Perspective from Japan on whaling and whale meat, a spot of gourmet news, and monthly updates of whale meat stockpile statistics
Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution also clears whalers
Breaking news - multiple Japanese news sources (Jiji, Yomiuri for example) report that a Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution issued a decision dated April 22 that states that the non-prosecution of whaling ship crew members, who took whale meat home with them, was appropriate.
Self-proclaimed environmental NGO, Greenpeace Japan, had accused whaling crew members of "embezzling" some of the whale meat that eventuated from their ship's research whaling activities. The Tokyo First Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution determined that a decision by prosecutors in June 2008 to not prosecute (by reason of "no suspicion") 12 crew members of the research whaling vessel Nisshin Maru was "appropriate".
Greenpeace had recently lodged a complaint over this non-prosecution, requesting that the decision be reviewed. The resulting Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution (made up of 11 civilians selected at random) has now also recognised that the whale meat taken by the crew members consisted of souvenirs, the crew's food, and other meat that was unsuitable for further processing and would otherwise simply be disposed of, and that the owner, Kyodo Senpaku had approved the taking of this meat.
As such the Committee regarded the actions as not constituting embezzlement.
Meanwhile, 2 members of Greenpeace, which alleged the embezzlement by whalers, are currently on trial in Aomori after being arrested on charges of theft and trespass, for stealing a box of the whale meat from a transport depot in Aomori city that they later used for PR purposes when making their accusations amongst much media fanfare.
According to reports from the trial in Aomori, Greenpeace Japan has, rather than acknowledging their crimes and taking their punishment, continued to make claims of embezzlement in an attempt to try to "justify" the trespass and theft committed by their 2 members.
My take - now that even a committee of 11 non-government affiliated civilians has reviewed the situation, you'd think that everyone would accept that there was no embezzlement on the part of the whalers. However, Greenpeace Japan appears to be thriving off wasting tax payers time and money, and I suspect that they will still not accept this latest decision against their fabricated accusations of wrong-doing by whalers.
New Zealand foreign minister on latest IWC proposal
The IWC circus rolls on - at least for the time being. This isn't the first time one has got the sense that things are looking sad for this organization, however.
Yesterday the latest IWC compromise proposal draft was released (get it here).
New Zealand's government had been showing an uncharacteristically flexible mindset towards the talks, with its IWC commissioner Sir Geoff Palmer backing a compromise deal over the alternative - he seems to think the IWC will be in serious trouble if a compromise isn't reached. Whale Armageddon, or something like that.
Murray McCully has today however totally shot down the latest plan with some quite scathing remarks.
"If we could see a substantial reduction in the number of whales taken within the [Southern Ocean] region I was anxious for us to be able to at least talk about it"
I had to listen to this part twice because it was hard to believe what I had heard the first time. The draft proposal would see Japan's Antarctic minke whale catch quota reduced from a maximum of 935 each season down to a maximum of 400 each season for the next 5 and then further still to 200 for the 5 seasons after that. E.g. a more than 50% reduction from current levels for the first 5 seasons and an almost 80% reduction for the second 5 seasons.
If 50% - 80% is not a "substantial reduction" then I don't know what is. He called these numbers "unrealistic", yet if the numbers were even more substantially lower than this they would be so low as to preclude the effort of actually catching any whales at all.
I have to wonder if McCully himself actually believes what he is saying and hasn't simply come to the realization that his government has to give in to the realities of domestic politics in New Zealand. There are no votes to be won for the New Zealand political parties at the IWC by agreeing to any compromise that might see the organization come anywhere near fulfilling the purpose mandated to it by the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. If the IWC does go "splat" as Sir Geoff Palmer seems to fear, New Zealand politicians can always just say that it's all someone else's fault - undoubtedly Japan's. (Not that I expect any Whale Armageddon to come of such an event, anyway, the whaling nations are hardly engaging in mass slaughter currently compared with historical standards)
"I expected significantly better from the IWC leadership than we have got today".
Yet it might be helpful if McCully would clarify in more concrete terms what he had been expecting beyond an 80% reduction in quota that could also be mutually acceptable to the Japanese?
He was also upset about the average fin whale quota of 6.5 whales per season over the 10 years, calling it "offensive".
This whole IWC Future process appears to have been a massive waste of time - who'd have ever thought it!?
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UPDATE: Japanese MAFF Minister Akamatsu says that the quota of 200 minke whales "is equivalent to nothing", indicating that Japan can't accept those numbers either - for different reasons to McCully of course. They leave the door open for negotiations around the 400 mark, however. That from Jiji.
UPDATE (4/24): The USA response to the proposal is here, nothing of great interest though, mostly rabbiting on about the "moratorium" which just happens to be at the center of the problem.
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By continuing to negotiate with these anti-whaling nations, Japan's negotiators are just giving the politicians from these nations something to feed on: a crisis to resolve, and one that is resolved easily. "A new push for lifting the moratorium", read the headlines. Ultimately they reject the lifting of the moratorium, and gain headlines in their newspapers. Congratulations, well done.
So long as whaling remains an issue over which these anti-whaling nations have an influence, it will never ever be resolved.
