Does Japan think it has ‘friends’?

It’s small wonder that in the family of nations there are few countries today that would sincerely call Japan a “friend.” Trade partner maybe, friend never.

Why is it so difficult for Japan to understand that the days of commercial whaling are over?

And Japan has never been a whaling culture. Yes, in the Edo Period, fishermen did hunt a few of these magnificent warmblooded mammals when they swam too close to shore, but until the late 19th century, Japan never took much interest in whale steaks as a steady source of protein! Most Japanese were vegetarian before 1854. Must these Diet members thumb their noses at the International Court of Justice and world opinion just to feel good about themselves?

How very low their self-esteem must be: “Look at me, Ma, I’m eating whale meat. To hell with the gaijin and his sentimental affection for Moby Dick.”

robert mckinney
otaru, hokkaido

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

  • Terry Towling

    Well, that little rant was a nasty as it was utterly misinformed.

    Robert, your claim that most Japanese prior to 1854 were vegetarians is absurd. And even if it did have the slightest factual basis (which it doesn’t), what possible relevance does that have in whether or not a modern day Japanese is able to consume meat?

    (The answer, Robert, is “absolutely none”, if you are wondering)

    If the Japanese are indeed having difficulty understanding that “the days of commercial whaling are over”, perhaps you could explain to them:

    (a) Why those days are over;
    (b) Who gets to decide they are over; and
    (c) On what basis the deciders get to decide they’re over.

    While you’re at it, please explain to us all how it is you became so enlightened and righteous that you feel yourself to be in a position to lecture an entire nation on what it should eat and how it should behave? I’d be most curious to hear.


    • AnimuX

      The vegetarian remark is certainly incorrect.

      Of course, prior to the start of the 20th century whaling was only ‘traditionally’ limited to a few isolated coastal villages, like Taiji. In other parts of Japan whales were worshiped as gods of good fortune and never eaten (something the government of Japan fails to mention when discussing ‘culture’).

      Indeed, prior to the 20th century Japan’s whaling was very limited in coastal waters and carried out by groups of men in open boats with hand thrown spears and nets. However, Juro Oka traveled around the world and brought Norwegian modern industrial whaling methods, technology (like exploding cannon-fired harpoons and powered ships), and even actual Norwegian whalers to Japan. This was done to create a modern (i.e.: not traditionally Japanese) whaling industry in order to mass produce whale oil for export to foreign countries.

      According to Jun Morikawa, author of ‘Whaling in Japan: Power, Politics, and Diplomacy’, whale meat was only ever a substitute meat ‘nationally’ in Japan as a result of post-WWII food shortages. In fact, as soon as Japan’s economy recovered most families stopped buying whale meat even when it was cheaper than other options. Demand for whale meat has consistently declined since the 1970s. It’s so pathetically low today that even recent surveys show a mere 4% of people in Japan admit to eating whale meat ‘on occasion’. 10% of respondents say they have eaten it on ‘rare occasion’. If the government did not include whale meat in compulsory school lunches most Japanese children would never know the taste of it. So much for ‘tradition’.

      Morikawa also explains that Japan’s whaling continues due to the interests of corrupt bureaucrats. These officials ensure that whaling will remain a never-to-be-canceled government spending program because they expect to be rewarded with high paid jobs in the whaling industry once they leave public office. This sort of corruption is so common in Japan they have a word for it: ‘amakudari’.

      Regardless, the days of commercial whaling, as far as the International Whaling Commission is concerned, have been prohibited since 1986 by a binding vote taken by the commission in 1982.

      According to the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, the IWC gets to decide. The basis is quite obviously the systematic decimation of whale populations around the world by industrial whaling — particularly during the 20th century — leaving many species endangered today as a result.

      Not that this has ever stopped Japan’s whalers from blatantly violating international regulations. They’ve historically ignored size limits and species protections, exceeded quotas, hunted in off-limits areas and out of season, and in the 1970s and 80s Japan even setup poaching operations in foreign countries (pirate whaling) to illegally kill whales and smuggle the unreported catch to market hidden from IWC oversight.

      And of course, the International Court of Justice rightfully determined Japan was in breach of its obligations as a signatory to the 1946 ICRW by continuing its morally reprehensible ‘research whaling’ programs in defiance of the IWC. That’s why the ICJ ordered Japan to stop unilaterally issuing permits to itself to shoot whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.