Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Whales’

Ichigen koji (231)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 16, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Whenever I Tweet to defend the use of nuclear power, there are many responses that question my character as a person. Do these people think someone who defends the use of nuclear power is a villain who gives precedence to his own interests over the rights and lives of others? Do they so strongly believe that an anti-nuclear power stance is so moral and proper? It is difficult to debate with a group who thinks they are morally correct, just as it is with the anti-whaling forces. The people who would doubt a person’s character because of their positions should try asking themselves just what morality is.

– Baba Masahiro, coming to understand that the mindset of certain groups in the West has now infected some people in Japan.

Posted in Quotations, Science and technology, Social trends | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

All you have to do is look (38)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sea Shepherd’s Steve Irwin sailing into Australia last week.

SS founder and director Paul Watson skipped bail in Germany recently and is currently subject to an Interpol arrest warrant. He does not want to stand trial in either Costa Rica or Japan, which have outstanding cases against him. He claims it is all a Japanese plot.

Posted in Food, International relations | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Whale of a good time

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, June 9, 2011

Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you and remain silent.
– Epictetus

WE’VE ALL seen websites and blogs where people upload photos of food they cook at home or eat at a restaurant. I’ve never done that before — it never looks as appetizing as the bloggers think — but let’s give it a try and see what happens. For example:

Whale chirashizushi!

Whale nikujaga! (stewed meat, potatoes, and onion)

Deep-fried whale skewers!

Whale stewed in citron juice!

Whale tongue stew!

Smoked whale hors d’œuvre! (Meat and hide)

And this unidentified lip-smacker!

Or this!

And this one too!

Some dietary ideologues would never be happy unless they were unhappy that somebody somewhere might be enjoying these dishes, none of which I’ve eaten but all of which I’d try. I’ve always liked the whale I’ve been served, including the meals my wife cooked with whale as the main ingredient.

Some other ideologues wouldn’t be happy unless they were unhappy about those barbaric Japanese butchers cleavering away at the sacred cows of the sea.

Their bad. Those photos come not from Japan, but from Ulsan, South Korea, where the local whale festival was held at the end of May. An annual event more than 10 years old, the festival runs for three or four days and attracts upwards of 250,000 people. (See this previous post on the festival for more information.) The Ulsanians developed a taste for whale during the colonial days, which will make another group of ideologues happy by reminding them of the unhappy days before they were born, but — who cares!

The theme of this year’s festival was a whale cuisine exchange with Kumamoto in Kyushu, with which Ulsan has long had ties. The Japanese were happy to attend.

The woman at right is from Nagasaki, the woman in the center is from Kumamoto, and the two women at left are chums from Hokkaido, whale-chomping centers all. The woman dressed in the traditional chima chogori operates one of Ulsan’s 20 whale restaurants. (It’s not possible to give an accurate rendition of her name because it appeared only as Shin in katakana in Japanese.) In addition to her crimes against humanity by serving cannibal fare, she was also the food coordinator for the internationally successful South Korean television show Daejangeum, known in English as “Jewel in the Palace”. Here’s a summary of the program from the show’s website:

“The miniseries…is based on the story of a real historical figure (Jang-geum) who was the first and only woman to serve as head physician to the King in the rigidly hierarchical and male-dominated social structure of the Joseon Dynasty. Daejanggeum, in English, ‘the Great Jang-geum,’ caught the attention of Korean TV viewers with its unique combination of two themes: the successful rise of a female, which is rarely covered in historical genre, and the elements of traditional food and medicine.”

The series was very successful on cable in Japan, and it has been rebroadcast several times. One of the spin-offs was a cookbook featuring the dishes presented on the program, which the woman in the photo surely had a key role in compiling. The cookbook was also sold in Japan, though it probably contained no whale dishes.

Maybe it should have. The theme of the show was traditional food and medicine, and the red meat of the whale contains the dipeptide balenine, which some athletes now take in supplement form because it improves blood flow and restores resiliency to muscle after workouts.

The Ulsan — Kumamoto connection dates back to the late 16th century when Kato Kiyomasa, the first daimyo of the Kumamoto domain in Higonokuni, participated in Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s invasion of the Korean Peninsula. Kato built a castle in Ulsan (of which a few foundation stones remain) that became the model for the Kumamoto Castle, which he also built. The latter structure was finished in 1607, but most of it was torn down during the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. It has since been restored and is now a major tourist site.

Some workers from Ulsan helped build the Kumamoto version, and legend has it that the view from the hill on the southwest side of the castle reminded them of home. That’s how the district they spied later became known as Urusan-machi. The area is now part of Shin-machi after a municipal reorganization, but the Urusanmachi name survives as one of the Kumamoto City trolley stops:

Meanwhile, action on the Festivus Balaena front will shift to Japan later this summer, as the folks at the Sumiyoshi Taisha, a Shinto shrine in Sakai, Osaka, decided to revive their own whale festival. Both the facility and the event are as old as the hills, or perhaps in this case, as old as the waves. The shrine is celebrating its 1,800th anniversary this year, and it was already a millennium old when they began holding the whale festival, which dates from sometime in the Kamakura period. That ended in 1333.

The event has been held only sporadically since the Meiji Era (which began in 1868). Once upon a time, it was offered every 20 to 30 years. That’s unusual for Japanese festivals, most of which are annual affairs. This year’s revival, however, will be the first in 57 years. It is held in supplication for sea safety, and originated in a dance to placate the unhappy fisherman who came home empty-handed on whale-hunting expeditions. The Osakans thought it would be an excellent idea to bring it back as a way to help calm the waters after so many people died in the Tohoku tsunami this year. One of the advantages of such a long national history is that when something new is called for, it’s always possible to dive into the past and retrieve something old that most people didn’t know existed.

It’s been so long since the last time, however, that most everyone forgot how to do it. The Sakai municipal government worked with local historians to study photos and jog the memories of festival vets who were around during the last big blow in 1954. The main attraction is a 27-meter-long bamboo and cloth whale float, which is roomy enough for people inside to open and close the beast’s mouth, move its tail, and spurt water. Meanwhile, people alongside will chant the whale chant and dance the whale dance. Megafauna fans in Sakai will get to see all this on 24 July if they visit the shrine, and on 1 August when the leviathan is paraded from the shrine to the city.

Said one historian:

“I’m glad they’re bringing it back. Several generations now don’t know about the festival, but I want them to enjoy the vitality and spirit of fishermen of old.”

And while we’re on the subject of of big game hunting, some of the pretend buccaneer/junior ideologues of Sea Shepherd are in Japan to do what they do best — irritate the hell out of normal people — by traveling to Iwate to take photos of the dolphin hunt. Iwate’s local catch accounts for more than half of Japan’s dolphin and whale industry by tonnage. It is also one of the three prefectures most seriously damaged by March’s earthquake/tsunami. The Mainichi Daily News explains what happened:

“Earlier this month, the members took pictures of a fish market devastated by the disaster as well as fishing boats and posted the photos on the group’s website, triggering anger among some local fishermen over their return to the town.

“A local fisherman said, ‘Dolphin hunting is not done in May. Many boats were swept away due to the quake and tsunami, and the fish market is also in a terrible condition. There is nothing left to take pictures of.’”

We shouldn’t be too harsh on the swabbies — you know they’re determined not to be happy unless they can be really unhappy about whaling or dolphining. If they had something productive to do with their lives, they’d already be doing it. After all, it takes more than a few degrees of eccentric warp to think one is doing the world a favor by getting in the way while the people who suffered one of history’s greatest natural disasters are trying to rebuild their lives and homes.

If it’s pictures they want, I can’t help them with dolphins, but I could send them the link to the Japanese site promoting whale cuisine where I swiped the photos above. All they have to do is ask.


It was entertaining to re-read the comments on my old post to which I linked above. It’s curious how some people aren’t happy unless they aren’t happy that other people are happy about living in Japan.

The Sea Shepherd recruiting song

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Posted in Festivals, Food, Foreigners in Japan, Japanese-Korean amity, South Korea, Traditions | Tagged: , , , , , | 45 Comments »


Posted by ampontan on Friday, March 25, 2011

THE WORD nasake in Japanese means sympathy, compassion, or fellow feeling. It appears in the proverb, Nasake ha hito no tame narazu. That literally would be “Compassion is not for the benefit of other people.” It’s actually used, however, to mean that if you help someone in trouble, he’ll be sure to do you a good turn when you need it.

