Photo/IllutrationFishermen catch a sea lion with a net on Takeshima, a group of islets in the Sea of Japan, in June 1934. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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Prewar photos documenting the hunting of sea lions on the Takeshima islets in the Sea of Japan have been discovered, providing a rare glimpse into the now-extinct industry.

Thirteen photographs were taken in June 1934 when an Asahi Shimbun reporter and a photographer joined fishermen in Shimane Prefecture in their hunt for sea lions at Takeshima off Shimane Prefecture.

Rikinobu Funasugi, an associate professor of geography at Shimane University who researches sea lion hunting on Takeshima, hailed the cache as a significant find.

“The pictures are extremely valuable as they documented people’s activities on Takeshima,” he said. “I want to find out more details about the hunt and circumstances of the islands back then.”

The pictures were discovered in the archives of The Asahi Shimbun’s Osaka headquarters in Osaka when employees were sorting through about 2 million printed photos to digitize them.

The pictures were in one of 45 envelopes containing photographs of animals such as seals, armadillos and dolphins.

The envelope containing the sea lion hunt photos was titled “Sea lion hunt at Ryankoto island.”

Takeshima, which is located 157 kilometers northwest of the Oki islands in Shimane Prefecture, was known as Ryankoto among fishermen in Shimane and nearby prefectures facing the Sea of Japan.

Japan proclaimed its sovereignty over the islets in 1905 and put them under the jurisdiction of Shimane Prefecture, five years before Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula, which lasted until Japan’s defeat in World War II.

Takeshima is now the source of a long-running territorial dispute between Japan and South Korea, which calls the islands Dokdo and administers them.

In the early 1900s, the uninhabited Takeshima was known as home to a thriving population of sea lions.

Japanese fishermen, who are based in Okinoshima, a town on the Oki islands, and elsewhere, hunted for the marine mammals on Takeshima for their coats, blubber and oil.

They did so after obtaining a hunting permit in line with the prefectural government’s fishery rules set in 1905.

The photos of the sea lion hunt were taken for a series of stories that ran in The Asahi Shimbun from June 28 to July 8, 1934, titled, “Sea lion hunting in the Sea of Japan.”

One of the installments came with a headline that read: “Ferocious fight, drawn by raging sea lions in the north sea.”

An Asahi Shimbun reporter and a photographer camped out for 10 days on Takeshima with fishermen for the assignment. They reached the islands on a wooden boat operated by Jutaro Yoshida, a fisherman based on Okinoshima.

The expedition included a veterinarian from the present-day Tennoji Zoo in Osaka.

By 1934, the population of sea lions had dwindled sharply, and the fishermen went after the marine mammals primarily to catch them alive and sell them to a zoo or circus.

The articles said fishermen set traps to catch sea lions and put them in wooden cages after they were caught.

Yoshiki Maeda, a fisherman who lives near Kumi harbor in Okinoshima, from where fishing boats hunting for sea lions departed from back then, said the photos looked similar to what he had been told.

“The photos looked just how my grandfather had described the hunt to me,” said Maeda, 67.

He said his grandfather Minetaro Yoshida was involved in the sea lion hunt between 1933 and 1941.

The animals fetched high prices as popular attractions for zoos and circuses.

But demand for sea lions slackened after society could no longer afford such entertainment following the start of the 1937-1945 Sino-Japanese War.