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David @ Tokyo

Perspective from Japan on whaling and whale meat, a spot of gourmet news, and monthly updates of whale meat stockpile statistics



IWC 2005: Traditional whaling in Japan

Whale meat is apparently back on the school lunch menu in the traditional whaling area of Wakayama.

Wakayama is one of a handful of regions in Japan where whale meat as been a traditional part of the diet.

Anti-whaling groups and governments will try to tell you that Japan doesn't have a long tradition of whaling at all. This is (as you probably imagined I would say) mischievous nonsense. They use this misinformation as another reason why Japan should stop whaling.

Post World War Two was when whale meat boomed in Japan. In fact, the American occupiers were the ones who ordered Japanese ships to the seas to hunt whales as a source of meat for the general populace. Those were the days when whales were ignorantly regarded globally as an infinite resource. When the anti-whaling groups talk about whaling traditions in Japan, this short period of whaling to feed school children is what they are talking about.

What they don't talk about is the genuine traditional whaling regions that existed prior to World War Two. Wakayama is one such region. Organized whaling operations first started to appear back in the 1600's (before some anti-whaling nations even existed as a countries), and lower level whaling activity existed much further ago that that.

The local economies of Wakayama and other similar communities around Japan developed based on their rich whale resources. But in recent times, due to foreign politicians looking to score points with their own constituencies, these local Japanese communities have suffered economically. Governments including that of New Zealand have continually refused to back whale catch quotas for these local communities so that they can carry on their traditions, and revive their economies.

That said, local whaling isn't the only sort of whaling that should be permitted. What matters at the end of the day is whether the activity is sustainable or not - because no-one wants to see any species of whale driven to extinction, least of all the people whose lives actually depend upon their existence (where as people in most anti-whaling countries have very little to do with whales at all).
Sustainability isn't about who catches what and how the meat is consumed, be it in a school lunch in Wakayama or a sushi restaurant in downtown Tokyo. Sustainability is simply about catching whales at a rate below the level of the rate of natural increase.

If it is a tradition in a handful of cities, then the whaling should remain in just a handful of cities, not the whole nation. And, if there is a desire to eat whale, you shouldn't be able to just get it anywhere, you should have to go to those towns where the tradition has been held. Just because whale become more widely eaten after WW2, they shouldn't use that as an excuse that the rest of Japan has a long tradition of eating whale, when it just isn't true.

Just because whaling is a tradition in Alaska for Eskimos doesn't mean that all of US it is possible to buy whale meat and eat it at restaurants. When Japan does that, then I will support their "claim to tradition".
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