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Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Japan and Whaling 捕鯨

The latest Japan Focus newsletter has a couple of short articles on Japan's attempt to overturn the moratorium on whaling While I admit I am a Japanophile, my fascination with things Japanese does not extend to whaling. Despite the efforts of the Japanese government to paint the issue in terms of "culture" ("We don't have much land, we have the sea. Japan has lost so much of its own culture already. Countries like the U.K. and America have their own resources. We don't tell them what to eat."), as writer David McNeill points out:

"...strip away the rhetorical fog about "culture" and the issues become clearer. Sending factory ships thousands of kilometers from Japanese ports to hunt whales in sanctuaries is not the same as some idealized picture of locals engaged in sustainable fishing."

My own understanding of the issue is that whaling is not as deep-rooted culturally to Japan as the pro-whaling elements would have the West believe. While there have been towns in Japan that have hunted whales for centuries, the limits of fishing-boat and whale-hunting technologies of the times certainly had a minimal impact on whale stocks. It wasn't until the development of "factory ships" in the early 20th century that whaling started to become an industry (and these ships were developed in Norway, I believe). Whale meat really didn't begin to enter the mainstream diet until the 1930s, when rationing brought about by the Japanese economy going on a war footing made beef a luxury few could afford or obtain. Whale consumption really took off following WWII, when it became part of school lunches due to its abundance (at the time) and cheapness. Millions of Japanese baby boomers have grown up thinking whale meat was a part of Japanese food culture, when it was likely that their fathers and grandfathers probably never ate it prior to the 1930s. 

I believe it was Samuel Johnson who said "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel". When it comes to the whaling debate, "Culture" could be substituted instead.

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