Fisheries minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said Japan will never stop hunting whales despite fierce criticism from other nations and violent clashes at sea with militant conservationists.
“I don’t think there will be any kind of an end for whaling by Japan,” he said Tuesday.
Hayashi, who took the ministerial post overseeing the country’s whaling program in December, said criticism of the practice is “a cultural attack, a kind of prejudice against Japanese culture.”
There is “a long historical tradition about whaling” he said in his office, graced with portraits of the Emperor and Empress.
“Japan is an island nation surrounded by the sea, so taking some good protein from the ocean is very important. For food security, I think it’s very important,” he said. “We have never said everybody should eat whale, but we have a long tradition and culture of whaling. So why don’t we at least agree to disagree? We have this culture and you don’t have that culture.”
Unlike Norway and Iceland, which openly flout the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling agreed through the International Whaling Commission, Japan hunts using a loophole that allows for lethal scientific research. But it makes no secret of the fact that the mammals ultimately end up on menus.
Hayashi, a graduate of the prestigious Kennedy School at Harvard University who first entered the Diet in 1995, considers the whaling port of Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, his hometown. The 52-year-old said Japan is tired of being lectured by nations whose own culinary cultures can seem a little off-color.
“In some countries they eat dogs, like Korea. In Australia they eat kangaroos. We don’t eat those animals, but we don’t stop them from doing that because we understand that’s their culture,” Hayashi said in fluent English.
“Whaling has long been part of traditional Japanese culture, so I just would like to say ‘please understand this is our culture.’ “
Australia and New Zealand in particular voice outrage over Japan’s annual expeditions in the Antarctic in an area the IWC considers a sanctuary for the ocean giants.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has chased the Japanese fleet off Antarctica for several years in an attempt to stop the mammals being slaughtered.
In the latest clash Monday, veteran antiwhaling campaigner Paul Watson claimed the factory ship Nisshin Maru rammed the Sea Shepherd vessel Bob Barker.
On its website, the Institute of Cetacean Research said several Sea Shepherd boats had slammed into the Nisshin Maru as the vessel attempted to refuel from her supply tanker.
“It was five hours of intense confrontation,” Watson said from the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin.
“We took up our positions to block their approach to the (fuel tanker) Sun Laurel and they rammed the Bob Barker twice, causing considerable damage, and then they pushed it into the side of the Sun Laurel,” he said.
Watson said the Japanese threw stun grenades and fired a water cannon at his boat and damaged another Sea Shepherd vessel, the Sam Simon, but there were no injuries to Sea Shepherd crew.
The Institute of Cetacean Research said the Japanese vessels were “again subject to sabotage by the Sea Shepherd ships Steve Irwin, Bob Barker and Sam Simon.”
“During their obstruction to refuelling operations, the Sea Shepherd vessels rammed into . . . the Nisshin Maru and the supply tanker,” it said. “During the attack, the Nisshin Maru used her water pump as a preventive measure to make Sea Shepherd vessels refrain from further approaching, and repeatedly broadcast a warning message to stop them.”