The truth behind the proverb was borne out earlier this week when the Foreign Ministry revealed that 130 countries and territories had offered assistance to Japan in one form or another after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Bringing the total to 130 were the offers from Brunei and Haiti.

While the normal sentiments of charity and compassion surely inspired the offers, the generous Japanese ODA program and disaster assistance over the years were likely factors as well, demonstrated by Haiti’s message. When more than 220,000 people died in the Haitian earthquake last year, the Japanese contributed $US 70 million and sent a medical team and the Self-Defense Forces.

Here are some other examples.

Come On-a My Huis

Huis ten Bosch (House in the Forest) in The Hague is one of the official residences of the Dutch Royal Family. It’s also the name of a theme park in Sasebo, Nagasaki, in which The Netherlands is recreated with full-size replicas of Dutch buildings. The 152-hectare resort—roughly the size of Monaco—was built with the approval of the Dutch royal house. In addition to the buildings, there are forests, gardens, amusements, shops, restaurants, five hotels, a marina, and a residential area.

Earlier this week Nagasaki Gov. Nakamura Hodo said that Huis ten Bosch and 37 ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) with hot springs would accommodate 1,700 people from 538 households left homeless by the earthquake. The prefectural government will be responsible for their clothing, food, and the transportation expenses from Tohoku. They’ll also help place people in schools and jobs.

The Tohokuans will be able to stay until the national government’s assistance program takes effect on 11 May. Anyone who wishes to remain after that (and Nagasaki is a lot warmer than the Tohoku region) will be offered public housing. Said Gov. Nakamura:

“People from around the country helped us after the disaster caused by the Mt. Unzen eruption. We’d like to return the favor.”

Cap’n Paul’s indirect contribution

The Maritime Agency reported that the Nisshin-maru, the mother ship of Japan’s whaling fleet, would sail today to transport supplies to the Tohoku region. The fleet had just returned from the South Pacific after ending their expedition early due to concerns over crew safety stemming from Sea Shepherd harassment. The agency said the idea to help came from the crew members themselves, many of whom are natives of Iwate and Miyagi. The Nisshin-maru’s cargo is primarily heating oil and food.

Firemen, dinghies, and farmland

A group of 57 firemen from Tokushima in Shikoku returned from a rescue and assistance operation in Miyagi earlier this week. Group leader Igawa Hiroyuki said one of their tasks was to transport elderly people from hospitals with power outages to other facilities with heat. They also worked with a group of firefighters from Nagano to search for missing people from a large agricultural facility destroyed by the tsunami. The metal frames of the greenhouses remained, but the people didn’t.

The group operated mostly in rural areas. Six days after the quake and tsunami, the farmland was still underwater and oil tank trucks were piled on the roads. The firemen used rubber dinghies to look for people, and they found several bodies on a foundation of a house that had been washed away. Said Mr. Igawa:

“I thought I had a general idea of what to expect from news reports, but I was speechless when I saw the reality for myself.”

He added that a site for identifying the deceased was set up in a public park, and there was always a long line of people waiting to get in. He hopes to use the experience gained from the mission to help Tokushima prepare for an earthquake.

Nasake nai

The word nasake also appears in the expression nasake nai, or cold, unfeeling, and cruel. Some people might think Kamei Shizuka’s comment about the Cabinet at a news conference on the 23rd qualifies as nasake nai, especially considering the People’s New Party he heads is still part of the ruling coalition.

He was asked about the government’s plan to amend the Cabinet Law to add three new members and put one in charge of disaster relief. He answered:

“Increasing the number of people in the Cabinet isn’t such a good idea. Add idiots to idiots and of course you’ll get idiots.”

He quickly added that he wasn’t referring to any of the current cabinet members—no, no, of course not—and said this about Prime Minister Kan Naoto:

“He should just take decisive steps to implement integrated reforms. Having too many ship captains is not a good thing.”

Particularly when the nominal captain behaves as if he’s a clone for Lieutenant Commander Phillip Francis Queeg.

The truth may be nasake nai, but it’s still the truth.


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Posted in Popular culture, Traditions | Tagged: , , , , | 15 Comments »

Shimojo Masao (10): Whaling and the Japanese

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, March 30, 2010

IN APRIL 675, the Temmu Tenno (emperor) issued an imperial edict banning the consumption of cows, horses, dogs, monkeys and chickens as food in Japan, a fervently Buddhist country. The custom of meat-eating was not widespread in Japan until the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when the acceptance of Western culture and institutions began. Animal proteins were obtained instead by catching fish in the surrounding seas. The hunting of whales and dolphins, which environmental protection groups in Western countries have made an issue in recent years, was one of the traditional fishing methods. Eating such foods as sushi and sashimi arose in a Japanese food culture based on fishing, and those foods are now recognized as healthful throughout the world.

In contrast, however, the dietary custom of eating fish raw did not arise on the Korean Peninsula and China, though they bordered the same seas. In those countries, the distribution channels for the sustainable consumption of fresh fish were not established, significant fishing industries did not arise, and markets in the consumption regions did not form. The successive dynasties of China built their capitals inland, and the development of distribution systems lagged. A meat-eating culture arose on the Korean Peninsula, where products were bartered in markets that opened once every five days. Sashimi began to be eaten on the Korean Peninsula after the modern period when the region was under Japanese rule. It was also only recently that the general public in China began to eat raw fish in the form of sashimi and sushi.

Thus, the seafood products previously eaten on the Korean Peninsula and in China were dried and/or cured, and sold without regard to their freshness. Such ingredients as shark fin, a popular dish in Chinese cuisine, as well as abalone, sea slugs, and kombu, a processed seaweed, were delicacies brought from far-off Japan. That manner of trade began during the Edo period (1603-1868) and continued thereafter. Shark fin and kombu are products from northeastern Japan and points north. During the Edo period, they were taken by sailing ships known as kitamaebune to Nagasaki by way of the Sea of Japan, and from there exported to China.

This peaceful East Asian world was disrupted by the arrival of foreign ships from Russia, Great Britain, the United States, and other countries. Their objective was two-fold: to seek trade with Japan, and supplies of firewood, water, and food for their whaling vessels. The post-Industrial Revolution countries in the West used whale oil in the lamps illuminating factories, so whaling in the seas near Japan was vital for them.

The uninhabited island known as Matsushima in Japan throughout the Edo period became known as the Liancourt Rocks on Western maps when the French whaling vessel Liancourt discovered it in 1849. Whaling, which had been conducted as a way to secure food in Japan, was conducted among the Western powers as a way to secure whale oil. Eventually, the demands of the Western powers that sought trade with Japan and supplies of firewood, water, and food for their whaling vessels led to the forced opening of the country, backed up by their military might. This was the principal cause of the disruption of the stable East Asian order.

Speaking of whaling, some peculiar logic has arisen in recent years–the thinking that whales and dolphins are special animals for people, and that this is tied in with the concept of environmental protection. That’s a serious contradiction with the culture of whaling in the West in the 19th century. The Academy Award-winning American film The Cove, which secretly filmed the dolphin hunt in Taiji, Wakayama, and condemned that hunt; Sea Shepherd’s violent obstruction of whaling; and other activities closely resemble the one-sided behavior of the Western Powers in the 19th century.

– Shimojo M.

UPDATE: Those reading this post for the first time who would like to read additional information about Korean whaling might find this worthwhile.

Posted in Environmentalism, Food, History, International relations, Traditions | Tagged: , , , , | 17 Comments »

State-sponsored terrorism

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, February 21, 2010

Nemo understood that it did not matter what humans thought, because humanity was the problem….I understand that philosophy, and I have lived it every day of my adult life.
– Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd, on the Jules Verne character Captain Nemo

THE WORLD seems to be at a loss as to how to deal effectively with the eco-buccaneers Sea Shepherd—at least that part of the world which finds their behavior repugnant. Some hold they are guilty of piracy. Since the Sea Shepherd vessels do indeed fly the Jolly Roger, it would seem the group is wearing that shoe because it fits. Others consider them terrorists.

Former lower house member and Yokohama Mayor Nakata Hiroshi thinks Japan should deal with Sea Shepherd by going after their enablers. Mr. Nakata this week called for Japan to declare the United States, The Netherlands, and Australia to be states that support terrorism. Put ‘em on a Foreign Ministry watch list!

The Japanese government should issue such a declaration.

He selected those three because the Sea Shepherd organization is legally headquartered in the U.S., its ships are registered with The Netherlands, and Australia allows itself to be used as its base of operations in the South Pacific. (All Australian measures against Sea Shepherd have been little more than slaps on the wrist.)

