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Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Brief History of Japan And Eating Whale Meat

If there is one thing that the Japanese hate, it's being told they shouldn't do something.

That's when, to a proverbial man, the Japanese act like petulant 12-year-olds and say 'fug-you' and do exactly what you told them not to do.

I saw this 20 years ago when I first becomes exposed to the subject, and it happened again a day ago.

In absolute defiance of the International Court of Justice's decision at the end of March 2014 to ban Japan's whale hunt off the continent of Antarctica, Japan has thumbed its nose at the global community by celebrating with its own pro-whaling buffet on April 15, 2014 in Tokyo… smacking down on whale, including whale sashimi (raw whale, thinly sliced) and deep fried whale.

The Japanese decry that consuming whale meat is a part of Japanese tradition and therefore Japan needs to be allowed to continue hunting whale.

It is true. Whaling and the consumption of whale meat certainly is a part of Japanese tradition… in fact, the protein derived from eating whale was necessary in keeping the Japanese population alive at various points in its history - both ancient and fairly recently.

But, thanks to 7-11 and the fact that you can get any type of protein at any time of day at an affordable price, having someone go out and harpoon a whale for breakfast simply isn't required anymore.

It's why I don't need to go out and try and skin a saber-tooth tiger because I require evening wear for an office function. Fug tradition… mankind has evolved.

But Japan… Japan stubbornly believes that tradition is the be-all and end-all of all things Japanese.

Whale… in Japanese it's called 'kujira'… a word that came about in Japan's Nara period (710-784AD)… that's 1,300 years ago… so a very long time.

But Japan's been killing and eating whale a lot longer than that.

Back in the Jomon-jidai (Jomon era) that was somewhere around 7, or 8000 BC to about 3000BC, the eating of whale was considered a necessary thing.

Japan's original people, the aboriginal Ainu of the northern sector of Japan—still there, just not in plentiful numbers—they note in their stories the consumption of whale.

As well, whale bones (and dolphin) have been found in shell mounds, indicating people ate whale.

Archeological records show some bones with indentations denoting hand thrown harpoons had been used to capture and kill the whales. While the people probably did use watercraft to chase down whales, they also would go after sick or weak whales or kill whales beached by orca (killer whales)… because why look a gift whale in the mouth. Or, in other words, if they caught a whale, it was a fluke.

In the Yayoi-jida (3000BC - 30AD), whale bones were found within various ruins, including the moat of an Emperor. Not surprising, because the Japanese will offer up gifts from the Sea to the souls of the Dead.

Now… as mentioned, the term 'kujira' or whale first crept into official usage—at least it first appeared in stories and fine Japanese literature of the day during the Nara-jidai about 1,300 years ago.

It was in this time that eating whale became a much needed food source.

Why? Well… politics and religion.

Various Emperors of the day felt that killing and eating animals was not in keeping with Buddhist philosophies, and forbade its people to kill and eat meat.

So… don't have a cow, man. Or a pig, sheep, chicken… but feel free to eat fish, eel, whale, dolphin, octopus and squid. Apparently sea food was not considered meat... much the same way some vegetarians don't consider eating fish is against the rules.
In fact… I would bet that this was the era that some Japanese guy lost a bet and had to eat an octopus.

Hey… I love to eat octopus (takko), but that first eater… he had to be one brave bastich.

Anyhow…. here's a list of the Emperor's and their Buddhist decrees for the people:

a) the 40th Emperor Temmu forbade the killing of animals and eating of their meat (676 A.D.)
b) the 44th Emperor Genshou forbade the killing of animals and falconry (721 A.D.)
c) the 45th Emperor Shoumu forbade the killing of animals (725 A.D.) and butchering cows and horses (736 A.D.)
d) the 46th Emperor Kouken forbade the killing of animals (752 A.D.)
e) the 50th Emperor Kammu forbade the butchering of cows (three times between 781 and 806 A.D.)
f) the 75th Emperor Sutoku forbade the killing of all animals (1127 A.D.)
g) the 82nd Emperor Gotoba forbade the killing of animals (1188 A.D.)

