each region, with the intention of passing them on to future generations. How will we, living in the present, interpret the stories these memorials tell, and how can we apply them to shape our future? (End)
Taguchi, R. et al. 2011, " A Study of Monuments to Pray for Life in Water ", Bulletin of the Institute of Oceanic Research and Development, Tokai University, 32, pp 53-97.

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