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.

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