It is a cliche and it is far from reality: Japanese diners chomping on whale meat over sake.

But this is what Junko Sakuma heard a Japanese representative describe when pressing the case for whaling at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission in 2003. The 55-year-old activist was attending as an observer from the environmental pressure group Greenpeace.

Sakuma is now a researcher with no grudge against those who eat whale meat: in fact, she says, she herself has become good at cooking it. But she says her investigations show annual consumption per head is less than 30 grams — and any attempt to paint Japan as a "whale-eating nation" is a gross distortion of its culinary tradition.