He says Japanese whaling is conducted in accord with international law, and that Japan has a whale-eating culture. He thinks a hard-line attitude might be effective because:

Countries around the world that prudently use marine resources in the same way as Japan, such as Norway and Iceland, have hailed the Japanese attitude of refusing to submit to Sea Shepherd.

He added:

Japanese whaling is not a violation of international law, and the group’s activities threaten the lives of Japanese citizens. Of course the surveys should continue. We must not make unsuitable compromises, and we must strongly demand they (the three countries) exercise control.

The Japanese government is unlikely to take this step, but the beauty of the idea is that it would put the onus on the moralizers for a change. It would compel those three countries to explain why they shouldn’t be singled out for sponsoring terrorism, and why they permit the humanity-hating Watson and his crew to behave as terrorists.

Their answers would be entertaining, if nothing else.

Posted in Food, International relations, Traditions | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Human nature

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, February 17, 2010

THIS AP ARTICLE on the latest episode of the long-running South Pacific winter serial Sea Shepherd vs. The Japanese Whalers should be of interest to students of human behavior.

One of the eco-buccaneers illegally boarded a Japanese vessel to make a citizen’s arrest of the captain and present him with a bill for the destruction of one of the protest ships, the Ady Gil. Cap’n Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd wants the Japanese captain arrested for attempted murder.

Compassion for post-adolescents with arrested development is one thing, but Japan has decided enough is enough.

The Japanese government has decided to bring Bethune to Japan for questioning, Fisheries Agency official Osamu Ishikawa said. He will be charged with trespassing and assault and tried under Japanese law, Ishikawa said….Under Japanese law, intruding on a Japanese vessel without legitimate reasons can bring a prison term of up to three years and a fine up to 100,000 yen (US$1,100).

Bethune is a New Zealander, and his government is reluctantly coming to his assistance:

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said it seemed Bethune’s intention was to be detained aboard the whaling ship, but his country nevertheless had an obligation to try to help him and was seeking cooperation from Japanese diplomats.

What obligation is that? Is not Mr. Bethune an adult? Did he not have a choice about his behavior? Then he should accept the consequences of his behavior. During the Koizumi Administration, the Japanese government refused to help a citizen who traveled to a dangerous part of the Middle East despite knowing the dangers in advance, and that citizen finally made it back in one piece–after having learned an important lesson.

Most interesting about the AP article is the manner in which it is written. There seems to have been a significant shift in perspective. No longer do they portray Sea Shepherd as the hipster heroes and the Japanese as the sneaky villains. They give Sea Shepherd short shrift, and provide plenty of space for the Japanese side of the issue. This paragraph in particular caught my eye. The emphasis is mine:

Japan has six whaling ships in Antarctic waters under its scientific whaling program, an allowed exception to the International Whaling Commission’s 1986 ban on commercial whaling. It hunts hundreds of mostly minke whales, which are not an endangered species. Whale meat not used for study is sold for consumption in Japan, which critics say is the real reason for the hunts.

In fact, the entire structure of the piece seems to slant the tone slightly toward the Japanese side. That’s an astonishing development, particularly for the AP.

Is it a coincidence that the shift occurred after the Japanese demonstrated they weren’t going to put up with the nonsense any longer? (And told the Australians as much?) I think not.

It’s human nature to treat with deference those who assert themselves to stand up for their perceived interests without being overbearing. It’s also human nature to treat wimps with disdain, even when they’re in the right.

Now, if the Japanese government were to start applying this attitude universally…

Posted in International relations | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Giant sea theater

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 12, 2009

The nature of the mass media today is such that the truth is irrelevant.
– Paul Watson

IT’S LATE FALL AGAIN, the time of year the Japanese government-funded whaling fleet departs Shimonoseki and heads for the South Pacific hunting grounds, with the rich celebrity-funded ships of Sea Shepherd, skippered by Cap’n Paul Watson, in hot pursuit. In years past, the organization’s vessels have flown the Jolly Roger, an image that captures both their behavior and drugstore buccaneer attitude. Watson considers people who eat whale meat to be “cannibals”, which isn’t so surprising once you’ve seen his photograph. One of the SS’s crewmen called what they do “giant street theater”, and that meshes well with the 24/7 needs of the infotainment business.

This AFP report takes a vague stab at describing the concerns over any mishaps that might occur when the curtain comes up this year; the remoteness of the area would make rescue operations difficult. The AFP explains the potential for mishaps by referring to what it calls a “collision” last year between the SS’s Steve Irwin and one of the whaling ships. Those who would like to see last year’s two “collisions” for themselves can do so by accessing the video provided by Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research (link on right sidebar). Another “collision” two years ago was even more blatant, as the ICR video showed an SS ship ramming one of the Japanese vessels from a 90 degree angle. The intent was obvious to anyone who has ever been a six-year-boy that played with other six-year-old boys by crashing toy trucks together.

That same year, the SS outfitted the Steve Irwin with a seven-foot steel blade on the starboard side to maximize the damage to the hulls of the ships it rammed. Demonstrating either their distinctive sense of humor or their personal fetishes, the SS called it a “hydraulic can opener” and threatened to give the Japanese a “steel enema”.

Ramming ships is one the many reasons people, organizations, and governments try to keep the SS at arm’s length. They’ve already sunk 10 vessels throughout the seven seas. Greenpeace refuses to even discuss them, while the anti-whaling Australians and New Zealanders have provided the Japanese whaling fleet with updates on SS ship movements. Here’s another taste of SS humor: They’ve painted the flags of the 10 victim ships’ countries of registration on the hull of one of their vessels, as if to cop a feel from World War II fighter pilots with little Rising Sun emblems painted around the cockpit. In addition to installing can openers, they’ve purposely reinforced the ship’s bow with concrete and steel. All the better to ram you with, my dear.

Greenpeace threw Watson out of the organization because it considered him a violent extremist that brought more harm than good to their cause. The vote of the Board of Directors was 11-1, with Watson himself being the lone dissenter.

The AFP merely refers to the SS as “militant protesters”. Unfortunately, the AFP can’t find the space to infotain their readers by dissecting Cap’n Paul’s nutzpah claim from last year that a sniper on one of the Japanese ships fired a gun at him. He tried to prove it by holding up a metal fragment for a TV crew on board ship and getting all in a huff’n’stuff.

How lucky for him that he was the only one of his crew to be wearing a bulletproof vest at the time, that “the bullet” struck an anti-poaching badge on his chest without leaving any marks, and that “the bullet” was nothing but a twisted piece of metal. In his book Earthforce!, Watson admitted that he’s down with the idea of making up facts and figures as a way to manipulate the media.

For their part, the Japanese authorities say they used flashbang devices against the SS ships, which are designed specifically to prevent shrapnel injuries.

Believing Mr. Watson would require that one also believe the Japanese were ready to abandon more than a half-century of pacifism and ruin their reputation for the rest of the century by taking a pot shot at a media whore parading in front of video cameras in the middle of a confrontation. These are the same Japanese whose national legislators twist themselves into pretzels over the question of whether to allow their military personnel to carry sidearms for self-protection during an assignment to a real war zone.

To steal a line from the American comedian Chris Rock: When did the words “crazy” and “ram” get eliminated from the dictionary?

International interest

The AFP also conveys the furrowed-brow concern of the foreign ministers of The Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand, who hope that no one breaks any laws. The Dutch are involved because the SS ships are registered with that country and fly their flag of convenience. The vigilante fleet wound up with Dutch registration because Canada, the U.K., and Belize revoked theirs. It turned out those fun-lovin’ guys of the SS had claimed their ships were “pleasure craft”. Now even the anti-whaling Dutch say they are putting together legislation to wash their hands of them. Part of the deal to obtain Dutch registration was that the SS sign an agreement to comply with safety rules and not resort to violence.

Then again, one wonders how much of a priority this is for the Dutch. The Norwegians issued an arrest warrant for Watso after he tried to sink some of their smaller whaling ships in the early 90s. The Dutch took him into custody and held him for 80 days, but refused to extradite him. Maybe they were miffed that the Norwegians didn’t want to join the EU.

The Australians and the New Zealanders have gotten involved because their islands happen to be in the vicinity, they think whales are cuddly, and the Australians think they should be treated better than the way they themselves treat wallabies and kangaroos. That’s no excuse for the international news media to think the Australians and New Zealanders are more worthy of attention than other anti-whaling nations, however. Yes, they are close to the region, but they’re not directly affected by the Japanese activity. The Australians claim jurisdiction, but no one else recognizes the claim, and even they refer to it as “tenuous”.

