Japanese company puts whale meat on sale in vending machines
Two vending machines selling whale meat were unveiled in Tokyo on January 24 as part of the whaling industry’s campaign to try and increase consumption, which is on the decline in Japan. However, animal rights defenders, including our Observers, are angry that whalers are back in Japanese waters after the government lifted a ban on whaling in 2019.
Vending machines in Japan's capital of Tokyo are offering whale sashimi, whale steak and canned whale for sale.
There are many different ways to eat whale meat on display in the new “Kujira Store” ((kujira means whale in Japanese) vending machines unveiled on January 24. Lots of people have been circulating images of the machines and the whale meat products inside on social media.
For the past few years, the sale of whale meat has been losing steam in Japan. Considered both cruel and a threat to the survival of several endangered species, whale hunting was banned internationally for more than 30 years after a historic campaign launched by the NGO Greenpeace back in 1986. However, in 2019, Japan withdrew from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and relaunched commercial whaling in its waters.
That said, the Japanese didn’t actually stop whaling during those thirty years. In 2014, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found that Japan had massacred nearly 900 whales a year under the guise of “scientific missions” in Antarctica. When it left the IWC, Japan did agree to limit whaling to within about 200 marine miles (370 km) from its shores, an area that is part of its economic zone.
The Japanese company Kyodo Senpaku, the main actor in the sector, is behind these new vending machines. They are thrilled about their newest bid to increase consumption – in fact, their spokesperson said that sales had already “surpassed expectations.”
They say they are planning on opening a total of a hundred vending machines.
昼間TLに流れてきて、ちょっと気になってた元町のくじらストアを覗いてみるなど。24時間営業というか要は鯨の自販機コーナー。— ぼの (@bono_iidx) January 26, 2023
'Younger generations rather prefer "live" whales over whale meat'
Nanami Kurasawa is part of the Iruka & Kujira Action Network, a Japanese group dedicated to defending whales. She is angry about the installation of these vending machines, even if she doesn’t think that they will turn the public into big fans of whale meat overnight.
It's one of the efforts for the whaling company to continue their industry, but I think it will not increase whale meat demand. In Japan, the whaling issue isn't a popular topic [...] people have been less interested in the issue. But younger generations rather prefer 'live' whales over whale meat.
In 2021, Japanese people ate 1,000 tonnes of whale meat, compared to an estimated 233,000 tonnes a year back in 1962, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Fishing. Back then, people in Japan ate more whale meat than beef or chicken.
'Desperate' attempts by the whaling industry
From whale stuffed animals to sashimi recipes, Japan’s whaling industry is pulling out all the stops to attract consumers.
【栄養情報レポート】鹿児島純心女子短期大学のセミナーやアイデアレシピをご紹介♪詳しくはくじらタウンをチェック!!→https://t.co/mbaqq6IW1T #くじらタウン #鹿児島 #くじらレシピ #鯨肉 pic.twitter.com/KneMl8Prvi— くじらタウン (@kujiratown) January 18, 2023
Our Observer says the main argument levied by people promoting the consumption of whale meat – that it is an important tradition in Japanese culture – is all wrong.
The whaling discussion is mostly among those who are against the anti-whaling community, the people who believe that 'foreign people are trying to stop our culture and it's discrimination against Japanese people'. The government insists that whales are one of the fishery resources. They say it's our tradition to use all marine life. Whales are under the management of the Fisheries Agency, not the ministry of the environment. Their main purpose is to promote the fishing industry, and it doesn't care about the environment or biodiversity. So along with many environmental and nature protection groups, we have been pressuring the ministry of the environment to conserve and manage whales like other mammals. But it hasn't been easy until now.
'A whole generation of Japanese people grew up eating whale meat in their school lunches'
Mark J. Palmer is the associate director for the International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP), which works for the protection of marine mammals across the world. He has been keeping a close watch on the strategy employed by Japan’s whaling industry over the past decade:
For years, they've been trying to institutionalise commercial whaling and get the Japanese people to eat more whale meat. Following World War Two, there was a period when when Japan was very dependent upon whales because they were starving. Basically after World War Two, their infrastructure had been destroyed and they needed to get protein and whaling was one of the ways they did that. A whole generation of Japanese people grew up eating whale meat in their school lunches in order to provide nutrition to the Japanese people. But that time is long gone.
The Japanese have killed whales since probably medieval times. However, that was always very local in coastal areas where they'd go out and they'd pull in a whale and the local community and maybe communities around would eat it. But there was never a widespread whale eating culture within the country of Japan itself.
The government itself tries to push this myth that whale meat is necessary for Japan to survive, and it really hasn't taken hold at all. So they they do things like set up restaurants, put out recipes, they sell whale jerky. The newest gimmick is these little stores that have these machines.
They have a very hard time getting rid of the existing whale meat supplies that they have, much less expanding it to get it more economically viable. The problem with whaling has always been that in order to make a profit, you have to kill as many whales as you possibly can. So they're always pushing for higher quotas. They're always pushing for more whales because that's the only way they can make it profitable.
When it lifted the whaling ban, Japan did impose a quota on whalers. In 2023, the quota was fixed at 347 whales total. Japanese whalers are allowed to hunt three different species: minke whales, Bryde’s whales and sei whales.
今回の横浜元町のくじらストア（くじら自販機）の様子等はこんな感じでした※他の方がいない時カメラ置いて撮影しました。— 🌕️月森梗心（つきもりこうみ） 🌙 (@kou_051009) January 31, 2023
However, our Observer says that these three species are not the only types of whale meat sold in Japan. At least one other species is imported.
Sei whales are endangered, while the other two species on the Japanese hunt list are less so. However, a large part of the whale meat imported into Japan comes from fin whales, hunted in Iceland.
Kyodo Senpaku, the company behind the vending machines, is planning to import nearly 3,000 tons of fin whale meat starting in February 2023. However, Iceland announced in 2022 that it would stop whale hunting by 2024, as demand for whale meat dwindles. Our Observers hope that Japan will take the same route.