Japan debates best way to win the whaling argument

By Toby Manhire In The Internaut

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Six weeks after the International Court of Justice ruled in accordance with the claim by Australia, supported by New Zealand, that Japan’s “research” whaling programme was illegal, the country continues to debate the issue, both in its parliament and in the media.

Japan has resumed some whale hunting, the Diet committee on fisheries has approved a motion demanding it continue, while in mid-April advocates staged a mass “whale buffet” calling for defiance of the ICJ.

For Okira Ozeki, writing in the Asahi Shimbun the essential problem with the argument from Tokyo had been that “the government hoisted the flag of ‘science’”. They would have done better, argues Ozeki – himself a veteran science journalist – to have made a case “rooted in philosophy”.

With the science-based justification falling flat, whaling advocates should consider the “whaling quotes [granted by the International Whaling Commission] to indigenous communities that consume whale meat”. They might “begin by talking about coastal whaling activities with roots in local communities”.

The whaling lobby have been trying just that, counters Shaun O’Dwyer, an associate professor in Japanese Studies from Meiji University in Tokyo, in the Japan Times. Indeed, anyone who questions that whaling is intrinsic to Japanese culture is shouted down.

It’s difficult for critics to point out that modern whaling has little to do with the old coastal whaling traditions of some Japanese fishing towns; that apart from a brief postwar consumption boom, whale meat occupies a tiny niche in Japanese cuisine; that cetaceans might be more self-aware than we had thought; and that the Japan Fisheries Agency is using “scientific whaling” as a cloak for corrupt rent-seeking.

It’s difficult for these critics because once whaling was framed as a long-held Japanese tradition, criticism and talk of “invented traditions” could be dismissed as cultural imperialism.

This rhetoric helped deflect foreign criticism. It also marginalized Japanese critics, who can find themselves labeled as “anti-Japanese”.

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