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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



Whale on sale near my new place

Lately, I've been busy with my relocation to our new apartment. I'm still living in the same neighbourhood in Tokyo (only the last few characters of my address changed with the move), but my daily commute (via a different station) is slightly less time now in door-to-door terms, while I spend more of the time walking (exercise is always good), but the train line that I use now is hell-crowded in the mornings.

The apartment is still in rough shape since I only finished the move on Sunday afternoon - lots of boxes to be unpacked, a book shelf (slightly broken during the move) to fix etc. But it's a nice place - the best fitted out place in terms of facilities that I have rented since being here (good grief - already my fourth apartment). Most rental places within my budget have no real functionality built into them - they are just rooms with electricity and gas terminals for use with portable gear, but this new place has a proper kitchen unit built in - the stove has three gas elements, a fish grill beneath that, and a microwave / oven beneath that as well (vegemite and cheese toasted on English muffins each morning so far this week).

Anyway, I've only been here since Sunday, yet I've already found myself bumping into whale meat on two occasions already.

My local supermarket stocks a product loudly emblazoned with English characters - "WHALE BACON" (680 yen for 40 grams, apparently made from minke and bryde's whale). It is advertised as an "appetizer" (otsumami ni!). I think I saw a similar - if not the same - product on sale when I visited the Tsukiji fish market early one summer morning back in 2003 when I first moved to Tokyo.

But a more interesting one - this evening I ventured into an izakaya with a shitamachi (old town) atmosphere along the main avenue between the station and our new apartment. Surprise, they had a couple of whale dishes on the menu. I actually only wanted to have a vegetable salad or something, but one of the whale dishes was a mere 300 yen, so I ordered that as well.

The lady taking my order asked, "Are you sure? It's a very small dish, only about so big", cupping her hands together to show me. 300 yen is no big deal so I confirmed that I would have it.

The name of the dish was genkai-zuke (玄海漬), or literally "pickled genkai". This dish is not actually a whale meat dish - it's a pickled whale cartilage dish. It was pretty tasty, although you'd never guess it was whale that you were eating. It seems that the cartilage is largely ground up into a fine powder before being served.

Genkai-zuke is apparently a speciality of Saga, in the southern-most main island of Kyushuu, and has been around since the mid part of Japan's Meiji era (as noted at this Japanese page - that's about 100 years ago). It appears that a company (Genkai-zuke KK) continues to preserve this unique piece of Japan's food culture today, even under the tight conditions of the unnecessary commercial whaling moratorium. Here's Genkai-zuke KK's webpage.

If you are thinking you've heard of "Genkai" before, maybe you have - Genkai, refers to the "Genkainada", an area of sea in western Japan. It also got a mention in a Japanese article related to Hirado's whaling traditions that I translated here previously. This "pickled genkai" dish would seem to have taken it's name from there.

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