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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



Whaling : The market - Japanese perspective

For years and years the western media talked of whale meat being a delicacy only affordable to rich salarymen frequenting expensive sushi bars.

In more recent times, the message is confused. On one hand the western media still refers to whale meat "the delicacy", yet on the other hand there is a fresh line that tells western readers that no one wants to eat whale meat anymore, and grossly exaggerated claims of whale meat being turned into pet food abound.

The Asahi Shinbun ran a story over the weekend in Japanese, which I've translated below. There appears to be quite a gap in the understanding of the situation between local Japanese commentators and their western counterparts...
Whale meat abundance - Fisheries Agency in all out marketing effort, but prices high
2006 / 09 / 10 - 13:37

Whale meat is piling up. This is due to the drastic reduction in sales channels following the 1988 cessation in commercial whaling, in contrast to increasing supply from expanded research whaling programmes. As the Fisheries Agency looks to market the by-products as "health food" to schools and hospitals, schools and the restaurant industry have been seen introducing whale meat in lunches and new dishes. However, state circumstances require that the wholesale price of the meat, proceeds of which are required to cover the costs of research whaling, cannot be lowered, meaning that there is still a long way to go before prices are at a level where whale meat can easily be enjoyed at household dinner tables.

A base for the marketing of whales caught in the deep-seas is a room in a high class apartment building in Roppongi, Tokyo. "Geishoku Labo" is a new company established in May with the backing of the Fisheries Agency. Here at a large table in the reception room, customers are served with whale dishes.

"Everyone is surprised - 'Did it used to be so delicious?'" says company president Hiroshi Nakata. He says that whale meat is popular for it's low calories and cholesterol, with several retailers providing hospitals, schools and company cafeterias with lunches having displayed an interest.

A large cafeteria operator, Nikkoku Trust of Tokyo, has plans to use whale meat for it's special menu. "It should be popular amongst older people for it's nostalgic taste, and amongst younger people for it's intrigue. But it's still expensive so we can't use it as a regular menu item", said a company representative.

Behind the establishment of the new company is a "whale surplus".

With the expansion of research whaling, whale meat supply is now more than twice the level of a decade ago.

However, in the 20 years since the cessation in commercial whaling, the majority of marine product wholesalers have ceased to deal in whale meat, and thus distribution has not kept up with these increases.

Due to this, at the end of last year the whale meat stockpile stood at 3,900 tonnes, equivalent to annual supply. Next year with a further expansion in whaling, an additional 1,500 tonnes is forecast to be taken, bringing the total catch to 5,500 tonnes.

There are also moves towards utilizing the extra whale meat. In Wakayama, in an effort to pass on local traditions that flourished based around old style whaling, around 70% of primary schools will be including such menus as whale meat tatsuta-age in school lunches once every 2 months from this fiscal year. There is also an expansion in the capital region, and according to Tokyo's Japanese Whaling Association, approximately 3,500 schools nationwide now include whale meat in lunch menus.

Lucky Pierrot, a hamburger restaurant with shops in the area around the research whaling mother port of Hakodate, Hokkaido, has been selling whale meat hamburgers for 380 yen since last year. Amongst the 20 or so types of burger on offer, it is the 2nd most popular. "We only just turn a profit on it. But we hope to continue to support our food culture" says the managing director, Miku Oh.

However, despite these moves whale meat is not often seen on the street. Even where it is sold, 100 grams typically costs 450 yen. In a store specialising in marine products, popular bacon blocks were on sale at the high price of 2,500 yen per 100 grams.

Sales of the whale by-products go towards financing research whaling. The wholesale price of whale meat, set each year by the Fisheries Agency in order to cover the annual whaling costs of approximately 6 billion yen, is now half the price at it's peak, down to 2,000 yen with the increase in supply.

However, supply is still limited, and standard retail prices are 3 times as high as wholesale. The government is unable to lower the wholesale price due the requirement to cover whaling costs.

Nakata of Geishoku Labo smiles wryly, "The Fisheries Agency is telling me that 'we want you to sell the meat but don't overstimulate the market'". There is a desire to re-establish distribution channels with an eye to the resumption of commercial whaling, but even so for the foreseeable future, as supply is limited, there is a concern that too much demand would result in supply not keeping pace.

There are also concerns that overheated Japanese demand, which in the case of tuna beckoned over-exploitation overseas and illegal trafficking, could result in a deterioration of recovered whale resources. "We don't want to repeat the tuna mistakes, but we'd like to supply whale meat to households at at least prices comparative to tuna," says Hideki Moronuki of the Fisheries Agency's Whaling section.

The Yomiuri Shinbun also ran another story about restaurants increasing the use of whale meat on their menus last week. I'll look to translate that sometime as well.

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Just posting the Japanese here as well, for archival...

余るクジラ肉、水産庁が売り込み必死 でも価格は高く















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