Could it be that they receive coverage because they’re the closest countries whose population is mostly Caucasian? If you think that’s not a factor, imagine how interested the media would be if the whales were frolicking somewhere in the Indian Ocean and the two countries complaining were Madagascar and the Seychelles. But I digress.

The sailors’ tactics

Last year, the Japanese sprayed the SS ships with water cannon and played an amplified recording of noise that was said to resemble that of a smoke detector. This year the SS decided to bring some noise of their own, as the green gossip blog Ecorazzi reports:

Pete Bethune, captain of the new Sea Shepherd stealth boat “Ady Gil”, has revealed that he’ll be blaring the song “Tangaroa” from NZ musician Tiki Taan. “It’s a pretty spooky dark song and it’s got this sort of ethereal Maori chant going on it and I don’t think they’ll like it at all,” he told a NZ Radio station.

Here’s the YouTube video of Tangaroa. Listen for yourself to what the mocha latte warriors consider spooky, dark, and ethereal. Some might think it resembles the crowd noise during the second half of a rugby match instead. Cool dudes that they are, they probably also dug the skull on the t-shirt and the neck tattoo. Keepin’ it real!

The political tactics

Meanwhile, the new Japanese government seems to have developed a good cop, bad cop routine.

Remember, whatever you do, don't mention the war--er--warhl--uh--whale, yes, whale, that's it, never eat it myself, can't stand the taste.

The good cop is played by Japan’s Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio. Mr. Hatoyama, who doesn’t seem to be the type to have smashed trucks at age six, met with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende at the end of October and asked his government to deflag the SS’s mini-navy. That should have been enough, but no–for some reason he felt compelled to expound on his dietary habits, telling Dr. Balkenende, “I detest whale meat.” The Dutch prime minister promised that he would have legislation drawn up to allow for the deregistration of the SS ships.

Guess which part of the story got hit by the international news media spotlight. Guess what legislation hasn’t been written yet. Guess who has no one to blame but himself.

This wasn’t the first time the prime minister got entangled in some dippy diplomacy. Here’s an excerpt from a previous post:

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith met on the 26th (2008) for talks with Hatoyama Yukio, the secretary-general of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. Here’s a story the latter told Mr. Smith, according to a report in the Sankei Shimbun.

“Actually, my wife served some home-cooked whale this morning. I don’t believe in eating whale, so I turned it down, but it is in fact a popular dish on the Japanese table.”

Back-translating from the translation into Japanese, Smith’s reply was, “You’re a braver man than I. My policy is to eat everything my wife serves.”

Mr. Hatoyama later said his wife had made a type of whale stew for breakfast. He also explained that he didn’t eat whales because people from the district he represents in Hokkaido were trying to develop whale watching as a tourism resource.

And yes, it is stretching it a bit to have us believe that the wife of a politician in his 60s doesn’t know he refuses to eat whale and serves it to him in a breakfast stew on the very morning he is to meet the Australian foreign minister.

I’m not sure that Mr. Smith swallowed the story about the breakfast any more than Mr. Hatoyama swallowed his wife’s whale stew.

Well, what’s the real story? Does he refuse to allow whale meat to pass his lips because of his constituents, because he’s a politician who’ll say anything, or because he thinks whale tastes terrible? Having eaten whale in Japan that was better than beefsteak, and knowing this is not a hot-button issue for the Japanese, I’d place my chips on number two.

What Mr. Hatoyama did was put into practice an old Japanese proverb: Uso mo hoben, or, a lie can be expedient. Having also been on the receiving end of an expedient lie or two soon after coming to Japan, I can testify they do more harm than good. The listener knows dang well he’s being lied to, and suspects the expedient liar thinks him incapable of understanding something that’s easily understood to begin with.

Instead, he came off as what the Japanese call a happo bijin—literally, a beauty in eight directions, and figuratively, a phony who tries to please everyone.

And if that weren’t enough, why should he bring himself down to the level of Paul Watson?

It was something of a surprise, however, that the new Japanese government debuted a bad cop this year in the person of Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya. Demonstrating that there is more to the Japanese political pond than jellyfish, Mr. Okada told the Australians that the two countries’ food cultures were different and to get used to it. Only he said it more diplomatically.

This is a change from the previous Japanese insistence that they were whaling primarily for scientific reasons. The Institute of Cetacean Research actually does perform research into the tasty cetaceans brought back from the South Pacific and has had the results published in scientific journals, but the world has always assumed that was another expedient lie.

Bully for Mr. Okada, whether he eats whale meat or not. The Japanese political class might finally have become fed up with all the malarkey despite conducting themselves in exemplary fashion for more than a half-century. Some foreigners think they’re devious bastards that are a) ready to march back into East Asia at the drop of a hat, or b) ready to monopolize the world’s automotive and consumer electronics industries if they aren’t able to do a). Others think they deserve to have a voice in the content of Japanese school textbooks and the schedule of Japanese prime ministers on national days of memoriam. Still others expect them to behave as ATMs for the world whenever some other country comes up with another grand international scheme and demands cooperation.

It wouldn’t be surprising if a consensus of sorts of sorts has developed that, by Jingo, if they want to make us jump through all these other hoops, then we’re going to catch all the damn whales we please. And eat them, too!

If I might make so bold, perhaps it would be profitable to take one more step. Seeing as how the Australians insist on having a voice in the matter of Japanese whaling, it would be only fair to apply Australian rules to the game. To wit:

Australian Maritime Law, the Crimes (Ships and Fixed Platforms Act) 1992, Part 2, Division 1, Section 10:

“A person must not engage in conduct that causes damage to a private ship or its cargo, knowing that such damage is likely to endanger the safe navigation of the ship.

Penalty: Life imprisonment.”

They’ve already asked Interpol to issue arrest warrants for Watson.

This could cut two ways, however. On the one hand, it would have the benefits of giving him what he deserves and putting him out of circulation for a while. On the other hand, the huckster-at-heart might not mind that much; he’s seen the inside of jails in other countries before, and a stretch in what the Japanese call the pig box would give him the chance to play the martyr.

It might even give him the idea of channeling another vege-maniac on a mission who once led a band of misfits with a taste for street theater. After his release/parole/expulsion, he could write a book about his experiences and call it My Struggle.

Reader Kushibo writes in to scold the “pro-whaling movement” for making Watson and SS the face of the “anti-whaling movement”.

I think not. The anti-whaling movement has got just the guy they want as their front man.

It takes a lot of money to purchase, outfit, equip, and operate ships on the high seas throughout the year. It also requires registration with a country. Watson doesn’t have any problem getting either.

The man has a rap sheet more than a quarter of a century long, but the Dutch asked him to sign an agreement that he would be a good boy. Are we to believe they’re surprised he didn’t live up to it? The Australians and others governments give him some mild harassment, but it amounts to little more than a perfunctory, “round up the usual suspects” gesture.

If the anti-whaling movement/governments didn’t want him as their face–particularly as their PR man for the media–he’d have been history long ago.

There are several other posts linked to the Whales tag, but perhaps this one has the most intriguing opinion from an outside observer.

Posted in Environmentalism, Food, International relations, Traditions | Tagged: , , , | 11 Comments »

The world’s first whale soy sauce

Posted by ampontan on Friday, January 9, 2009

THE JAPANESE TAKE PRIDE in using as much of a whale as possible to eliminate waste when converting it to food products. One example is their creation of a canned paste of sorts made with whale cartilage and placed as a topping on rice in the same way natto beans are eaten.


Now Yamaka Shoyu, a soy sauce brewer in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi (the home port of the whaling fleet), the National Fisheries University in the same city, and a local council for promoting the development of new food products announced they have developed the world’s first soy sauce made using whale meat. The whale varieties used are the minke, caught during the government whaling expeditions in the South Pacific, and the sei whale. They’re not putting prime cuts into the sauce—the company uses scraps that were previously discarded by a local food company when processing the meat for market.

The product contains only the soybean and wheat base used to make soy sauce, salt, and whale meat. Those who have tried it say it isn’t as fishy tasting as other fish-based soy sauces and has strong umami characteristics. The ingredients are mixed, stirred daily for a month at a constant temperature, and then allowed to ferment for a month.

Yamaka plans to launch sales of the product in June in Yamaguchi in department stores and at retail outlets at tourist sites (in other words, they want to turn it into a “special local product”). There are also plans to sell it in Tokyo. One bottle will set you back 600 to 700 yen (US$ 6.50 to 7.60).

