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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 food culture comeback in Nagasaki

Way back on the 23rd of February, the Asahi newspaper's Nagasaki edition ran a feature on whale food culture. Finally, here's my translation:

Signs of whale food culture resurfacing

A succession of new dishes, women customers increasing

Gratin, Pasta - speciality restaurant

The momentum of the movement to revive whale culture is building. In Nagasaki, where many whaling bases were situated since the Edo era, eating whale was an everyday habit. There are a range of cooking methods, and even today with a ban on commercial whaling, it is said that Nagasaki prefecture residents consume more whale per head than anywhere else in Japan. Activities seeking to promote the region through the use of whale are also underway. (Gen Okada)

In a corner of the Nagasaki city Tsukimachi market is the "Whale speciality shop Kurasaki". The first floor is a whale meat shop, and on the second floor is a restaurant specialised in whale cuisine.

In addition to traditional dishes such as fried whale, whale cutlets, and "kujira jaga" (whale meat and potato), they are also serving new menu items such as gratin using whale meat, pasta, and whale stir-fried in olive oil.

The head chef, Tamotsu Horimoto (46) says "It seems that whale has an image of being oily, but actually being low in calories and high in protein, it makes for healthy food. It also has positive beauty effects, and lately we've had increasing numbers of young women customers".

Kurasaki has been specialising in whale meat sales, and opened it's restaurant 8 months ago. With whale cuisine having become a luxury, their aim was to offer whale cuisine at a cheap price to familiarize more people with the attraction of whale.

Lunch prices are set at 650 yen so as to make them easily affordable for younger people. Items on the evening menu have also been held down to around 1,000 yen each.

The shop has been covered in tourist guidebooks and now many tourists also have also come to visit. The whale cutlets sold over the counter are also said to be popular as souvenirs.

Revitalizing the region - prefectural government exploring activities

Complementing kasutera (sponge cake) and chanpon (Nagasaki noodle dish)

In a meeting room at prefectural headquarters on the 13th, a gathering of young staff members put proposals for regional development to the governor.

"Revitalising the Shimabara peninsula through soccer", "Revenue securement through prefectural facility naming rights sales", were some of the plans. A group also proposed promotion of the region through Nagasaki's whale food culture.

The 6 members of the group were from the diverse backgrounds of the fisheries, tourism and public works departments. The group's leader, Ryuusuke Tsutsui, belongs to the prefecture's North Welfare Office.

He was taken by the charm of whale meat after having some whale cuisine in Ikitsuki island of Hirado city. Subsequently last year in June, he organized a whale cuisine study group amongst other public employees.

On their days off, they looked into Nagasaki's whale history with the assistance of the whaling association and whale meat dealers, and researched historical sites and records related to whaling, such as Kaido shrine in Shinkamigoto, where the shrine archway is formed of whale bones.

They also studied craft works using whale baleen and teeth, and are now looking at the possibilities for new product development.

Another member of the group, Kimihiko Eto, on loan from the Fukuoka branch of a private travel agency to the prefectural tourism development promotion section. Mr. Eto believes that it's possible that whale cuisine might become Nagasaki's 4th food icon, in addition to the other local specialities of kasutera (sponge cake), chanpon, and sara-udon.

"The people of Nagasaki may not realise it, but whale cuisine is something that other prefectures can't imitate - it's true culture rooted here in this region. When it comes to tourism, it's the 'real thing' that sells", he says.

Movements in the "leading region" of Kushiro, Hokkaido

There's another region that's already been utilising whale culture for it's regional development. Hokkaido's Kushiro city.

From the 2005 fiscal year, whale cuisine was introduced into school lunches, and symposiums along the theme of town renewal based on whales have been held.

Both the coal and fisheries activities that once supported Kushiro city's economy have fallen on tough times. Particularly in fisheries, the late 1980's saw annual landings of 1,000,000 tonnes, but this has now dropped to 150,000 tonnes.

The effects of the decline of key industries has spread to fisheries processing, transportation, and warehouses. Vitality was lost.

In this situation, it was to whales that the city turned it's eyes. The catalyst was Kushiro's coming to serve as the base for coastal research whaling in 2004.

Private sector "brand research", new products - sales nationwide

In 2005, the city, fishery cooperative, fish market and the chamber of commerce and industry established a "Kushiro kujira council", and full scale efforts for town renewal using whales began.

