Chiba port festival fetes bygone era by serving up whale wieners


In a former whaling port in southern Chiba Prefecture, a merchants’ association is attempting to raise spirits by selling the unconventional: whale meat hot dogs.

The Katsuyama Port Street Okamisan (middle-age female shop manager) Association began selling whale cutlet dogs, whale “tatsuta” (deep-fried) dogs and whale omelet dogs on Oct. 2, when the town of Kyonan, which stopped whaling about a century ago, held its Kyonan Kujira no Miyako Matsuri (Festival of the City of Whales in Kyonan).

The hot dogs use meat from Baird’s beaked whales, or North Pacific bottlenose whales, which are in the small-whale category and not regulated by the International Whaling Commission. Japan in 2008 caught 64 Baird’s beaked whales — 13 in Hokkaido, 25 in Miyagi Prefecture and 26 in Chiba Prefecture, according to the Fisheries Agency.

“The hot dogs are selling very well,” said Kyoko Sudo, chairwoman of the 10-member association, without giving the exact sales figures for the ¥350 fare.

The price barely covers costs and the association members’ cooking duties are “effectively volunteer work,” Sudo said.

Whale meat, not commonly used in fast food, is mainly eaten in small towns, including some in Chiba, Shizuoka and Wakayama prefectures, as well as part of the Tohoku region and Kyushu, where whaling is or was a traditional industry.

Local vendors handled the sales, Sudo said. The association does not sell the hot dogs online.

For the Oct. 2 festival, the association made 150 hot dogs, which quickly sold out, Sudo said.

The hot dogs were served with cabbage, onion, lettuce and whale meat in buns.

In the course of its whaling for research purposes, Japan has so far caught 272 whales in the Northwest Pacific Ocean during this year’s hunt and 507 in the Antarctic Ocean in the 2009-2010 season. These were whales regulated by the IWC, according to the Fisheries Agency.

Japan also hunts small whales not regulated by the IWC, within its own quota while attempting to maintain a sustainable oceanic ecosystem in nearby waters. It caught 9,155 small whales and dolphins, including 93 dolphins to be sold to aquariums in and outside Japan, in 2008, the year of the most recent statistics available, according to the Fisheries Agency.