A new restaurant in Tokyo's downtown Akasaka district that opened late last year serving whale gained some attention in local media in February, when it fully kicked into business.
Here's an article (in Japanese) from the Akasaka Keizai Newspaper. Magonotei is apparently run by the same operator as the Akanedoki restaurant in Shinjuku, which opened 3 years ago. After Magonotei opened, they started by doing some test marketing for three months to study the preferences of Akasaka diners. At the end of this period they fixed their grand menu and kicked off on February 17.
From their experience at Akanedoki they were able to secure a supplier of high quality whale meat, and much knowledge of whale recipes. And so it was that they decided to branch out to Akasaka. A representative for the operator is quoted saying "Although Akasaka is in the center of Tokyo, we are the only ones who can offer such high quality whale meat at reasonable prices".
"I'm of the last generation that had whale cuisine served in school lunches", the quote in the article continues. "These days there are many younger people who've never eaten whale. For Japan's ancient traditional food to disappear, even though I know the wonderful taste, would be unfortunate. I want younger people especially to eat cheap, good quality whale meat and get a surprise about how delicious it is." His PR pitch continues, "Whale meat is low in calories compared to cow meat and pig meat, and low in cholesterol. And on top of that it's rich in protein, so I expect women will be pleased."
Included on the Grand Menu is sashimi (780 yen), tatsuta-age (fried whale - 720 yen), kujira cutlets (1,080 yen), kujira hot plate steak (1,180 yen), sarashi kujira (480), and other peculiarities such as whale tongue (720 yen). Apparently all items use fresh minke whale, according to the article, although one imagines it must have been frozen first.
"Especially now, the whaling issue is being taken up in the news and I feel that interest in it is heightening. We've had more customers here debating about whaling over their drinks", the quotes note.
Magonotei is open from 11:30 to 14:30 on weekdays (catering to the Akasaka lunch market), and is open for dinner from 17:00 to 23:30 Monday to Thursday, until 04:00 on Fridays and days before holidays, and from 16:00 to 23:00 on Weekends and holidays.
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Food Stadium (Tokyo Food News Online) also has a similar article. In this one it notes the restaurant is "aiming to become an izakaya where every item on the menu is delicious, and customers want to come here everyday". They also have specially selected foods besides whales selected, included domestically produced vegetables and so on.
The article also mentions the restaurant interior, which has a nostalgic atmosphere of an old folk house in the countryside.
"There are many people who have a bad image of whale, but its a foodstuff that is healthy and rich in nutrition so I really hope to have women and younger people it. I'm sure once you eat it you will recognise its appeal." The article wraps up saying that whale is worth checking as 2010's "health and beauty food".
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And so, the pictures! I went twice in March. If you go, be sure to check for the menu coupon in Hot Pepper etc, you can choose either a free plate of 5 whale items or others such as drinks discounts etc. (Check Gurunabi here: http://r.gnavi.co.jp/a636504/, Hot Pepper here: http://www.hotpepper.jp/strJ000760684/). We went for the free plate of whale, picture included below.
First here's the menu. The section on the bottom right (enlarged) is espousing the nutritional value of whale.
And some of the wall decoration, a piece of baleen:
And a variety of dishes we had:
This one below is the free one we got for having the coupon:
Whoops, looks like we had half eaten this one before I snapped the photo.
They don't skimp on the whale here (or they just treated us good - it was my second visit there plus I've been to Akanedoki several times), check out how thick they cut the pieces (from above):
This one below is a hot plate of whale steak and fried potato. Looks delicious, even with the poor photo quality of my mobile phone camera.
Another type of sashimi:
Whale, Carpaccio style:
And finally kujira cutlets:
Magonotei, like Akanedoki, is a great restaurant, and as noted in the articles they serve items besides whale too, if whale ain't your thing. But if you are reading this blog, I guess it is :)
Incidentally, I'm a rum lover, and recently while browsing the well-stocked Rum section of a convenient Seijo Ishii looking for something new to try, I spotted an option from earthquake-stricken Haiti.
I had already donated to a Haiti earthquake relief fund, but I think everyone would like to be able to channel funds to Haiti through purchases of their products, namely this fine bottle of rum produced by a company called Barbancourt, pictured above.
I already had other plans for dinner tonight, so I won't be eating at this local restaurant that I stumbled across in my local neighbourhood this evening, but the signboard really caught my eye.
The restaurant's main menu (out of sight in this photo) was also on display, but what really grabbed me was the huge "KUJIRA" writing on the signboard, pictured.
The text says something which would translate as "Whale, which you are familiar with due to Sea Shepherd". This shop is obviously trying to draw customers who may have seen news recently about Sea Shepherd's latest efforts in the Antarctic, including the arrest on 5 charges of (my, sad to say, fellow New Zealander) Peter Bethune. This has been making headlines in Japan in recent months.
Just a 5 minute walk from home so, needless to say, I will be popping in there sometime soon for a bite.
On the menu they have items such as Fin whale sashimi and tatsuta-age (fried whale), and their very own Minke whale bacon, amongst others.