Wednesday, May 07, 2008

How to eat whale

I've been In Tokyo about a week now and yesterday I got to combine one of my favourite pastimes, conveyor-belt sushi, with one of my goals in Tokyo, to eat whale.

At the sushi train directly across the road from the entrance at Kamata station, they are offering plates of sushi whale for about 3 dollars: too good to resist. That's the sign in the photo: くじら 'kujira', means 'whale'.

It was too easy; just take the plate of the conveyor belt, add a little soy sauce, and eat the raw whale straight off the plate. It's a dark red meat with a strong taste; I could get used to it.

As for the ethics, I am aware of both sides of the argument, having heard it both in Australia and in Japan. I personally don't feel the Japanese should be harvesting whale in Antartic waters, but not for the reasons usually given by the Green Lobby. I think the Japanese should probably stop whale hunting because, firstly, it is not really necessary and causes a lot of diplomatic strife with countries such as Australia. Secondly, the Japanese argument that they should hunt whale because it is part of Japanese culture is more than a little disingenuous; they hunted whales on a very small level for centuries, it is true, but so did many other countries: The United States has a stronger case for traditional whale hunting than Japan. And the traditional whale hunting conducted by small villages never approached the industrial harvest that takes place, way out of Japanese waters thousands of kilometres away in the Antartic Ocean.

Having said that, it is difficult to argue that whale hunting is inherently bad. The most common reason given not to hunt whales- that they are endangered- is simply not true. Some whales are endangered, some are not; and the species hunted by the Japanese, minke whales, is not endangered. Simple as that. And rational discussions about population numbers for other species are difficult because arguments inevitably are coloured by emotions.

Which is what this is really all about. The public thinks that whales are majestic, noble and beautiful. People get upset when you fire rocket-propelled exploding harpoons into their brains. Fair enough maybe, as far as it goes. But I'm not sure that whales are any more noble or majestic than Great White Sharks, for example, and nobody seems to get upset about them being on the verge of extinction. And who is to say cows and sheep are any less noble? As for the argument that whales are intelligent, it turns out that there is very little hard data on the subject. Quite difficult to measure the intelligence of whales apparently, being so big and all.

So I reckon refusing to eat whale would just be hypocritical when I'll eat just about anything else. And hypocrisy is one of the greatest sins of all.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Being Fingerprinted at the Airport

Just returned to Nihon last week. I was keen to experience the new 'anti- crime and terrorism' measure that has been put in place at international airports in Japan: the fingerprinting of all non-Japanese.

It could easily be argued that this procedure is discriminatory, offensive, and degrading. While trumpeted as a way of preventing terrorism, it ignores the fact that the only terrorist attacks ever made on Japanese soil were committed by Japanese nationals (sarin gas, anyone?). As for crime, well, despite sensationalist media reports whenever a foreigner commits a crime in Japan, statistically, foreigners commit fewer crimes than Japanese. So, it's pretty clear the fingerprinting is not really about crime or terrorism, it's about xenophobia.

But who am I to complain about that? Australia is pretty racist and xenophobic too, and if the Japanese want to upset their local foreigners and the international community in general, it's not my problem, just another symptom of exclusion and the accompanying decline. If Japan desires to fingerprint all incoming foreigners, they should feel free.

Too bad it doesn't work.

The fingerprinting system is, shall we say, not particularly effective. You are required to place your two index fingers on a glass electronic-reading mechanism. After you hear the pleasant 'ping pong' sound, you can take them off and you are recorded. However, what happened to me, and to almost all people around me, was the depressing 'unh- unh' of electronic failure. This happened 7 times in a row before I lost a little patience and started a little non-violent protest, placing different fingers on the glass at different times, and moving them around in groovy circles. I then found out that it takes about 5 seconds to process an attempt, but each attempt is recorded more or less instantly, so you can creat a 'backlog' of failed attempts, taking your fingers off and standing helplessly with a dumb look on your face as the machine registers failure after failure. Great stuff.

Even after I started playing ball again, the machine just didn't seem to like me. The operator first dried my fingers and the glass, then moistened them with a special little cloth, it seemed I was there for years...

When I finally got through the operator didn't seem annoyed- it was clear she dealt with this a hundred times a day, and as I walked through I heard the next person behind me register his first attempt with a resounding failure.