Does the whale soy sauce have potential or is it being made and sold for its novelty value? Koizumi Takeo, a professor at the Tokyo University of Agriculture noted for his adventuresome approach to food, has given it his imprimatur. “Not only is it delicious,” he said, “but it’s also good for you.”

Well, what more can you ask for? Just make sure to transfer it to a plain bottle or server when sensitive foreigners come to dinner!

Posted in Food | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

On with the show!

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 22, 2008

THOSE WITH A TASTE for outré entertainment will be delighted to learn that this year’s revival of the reality version of South Pacific is shortly due to begin now that the Nisshin Maru has left port for its annual whaling expedition.

But those who enjoy fine entertainment might find the upcoming episodes to be less satisfying than programs in the past, despite a surprise addition to the cast.

Here’s the big downer:

Australia will not send a fisheries patrol ship this year to shadow Japanese whalers and protests near Antarctica, the government said on Friday, appealing for activists to keep high seas protests peaceful.

As Japan’s whaling fleet heads to the Southern Ocean to hunt close to 1,000 minke and fin whales, Canberra said it was pursing a diplomatic solution to Tokyo’s yearly research hunt after Japanese complaints last season about the Australian patrol ship.

Australia's Mr. Environment

Australia's Mr. Environment

Former hard rock singer and current Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett said in a radio interview that Australia won’t be using the Oceanic Viking, a patrol icebreaker, to shadow the whalers. Instead, the government will focus on a legal challenge to whaling. They’ll also conduct their own research to prove that studies of the population can be done without culling the herd.

Perhaps unintentionally demonstrating the Not In My Back Yard philosophy in action, Mr. Garrett also said that most of the hunting would be done in the New Zealand “patrol area” anyway. (New Zealand may “patrol” the area, but those are still international waters).

The Austrialian government aren’t the only ones who’ll be scaling back the production:

Greenpeace will not go to Antarctica this year to concentrate on an anti-whaling campaign in Japan and a court case against some of its activists over the alleged theft of whale meat.

Isn’t it fascinating how the possibility of a jail term can so quickly change an organization’s priorities?

But why did the Australian government change its mind? Might the June meeting between prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Fukuda Yasuo have had something to do with it?

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his Japanese counterpart Yasuo Fukuda have failed to resolve an emotionally charged row over whaling, but agree that the rift should not hurt the countries’ alliance.

“Prime Minister Fukuda and I agreed that you can have disagreement between friends,” Mr Rudd told a joint news conference. “We’ve also agreed that this disagreement would not undermine in any ways the strong and positive nature of our bilateral relationship. And we will be working in the period ahead diplomatically in search of a solution on this question.”

How jolly diplomatic it all sounds!

Perhaps the diplomatic solution was Mr. Fukuda reminding Mr. Rudd–if he needed reminding–that Japan is Australia’s biggest export market, and many of the products it purchases, such as beef and grain, can just as easily be purchased elsewhere. Japan is also one of the country’s largest foreign investors. That’s not an unimportant consideration, because Australia encourages foreign investment as a way to ameliorate its current account deficit. Another consideration is that they would prefer the investment to come from Japan rather than from China.

Though it won’t be the same old show without Austrialian and Greenpeace ships in the Sea Hunt, one of the other players has added a cast member for this season’s tour. The Eastern Hemisphere’s version of the insane clown posse, Cap’n Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd, announced that actress Daryl Hannah would be joining his crew. Ms. Hannah is a noted maritime affairs expert whose father was the owner of a tugboat and barge company. She also played a mermaid in the film Splash and starred in the TV film Shark Swarm. The latter film seems to have been an effort to maintain the viability of Grade C science fiction in the entertainment industry:

A fisherman and his family fight to take down a greedy real estate developer who has released toxins into the ocean, turning the area’s sharks into bloodthirsty hunters.

Then again, maybe they were presenting a parody. It’s hard to tell with Hollywood these days.

It’s also reassuring that the lovable skipper hasn’t changed a bit since he last showed up on our radar:

Watson himself was shot during one of the forays (last year). “I was wearing a bullet-proof vest, ” he told an Australian newspaper, “but the bullet hit my badge (an anti-poaching badge) so I had this bullet and I jokingly gave it to the guy who played Grissom in CSI (actor William Petersen) – he’s one of our supporters – and said ‘Hey, take a look at this because no one else will.’

Could it be that the reason no one else wanted to look at his bullet is that no one believed his story? Had someone from the Japanese whaling fleet actually fired a lethal weapon at him (and when was the last time you heard of someone employed by the Japanese government using a firearm overseas?) the shameless publicity hound would have hauled the Japanese crew members in front of some court faster than you can say Captain Queeg.

Not that they have to worry about lacking firepower in the unlikely event it comes down to a gun battle. Sea Shepherd reportedly carries AK-47s on board their ships.

Here’s the old salt describing his objectives to a sympathetic reporter:

“We intend to sink the Japanese fleet economically,” said Watson.

Now that’s a great idea for a musical: A seagoing version of Man of La Mancha!

Here’s how the reporter describes Sea Shepherd’s approach:

Sea Shepherd uses innovative direct-action tactics to investigate, document, and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas.

The “innovative direct-action tactics” that Sea Shepherd takes “when necessary” has involved the sinking of 10 ships around the world by ramming, and a failed attempt at ramming the Nisshin Maru two years ago (which did more damage to their ship than to the Japanese vessel). It’s also worthy of note that Paul Watson’s confrontation of “illegal activities on the high seas” landed him jail time in two different countries on two different continents.

The Steve Irwin, the lead vessel in Sea Shepherd’s two-boat fleet, flies the Skull and Crossbones during its voyages. When will someone take them at their word and start to deal with them as real pirates instead of playacting pretenders?

That would be unlikely to bother the wealthy Hollywood stars who back the group. Their agents undoubtedly purchased some insurance before the actors forked over the cash for the mini-fleet to serve as their proxies in the environmental war while they serve on the home front on back lot and sound stage.

The Steve Irwin is due to weigh anchor and set sail on 1 December after Watson lines up some more financing, so expect the curtain to rise on the latest installment in this farce sometime in January.

Posted in Environmentalism, Food, International relations, Traditions | Tagged: , | 8 Comments »

Gaspar’s grave and Christian cuisine

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Gaspar's grave

Gaspar's grave

OUT OF IGNORANCE OR CHOICE, some people mischaracterize the essence of Japan as being insular and closed. The reality of Japan is more complex than might be apparent to the superficial observer with preconceived notions, however.

A closer examination reveals that the country has been surprisingly open, that any insularity is not necessarily the result of kneejerk xenophobia, and that its interaction with the rest of the world has often resulted in a fascinating interconversion of both entities. Consider the following.

On 24 November, the Catholic Church will conduct a beatification ceremony in Nagasaki City for 188 Christians from that area who were martyred in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. It will be the first official beatification ceremony conducted in Japan. (This is the preliminary step to canonization, or sainthood.)

There have always been more Christians in Kyushu than in other regions of the country. St. Francis Xavier arrived in Kagoshima from Spain in 1549 accompanied by two other priests with the objective of establishing Catholicism in the archipelago. Shimazu Takahisa, the Kagoshima daimyo, allowed them to set up a mission thinking that it might boost trade with Spain and the rest of Europe. Some in Japan also thought Christianity might serve as a counterweight to the influence of the Buddhists, who were more politically militant in those days. (Both Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi would successfully battle the Buddhist monasteries in political struggles 20 to 30 years later.)

The mission was quite successful at first, and an estimated 300,000 were converted by the end of the century. Problems arose, however, due to conflicts between competing missionary groups (the Portuguese also showed up), suspicion of the Christians’ motives, and other factors. It did not escape the attention of the Japanese that Spain had colonized The Philippines after first converting much of the population. Indeed, Europeans in those days did little to mask their colonial intentions. Then some of the Christians got out of hand and began killing Buddhist monks and Shinto priests, after which they built churches on the sites of former temples and shrines.

The situation was exacerbated when it was discovered that a Christian daimyo and the Portuguese had gotten involved in the slave trade by selling Japanese women for gunpowder. According to Onizuka Hideaki in the (Japanese language) book, The Rosary of the Showa Emperor (Vol. 2), ISBN 4-88086-200-2:

“Japan would receive a barrel of gunpowder for fifty slaves. (In this case they would be specified as light skinned, attractive young Japanese women.) ‘In the name of God, if Japan can be possessed I am sure the price can be increased.'” (N.B.: Try the dark blue section at this link for more information.)

