In early 2012, animal protection organization International Fund for Animal Welfare asked two Japanese bodies, the company ESquare and the Nippon Research Center to prepare a study offering an as accurate as possible picture of the country’s whaling industry; besides the economic data, the study should contain information regarding the Japanese’s views on whaling and also of consumption of whale meat. The study was indeed done (it can be found in various places around the Internet under the title “The Economics of Japanese Whaling”) and proves what everyone who has stayed even for a while in Japan and has paid attention to the people around them knows it is true: that the Japanese are at best indifferent and at worst expressly against the matter –in other words, the whole whaling thing is certainly not connected to the incontrollable appetite of the Japanese people for whale meat.
Nevertheless whaling still exists and remains one of the things tarnishing Japan’s image to the rest of the world. The economy-related reasons are explained in the study mentioned and they have to do with the unique, semi-etatistic nature of Japanese economy (basically the whaling industry survives thanks to government subsidies thinly masqueraded as “scientific research”) but what is not mentioned in its pages is a deep characteristic of the Japanese consciousness: the reluctance to change, especially of something that comes “from the old days”. The fact that both extended whaling and consumption of the great cetaceans’ meat in Japan is not that old but came up mostly in the 20th century and particularly after the big war due to the lack of other foods (hence that whale meat is still consumed almost exclusively by older people who got accustomed to it then) goes relatively unnoticed.
I’m afraid that what ecological organizations tend to ignore is that, to the extent that Japanese whaling is targeting animal populations that aren’t endangered (Minke and sperm whales) the best way to deal with the problem is to let it expire by itself. Right now, always according to the same study, there are over 5000 tons of undisposed whale meat and as long as consumption keeps falling (and it will keep falling: in the years I’ve been in Japan, I had to look very hard to find whale meat and people who eat it systematically) this stock will keep on getting bigger and bigger eventually reaching the point where even the most protective governments will decide to end the whole matter. I have written it before: Japan doesn’t change through outside intervention but when it decides itself to and it does it at its own pace; one look at its history is enough to show that depending on the situation this pace might be much faster (and the change’s results much deeper) than anything demanded by the international community.
Note: Giorgos P. a good friend, marine biologist and occasional companion in things Japanese remarks that sperm whales are a threatened species.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.