Japan Resumes Commercial Whaling. But Is There an Appetite for It?

Japan Resumes Commercial Whaling. But Is There an Appetite for It?

Article summary:

This article writes about how Japan has resumed commercial whaling after 30 years after its exit from the International Whaling Commission. While most of the rest of the world finds this act controversial, Japan has defended whaling as part of its culture and that this activity holds cultural significance to them. Individuals are said to have “mixed feelings” towards it due to the conflict between seeing whales as ‘wildlife’, and consuming whale meat as part of their culture. Whale meat is commonly remembered by Japanese as a childhood food, a “cheaper option” in the post-war era when it was served in school lunches. 

While the Japanese government has been providing the whaling industry with subsidies to keep it alive, the year-on-year whaling limit has been reduced. In addition to the dwindling demand and only approximately 300 people employed in the industry, anti-whaling groups believe that the industry will not survive. However, those in the industry believe that they have a chance of survival as producers scramble to find more sources of profits for the industry. 

Representation of Japan and the environment:

Through this article one is able to clearly see that Japan prioritises the preservation of their culture over the preservation of the environment since the main argument put forth by the Japanese government against IWC’s restrictions was that whaling is a huge part of the Japanese culture. In fact, the importance of culture to Japanese has kept the whaling industry alive as it encourages the government to provide the industry with annual subsidies, and also prevents those who see whales as wildlife from rejecting whaling.

However, the article also notes that anti-whaling organisations believe that if economically, whaling becomes more implausible, the whaling industry will die down as the government will ultimately reduce the subsidies provided to it. This hence, shows that if the environmentally-friendly agenda aligns with the priorities of the economy, Japan could potentially work towards it, regardless of the existence of culture. This might be too simplistic as the authors more realistically noted in the beginning of the article that “whaling has long been about more than economics” (Dooley & Ueno, 2019). 

How anti-whaling is ‘green’

Anti-whaling is seen as green as it is about preserving the biodiversity of the ocean and keeping it clean while maintaining a balance in its ecosystem as oceans are a huge part of our environment. ‘Green’ is beyond greenery that we see and also encompasses non-green parts of nature and wildlife. As whales are huge mammals in the oceans, excessive whaling can lead to potential extinction of whale species and cause disruption to the ecosystem. Whaling also leads to pollution in the ocean due to the large fishing ships used and these ships also degrade the habitats of the whales (IWC, n.d.). Hence, the agenda to push for a stop of whaling in Japan has established itself to be a ‘green’ one.

Satoumi and the sustainability of whales

Whaling had been conducted along the coastal areas of Japan before Japan joined the IWC and could only whale near Antarctica. These areas then become satoumi, coastal areas where their populations sought to whale sustainably as the whale population were the means of their livelihood – a form of human intervention in the nearby seas where they got what they needed for sustenance (Knight, 2010). Hence, with the lifting of the ban on whaling, whalers can legally continue their 400-year tradition of catching the animal of great cultural significance. While Kalland and Asquith mentioned that Japan’s love for nature is restricted to certain aesthetics or cultural appeal, we believe that Japan’s love does not akin to preservation and instead, leads to exactly such prevasion in their desire to exploit and consume it.

In addition, the reading on sustainable development by Kirby further emphasises that Japan makes choices when it comes to sustainability (Kirby, 2011). Despite Japan caving in to international pressures, gaiatsu, for many environmental issues, whaling was not one of them. While Kirby’s chapter did not address the reason behind Japan’s peculiar stubbornness over whaling, by explaining the cultural role of whale meat and whaling in the Japanese society, this article has provided insights on what made whaling so special that Japan has actively challenged the gaiatsu.

Whaling is not the only activity which shows the significance of culture on the fate of animals in Japan. The culture of fear of bears have made bear culling acceptable for decades and only in recent times when bears are accepted to be cute and harmless that they have been established as the victim (Knight, 2000). However, there is still an urban-rural divide on how bears are perceived, and this divide also exists for whaling since those in urban areas see whales as wildlife while those who catch whales see them as a village culture. Therefore, since the issue of whaling in Japan is multi-faceted, it is no wonder government policies have not taken huge leaps.

794 words

Dooley, B., & Ueno, H. (2019, July 1). Japan Resumes Commercial Whaling. But Is There an Appetite for It? Retrieved February 9, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/01/business/japan-commercial-whaling.html

IWC. (n.d.). Environmental effects. Retrieved February 9, 2020, from https://iwc.int/environment

Kirby, P. W. (2011). Troubled natures: waste, environment, Japan. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaiʻi Press.

Knight, C. (2010). The Discourse of “Encultured Nature”in Japan: The Concept ofSatoyamaand its Role in 21st-Century Nature Conservation. Asian Studies Review, 34(4), 421–441. doi: 10.1080/10357823.2010.527920

Knight, J. (2000). Natural enemies: people-wildlife conflicts in anthropological perspective. London: Routledge.