Japan and whaling

Page - December 20, 2006
Greenpeace is working to bring international and domestic pressure on the Japanese Fisheries Agency to end the hunt for whales in the Southern Ocean.

Southern Ocean: Greenpeace activists hold a banner with a question mark beside the Nisshin Maru "Research" factory ship, demonstrating the fake nature of the whaling operation.

Why Japan went whaling in the Antarctic

Japan, 1945. The US allied forces, after bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, occupied the country. The war was over; trade links had been severed, and the Japanese people were starving.

The Allied Forces' occupation of Japan was under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. Faced with the problem that the Japanese people were close to starvation, MacArthur gave them special permission to resume Antarctic whaling so they could get protein from whale meat. The US even helped the Japanese Government re-fit the fleet to go to the Antarctic.

The Japanese Antarctic whaling program had started in 1934 when whaling in the Antarctic was dominated by Norway and the UK. Japan stopped its whaling when the war started.

So when the Japanese whaling operations started again, it was with the express permission of the United States - through MacArthur

The Japanese Government began its so-called 'scientific' whaling programme in 1987, using a loophole in the IWC convention which allows countries to kill whales for scientific purposes. Although it continues to claim that this is conducted for research, in reality there is no difference between 'scientific' and commercial whaling.

The Japanese Fisheries Agency (JFA) is keen to resume commercial whaling despite continuous opposition from both within the IWC and outside. During the 1990s it embarked on a strategy to overturn the moratorium. This 'vote consolidation' strategy is simply to buy votes in the IWC. To do this, they have targeted small developing countries and offer them substantial sums in development aid in exchange for votes in the IWC.

Tradition dying out

Today, the Japanese tradition of eating whale meat is dying out, especially with the younger generation. They may remember that their parents or grandparents ate whale meat, but few young people actually eat it.

Research by the Japanese Bureau of Statistics suggests that the consumption of beef, pork and chicken was rising, and that of whale meat dropping, from as early as the mid-1960s.

Polling done by Greenpeace in Japan shows that it is the older generation who are most in favour of whaling. This is possibly because they remember the post-war situation,

Two thirds of the Japanese public are either against whaling, or haven't an opinion either way.

Only one per cent of the population eat whale meat more than once a month, and over 60% haven't eaten whale meat since childhood.

The Japanese Fisheries Agency has close to 5,000 tonnes of frozen whale meat stockpiled because so few people are eating it.

The Japanese Fisheries Agency

So here we are, more than 60 years later, and the Japanese Government, driven largely by a Government Department called the Fisheries Agency (JFA), continues whaling in the Antarctic, in the name of science.

The JFA is not answerable to the public, only the politicians, where it reigns as the most powerful part of the Japanese bureaucracy.

This agency has also controlled the way the Japanese media talk about whaling and any opposition to it, so there has been little dispute about what the JFA says. Any other opinions have had difficulty being heard in the mainstream media in Japan.

Now, the JFA has started to distribute the whale meat taken from "Scientific Whaling" to the Japanese who do not particularly want to eat it, by saying that whale meat eating is a Japanese "tradition".

Greenpeace Japan's message to the Japanese people about this "traditional" whaling is clear: "After the war, the whales saved us: now it's our turn to save the whales," says Junichi Sato, Greenpeace Japan's whales campaigner.