My question is… Emperor's #41-43, 47-49, 51-74, 76-81 and 83-on… did these guys rescind the previous edicts?

Or… does lawlessness exist until a newly crowned Emperor issues his lawful laws? Why do I say that? Well… Emperor #44 forbade the killing of animals and falconry (what's wrong with falconry?)… but Emperor #45 said thou shalt not kill animals or butcher cows and horses.

Both said not to kill animals… why did it have to be repeated? But I assume that animals, in this case are the non-domesticated creatures… so you can't butcher a cow or a horse… but a dog is okay?

Or is it? He said not to kill animals. Isn't a cow or a horse an animal?

Maybe we shouldn't kill any animals. But where will we get our protein from?

Hmmm… Emperor #46 just said don't kill any animals… no exceptions.

What about falconry? Can I eat a falcon? Or is that still out? Can I use a falcon to kill a rabbit for me? I'm not killing any animals… the falcon is… and there's nothing in the Emperor's law about NOT eating any animal killed by a falcon!

I'm guess falcon sales went up during the reign of Emperor #46.

I guess you never know what the laws are until the Emperor tells you what the laws are.

Emperor #47: "You may stampede, rape and kill an animal, but if you do so you must not clean it before eating it, which will, in my mind, stop all you animal fuggers from buggering these creatures… unless you really want the extra protein with your meal."

Anyhow, Emperor #47 was a joke created by me. But… really… was there lawlessness in Japan in the date after an Emperor died and before the new Emperor outlined his new (and old) laws?

1) "No kicking the Emperor in the nuts."
2) "No making fun of the Emperor's genitals."
3) "All hot babes should make themselves available to the Emperor's tiny genitals whenever he comes to town. Also, see Point #2.  Oh… and Point #1, too."

Between 1573-1600AD in what is known as the Muromachi/Azuchimomoyama-jidai, whale was served as part of a meal fit for an Emperor.

Whale was served first, then a carp dish and then a snapper dish. Carp is supposedly the unevolved form of a dragon (really, according to Japanese traditional myths)… and red snapper… I don't have any facts or a clean joke to add here. 

By 1585AD whale was served as the seventh dish in a formal dinner, but soon everyone wanted to emulate the rich, so soon enough you didn't have to be a rich ponce to be able to eat whale… if you could get your hands on whale, you could eat it—regardless of your social station… and who didn't want to eat like a king?

Soy sauce was also just making its appearance in Japanese culture, so at least the whale meat had some flavor to it other than whale flavor, which isn't really all that tasty.

Yeah… I ate whale while I was in Japan between 1990-1993. The Japanese were again being accused of unnecessarily killing whales, but to prove that it was part of their Japanese tradition Japanese people everywhere ate whale for the very first time that week…

… I'm not kidding. They all pretended it was 'oishii' (delicious), but the Japanese toss that word/phrase around as easily as people do when you ask them how they are.
How are you?

By the Edo-jidai (1600-1867AD) people began to eat a lot of different types of meat as part of their regular diet… deer, boar, rabbit, bear, snake, raccoon, land otter… basically, if it looked like it could have a drumstick, the Japanese ate it. So... having to eat whale wasn't a necessity... but whale was still a type of meat the Japanese people enjoyed snacking on if it was available.

At this time, the Japanese established whaling as an industry thanks to new techniques picked up from shipwrecked sailors whom they would drown rather than rescue… as well as from deconstructing various sailing ships.

While previous to this time whalers could only use harpoons and small boats to kill right whales and sperm whales (slow swimmers), the invention of whale nets allowed the Japanese to go after faster types of whale, which led to some 30 whaling bases around Japan.

More whaling meant more whale meat available and thus more people added whale to their diet, meaning quite a variety of whale dishes were created. One recipe book noted 70 different whale parts that could be utilized in various whale recipes.

Everyone loved to eat whale. If you don't believe me, read what a German visitor wrote back in 1823. If you can't trust the Germans, who can you trust?

