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Environmental Studies

Japan's Whaling Problem



Why is Japan continuing JARPA?




    Diverting Attention

    Japanese Pride


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Japan’s Whaling Problem

Why is Japan continuing JARPA?

Depending on who you ask, you will get a variety of reasons why the Japanese have continued its whaling practices. The Japanese government maintains that JARPA is purely for scientific purposes while the fishing industry has largely cited preserving Japanese culture and supplementing the Japanese economy as its main reasons. Citizen groups and concerned experts however believe otherwise.


According to the Japanese government, whaling has a strong and deeply rooted history in Japanese culture, being referenced in many ancient Japanese texts such as “Whaling history” by Seijun Otsuki as well as depicted in many traditional paintings such as Hokusai’s Chie no Umi, Goto Kujira Tsuki. However, many critics often discount this claim. Although Japanese history does show whaling activities, it was limited to several minor coastal towns. Whaling did not become prominent in Japan until the 20th century with the advent of modern ships and harpoon guns (Head, 2005). Whaling does have a long history in several coastal towns, but the country as a whole only recently became acquainted with it.


Japan’s main argument for maintaining the JARPA program is that the program is necessary for scientific research. According to the Japanese Whaling Association, a “large range of information is needed for the management and conservation of whales, such as population, age structure, growth rates, age of maturity, reproductive rates, feeding, nutrition and levels of contaminants. Also, this type of important information cannot be obtained through small DNA samples or analysis of organochlorine, but only through lethal research.” (Japan Whaling Association, 2008)

Experts however, have largely discredited this claim. Dr. Susan Lieberman, Director of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), as well as other scientists from the WWF, point out that analysis of skin samples from whales can answer many of the questions that the JARPA program seeks to answer, without harming the whale. According to the WWF, “genetic analysis of small skin samples - collected with a non-harmful special biopsy dart - is now widely used to understand the population structure of many mammals. The skin sample is also able to provide solid information on the whale's gender, its reproduction rates as well as give a picture of its diet over a long time period.” (WWF, 2005)

Although this technology did not exist when JARPA began, it is now widely available. Yet, Japan continues to cull whales under the blanket of research. Furthermore, the whales being culled for research purposes have mostly ended up on supermarket shelves. These facts have caused many groups to call JARPA a “sham” and consider the program “impractical” (Head, 2005).


Japan argues that its whaling industry is very important to maintaining the economies of its coastal towns, citing that the revenue from the whale meat generates $50 million per year. Japan also argues that having whale meat delicacies will bring more tourists to its coastal villages, further boosting the income of the villages. The real facts, however, have been cast into doubt.

Japanese perception towards whaling

Although whale meat is consumed in Japan, it is not in high demand. Whale meat is served only in a few specialty restaurants and is rarely eaten by the younger crowd, who considers the taste to be disgusting, or the older generation, who considers whale meat a reminder of the poor times after World War II (Head, 2005). This lack of demand was further emphasized when Japan’s local school districts had to mandate the consumption of whale meat in schools in order to try to clear out the large stockpiles that had accumulated (Sekiguchi, 2007). Japan’s whaling consumer industry gained further negative publicity when Prof. Tetsuya Endo from the University of Hokkaido published papers that warned of dangerously high levels of mercury in whale meat (Fackler, 2008).

With many figures showing the low demand of whale meat in the Japanese market, experts have questioned how the industry is able to generate any revenue at all. In fact, many believe that the industry is only able to generate a profit because it is being heavily subsidized by the Japanese government though no actual figures have been reported. If true, this means that the Japanese are actually losing money by allowing the whaling program to continue.

Whale Watching

If generating revenues for its coastal villages through tourism was Japan’s main concern, then it should switch from whale hunting to whale saving. In his book “Whale watching 2001: Worldwide tourism numbers, expenditures and expanding socioeconomic benefits,” Erik Hoyt estimates that the global whale watching industry generates a revenue of $1.5 billion each year. The $50 million that the Japanese whaling industry claims to make seems minor in comparison. Should Japan decide to promote the whale watching industry by caring for the whales, it has the potential to become a leading competitor in the industry due to its advantageous location.

Diverting attention

Many activist organizations inwardly theorize that Japan is using the issue of whaling as a bait to keep international attention away from its other fishing practices. As a nation surrounded by water, Japan relies heavily on its fishing industry to provide fish that makes up a large part of Japanese cuisine as well as revenue. However, with the current worldwide trend in declining fish stocks, Japan is worried that worldwide attention will divert from the whaling issue, and will refocus on the issue of preserving other threatened species of fish that the Japanese rely on in their staple diet, such as salmon and tuna (Head, 2005).To further add to the argument that Japan does not want international attention focused elsewhere, Japan recently admitted to exceeding its catch quota for blue-fin tuna for 2007 (Sekiguchi, 2007). Should international attention become focused on preserving other marine life, Japan’s all-important fishing culture and fishing industry could become threatened, thus, it is perhaps in Japan’s best interest to keep international debate focused mainly on whaling.

Japanese Pride

Many Japanese citizens believe that Japan is fighting to maintain JARPA in order to maintain its nationalistic pride (Hogg, 2006). Japan is a proud nation that has successfully kept its cultural identity through European imperialism. After World War II however, Japan was reduced to a shell of its former glory. Already shamed by losing the war, Japan was further shamed when American forces occupied, imposed western laws, and demilitarized the nation. To further add to Japan’s shame, Japan finally agreed to sign the 1986 IWC whaling moratorium largely due to threats of economic sanctions from the US. Japan has always considered itself to be bullied by the western nations and only recently have the Japanese developed the economic and international power to compete. Many nationalists view the whaling controversy as another issue where Japan is being bullied by the western nations; this time, however, they are willing to fight.

Hokusai Painting

Picture:Chie no Umi, Goto Kujira Tsuki painted by Hokusai in 1826.

Japanese Whaling Ship Nisshin Maru

Picture:The lead Japanese Whaling Ship, Nisshin Maru.

Whale meat

Picture: Raw whale meat on a platter.

Whale Watching

Picture: Whale watching is a growing industry.

Tuna at Japanese Fish Markets

Picture: A large selection of Tuna at Japan's famed Tsukiji fish market.

Last updated:  5/7/2008


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