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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



Kei Nishikori makes last 16 at US Open

Japan's up and coming 18 year old tennis player, Kei Nishikori (based in Florida) has just beaten world number 4, David Ferrer in 5 sets.

Apparently Ferrer smashed his racket into the court after the loss.

At 2ch, Japanese fans showed their pleasure raking up 1000 comments on a news thread in just 20 minutes.

Here's the story from Yahoo!:
Nishikori upsets Ferrer to reach Open’s 4th round

NEW YORK (AP)—Kei Nishikori became the first Japanese man to reach the U.S. Open’s fourth round in the 40-year Open era, upsetting fourth-seeded David Ferrer of Spain in five sets Saturday night.

Nishikori, ranked 126th, could have ended things earlier, but he wasted a two-set lead, then needed three match points to wrap up the 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, 7-5 victory.

He broke Ferrer in the final game, hitting a forehand winner down the line on the last point, then dropped his racket and flopped on his back.

“I still can’t believe it. I was playing great and he was playing great, too,” Nishikori said during an on-court TV interview. “Biggest win for me.”

That’s for sure: Nishikori only had one other career victory over a top-20 player. And in Ferrer, he was facing the man who eliminated Rafael Nadal at last year’s U.S. Open en route to the semifinals.

Only one other man from Japan reached the fourth round at any Grand Slam tournament in the Open era: Shuzo Matsuoka was a Wimbledon quarterfinalist in 1995.

“I’m very proud of that,” Nishikori said.

The 18-year-old Nishikori also is the youngest man to get this far at the U.S. Open since Marat Safin in 1998.

Nishikori is playing in only his second career major tournament and knocked off No. 29 Juan Monaco in the first round.

Nishikori is up against 17th seed Juan Martin Del Potro or Argentina in the fourth round. He's in good form, playing with nothing to lose, so don't be surprised if you see him in the quarterfinals.

Looking forward to see what happens to his world ranking of 126 after his efforts this week. Shuzo Matsuoka is hoping to see him break into the top 45 this year, which would see Nishikori become the highest ranking Japanese men's player ever (breaking Shuzo's record).

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Shinjuku whale restaurants - Taruichi

One of the most well known whale restaurants in Shinjuku, and indeed all of Tokyo is Taruichi. Often featured in western coverage of the whaling issue in Japan, I had the distinct pleasure of having a meal at Taruichi recently, and didn't miss the opportunity to snap some mobile phone photos for a blog entry.

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First, some photos of the exterior.

There's some more when you arrive on the 5th floor:

And above the entrance is this big sign board:

I couldn't stand far away enough to get the "ichi" of "Taruichi" into the picture, but more interesting on the left is the picture of a whale and some Japanese text, which I will translate as something like...
Food is not logical
Food is human existence itself
And, it is each people's culture
Inside, one finds that Taruichi is larger than one expects from it's exterior, and at least on the Saturday night that I went the place was pretty much packed. We hadn't bothered to ring and book a table in advance (there are other whale restaurants nearby which you can fall back on), and so we found ourselves limited to about 2 hours until just before 9 p.m. when another reservation had been made.

Taruichi is apparently a 2nd generation restaurant now, and the interior is true enough to this. There are several tatami mat rooms available, and also lots of whale related decoration. Take the lamp displayed to the right. Maybe the whale attached as the base of the lamp will catch your eye first, but take another look at the lampshade - that's baleen that it's made out of.

There are also whale illustrations on the walls and door, as you see in the picture below, so you can enjoy some whale watching as well as enjoy your whale meal.

Moving along to the actual food. Japanese whale cuisine culture proponents love to illustrate that with whales, every part you can imagine is used for something (as also seen with the baleen lampshade). Here's a page from the menu pointing out the names of different parts of whale, all of which are available on the menu. Below it is the menu from one section of the wall in the room we were in.