An estimated 500,000 Japanese women were sold down the river, and yes, some of them were sex slaves. The authorities concluded that enough was enough, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi outlawed Christianity. Those who refused to renounce the religion were killed.

Among them were Nishi Genka, who took the name Gaspar as a Christian, his wife Ursula, and son Mataichi. Nishi was born in 1556 on the small island of Ikitsuki (now part of Nagasaki Prefecture) and was baptized at the age of two. He was a retainer of the local feudal lord Koteda and served as his magistrate for the island. As Koteda himself was a Christian, the island became known as a haven for believers.

After the persecution of Christians began, Koteda abandoned his fiefdom and fled to Nagasaki with 600 people. Nishi stayed behind to look after the remaining Christians and was eventually killed on 14 November 1609 with his wife and son.

But that was then, and this is now. The Church is on the road to canonizing the converts of the colonizers, and Christian churches and other sites are a Nagasaki sightseeing attraction, so the event has become a profit opportunity for the domestic tourism industry. A special tour is being offered on 23 November to visit Ikitsuki in Nagasaki and follow the footsteps of Nishi Genka. The tour group will visit a local museum, a church, and the family’s gravesite. They’ll also stop by the Yamaya ryokan to eat a specially prepared lunch featuring local dishes that are known as “Christian cuisine” because they were associated with the Christians on the island.

One of the primary occupations of the islanders in the 16th century was fishing—specifically, whaling. So the main course for the lunch honoring the Christian martyrs will be whale meat.

Who knew that eating whale in Japan was associated with Christianity?

Or that when the first beatification took place on Japanese soil, someone like Aso Taro would be the prime minister? Considered by some to be a conservative nationalist and throwback to the days of Japanese insularity, Mr. Aso, a Kyushu native, is also a Catholic.

Note: The translation from Mr. Onizuka’s book is not mine, though I did some minor editing.

Posted in Food, Foreigners in Japan, History, Religion | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Wanted men: The Sea Shepherd eco-terrorists

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 21, 2008

IT’S ABOUT TIME: The Japanese government, according to this account from UPI, has asked Interpol to issue red arrest warrants for three members of Sea Shepherd, the pirate-wannabe vigilante group that tries to prevent Japanese whaling in the South Pacific every winter. Arrest warrants already are outstanding for them in Japan.

Interpol is not yet prepared to go that far, however, but they did issue a blue notice, which means they are investigating the case further.

Regardless of their ultimate decision, this is a welcome step from Japan for two reasons.

First, it demonstrates that the Japanese government is now willing to take active steps to advance its interests internationally. It is a small sign that the passive, don’t-make-waves mentality of the post-war generation has run its course.

Second, let there be no mistake: By its attitudes and its actions, Sea Shepherd has clearly demonstrated that it refuses to behave as a responsible member of civil society, preferring to resort to the law of the jungle instead. This group has sunk 10 ships around the world, and its leader, Paul Watson, has done jail time in Canada and The Netherlands. It has also been reported that they carry AK-47s on board when they go to sea.

But more than that, Sea Shepherd is a symptom of a more serious illness sweeping the Western world. What too often passes for citizen activism today is in fact the barbarity of a hysterical, unhinged element that self-indulgently takes upon itself the role of judge, jury, and executioner. The structures of civilized society evolved and were created precisely to prevent activity of this sort.

That this disease has reached epidemic proportions in other parts of the world is undeniable from even a dispassionate observation of events in the United States during the past three weeks, to cite just one example.

If Sea Shepherd is ready to stand by its principles, they should have no problem serving time in a Japanese jail for them.

Japan should be commended for doing its part to curb this behavior.

Notes: Sea Shepherd has an annual budget of two million dollars. Most of their budget is supported by contributions from wealthy Hollywood actors, including Martin Sheen, Sean Penn, and William Shatner. Richard Dean Anderson (MacGyver) is (or was) on its Board of Directors. Pierce Brosnan is on its Board of Advisors.

Have you rented or purchased a DVD of one of Pierce Brosnan’s four James Bond movies? If so, you have directly contributed to keeping Sea Shepherd afloat.

Posted in Food, International relations, Legal system | Tagged: , | 103 Comments »

IWC: International Whaling Circus

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 29, 2008

We do not like (animals) much for themselves, for what they are — only for the fictions we have imposed upon them…We ascribe to the animals we like intelligence, compassion and a sense of playfulness; to those we despise stupidity, savagery and cold-bloodedness. The wolf, as a case in point, falls into the first category these days whereas 100 years ago it would have fallen most definitely into the latter.
– Rod Liddle, The Spectator

ONE OF MY UNCLES was known for having a quirky sense of humor. During the 1992 American presidential campaign, a three-way race involving George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot, he often said that he hoped for a Perot victory because “the circus over the next four years” would be hugely entertaining.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your taste in these matters), Perot lost, and Americans were instead treated to eight years of a different circus: the Clinton Administration, known in some quarters as the Exploding Cigar Presidency.

Who’s to say that a Perot Administration wouldn’t have been even more uproarious?

But with the emergence into the international Big Top of minor acts masquerading as center ring attractions, promoting self-important and eccentric notions as life-or-death issues, politics is no longer the only source for free circus entertainment. The ringmasters of the mass media give them microphones and the spotlight and give us the best seats in the house. Then they both turn all of us into their pantaloons.

The latest performance was sponsored by the International Whaling Commission during its annual meeting in Chile last week.

That doesn’t mean people were eating corn dogs and watching seals balance balls on the tips of their noses while the commission conducted its business. The delegates spent a week debating quotas and the question of whether the body should transform itself into a whale protection group or maintain its original function of being a conservation group. The countries that caught whales last year get to catch just as many whales this year. Meanwhile, meetings will continue to find a compromise between the whalers and the anti-whalers.

Japan can continue to hunt some 1,000 whales per year for scientific purposes after the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Santiago agreed Wednesday to postpone any far-reaching decisions on the protection of these cetaceans.

But nothing ever stops the media from painting a different picture, however. How’s this for a lead sentence to a news report?

Whales emerged the big losers as a weeklong International Whaling Commission meeting wrapped up in Chile on Friday, said conservation groups…

Let’s try that same approach to rewrite a lead sentence from a different story that appeared a month ago.

Cows emerged as the big losers as the South Korean government lifted a ban on American beef imports, said vegetarian groups…

Take another look at that Rod Liddle quote at the top of the post. The man’s on to something.

The lead sentence of the news report is written to make it seem as if whales are just as involved as a human lobbying group. Strange ideas seem to have captured some elements of the popular imagination. Try this from a month ago.

Great apes should have the right to life and freedom, according to a resolution passed in the Spanish parliament, in what could become landmark legislation to enshrine human rights for chimpanzees, gorillas, orang-utans and bonobos.

Both reports start with assertive declarations of goofy ideas as if they were actual facts, followed with a few words to weasel out of any responsibility for the game being played.

1. Whales are the big losers—say conservation groups.

2. Great apes should have the right to life and freedom—according to a Spanish parliament resolution

And journalists wonder why so many people give them a hard time.

The biggest surprise of the IWC meeting didn’t involve Japan. Greenland, represented by Denmark, applied for permission to allow its aboriginal inhabitants to catch an additional 10 humpback whales in addition to the special whaling concession they already receive.

The IWC’s scientific body endorsed this request. But environmentalism is now the hip religion, and we all know how the scientist Galileo fared against the Church. The request was denied, with the EU voting as a bloc against it.

Some found the European tactic difficult to digest. As we recently saw, South Korea has stringent restrictions on whaling (despite a long Korean history of whale-eating), and the EU move cheesed even them off.

South Korea described the EU bloc vote as “interference with the legitimate process of this organisation and the due process of law”.

How much longer will it take the Koreans to realize that in these enlightened Dark Ages, religious faith in environmentalism transcends science and the due process of law?

For the real circus atmosphere, the media had to go outside the IWC venue itself. They filed more stories about the whaling circus than they did about the decisions of the international whaling body itself.

Such as:

From Australia to Japan, California to Chile, surfers around the world are uniting to protect humpback whales from world No.1 hunter Japan – by getting towns and communities to adopt the giant mammals. Sixty towns in Australia alone have adopted whales under the initiative by Surfers for Cetaceans, set up by surfers to protect whales and dolphins.

