Here in Taiji, where residents have always taken pride in their town’s whaling history, there have been steady moves among locals to distance themselves from anything to do with whales.

Miyato Sugimori, a 50-year-old official of the Taiji fisheries association, remembers vividly the day when his eldest son suddenly refused to eat whale meat.

The family had a plate of whale sashimi, his son’s favorite, on the table for supper. However, the boy, then a fifth-grader in elementary school, refused to touch it.

“Children of Taiji must eat it,” he told his son. “You must eat it.”

“But I feel sorry for the whale,” the child replied. Sugimori’s son has not eaten whale meat since.

This exchange took place around 1985, when Japan withdrew its objection to the International Whaling Commission’s moratorium on commercial whaling.

Around that time, the children of Taiji, the birthplace of organized whaling in Japan, began to become uncomfortable with the wholesale slaughter of whales and dolphins.

Nevertheless, whales and dolphins caught in coastal waters off Japan still end up in Taiji.

A 5-meter pilot whale brought into the port recently was welcomed by a group of around 10 people waiting to carve it up.

After it was winched from the boat, they moved in. The whale was cut open with huge knives, its blood spilling across the concrete pier.

“This is not good for tourists to see,” a fisheries association official told a reporter with a camera.

Fishermen are a little more cautious when it comes to killing dolphins, which are popular among Japanese.

To avoid negative publicity, dolphins are now caught and slaughtered at sea off the coast of Taiji.

“Actually, we would like to openly show how we deal with (dolphins), but then, there will surely be people who become emotional and voice opposition to whaling” because of the similarity of the two mammals, the official said. When officials involved in the nation’s scientific whaling projects visit Taiji to recruit young people, they find virtually no one willing to respond to their call.

It is said to be the same in other formerly prosperous whaling towns, including Oshika in Miyagi Prefecture, Wada in Chiba Prefecture, Muroto in Kochi Prefecture, and Uku in Nagasaki Prefecture.

“It is absolutely wrong to lose our whale meat dietary culture and the whaling industry due to external pressure,” an official from the Fisheries Agency said. The agency has persistently sought the resumption of commercial whaling.

Scientific data show whale populations are increasing, he claimed.

“Antiwhaling nations’ contention ignores science and (IWC) conventions and we cannot accept it,” he said. “Citing an extinction crisis as a reason, (they) may single out tuna as their next target.”

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