The white whale swimming in the ocean depths off the coast of Omishima, circa 1985
This is thought to be the only existing image of the white whale, a mysterious creature that had once held the Japanese village of Omishima in thrall. One of the oldest villagers alive, a man called Mr Kazuhiro Nagashima, said that his people had once placed an effigy of the whale in the sea off the coast of Omishima, and it probably still remains there today.
Image courtesy of The Institute of Critical Zoologists
The Whiteness of the Whale
by Zhao Renhui & Satoshi Kataoka
A project with The Institute of Critical Zoologists
Residents of the Southern Japanese seaside village Omishima are often called “The Whale People”, or kujira no hitobito, people who live among whales. They got their name because of their obsessive and bizarre worship of whales and all things whale-related.
In 1937, something happened that seized the entire village's imagination: a monk reported a sighting of a white whale along the village coast. Thus the search for the white whale began.
The villagers raised funds to build a massive underwater tower in the middle of the ocean, which took more than ten years to complete. They had to cross a five-mile bridge on foot to reach the tower, all in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the white whale if returned.
In 1960, a boat with an iconic white whale’s tail was built to carry out more search expeditions for the white whale. The boat had an underwater viewing chamber which, on a clear day, allowed the villagers to see up to 5 miles through the ocean depths.
Today, few residents remember this way of life, although the watch tower and the boat are still around. A few still continue the search for the white whale.
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