Japan’s whaling town struggles to keep 400 years of tradition alive

theguardian.com -- Dec 26
You don’t have to look far to find evidence of Wada’s centuries-old connection to whaling.

Visitors to the town on Japan’s Pacific coast are greeted by a replica skeleton of a blue whale before entering a museum devoted to the behemoths of the ocean.

At a local restaurant, diners eat deep-fried whale cutlet and buy cetacean-themed gifts at a neighbouring gift shop. At the edge of the water stands a wooden deck where harpooned whales are butchered before being sold to wholesalers and restaurants.

In 2019, when Japan withdrew from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) – the body that had effectively banned whaling in the late 1980s – Wada rejoiced at the prospect of a return to commercial hunting and at a popular reconnection with a source of food that had sustained coastal communities for 400 years.

But here and in other whaling towns in Japan, the resumption of killing whales for profit for the first time in more than three decades has offered little cause for celebration.

While condemnation from conservation groups has eased in the three years since Japan’s fleet exited the Antarctic, the country’s whalers face other obstacles: ageing fishermen and vessels, mysterious changes in cetacean behaviour possibly linked to climate change, and a stubborn refusal among Japanese people to eat enough whale meat to make killing them a profitable venture.

While Japan skirted the IWC ban by conducting limited “scientific” hunts in the Antarctic, it had long argued that only a return to commercial whaling would guarantee a stable supply of affordable meat and ignite a revival in consumption.