The array of dishes on offer here is rather overwhelming. Even though other restaurants also have a variety of different meats available, Taruichi seems to have the greatest range that I have seen. Whale parts available on the menu include the normal meat you can find in any whale restaurant (red meat, bacon), and additional choices include whale heart, whale brain, and whale phallus.

Below is a picture of one set of dishes we ordered. There's "kujira tatsuta-age" (fried red meat) at the back left, a salad (can't remember if there was any whale in it, but there may have been), and "kohhaku ozohri" (a dish of whale sashimi including both red and white meats). The whale bacon (the white slices with the pink tinge) had more oil in it than any whale bacon I've ever had before.

Again if you take a close look at the sashimi plate, you can see a piece of baleen used for decoration, more easily identified in the "after" shot below.

As I mentioned above, there were various dishes using various whale parts on the menu. I'll leave it to your imagination as to what these two items below were.

One other thing that caught my attention was a sticker on the wall, which for some reason is partially damaged. What we can make out from the remains is:

...ve the Tongans
...ed Them Whales!

But I digress.

Overall, although our time at Taruichi was unfortunately limited, we were able to sample 8 different types of whale dish, and if you happen to have any non-whale eaters with you there is also more typical fare on the menu, such as plain old fried chicken.

Taruichi's dishes generally have a traditional look to them, and it gave me a sense that the menu items there are true to the restaurant's history. Other newer restaurants, such as neighbouring Akanedoki a few minutes walk away that started serving whale items and courses 2 or 3 years ago, appear as if they have put effort into producing dishes for the 21st century whale diner, rather than sticking with older traditional style dishes. But when it comes to items such as whale sashimi there is essentially not a great deal of difference. It's the other dishes such as steaks with sauces that provides the distinguishment.

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Official homepage: www.taruichi.co.jp

Address: 5F, Daiichi Asakawa Bldg., 1-17-12 Kabuki-cho Shinjuku-ku Tokyo
Google Maps link

When to go: Any day except Sunday and Holidays

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Australians upset about domestic whale euthanisation

Don't pander to hysteria over whale calf's death, say scientists

Some Australians have apparently been quite upset about a decision made by professionals to put down a humpback whale calf, which had been named Colin until people later realised that the whale was of the female sex.

The whale was apparently without it's mother (which may have already died), and no specialists seem to think Coleen had a chance of surviving under the circumstances.

While there are also questions over whether the most appropriate method to put the whale down was used, it's the decision to put the whale down at all that seems to have been drawing most criticism from some in Australia.

Cetacean experts of both Australia and New Zealand have been speaking out against the criticism. Here are some of the quotes from the linked article:

"People have to accept a lot of whale calves will die in the wild, and it's not pleasant, and there is nothing that can be done".

"This isn't a cute and cuddly world and people have to think about the reality of wild animals."

"I don't think we should be moving towards doing things to keep animals alive in cruel circumstances just to make us feel good".

Young animals fresh into the world are naturally prone to high rates of natural mortality, and without a mother to take care of them they are without food and thus almost certainly a goner.

For several years we've been hearing about booming rates of growth in the populations of humpback whales that migrate up the east and west coasts of Australia each year (even the IUCN has taken them off their "Red List" of endangered species). With these increasing numbers of animals you not only have a higher probability of humans seeing whales along the coast (whale watching), you're also going to see increasing instances of whale deaths along the coast as well. Furthermore, at some stage the populations will increase to the point where they reach and exceed the capacity of their environment to support their numbers. Exactly what happens at that point in time remains to be seen, but one explanation in other places is that you end up with a lot of whales in poor health and observe sudden die offs, or unusual mortality events.

Australian scientists seem to have a preference for talking down the current levels of abundance, and it's true that they are unlikely to be at their carrying capacity yet, but they are approaching it quite quickly.

