Hankyu Hanshin Department Stores Inc. kicked off its annual whale meat sale Thursday in central Osaka.

Billed as the Hanshin no Kujira Matsuri (Hanshin Whale Festival), the event at the main Hanshin store in the Umeda district put about 3 tons of the controversial meat on sale for up to half price off until Feb. 2.

The meat is from finbacks, minke, sei and sperm whales taken in government-sponsored research hunts in areas from the Northwestern Atlantic to near Iceland.

“This is about preserving Japan’s food culture,” Atsushi Yoshida, a Hanshin spokesman, told The Japan Times on Thursday. The event has been held for more than a decade but hasn’t attracted any gripes from conservation groups, he said.

A representative of Greenpeace Japan said it has no plans to protest the sale.

Customers at the event Thursday were having a whale of a time, with the first 100 patrons served a portion of whale skin stew.

“We are seeing continuous lines on the floor,” Yoshida said.

The majority of the customers appeared to be seniors who are used to eating whale meat, which was a staple of the Japanese diet during and after the war.

This year’s sale features a section titled A Whale’s Body is Indeed a Theme Park! The display promotes 15 whale parts ranging from tongue to the intestines and tail, all of which are prepared as sashimi delicacies that are dipped into citrus-flavored soy sauce, Yoshida said.

Since the moratorium on commercial whaling was imposed by the International Whaling Commission in 1986, antiwhaling nations have condemned Japan for conducting commercial whaling. The government maintains the hunts are conducted for scientific research, though the meat is sold on the open market.

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