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Japan Clashes With Anti-Whaling Nations at Whaling Talk

Japan Clashes With Anti-Whaling Nations at Whaling Talk

“Musashi on the back of a whale” by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861)

The International Whaling Commission began its annual talks Monday in Saint Helier, Jersey. As expected, anti-whaling nations have ganged up on Japan against its so-called “research whaling.”

On Monday, Great Britain proposed that governments pay their membership fees to the IWC by bank transfer, rather than by cash or check, in order to trace the money and be more transparent. This was proposed in response to allegations that Japan provides aid and pays membership fees for certain countries in order to buy votes at the IWC (this explains why many poor, land-locked African countries are members of the IWC, whose delegates sleep through the meetings and wake up just long enough to vote in line with Japan). The Japanese government denies any wrongdoing. (The Japanese can’t really be blamed for thinking they are doing nothing wrong. Buying votes is common practice in Japan.)

Japan clashed with Australia on Tuesday, when Australia refused Japan’s request to provide protection for Japan’s whaling fleet from protesters as Japan hunts whales in the South Pacific sanctuary where 80 percent of the world’s whales breed.

Last month Japanese “scientists” asked Tokyo to send the Self-Defense Forces to protect the whaling fleet from protesters. And according to a WikiLeaks document leaked earlier this year, Tokyo asked Washington in November 2009 to revoke protest group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s tax-exempt status as a non-profit organization after the “scientists” had to cut their hunt short after being hindered by the group.

Japan discontinued commercial whaling in 1986 in accordance with an international moratorium. Japan began conducting research whaling in 1987 in accordance with a loophole in the moratorium that allows killing whales for scientific research.

Japanese politicians and their mouthpieces in the media have made out whaling to be an issue of Japan being bullied by the West. They ask why Japan is singled out when other countries, such as Norway, Iceland and the U.S. also kill whales. The reason Japan deserves to be singled out is because (1) it kills 1000 whales per year–twice as many as every other country combined, (2) Norway and Iceland are not bound by the moratorium, and (3) the few whales killed in the U.S. are hunted legally by indigenous Alaskan communities engaged in subsistence whaling. The media say whaling is a Japanese tradition and Western countries are only against whaling because they think whales are cute. The Japanese say, “Americans eat chickens and cows. We eat whales.”

I’ll concede that American beef consumption is unsustainable. America feeds enough grain to its cows to feed all the hungry people in the world. About 100 times as much water is needed to produce a pound of beef as a pound of chicken, or 10 times as much as a pound of pork. The methane that cows produce when they fart is also a major contributor to global warming, creating an atmospheric Dutch Oven Effect. If Americans ate 50 percent less beef and replaced it with any other meat, they would save a lot of resources and help curb global warming. Not to mention the health benefits.

But I still think there is a qualitative difference between eating cows and eating whales. For starters, cows aren’t endangered. There is also no international moratorium against slaughtering cows.

The Japanese media also deny whales are endangered, saying, “Nobody really knows how many whales are in the ocean.” Or worse, “We know whales aren’t endangered since we’re able to kill so many every year.”

I find it ironic that Japan occasionally bans U.S. beef out of fear of mad-cow disease, while ignoring the fact that whale meat contains levels of mercury the Japanese government has deemed unsafe for human consumption. The Japanese Ministry of Health set the provisional limit on the maximum density of mercury at 0.4 parts per million (the limit in the U.S. is 1.0 ppm, the higher limit deemed safe since the American diet consists of far less seafood). In a study led by Tetsuya Endo of the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, Endo’s team analyzed 137 meat samples obtained from supermarkets all over Japan. Of the nine species identified, every sample exceeded the provisional mercury level. The lowest average mercury level was 1.26 ppm and the highest average was 46.9 ppm. One false killer whale contained a mercury level of 81 ppm, and a striped dolphin contained 63.4 ppm. The majority of the species ranged from 5 to 10 ppm. Keep in mind all these tainted samples were bought in supermarkets in Japan. Just imagine if a pregnant woman had sunk her teeth into a cut of that false killer whale. The case in which Japan is more concerned about mad-cow disease than mercury poisoning is more indicative of xenophobia than legitimate health concerns.

I’ve also heard Japanese people say, “The West is not consistent. Westerners killed many whales in the past.” While I wouldn’t say abandoning a barbaric practice is inconsistent, I will agree that whaling was a part of Western tradition. In fact, it was more of a tradition in the West than in Japan. Whale meat was not widely eaten in Japan until after World War II, when other meat was scarce. So whaling is not a Japanese tradition, which makes the argument to continue whaling for that reason sound hallow. If Western countries were able to give up their tradition of whaling, so should Japan.

In a 2008 survey, 71 percent of Japanese people responded that they do not support whaling, up from 69 percent in 2006. In 2008, Japan had a stockpile of 4000 tons of unsold whale meat. The Japanese Fisheries Agency attempted to artificially boost demand by pushing whale meat to be served in school lunches and used as dog food. According to Greenpeace Japan, the Japanese government spends ¥500 million per year of taxpayers’ money to subsidize “research” whaling. This comes amidst a global financial crisis when the Japanese government is making budget cuts across the board, including to education. Imagine if that ¥500 million were spent on education or helping the unemployed rather than subsidizing an industry most Japanese people don’t support.

The problem is that the fishing industry, like the construction industry, provides a lot of jobs, which is why the government subsidizes the industry. Whaling is now entrenched in Japan’s long-stagnant economy, so this is not an industry that will be put out of business by the free-market. Tokyo fears unemployment, because unemployed people are upset and have plenty of time to organize protests against the government. Japan’s number-one priority since Emperor Jimmu to today is to maintain a strong central government. Until Tokyo undertakes long-needed economic reforms, the government will not be able to stop supporting whaling.



Dustin Dye

Dustin Dye is the author of the YAKUZA DYNASTY series, available through the Amazon Kindle.

He lived in Okayama, Japan, where he taught English at a junior high school through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program for three years. He is a graduate from the University of Kansas, where he received a bachelor's degree in anthropology.

His interest in Japan began in elementary school after seeing Godzilla fight Ghidorah, the three-headed monster. But it wasn't until he discovered Akira Kurosawa's films through their spaghetti Western remakes that he truly became fascinated in the people and culture of Japan.

He lives in Kansas with his wife, daughter and guinea pig.

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E-mail him: [email protected]