German medical doctor Philipp Franz von Siebold visited Japan in 1823 as a medical doctor for a Dutch business house. Regarding whales, he wrote: "...the right whale's meat is very delicious and it is a major part of the diet. Whalers sell whales to fish wholesalers. People eat the whale's meat, blubber and internal organs and take oil from the inedible parts. All over Japan, people eat whale meat. The taste of the right whale is similar to the bull or the buffalo, and is hard a little. Although they eat both row and salted whale meat, salted meat tastes better. Salted blubber is eaten sliced. Fins can be eaten. The salted blubber can be used as a medicine for chronic diarrhea, and it is effective for stomach ailments and general stomach health. Powdered fin relieves constipation and oil is a medicine for scabies..." 

Cure diarrhea? I would have thought it to be the other way around.

Japan's whaling techniques evolved again with the advent of the Norwegian technique of using a harpoon gun on the bow of a steamship. Now with the faster steamship engines and the powerful harpoon guns, the Japanese could now hunt the very fast whales: Blue, Fin, Sei and Bryde's.

Whaling was now being undertaken in the North pacific and the Antarctic Ocean… good money… good harvest… by the mid-1920s Japan was taking in 10,000 tons of whale meat. By 1939 it was taking in 45,000 tons.

And then came the war. World War II. It's tough to harpoon a whale when you are busy mining the waters to kill enemy subs.

The Allied Occupational Forces reinstated whaling in Japan in 1946 because of the country's food shortages. 

No longer a special food, whale meat was consumed by the Japanese to stay alive and healthy. It was one of the main sources of protein for a very hungry post-war japan.

But… the hauls were not up to the 1939 levels, and as such whale meat rationing occurred. You ate it because you had to when you could.

In 1947, 47% of all animal protein consumption in Japan was via whale meat.

In 1962, Japan's whaling industry hauled in 226,000 tons of whale meat. By 1964—with a booming population, whale meat consumption relative to total animal meat consumption was at 23 per cent.    

Since then, whaling has been restricted by the international community… with quota's being served… which only seems to infuriate the Japanese causing them to suddenly want to eat whale as it is their unalienable right as Japanese to eat this traditional food.

But which tradition? The one that was fit for kings, or the one that kept them from starving after they were ruled by their enemy after WWII, who thought that allowing them to eat whale meat would stop them from starving to death?

I once bought a can of whale meat, simply because I saw it in my local Iseya grocery/department store and wondered just what the hell whale tasted like.

I still recall the cashier picking up the can of whale - a yellow labeled can - staring at it for a moment before looking me square in the eyes and asking "Honto? (Really?)" Whether that was in 'really, are you, a gaijin going to eat whale?' or was it a 'really? are you sure you know what you are doing? This is whale! Ugh."

The whale was okay. I'm pretty open minded when it comes to food, I could stomach it, but I did not see the need for me to ever eat it again.

Anyhow… the International Court of Justice says no more whaling, but Japan says that any whaling it does is not to capture and eat, but rather just to study for scientific purposes… and if they happen to die while being studied by repeated blows to the head from some sort of heavy object, oh well.

The Hague, the highest United Nations Court, says that when it comes to scientific research on whales, Japan is full of it, and that it is engaging in commercial fishing, not scientific research, which is in direct violation of international law. 

Japan, since 2007, has been hunting up to 1,035 whales a year… which seems like a hell of a lot of research. As such… the ICJ finally realized Japan was screwing with them and called their bluff.

That's when they spoke out against Japan's whaling… and Japan responded by wanting to eat more whale.

Apparently the average Japanese person only consumes some 40 grams of whale meat a year… but the Tokyo whale meat meet on Tuesday attracted 600 people (up by 50% from 2013), who chowed down on whale, urging that whaling be preserved as a part of Japanese culture.That's not a huge number, but I'm betting Japanese people everywhere suddenly wanted to preserve yet another Japanese tradition and quietly protested the Hague's blubbering by eating some whale.

I'm betting the average Japanese person has zero knowledge on the country's whaling traditions.

But… they sure do hate it when anyone - especially gaijin - try to tell them what they can or can not do.

I have no problem with Japan wanting to preserve its traditions… but, get real Japan… your entire country is based on tradition. At some point in time you have to join the rest of the kids on the global playground and play by their rules.

Andrew Joseph

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