Whaling: Will Greenpeace trial in Japan put whalers on notice?
Two Greenpeace activists in Japan face up to 10 years in prison for tactics used in exposing black market sales of whale meat. Anti-whaling groups hope Monday's trial helps turn Japanese public opinion against the whale harvest.
The menu reads like a "save the whales" activist's nightmare.Skip to next paragraph
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There's "gristle of the whale upper jaw" (750 yen or about $8). "Sliced raw whale heart" (750 yen). The variety platter: "five kinds of whale dainty bits" (2,800 yen).
At this elegant restaurant in Tokyo's bustling Shibuya neighborhood, some 20 customers dine on whale (kujira) as soft jazz plays. In more casual kujira joints on Tokyo's outskirts, a small, more working-class clientele does the same.
Such meals are at the heart of a perennial debate over Japanese whaling, and recently made headlines again with the collision of a ship from antiwhaling group Sea Shepherd and a Japanese "research" vessel. Defenders of the practice here say whale hunting and consumption are part of a treasured heritage. Japanese antiwhaling activists dispute that, and join foreign critics, especially in the United States and Europe, who decry whaling as barbaric.
Whaling as a cultural tradition
Konomu Kubo of the Japan Whaling Association – a nonprofit that promotes resumption of commercial whaling – says the controversy is stirred up by a few mostly foreign activists. "The Japanese people have used whale and whale meat as a valuable food source since ancient times," he says. "Such indigenous culture should be respected by other countries."
Commercial whaling was banned in the 1980s by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). But Norway still whales under a formal "objection." Iceland has also engaged in off-and-on whaling by that means and under the name of scientific research. Several indigenous groups are allowed limited catches, and non-IWC members Indonesia and the Philippines also catch whales in small numbers.
Japan's fleet has caught more than 500 whales per season in recent years in the Southern Ocean, and more than 350 in the North Pacific, according to Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research, which runs Japan's whaling program.
While the institute declined an interview request, Mr. Kobu of the Japan Whaling Association says the institute produces between 4,000 and 4,500 metric tons of whale meat per year from its research program. Most of that ends up on restaurant tables, likely including the Shibuya shop (the manager at the Shibuya restaurant declined a request for an interview).