NEWS ニュース

Japan on Whales: IWC Withdrawal and Eating Culture


Japan Watch Project Analyst By Reni Juwitasari

A minke whale is seen, captured for what Japan describes as research purposes, in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Kushiro, Hokkaido, in September 2013. The government announced Wednesday that it will withdraw from the International Whaling Commission in 2019 in a bid to resume commercial whaling. | KYODOA 

This year, Japan has announced its withdrawal from International Whaling Commission (IWC) and resumed its commercial whaling in its territorial waters on July 1 st , for the first time in over 30 years. It has been known that the whale hunting practice was banned in Japan since 1986 for the conservational purposes.

Japan is not the only country that moved out of the IWC; Canada also announced its withdrawal in 1982 due to practices of whales hunting by its indigenous people. For the immediate effect, Japan is enable to pursue commercial whaling in its adjacent waters, including its inside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone, but not include the Antarctic Ocean or the Southern Hemisphere where Japan has been undertaking seasonal “scientific whaling” programs since 1987. Japan’s withdrawal does not mean to leave IWC alone, but also related to Japan’s position of cooperation with IWC as well as in the international management of marine biological resources, which will remain the same. Japan will still commit to continue as an observer and work toward rectifying what it called “dysfunction” of the IWC. 

Japan, along with Australia, has been one of the longest standing members of the IWC and has remained loyal to the Commission since its participation in 1951. During the period of IWC member, Japan faced the 1982 Moratorium on imposition of commercial whaling because of insufficient population sizes of whales to sustain hunting. Regardless, Japan responded to the Moratorium by commencing two whale “research” programs in North Pacific Ocean (JARPN) and the Southern Ocean (JARPA). These programs were designed to be accordance with International Whaling Commission rules, particularly Article VII of the Whaling Convention that allowed “special permit” whaling conduct for the purposes of scientific research although it was indicated that Japan was not conducting itself in accordance with the Article VIII on commercial whaling in 2010 and ruled it in 2014.

Despite of sparks pros and cons among the nation, the decision to start whaling activities was made to essentially protect the livelihoods of the fishermen who depend their economics on whales. Roughly 300 people are directly involved in whaling activities around Japan, and most of them were those who have been affected on economic paralyzed even for the last 20 years. Moreover, according to Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishery, Japan has long felt vulnerable about food security. Japanese Prime Minister, Abe stated that if Japan stops whaling, it may next be asked to stop fishing for something else, like Tuna fish, in which it may put a heavy pressure for Japan as one of the world’s largest consumers of fish. Therefore, for the remainder of 2019, Japan planned the commercial whaling activities by setting a quota of 227 whales, consisting of 150 Bryde’s whales, 52 Minke whales and 25 Sei whales with limited of the 200 nautical mile Japanese exclusive economic zone. About 5.1 billion yen ($47.31 million) was budgeted by Japanese government for whaling in 2019.

Moreover, Japan mentioned that this activity is also to preserve an important part of the nation’s traditions and culture. As reported by Sakuma, the Rikkyo University’s researcher, 70 percent of the Japanese are pro-whaling for it is a point of national pride. Japanese people have used whales not only as a source of protein but also for a variety of other purposes, for instance, engaging the local communities or “whaling communities or Kujira no machi” to develop the life and culture. The Japanese have been eating whale meat and utilizing whalebones, blubber and oil for more than two thousand years and active hunting for large cetaceans has a history of more than 400

Historically, whale was the first time to be served as an essential food during the Jomon Period (7000/8000 to 3000 B.C.). According to the archeologist, Mr. Ryohei Tsuboi, whale was a necessary food during the Jomon period for people in northern part of Japan. Japanese people ate all the edible parts of a whale, including its meat, blubber, internal organs, blood, and marrow. Even the whale oil was their only source of fuel. They could not survive without whale blubber and its oil in the several cold environments. In the Yayoi Period (3000 B.C. to 300 A.D.) whale was used as an offering to souls of the dead because experts found many clay dolls of cuttlefish, octopus and whale in the moat of the grave of Emperor Oujin. Furthermore, in the Nara period (710 to 748 A.D.), it was discovered that whale was an important source of animal protein for the nation which people were introduced to the use of word “kujira” indicating its utilized term on twelve poems in the “Man’yoshu”, an ancient poem.

Whale began to be served as one of the formal dishes on the Emperor’s table at the dinner party “Shirukou” during the period of the Murocmachi or Azuchimomoyama (1573 to 1600 A.D.) Moreover, Japanese people gradually started to consume whale and established whaling as an industry during the Edo Period (1600 to 1867 A.D.) by using small boats and hand harpoons. Continuously, the modern Japanese whaling industry started in 1899 and indicated the whaling hunting methods to Norwegian whaling techniques through harpoons guns on the bows of steamships. However, the whaling industry was inactive during the Second World War which led to the food shortage in Japan.

Whale industry was re-launched in 1946 as it was necessary to help Japanese people facing the food problem. Whale meat was also the only meat served in school lunches nationwide a year later. In addition, the whale consumption has become widely available in the 1960’s, for instance the whaling industry recorded for 226,000 tons which was the highest record of production of Japanese whaling industry in 1962 and whale meat was used more than other meats until the mid-1970’s as whale provides protein with a smaller carbon footprint than beef or pork. However, after the ban in 1986, consumption of whale meat had greatly changed again during the past few decades. According to local media, whale meat constitutes less than 0.1 percent of the meat in Japanese people’s diet, down from about 50 percent when the Second World War just ended. In Japan recently, few people eat whale meat, but whaling remains popular as the meat still sometimes shows up in school lunches, and the whaling industry has tried to boost consumer demand with nostalgic ads aimed at older people. 

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Japan is again hunting whales. What can be done? (2019, July 5). The Interpreter. Retrieved

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