In Australia, the markings on humpbacks’ tails – dubbed fingerprints because they are unique – are lifted up over the entrances of towns that have adopted whales so the flourishing whale-watching industry there can identify its adoptees.

“No longer are they just a whale out there in the ocean, they are a whale with a story, a name, a family, a history and a personality. There are some that are theatrical in their approach when they come in touch with humans.”

Rod Liddle’s starting to look like a genius.

They also filed this detective story for mystery fans:

Forensic-style DNA sampling of whale meat in Japanese markets turned up fin whales that can’t be accounted for, Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute reports….Meat from at least 15 individual fin whales was being sold in 2006 and 2007 — two more than the Japanese government reported killing as part of its scientific whaling program during the same period, Scott Baker, associate director of the institute, said Friday.

Consider if you will what sort of people would conduct “forensic-style DNA” sampling of whale meat in Japanese markets and trumpet the news that they found one John Doe whale a year.

Then consider what sort of people would think it was important.

Some people prefer eroticism to stories about sleuths:

For Yves Paccalet, a French naturalist and philosopher who helped push through the 1986 moratorium, the intelligent and highly-social creatures may be so exhausted from their centuries-long combat with humankind that they have simply have given up the fight.

“The psychological consequences of our aggression have compromised their will to live,” said Paccalet, who worked extensively with French marine explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. “To reproduce, whales need a large number of individuals to ensure that they meet, and then to frolic and excite each other. Otherwise, a species may give in to a kind of sexual melancholy and simply stops breeding,” he told AFP.

Fancy that: A Frenchman speculating on whale sexuality.

A media circus with whales as the main attraction isn’t complete without an article hinting that the Japanese are still the cruel, unfeeling beasts of World War II. After all, look at what they do to their own children!

Japanese 10-year-olds taken on school trips to whale slaughter

Japanese children as young as ten are watching whales being slaughtered to teach them the “cultural importance” of Japan’s controversial commercial whaling industry.

This was the lead to an article ostensibly about the IWC meetings.

Never mind that it’s not controversial in Japan. Never mind that the whales were already killed and the children watched them being processed, not “slaughtered”. Some of those children have already seen fish being cleaned—people do catch a lot of fish here–so the sight of a whale being cut up is unlikely to cause nightmares.

If they really needed a shocking, bloody word, they could have used “butchered” instead. But that might spoil the fun.

After all, isn’t that what Westerners do to cows?

There have to be clowns to make it a real circus, and when it comes to a whaling circus, there’s always one man who can be counted on to wear the cap and bells—Jolly Roger himself, Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd. Here’s one report:

Canadian-born renegade sea captain Paul Watson has set his sights on sinking Japan’s whaling industry, the largest in the world — and reckons he is halfway there.

He reckons he’s halfway there because the Japanese took only half of their whale quota last winter after he harassed them with just one ship. Now he’s going to get a second ship.

That’s reminiscent of the famous fictional seaman, Captain Queeg:

I proved with geometric logic that a duplicate key to the icebox existed.

Clown isn’t the only word that could be applied to Cap’n Watson, however. There’s also pirate. In an excerpt from a Newsweek interview:

Q: You have argued that your tactics are legal. How so?

A: We are upholding the UN Charter of Nature and operating within the principles of this charter which allows for non-governmental organizations to intervene to uphold international conservation law. For instance, in 1986, we sunk half of Iceland’s whaling fleet…

And vigilante

Sea Shepherd campaigns are guided by the United Nations World Charter for Nature. Sections 21-24 of the Charter provides authority to individuals to act on behalf of and enforce international conservation laws.

Go on a sea hunt of your own and see if you can spot any justification for his behavior in those sections.

And then there’s the word buffoon:

Paul Watson launched the 5th Sea Shepherd Antarctic campaign to stop Japanese whaling on Thursday June 26, 2008. The campaign is called Operation Musashi after the legendary Japanese strategist and samurai, Miyamoto Musashi, a personal role model and hero of Captain Watson. “Sea Shepherd intends to transform Setsuninto – the sword {harpoon} that takes life – to Katsujinken – the sword {harpoon} that gives life.” said the press release.

The media assures us that they are impartial, so surely there are stories presenting the opposite viewpoint. It took a bit of digging to find any, but here’s one about a colorful old salt from the whaling fleets. It starts off by telling us that the good guys in the white hats don’t like him:

Reviled by conservationists, Icelandic whale meat exporter Kristjan Loftsson is unapologetic, saying anti-whaling groups and nations are neurotic and that whale meat is highly profitable — and delicious.

“Those who speak loudest, the UK and US, Australia, they used to whale before but they couldn’t manage their whales, so everything is gone. So they have no interest in this any more,” Loftsson told Reuters in an interview.

“Whales are just like any ordinary fish,” he said. “But in Iceland the bottom line is it has to be sustainable. If it is sustainable you do it, and if it is not you stop. We also do that with fisheries, there’s no difference.”

“It tastes just like any ordinary, very good red meat. You can eat some of it raw. Depending on which loin (cut) of the whale, whale meat is most like tuna,” he added.

Just as consumers have to go upmarket to get quality in an automobile or fine wine, they also have to leave the mass market to get quality in journalism. The best place to find that last week was National Geographic:

If (Iceland, Norway, and Japan) are permitted to whale a little, the idea’s proponents argue, then their hunts can be monitored and the effects of these hunts better understood.

“It would resume our science-based methods for determining how many whales can be safely harvested from a particular population,” said Andrew Read, a marine conservation biologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, (who) has served on the IWC’s scientific committee for more than a decade.

Susan Lieberman is the director of the World Wildlife Fund’s global species program. She said whaling itself does not help conservation, but a compromise that ended unregulated killing would be worth considering. “I think governments have an obligation to try to see if they can bridge the gap here,” she said.

They even present an opposing viewpoint–but not first:

Patrick Ramage directs the global whale program for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which opposes any compromise that would allow for a resumption of commercial whale hunts. “We should be discussing how Japan, Norway, and Iceland will join the vast majority of IWC member countries in putting down their harpoons, picking up cameras, [and] going whale watching,” he said.

No wonder those sensitive whales are sexually frustrated. Who could perform with all those voyeurs watching your every move—and taking pictures!

National Geographic also wonders why everyone focuses on Japan.

Why is Japan’s Whaling Bogeyman when Norway Hunts Too?

For the anti-whaling lobby, Japan appears to be its Moby Dick, a foe to be singled out and endlessly pursued…But are the attacks fair, when other nations also engage in substantial amounts of whaling—and unlike Japan, in open defiance of international conventions?

…Japan is the “head of the zombie and needs to be cut off,” said Willie Mackenzie, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace U.K…

…Shigeko Misaki, a former spokeswoman for the Japan Whaling Association, said the anti-whaling campaign has gone too far.

“It has almost become a religion, that whales are the only symbol of the marine ecosystem,” she said. “People who believe this religion think all Japanese people are evil, because we kill whales…

Claire Bass of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, conceded that cultural differences do color the debate.

“Japan manages whales under their fisheries agency. They basically see them as big fish,” she said. “We see them as intelligent, charismatic, captivating creatures. So I wouldn’t deny there’s a difference in the starting point at which we view whales.”

You did read that Rod Liddle quote a second time, didn’t you?

Once upon a time, the circus paraded through town, pitched its tent, gave a couple of weeks of performances, and then left for a new city. Now, driven by the demands of the infotainment culture, the print and visual media offer us fire-breathers, sword-swallowers, and bearded ladies 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

And they just give the tickets away.

Japan and Australia

Before the Chilean media extravaganza there was an overlooked prelude in Tokyo when Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd met Japanese Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo.

Last year, when Mr. Rudd was still in the opposition, he was free to talk tough about the cetacean slaughterers. He vowed to track every move of the Japanese whaling fleet in the South Pacific to collect evidence and haul them before the International Court of Justice.

Now that Mr. Rudd is in office and his words actually have consequences, his attitude seems to have changed.

Rudd told reporters at a joint press conference after the meeting at Fukuda’s office:

”On whaling, Prime Minister Fukuda and I agreed that you can have disagreements between friends. We’ve also agreed that this disagreement should not undermine in any way the strength and positive nature of our overall bilateral relationship and we will be working in the period ahead diplomatically in search of the solution on this question.”

Did Mr. Fukuda remind his visitor that Japan is the biggest customer for many important Australian exports? It’s more likely that Mr. Rudd didn’t need to be reminded and turned out to be a paper tiger instead.

