Business & Economy

Japan’s complex relationship with whales

By Carmen Grau Vila

Wada, Japan, Dec 4 (EFE).- Whaling is an industry that keeps small fishing communities like Wada alive in Japan, in a country that consumes a certain amount of cetacean meat and allows for their commercial hunting since 2019.

The whaling port at Wada, a community of 4,000 on the Chiba Peninsula, east of the archipelago and three hours from Tokyo, wore a deserted look on a December morning.

The hunting season, from April to October, got over, but its trace and consumption of cetaceans remain, despite opposition from international organizations and the low consumption of whale meat among the Japanese in general.

Yosinori Shoji, 60, runs Gaibo Hogei, one of the few whaling companies in the archipelago operational since 1949.

With two boats and thirty employees, this local business processes whales at the Wada facility and Ayukawa, another norther port, which – together with Taiji, famous for dolphin hunting, in the west – have been whaling sites since ancient times.

The job is difficult, Shoji acknowledges, and the catch is declining lately – this year there have been nine, the same as the previous year, which is a “small” number compared to the 20 per season before.

He felt that rising temperatures caused whales to move north and, together with the impact of typhoons and bad weather, has hampered their operations.

They leave at six in search of the coveted Minke whale, which due the depth of the waters of the peninsula are often seen even 10 km from the coast and its meat is eaten raw.

Else they may even choose to sail to far waters in search of th Baird’s beaked whales that have the “best market.”

When a whale is come ashore, “we are the small people who fish on it, as in Gulliver’s story” and the chopping takes place on wooden floor sheets, which serve as chopping boards “because doing so on cement would break the knives,” he explained.

“The work is manual, it is not profitable for us to automate the process,” he said.

The grandson of the company’s founder, Shoji recalled that “when World War II ended, there was no food or work. A politician contacted my grandfather and asked him if he would be interested in whales and so it began.”

The Japanese recount how General McArthur offered them American ships to go out to hunt whales for food.

Thus, in the absence of meat, several generations drew nutrition from whale meat, something they still remember, with nostalgia and resignation, in the school menus.

However, Shoji looks back four centuries, where there are records of capture and consumption of whales on the peninsula dating back to the 17th century, during the Edo era.

Today, its meat is consumed in the cold northern provinces such as Niigata and Akita, for soup. Tongue, fat, and different parts are used for sale. In Wada it is part of everyday life.

“Why shouldn’t we eat it? Every region and culture feeds on wild animals,” Shoji replied when asked about international opposition.

“I don’t think we should have international standards for eating. I understand the international controversy, but I want to preserve the work and food of this little culture,” Shoji argues.

Institutions promote its consumption, confirmed Tsuyoshi Hirashima of the Wada Community Center. “Twice a year schools serve battered whale at lunch.”

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