Sunday, May 09, 2010

Love of Nature

The whaling issue both inside and outside of Japan often seems to be as much emotional as anything else. I suppose that is something to be expected in the modern world. You have extremes on both sides of the issue---I have always been suspicious of Sea Shepard and also find much of the defense of whaling in Japan absurd as it is more of a nationalist/traditionalist argument* than anything based on science. You know, science that is peer reviewed and accepted outside of Japan.

I was at least somewhat suspicious about the Taiji dolphin kill as it has been reported to be depicted in the movie, The Cove. I haven't seen it yet, but figured it would be as much sensationalist as anything else. Perhaps I should withhold judgment until I do.

C. W. Nichols, who has been in Japan for decades, and who is a citizen, is someone whose opinions on matters of wildlife, wildlife management, and so on, I trust. He is no strict preservationist, has no Disneyland view of nature, is a hunter, a fisherman, and has professional experience in the conservation field.

He has written another column for the Japan Times in which he discusses the Taiji dolphin kill and whaling among other things:

I saw the kill for myself back in 1979 when I lived in that small Wakayama Prefecture fishing village for a year. I protested to the fishermen, to the Town Hall, and to the Fisheries Agency. Some years ago I published a book in Japan, with a chapter devoted to that slaughter and its extreme cruelty. I met the prefectural governor and warned him that the media would spread the Taiji kill all over the globe — and that Japan would be despised for it.

Nichols' arguments matter not to the nationalists defending these practices. I don't think anything does. The argument seems to be (as Nichols mentions in different words) that it is the world against poor little ol' Japan yet agin'. I have heard that from people, most recently when there was pressure to protect Blue Fin tuna. I never heard one single word of concern about the tuna population and the sustainability of the same level of fishing them. It almost seemed as if people thought the problem occurred because the rest of the world started enjoying tuna sushi and was eating all the tuna which by rights of tradition belonged to Japan.

But that's just from the folks I know. Perhaps others have performed some basic research on the issue to see if the official Japanese government position is solid, or maybe a just a little questionable. I mean, if you tell folks that Japan is the only country on earth with four clearly distinct seasons, nobody would accept that because in addition to the obvious silliness of the claim, finding the truth is just a google away.

*As for tradition, I agree with C.W. I have no problem with folks killing and eating wildlife as a part of tradition, unless doing so threatens the species. Minke whales don't fall into that category, as I understand it. But then again, even so, as far as whaling is concerned, the Japanese government position seems to be more nationalist than merely traditionalist.


  1. Pretty much. The culture/tradition argument I think is a bit shaky anyway (in terms of how important it really was to Japan).

    The government's position on this as can be found on the link below is actually quite interesting. In putting forward a traditionalist argument, they seem to leave out what I think is the most important, and probably compelling part of the argument - that Japan did eat a lot of whale meat for protein after WWII. From what I understand access to Whale meat was pretty crucial - and possibly more than enough to construct a cultural meme around in terms of cultural significance.

    Yet, they go back to random and seemingly disconnected historical references to make the point. Which is a bit weird really.

  2. This is not unlike the situation in the Faroe Islands, with the pilot whales.

  3. sigma1

    That is an interesting document, but I don't think it would sway anyone---as Nichols wrote in his article---the damage that the Antarctic whaling is doing to Japan's reputation (if not the whales) probably out-ways the importance of things like baleen for traditional Japanese puppetry. And the statement: "The purpose of the scientific research carried out by the Japanese Government is to remove the element of "uncertainty surrounding the scientific data then available", i.e. the reason for the temporary moratorium on whaling being imposed" is almost laughable. A lot of random and disconnected arguments as you wrote.

    My understanding is the same as yours, that whaling was vital to Japan after WW2. Whale meat at one time was provided in school lunches. Lots of people who ate it haven't very fond memories of that "tradition."

    MacArthur encouraged Japan to move in to large scale whaling at that time as it was a cheap source of meat. Perhaps that's another "tradition" that at least partially began with the Occupation.

    One quick source for the MacArthur information is:,8599,1971807,00.html You can probably easily find many others.

  4. Elindomiel: It looks like there are similarities.