To What Extent Can the Whaling Practice in Japan Be Justified?

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The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is a worldwide organisation accountable for regulations on whaling. Under the guidance of this organisation, its member countries meet annually on a regular basis and discuss issues regarding whaling (IWC 2011). After long-term discussions, Japan’s whaling practices have been restricted, and Japan is currently only allowed to perform whaling in the name of research in the northwestern Pacific and the Antarctic. (Morikawa 2009:5). Since this commercial whaling moratorium, Japan strives for the ‘’resumption of whaling based on research and scientific surveys’’ (ibid., p.3). A couple of significant facts suggest that Japan’s stated argument is a smokescreen to hide income–based motives. This essay will question Japan’s pro-whaling argument, the right to conduct whaling as a historical and traditional practice, and argue whether it is well founded to justify the practice of commercial whaling. The Japanese pro-whaling policies debatable nature will be presented from three main aspects – cultural, environmental and monetary.

The government of Japan justifies the right for whaling by asserting that there is an apparent interconnectedness between whale hunting nowadays and whaling practises carried during the 17th century (Morikawa 2009:19-20). However, a closer examination reveals that only since the 19th century with the introduction of the effective Norwegian method of whaling the consumption of whale meat increased. In other words, since this innovation, the nature of whaling altered and transformed into an exclusive industry (Watanabe 2009:99-100). Although whale hunting in Japan had been performed earlier in the past, some strong evidence suggests that it has no connection with the nowadays largely condemned practise of commercial whaling. The amounts of whale meat consumed formerly were limited to the particular fishery communities. In other words, it can be concluded that the ‘continuity between traditional and modern-day whaling’ is extremely arguable (Morikawa 2009: 19-20).

Furthermore, in the past in some parts of Japan inhabitants not only avoided the practise of whale eating, but also paid special deference to whales and addressed them as ‘Ebisu-sama’ or as one of the ‘Seven Gods of Good Fortune’. In accordance with their beliefs, this god was of great importance among anglers because it safeguarded their success in fishing and was a symbol of good luck. To have its blessing, villagers honoured it and therefore consumption of whale meat was unthinkable (Morikawa, 2009:22 or Watanabe, 2006:119). Thus, whale eating as a traditional and a historical practise is rather an unsubstantiated claim.

If whaling were a part of Japanese culture, no effort would be needed to sustain and promote it. In contrast, Japan arranges wide-range activities to promote whale eating as a part of Japanese daily life. In discussions, Japanese authorities stimulate whaling as a reasonable and customary practice by emphasizing words like ‘tradition’ and ‘unique culinary culture’ (Morikawa, 2009:19). To add fuel to the fire, government actions demonstrate an artificial encouragement of the consumption of whales. For example, Kagawa-Fox (2009:409-410) describes how various activities, e.g. ‘whale-cooking classes’ and addition of whales meat in the meals of school children, have been promoted. The main point was to attract Japanese attention to whale eating and teach them about whale consumption and even more, foster the consumption of whale meat into the daily cuisine. A Japanese magazine, Asahi Shimbun, of 21 June 2005, reported that in Hakodate it has been tried to encourage whale meat consumption artificially by representing it in forms that are more attractive for the modern audience. A company responsible for distributing the whale meat in cooperation with a fast food chain in Hakodate began to sell whale meat burgers. Highly important to mention is, that the whale meal sold there was...
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