Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, February 11, 2006


Some time ago I posted an article discussing whale meat. Specifically, I talked about how the whale meat industry here in Japan was trying to encourage whale meat consumption by promoting new products such as "whale burgers". This coincided with an increase in the number of minke whales harvested for "scientific research".

I myself wound up running smack into that. I was having a very enjoyable dinner at a kaiten sushi restaurant (a restaurant in which patrons can select plates of sushi or other dishes from a moving conveyor belt buffet), and I saw a plate with a type of sushi I didn't recognize. The fish was of a tantalizingly rich, dark color, so I tried it. It turned out not to have much flavor at all. It was like eating soft, juicy plastic. Then I noticed the sign showing a picture of that type of sushi and saying (in Japanese), "New! Whale sushi!" So much for defending my principles.

A kaiten sushi restaurant.

Well, it appears that science has gone overboard, because there is now a whale meat glut. Prices have plummeted, and stocks are in danger of going bad because the product simply isn't moving. In short, increased "research" is threatening to put the whale meat industry out of business. As a result, they have started selling it as dog food.

Bargain-priced whale meat at a Tokyo market.

Hmm...when a gourmet delicacy winds up in Spot's dish, you know something's wrong! Does this mean a possible war between consumerism and science?


  • Political, scientific and ethical issues about taking whales aside, the blubber and meat contains mercury, pcbs, and dioxin, sometimes exceeding the Japanese government's own limits by factors of 100 or even many times that.

    To allow it to be sold at all is bad enough, to feed to kids is totally irresponsible.

    Are these the same health officials that are so concerned about US beef?

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 5:32 PM  

  • Panda removing hind paw from mouth. I mis-read and thought it was in a school cafeteria rather than a restaurant. Still think the contradictory stance on whale meat vs US beef is interesting.

    - retreating into the bamboo now...

    defcata - what Pandas leave on the ground.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 8:42 PM  

  • Whale meat. Hmmmm. So far have not tried rabbit meat nor horse meat nor kangaroo meat. Probably will not. Whale meat will make the list too. But is whale a fish too although warm-blooded?

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 6:23 PM  

  • It doesn't taste good and reminds some about those lean years after WWII - - maybe they treat it like an alternative to fugu?

    We always measure how many police to how many residents/people, doctor to patient, etc. Maybe it's time to measure numbers of scientist/conservationist to HUNTER or CONSUMER?

    By Blogger @ロウ 。LOW@, at 9:39 PM  

  • PandaB
    Safety of whale meat is not the issue. Neither is its flavor...or lack thereof. I think it's more a question of national pride. Whale meat is seen as a traditional delicacy that is being unfairly kept from the dinner table by foreign pressure.
    BCE is not the real beef with the beef issue, either.

    Rabbit is too oily and gamey for my liking. I tried kangaroo jerky while I was in Australia and found it to be soft and flavorful. As for horsemeat, I haven't eaten it intentionally, but there were occasions in my school days when we had to wonder about the "mystery meat" in our cafeteria lunches...

    Officially, whales are classified as mammals (like cows, cats, and humans), not "fish". In Japan, however, they are widely referred to as "fish". (I have argued with my wife over this issue.)

    An alternative to fugu? I never thought of that. It's an interesting notion.

    I have no idea what that ration might be. However, since Japan was harvesting about 300 minke whales a year for "scientific research" until recently, when the number was increased, one has to wonder where the scientists are and what they're doing.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:20 PM  

  • ... and we thought the "save-the-whale" activists are overacting?

    By Blogger YD, at 4:35 PM  

  • a tantalizingly rich, dark color, not much flavor, soft, juicy plastic. .,..

    I am sure the Japanese could definitely find a synthetic replacement for it..

    Just like it did for scallops cakes and alaska crabs stick

    By Blogger Robin, at 5:37 PM  

  • Mmmmm I remember that Mystery Meat!

    Textured Vegetable Protein was a big filler in those... Picture it as Soy soaked in waste beef fat that the dog food company sells as a byproduct.

    Vohiwo: Ritually screamed just before the blade falls in synthetic sushi faktories.

    By Blogger Vulgarius, at 9:31 AM  

  • feeding it to dogs now yea? lol funny how things turn around...but i think they use whale extracts in cosmetics lipsticks and conceslers..anyways dont worry i bet they ll find a way to feed us the whale...they ll come up with a new diet or meal plan which says whale for breakfast, lunch and dinner...dont u worry

    By Blogger saba, at 3:38 AM  

  • YD
    Good to see you!
    Hey, activists of any kind need to justify their existence somehow!

    When it comes to food, the Japanese tend to be less tolerant of synthetic replacements. Even supermarket vegetables seem surprisingly organic these days.

    Mmmm! Yum!
    Actually, in my university days I had a friend who worked in one of the dorm cafeterias. He said the scrambled eggs were really "Golden Nature Frozen Egg Product" (ask for it by name!) and the beef they got was labeled "grade C" (i.e. too low quality for supermarkets!).
    They got their stuff from Saga Foods, the same company that supplied our high school!

    Welcome, fellow world traveler!
    Actually, when the rice harvest went bust about a decade ago and they were forced to (*gasp*) import it, the government intentionally brought in the cheapest, worst-quality stuff they could get from Thailand, China, and the U.S. and then engaged in a massive media smear campaign to discourage people from buying it. (There were stories of insect larvae, bits of glass, formaldehyde, and other nasty things in the Thai rice.) Once the domestic rice stocks recovered, the government immediately terminated all further import deals and said, "See how we're wisely protecting our people?"
    So what did they do with all that surplus Thai rice that no one would buy?
    They made it into candy and marketed it like crazy. It sold like hot cakes!
    You're right; they'll sell the whale bits one way or another.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:56 PM  

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