Lawmakers across party lines Tuesday held an annual whale-meat cuisine event to celebrate the country’s whaling culture in defiance of the International Court of Justice’s decision at the end of March to ban Japan’s whale hunt off Antarctica.
“Japan’s whaling is based on scientific reasons, while counterarguments by anti-whaling groups are emotional, saying they are against the hunts because whales are cute or smart,” said Shunichi Suzuki, a Lower House lawmaker of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Suzuki, who heads an LDP whaling advocacy group, officially petitioned Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to allow the hunts to continue despite the ICJ ruling.
Japan has been arguing that it abides by the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, claiming that its hunts are purely for scientific research, which is permitted under international regulations, in order to gather data to analyze the impact of whales on Japan’s fishing industry and study the natural habitat of whales.
But the highest U.N. court in The Hague last month ruled Japan was violating the international rules by engaging in commercial, and not scientific, hunts, as prohibited by international law.
After the verdict, Japan said it would abide by the decision and has already decided to halt its 2014-2015 hunt. Yet Japan could continue its hunt under a new program. Since 2007, Japan has sought to hunt up to 1,035 whales, a number the ICJ found to be excessive and not scientifically justifiable.
Also, papers filed last week in a Seattle court by the Institute for Cetacean Research and Kyodo Senpaku, which carries out the whale hunts, said the two organizations expect to resume the hunts in future seasons.
Japanese only consume an average 40 grams of whale meat a year. But Tuesday’s 26th annual whale meat buffet, which served various dishes, including sashimi and deep fried whale, attracted more than 600 people, up 50 percent from the previous year. They are urging that whaling be preserved as a part of Japan’s culture.
“I don’t understand why only Japan’s whaling is attacked. What about Australians eating kangaroos or Koreans eating dogs?” said a woman in her late 40s, who said her elementary school used to serve whale meat for lunch.
Despite mounting international criticism against Japan’s whale hunts, whale meat sellers and restaurants said they’ve seen uptick in business.
“Our customers are worried that they will no longer be able to have whale cuisine,” said Mutsuko Onishi, president of Osaka-based whale eatery Tokuya. Onishi said her restaurant has seen a 30 percent increase in customers since the ICJ ruling.