Ghanaian philosopher Anthony Appiah once said something very interesting about how group cultural consciousness develops. It isn't that cultural differences give rise to collective identities, he said. It's the opposite; collective identities — and their anxieties — give rise to a sense of cultural difference.

So when a nation's conservative politicians and intellectuals feel their national identity threatened by influxes of foreign ideas or by foreign criticism, they may search for, even create, cultural differences to reassert it.

The creation and stubborn defense of Japan's "whaling tradition" against critics of Japan's whaling industry is one example of this. In the wake of the ICJ's ruling for Australia against Japan's Antarctic scientific whaling program, some reflection on this tradition is in order.