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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



Japan Probe with Watson arrest warrant video

The good people over at Japan Probe have a post featuring Paul Watson's reaction to the arrest warrant for him being obtained by Japanese authorities.

"My job is to obstruct Japanese whaling operations", Watson says, "that's what we do".

I saw this on TV at the time, and I was surprised that Watson would regard what he does as a "job".



Minke whale tonight

I went to another local restaurant for dinner this evening, and ordered a standard "Katsudon" bowl meal, basically fried pork cutlets and egg on top of rice.

The restaurant staffers, a friendly elderly couple, know that some of the other regulars in the area and myself enjoy a whale fest together from time to time, and very once in a while they serve whale sashimi on their own menu themselves. I guess I've had it there a couple of times, and I remember that the operator of the nearby Lawson convenience store himself is a whale fan and always asks them to save a portion for him.

Anyway tonight after starting on my Katsudon order, the master suddenly blinked as he remembered - "oh hey, we have minke whale on the menu today"

I hadn't checked the daily part of the menu they have up posted up on the wall in the shop, but indeed they did. The restaurant is small with 5 counter seats and two cramped tables seating another 4, but it was uncharacteristically empty tonight (at least when I arrived) so I snapped some pictures:

Of course I added the whale sashimi (600 yen) to my Katsudon order:

I chatted with the master briefly about it and he said that today (at least) they were selling the minke sashimi at cost price, no profit. 600 yen for 6 slices does seem like a good deal as far as minke sashimi goes. He also said that minke whale is "not usually available", where ever it is he gets it in from.

I'm not familiar with what goes on in distribution, but perhaps the sashimi products that he gets are from the coastal research whaling ops that are conducted up off Sanriku (and Kushiro later in the year). This would explain why he isn't able to serve whale sashimi normally, if it is fresh product that hasn't been frozen. There is of course frozen whale meat inventory from the offshore research whaling, but the sashimi tonight was soft without a trace of being frozen that the tongue could detect.

They were also pleased that the "head Sea Shepherd guy has been arrested" (well, they hadn't quite got the details right, but obviously the Sea Shepherd fiasco has been big news here).

The master also said "I heard that there's a plan to permit Japan to catch minke whales in our coastal area again". I told him that I've heard of this too, but added that I think the negotiations don't stand chance of success. The Japanese print media has been running stories about this, and the Minister (Mr. Akamatsu) has been positive towards the plan in some respects, but the reality is that there is not a snowball's chance in hell that Japan will be able to negotiate a deal that will be acceptable. E.g., Akamatsu wants to negotiate to get a quota of more than the proposed 200 abundant Antarctic minkes a year, whereas the anti-whaling nations are only interested in negotiating towards a catch quota of 0 abundant Antarctic minkes a year.

* * *

In relation to that, former Japan Commissioner to the IWC, Masayuki Komatsu has also been reported in the media criticising the IWC proposal. He reportedly said that "there is a big problem with them trying to legalize the commercial whaling moratorium for another 10 years".

A good point. Komatsu has in the past noted that he looks forward to the day when the IWC's issue can be sorted out in a court; this plan would see his hopes dashed for 10 years.

Komatsu was also on radio recently, saying that there are 3 problems with the new IWC proposal:
1) It ignores science
2) It ignores law (International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling)
3) It shows no consideration for nations supporting sustainable use.

Point number 2 is it for me. The reason we get these strange ideas that everyone can't agree with coming out the IWC is because there is no agreement on policy (described in the ICRW). But why don't we have a policy agreement, since all these IWC contracting governments have supposedly adhered to the ICRW?

The answer is simple - because a bunch of them are not adhered to the ICRW in good faith. This is the root problem and until it is resolved one way or the other, the IWC isn't serving it's purpose and is useless.




Whale and tuna inventory levels

I've had a couple of comments from an anonymous poster (here and here) claiming that (quote) "no one" wants to eat minke whale meat, with consumption having (quote) "gone through the floor".

I had just posted pictures of the minke whale dishes that we'd eaten at a local restaurant in the very post that one of these Anonymous comments came to, so the comments struck me as being quite bemusing. The prior comment had been in response to the completely unrelated story I posted about Greenpeace Japan's allegations of embezzlement by whaling crew being rejected by a panel of 11 randomly selected citizens (confirming the prosecutor's decision not to lay charges due to lack of suspicion). It was as if the Anonymous poster were an anti-whaling Greenpeace fan, desperate to have something to cheer about...

Anyway, one thing I mentioned in the comments was that a Sankei article I saw previously had alluded to levels of bluefin tuna inventory being relatively high despite feared supply shortages, due to the bad economic conditions in Japan. As of the article dated March, there was around 20,000 tons of bluefin tuna in frozen storage, apparently enough to last for a year.

There's a similar situation with whale, which is also regarded as an expensive foodstuff, what with the limitations on supply due to the commercial whaling "moratorium".

I had hoped to find the details of these bluefin tuna inventory figures but the MAFF statistics that I refer to for the whale data doesn't break tuna down into bluefin tuna versus others, unfortunately.

Nonetheless, I did extract the overall tuna figures for 2008 and 2009 to compare with the whale inventory statistics over the same period. The period chosen was purely for convenience - it takes time to go back through the data and pull the necessary bits out, and this is as far as I've done.

Here's a graph of what I've extracted so far:

It is probably difficult to come up with a meaningful comparison of the data on an incoming/outgoing inventory volume basis, given that the "production" and supply features of whale and tuna products are completely different. Nonetheless I think this graph gives an indication of the reality of frozen whale product inventory versus purely commercially produced frozen tuna inventory.

This reminds me that I should also update the Beef, Pork and Whale Stockpiles graph sometime, too.




Whale still on the menu

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that a local drinkery was advertising whale on it's menu, with a topical comment related to Sea Shepherd putting thoughts of whale dishes in Japanese consumers' minds.

I popped past again this evening to see if they were still doing whale - and they are:

The signboard has been modified since, and this time the whale in the image on the right (sorry you can't see the whale picture due to the bright light) is saying "an arrest warrant for Sea Shepherd".

It's not clear whether this is in reference to the arrest warrant for Peter Bethune, or the arrest warrant for Paul Watson following reports of Peter Bethune implicating Watson in Bethune's boarding of the Shonan Maru #2 and other related offences, but the arrest warrant for Watson has been featured heavily in the news here in recent days, so that's probably what it is.

Also noted on the menu is "sakura shrimp" and "sea eel sashimi". They focus on sea food.

* * *

So yes, I did get along to the restaurant on April 20, together with isanatori (who may very well be Tokyo's number one whale eater).

Here are the whale items that were on the menu that day.

First up - fin whale sashimi. Asked the chef about their food sources, and he said they get their marine products through Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market. We figured that this fin whale is more likely than not some of that exported in from Iceland, courtesy of Hvalur hf. Our thanks to Kristjan Loftsson and company if that is the case!

Whale bacon (minke):

Fried fin whale (tatsuta-age style):

Fin whale shoga-yaki style (kind of stir fried with ginger):

Here's the menu. It's not a cheap place - the fin whale sashimi was going for 1,500; the minke bacon for 1,600 and the fried whale for 900.

I mentioned to the chef that I had seen his signboard and blogged it - attracting the attention of the odd person of the anti-whaling persuasion (see here). He was happy for me to take pictures of the food and joked that I should pass on his gratitude to Sea Shepherd for their (I suppose unwitting) contribution to his business, and so there you have it.

His whale picture on the signboard (see prior post) had apparently been popular with other customers. He said he was eager to keep serving whale for a while.

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