I've long been thinking that it will be interesting to see what changes in the Australian mindset come about as these whale numbers continue to increase, and the realities of nature are observed more amongst the urbanites living along the East coast of Australia. This incident is very unlikely to be the last like it. Particularly, whether any change in the prevailing attitude towards the acceptability of sustainable whaling occurs in the coming years will be worth watching. Commercial anti-whaling industry groups will be doing their best to ensure that this isn't the case, but with an increasing recognition that some whales species are not threatened with extinction and can support sustainable whaling, they will find themselves facing a steeper uphill battle, but still there would be few in Australia to assert that the protectionist stance be replaced with a more conservationist one.

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Whale meat stockpile update - June 2008

I'm kicking off this post with a visual of a whale meat stockpile. The picture to the right of text shows the stock level of a canned whale meat product, "Yamatoni", at my local supermarket.

I was surprised to find this in the canned seafood section a month or so ago. Ever since I've been frequenting it they have been stocking whale meat bacon (similar to this product, but in a smaller size quantity), and last year they had red whale meat sashimi on sale for a time as well. Recently another whale bacon product also appeared as a seemingly seasonal offering, but the canned Yamatoni product pictured also appears to be a regular that I simply had never noticed.

I was also surprised to see an instant meal type Whale Curry (Japanese style) at a nearby 7-11 convenience store. That was also seemingly a temporary summer offering, although I've not been back since to be able to confirm that. My surprise was because I seemed to recall some western anti-whaling group saying they had intimidated Ito-yokado (owner of the 7-11 chain) into no longer stocking whale products in their stores. Maybe I got the wrong end of the stick, but anyway.

Enough digression - MAFF's "Statistics on Distribution of Frozen Fishery Products", including whale meat stockpile information for June was released some days back (PDF, Excel).

Not much happened on the stockpile front in June. The obvious major event for the month was IWC 60 in Chile, but coverage in Japan was quite limited with not much headline news coming out of it. Other events included:
The Greenpeace theft news was covered a lot in the news, but not much happened that would bring about significant changes in the stockpile situation. Indeed, as much as 2,000 tons of the stockpile was also still unavailable for sales at the time, and additionally, whale meat dealers were waiting for the commencement of the JARPA II by-product auction in early July to get the newest product into stock from the wholesale markets.

As for last month's mysterious 318 ton stockpile in Funabashi that appeared, it's hard to be certain of the source as the JARPA II meat appeared to be accounted for in the jump in Tokyo stockpile figures for April. Anti-whaling group WDCS recently wrote a little of their own speculation about the activities of Norwegian whaling vessels in relation to matters surrounding whale meat trade.

June 2008 outgoing stock: 314 tons

Not much this month, but next month will be a bumper for sure.

June 2008 incoming stock: 254 tons

No unusual leaps in stock this month.

June 2008 end-of-month stockpile: 3,630 tons
Just a slight dip this month. As noted above, a large chunk of this is confirmed as not being for sale as of June. The JARPA II by-product sale runs from early July through early August, so expect a significant drop in the figure in the next update for July.

June 2008 top stockpile regions

The top stockpile regions, their stockpile levels and movement since the previous month are shown in the table below:

Stockpile size at
month end
Stockpile size at
previous month end
Tokyo city wards2,028

Well, that Funabashi stockpile looks to be static to me. It will be interesting to see how much of it was still there at the end of the July month, after the JARPA by-product auction has largely completed.

Graph: Annual volumes
Half the year gone, and obviously things are looking more subdued than in the recent couple of years, with lower levels of stock at present. The stockpile tends to be more active in the second half of the year as is evident in the cumulative graphs below.

Graph: Monthly volumes

Graph: Outgoing stock (cumulative)
The 2008 worm is down a bit, but the trend in most years seems to be a slightly higher average outgoing volume of stock over the last 6 months of the year as compared with the first 6 months.

Graph: Incoming stock (cumulative)
Evidently, less stock around this year compared with 2006 and 2007. If it weren't for that Funabashi meat, 2008 would be looking much like 2005.

Graph: Regional whale meat stockpiles

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July 2008 figures will be out on September the 10th.



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