Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda today defended his country’s “scientific” whaling programme to the BBC, claiming that Japan was not breaking any laws by continuing to hunt whales around Antarctica. He also levelled criticism at environmentalists’ and foreign governments’ reactions to the issue:
“I don’t think it is right for the discussions to turn emotional, especially with the recent violent act against the Japanese research vessel. Should that lead to more emotionally-charged debate, then I feel that would be very unfortunate. So we should try to continue with our efforts to try to explain that we are engaged in this research whaling activity from a scientific viewpoint.”
Despite the extensive news coverage, many Japanese I spoke to about whaling had no firm opinion: some were strongly opposed to it, of course, but the majority – especially the older generation – viewed the killing of whales as no better or worse than killing other marine species (it is worth noting that young people in Japan hardly ever eat whale meat, in fact few I spoke to had even tried it).
Whale meat is not exactly the most popular – or most expensive – food on the menu in restaurants. In 2005 schools in Wakayama began offering whale meat to their students. However, the meat first had to be fried in breadcrumbs or minced into burgers before before the kids would even touch it.
So, why does Japan spend so much time and money with whaling, when it is so damaging to its reputation among the international community? “Preserving traditional Japanese culture” is a common excuse, though it’s more likely due to the incestuous nature of relations between the Japanese government and the fishing industry. Employees from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestries and Fisheries often land themselves cushy jobs in the private sector for a much higher salary than they could ever achieve as a civil servant. Companies in the fishing industry, on the other hand, gain valuable inside knowledge and, hopefully, a sympathetic ear in the halls of power.
(BBC News article: “Japanese premier defends whaling”)