The private sector also acted in concert with the administrative movements. A "Kushiro kujira brand research group" was formed, centered on the city's marine product processing companies, and development of new products began. So far whale burgers and boil-in-the-bag whale curry products have been successfully developed. A brand logo featuring the shape of a whale is being sold nationwide.

In the city's restaurants, an original cuisine contest has been held in response to the city's call to action.

Masahiro Yamanaka, a fisheries specialist at Kushiro city's fisheries section says "We're still only in our 3rd year, and observable results haven't been achieved as of yet, but things are starting to come together, with for example the shopping district independently planning a whale festival. Hopefully the town can regain it's cheer through whales".

Annual private consumption of 300 tonnes the nations' highest

"Indispensable for Nagasaki's celebrations and festivals"

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, since commercial whaling was completely prohibited in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) which today boasts 71 members, including Japan, meat from whales captured in research whaling has been distributed domestically.

The distribution volume in 2005 was 5,560 tonnes. Compared with 2001, this is an increase of more than double.

Local government estimates that annual consumption within the prefecture is 300 tonnes, making Nagasaki residents on average the largest consumers of whale meat in the nation. It's said that whale meat for other regions that's not sold flows into Nagasaki.

Koji Hino (76), president of Hino Shoten, a whale processing and marine product wholesale company, reflects on the old days: "After the war, it was said that to build a marketplace you needed a fish shop, a vegetable shop, and a whale shop. That's how common whale meat was in Nagasaki."

There were whaling bases in what is today Shinkamigoto and Hirado city since the Edo era. In Higashi-sonogi town there was a produce handling area, which was a distribution hub for western Japan.

Within the prefecture, in each respective region had developed it's own distinct whale dishes, but as the volume of whale meat in circulation decreased, the flavour is said to have gradually been being forgotten.

The year before last, Mr Hino published "Living with whales", in which he described his personal relationship with whales and Nagasaki's whale culture.

"In Nagasaki, whale cuisine is indispensable for celebrations and festivals. I hope to pass on the whale culture that is connected with the region's customs to future generations", he says.

* * *
Some related links (Japanese)

1) Kurasaki

2) Kaido shrine

3) Higashi-sonogi town

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Hi David,

Sorry for not contacting you recently. I've been quite busy and will certainly be busy for the coming weeks too.

These articles about whale consumption in Nagasaki are quite interesting. It in fact shows that there is an import regional factor in the Japanese whale consumption, that may not actually be reflected in polls.

I have been to Arikawa last january to watch a whaling related festival (mezaiten matsuri. there is a video on my blog) and I noticed several restaurants and shops serving whale meat on the road between Nagasaki airport and the town of Sasebo. There was even a shop with a kind of fresco representing an Edo period whaling scene.

The torii gate made of a whale's jaw bones at the Kaido-jinja in Arikawa is quite impressive. Not far from there is also a reconstitution of yamami-goya which people used to spot whales during the Edo period. Arikawa is a nice place (a bit hard to reach) and I strongly recommend it to you.
Hi isanatori,

I've been rather busy myself, and probably won't have time to post anything until the March stockpile figures come out in early May.

The commments in the article about whale meat flowing into Nagasaki was interesting, although I take it with a big pinch of salt. The recent increases in whale consumption are in magnitudes of thousands of tonnes of meat so Nagasaki's 300 tonnes a year is pretty small on a nationalized basis.

Interesting though was last month's increase in stock in Ishinomaki. I did a bit of looking around for other possible sources of "whale meat" and found that a study some years ago by the ICR found that a significant portion of the whale meat on the domestic market was from Dall's porpoise. These hunts are apparently focused in northern parts of Japan, notably Miyagi prefecture, where Ishinomaki is located. Surprisingly though, despite this being the largest cetacean hunt there's not much infomation about it.

Thanks for your recommendation about Arikawa etc. I hope to make plans to go down to Nagasaki sometime! A pity I didn't squeeze it into my summer holiday to Kyushu last year. I'm sure there will be another chance though.

Thanks for your comment!
"It also has positive beauty effects, and lately we've had increasing numbers of young women customers"

Stayed tuned to David@Tokyo for more hardhitting pro-whaling scientific facts!!!
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