In ancient times, the Japanese considered whales to be manifestations of the god Ebisu, who brings riches from across the seas. People gratefully utilized the whales that occasionally washed ashore as a source of food, and eventually they began whaling themselves as a means of livelihood.
Whales have been seen in coastal areas lying along the Kumano Sea, where the Black Current flows, since ancient times, and organized whaling began during the Edo period. Legend holds that the samurai Wada Chubee Yorimoto, who was from Taiji, pioneered the techniques of whaling, and he continues to be revered as the founder of whaling today.
Initially whales were caught using harpoons, but the subsequent creation of methods for capturing the creatures using nets led to the rapid development of whaling. In this approach, a fleet of boats would surround a whale, catch it in a net, and then attack it with harpoons. But this “fleet” was nothing like a modern fleet of boats, consisting instead of small craft that were rowed by hand. The whale would be attacked with a large number of harpoons of several different types and then killed with a large sword.
It is said that it was the descendants of soldiers who fought for the Kumano Navy and made a name for themselves long ago in the Genpei War who carried out this dangerous enterprise. They possessed bravery, a strong esprit de corps, excellent boat-handling skills, and extensive knowledge of the sea. These men provided the manpower that was the driving force behind whaling.
Geographical factors cannot be overlooked as one reason whaling flourished in this area. The Kumano Sea is bordered by an intricate, deeply indented coast set against precipitous mountains. In short, highlands from which whales could be quickly spotted and beaches where whales could be brought ashore were one factor in the rise of whaling here.