This did not go over well back home in Australia:

In 2005 Kevin Rudd said: “We cannot afford another year of complacency. The Howard government must act immediately to take Japan to the International Court of Justice.”

In 2007, the then leader of the Opposition said it was necessary to “take Japan to international courts such as the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to end the slaughter of whales”. He also said: “Obviously, that approach of international pressure through the IWC has not worked.”

The threat of taking Japan to the ICJ was not even raised in talks with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda….What has become clear is that Australia stands to lose more at an international court than Japan because it would expose Australia’s tenuous legal position of controlling waters in the Southern Ocean.

Following this costly debacle, Australia then went to the IWC meeting in Chile with a radical proposal to completely invert the commission’s role and turn it into whale protection group completely banning whaling, instead of a whale harvesting body setting sustainable levels of the hunt.

On the other hand, Japan went to the IWC with a plan to avoid divisive votes for a year and reform the processes of the commission. Japan, as an act of good faith, continued its own suspension of the hunt for 50 humpback whales but has kept the legal right to take 900 whales next year.

But one Australian found out that not all Japanese are barbarous whale-murderers.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith met on the 26th for talks with Hatoyama Yukio, the secretary-general of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. Here’s a story the latter told Mr. Smith, according to a report in the Sankei Shimbun.

“Actually, my wife served some home-cooked whale this morning. I don’t believe in eating whale, so I turned it down, but it is in fact a popular dish on the Japanese table.”

Back-translating from the translation into Japanese, Smith’s reply was, “You’re a braver man than I. My policy is to eat everything my wife serves.”

Mr. Hatoyama later said his wife had made a type of whale stew for breakfast. He also explained that he didn’t eat whales because people from the district he represents in Hokkaido were trying to develop whale watching as a tourism resource.

And yes, it is stretching it a bit to have us believe that the wife of a politician in his 60s doesn’t know he refuses to eat whale and serves it to him in a breakfast stew on the very morning he is to meet the Australian foreign minister.

But the Japanese will recognize the practical application of their proverb, uso mo hoben, or, circumstances may justify a falsehood. Mr. Hatoyama first established common ground with his visitor by telling him that he too, like most Australians, does not eat whale out of principle.

At the same time, he also made it known that plenty of Japanese like whales a lot–to eat. He then told the foreign minister that the extreme obstructionist tactics used by environmental groups for the whaling survey fleet “cannot be overlooked”.

I’m not sure that Mr. Smith swallowed the story about the breakfast any more than Mr. Hatoyama swallowed his wife’s whale stew.

But he certainly got the point, delivered most diplomatically.

Posted in Environmentalism, Food, I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations | Tagged: , | 23 Comments »

South Korea: Where there’s a will, there’s a way to eat whale

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, June 19, 2008

“The Whale Festival was ironic. I’m really envious of Japan, where they can openly eat the meat from whales they catch in their scientific surveys.” – A South Korean restaurant proprietor

TAKE A QUICK GLANCE at the two photos with this post: Don’t they seem as if they might have been taken at a centuries-old festival in a Japanese whaling town? Then take a closer look, particularly at the priest’s headgear. The photographs actually came from the annual whaling festival that’s been held in Ulsan, South Korea, for more than 10 years now.

The Koreans love their whale meat just as much as the Japanese do, but they have a harder time getting it due to stringent domestic regulations on whaling. But where there’s an appetite, there’s a way, as this summary of an article written by Kamiya Yukiko that ran in the Nishinippon Shimbun makes clear.

There’s more here that will remind of you Japan than just the photos. Some of the things the Koreans told Ms. Kamiya could have been uttered word for word by many Japanese!


Fish poaching is rampant in the waters off the Korean peninsula, and the authorities have their hands full uncovering the illegal operations. In Ulsan, the southeastern city that was once the country’s largest whaling port, many people are calling for amendments to relax the tough Korean restrictions.

The city’s southern ward is home to about 40 shops serving whale meat. During the local whale festival held in May, chefs and restaurant proprietors from Shimonoseki, the home port of the Japanese scientific whaling fleet just across the Korean Strait, came to participate in a Japanese-Korean food tasting event. The Japanese contributed sukiyaki and curried rice, while the Koreans served boiled whale meat and sashimi.

Ko Jong-gu, the chairman of the local civic group that sponsored the festival, said it was organized to protect the local whale eating culture.

“The fishing industry is suffering because the number of whales is increasing and they are eating the local mackerel and squid. We want to the government to lift some of its restrictions on whaling.”

The chief municipal officer of the city’s southern ward, Kim Du-gyom, declared:

“South Korea prohibits the fishing of dolphins less than four meters in length. We’re going to start a petition drive to get the government to amend the law.”

The International Whaling Commission temporarily suspended commercial whaling for 13 species of larger whales in 1982. South Korea overlaid that with additional restrictions on the commercial whaling of smaller species. But whales can still wind up on restaurant tables if they are obtained as by-catch (accidentally caught in nets with other fish), or if they died and were washed up on shore. The restaurants must file an application with the authorities to serve them, and applications have risen from 190 in 2000 to 606 last year.

Because a single whale can sell for as much as 35 million won (about $US 34,200), the local fisherman refer to a whale catch as “the ocean lottery”. Illegal fishing is rampant in southeast Korea, and since the end of last year the Korean Coast Guard has snagged 80 fishermen in their dragnet. That has resulted in a reduced supply of whale meat, which in turn has forced restaurants to offer smaller servings. The whale meat shortage is viewed as the reason for the start of the petition drive.

According to the Council to Promote the Resumption of Whaling in South Korea, whale meat was a popular substitute for beef and pork, particularly among the people who fled to the southern part of the country during the Korean War. Said Council Chairman Byon Chang-myong, “Whale culling is necessary to protect the maritime industry and the dietary culture.”

But not everyone agrees. O Yong-e, the representative of a local environmental group, says,

“The reason the municipal officer (Kim) began talking about whaling was to win votes. There is no scientific backing (for the claim that whaling is) harming the fishing industry.”

Concerned about the possibility of demonstrations led by environmentalists, the ward decided to suspend its petition drive. They are now formulating a petition to the government to establish a special whaling district, primarily to promote tourism.

The official position of the South Korean government, however, is that the country does not support whaling, and the government has given no indication that it will move to amend the law.

Meanwhile, this year’s whale festival was a big success, drawing an estimated 250,000 people.


And I’ll bet they all had a whale of a good time!

Here’s a link to a BBC article from a few years ago explaining that the folks near Ulsan have been eating whales since before the days of Beowulf. You’ll be able to guess what the British think about it before you click on the link, but it’s worth reading anyway. At the end, the author tries to convince the reader that the custom is dying out because a few young people he talked with didn’t like whale and thought it was fogey food.

The plural of anecdote is not data, but there’s no explaining that to a journalist. The rules in their business are different.

And here’s a nice video of the Ulsan whale festival on YouTube. It’s a skoche over eight minutes long. There’s the typical dopey narration by a foreigner in the first minute, but stick with it. (I think he’s inaccurate when he says the Koreans claim they catch whales for scientific reasons. That’s the Japanese approach.)

Festival fans will enjoy it. The music is great—more evidence for my theory that the Koreans are the most naturally funky people in this corner of the world! And the traditional drumming and dance troupe with teenage performers makes it worth watching to the end.

Posted in Food, South Korea, Traditions | Tagged: , | 8 Comments »

How to deal with Sea Shepherd

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, April 6, 2008

ACCORDING TO THIS POST from Tim Blair, the French dealt with the eco-twerps Sea Shepherd and their leader Paul Watson much more assertively than Japan did.

As described in a link from the post, about 100 French fishermen were upset when Watson said the death of baby seals was a greater tragedy than the recent death of some sealers.

If you haven’t seen it already, please click on the first link (on the word “attacking”) to see a Japanese video of a Sea Shepherd ship deliberately ramming a Japanese whaling vessel. A similiar video was shown last year on the website of Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research (whose site is linked on the right sidebar).

Yet during the whaling season earlier this year, no one in the English-language mass media could bring themselves to call a spade a spade. They usually described it a “collision” rather than a ramming.

Would you care to speculate on their approach had the Japanese taken steps similar to those of the French fishermen?

It should be obvious by now to everyone that the daily media, whether print or broadcast, is little more than an infotainment vehicle for advertising, with little interest in the concept of journalistic integrity. It is time to draw conclusions from that fact.

Posted in Environmentalism, Food | Tagged: , | 19 Comments »