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Home > Media Reiews > News Review Last Updated: 14:52 03/09/2007
News Review #33: May 21, 2002

Whaling Activists Face Off in Japan

Reviewed By Hitoshi URABE

"Whaling Activists Face Off in Japan"
(by The Associated Press) New York Times

One significant aspect of this year's meeting of International Whaling Commission is that it is held in Shimonoseki, where in the past the town prospered as a base for whaling industry.

Talks on whaling have often bogged down in the past as the focus of discussion often shifted into emotional phase, i.e. greedy industrialists killing poor whales destroying ecology vs. seemingly naive environmentalists in aiming to preserve wild life. As is the case in most of these controversial issues, the case is probably not so simple.

A half century ago, when Japan was struggling from the aftermaths of the WWII, food was in short supply. Staple food, rice, was rationed, but just about everyone had to access the black market to seek food to sustain their lives. Many were actually shocked by a report that a virtuous judge who refused to utilize black market died of malnutrition.

It was those days, when schoolchildren were not able to bring lunches to school, because their parents could not afford them. And even if they could, anything they would bring terribly lacked nutrition.

Then, in order to avoid disasters, the government began providing lunches at schools, funded largely by foreign aid, notably from the U.S.

The school lunch menu consisted of a piece of bread and skim milk, not for the purpose of diet but the remainder of precious fat already removed. There was a certain range of variety for main dish, though it could hardly be called so in today's standards. Often it was a fish cake sort, or what's called stew that was more like a soup with vegetable fragments, and meat was once a month treat. But chicken was too expensive, pork too scarce, and beef was something an ordinary person would come across once a year if he is lucky. So the only kind of meat available, in practical terms for school lunches, was whale. Small, thin and black pieces of whale meat looked, and almost tasted, like rubber even to the hungry kids at the time, but it was real animal protein, and it saved millions of children from undernourishment, if not starvation.

Times have changed since then. People do not need to resort to whale in order to acquire the type of nutrition any more. Beef has become so abundant, it is often less expensive than many kinds of fish that Japanese people have had become accustomed to.

Japan does not need to catch whales to survive now, either for nutritious or industrial purpose. But if there is a possibility to save a chunk of hundreds of millions of people presently starving in other parts of the world, it seems to worth carrying on a further and comprehensive research. Effects of whaling should also be assessed from various perspectives, such as effects on other living aquatic resources on one hand, to such matters as comparison with other alternatives in terms of ecological and environmental consequences, for example, desertification through slash-and-burn agriculture.

Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications