Given how much grief the government gets over this, it’s mind boggling that it continues to pursue a policy that very few Japanese people support.’
What, then, are the real reasons for Japan’s whaling?
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Japan’s whaling advocates support the industry as a part of national identity, condemning the ‘racist’ attitudes of Western opponents in opposing whaling.
‘Many Japanese are of the view that among the anti-whaling environmental groups such as Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace, there’s an element of racism within their public communications and that Sea Shepherd especially is a racist organization and publicises anti-Japan sentiment,’ Inwood says.
Tokyo-based journalist David McNeill says domestic support for whaling had actually been boosted by the activities of activists such as Sea Shepherd, which has sought to obstruct Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean sanctuary.
A collision in January 2010 between the group’s Ady Gil and whaling ship Shonan Maru No. 2 and subsequent arrest of the Ady Gil’s captain, Peter Bethune, further inflamed nationalistic sentiment against alleged foreign ‘eco-terrorists.’
McNeill says the Japanese media focused on Bethune’s assault on a crew member of the Japanese ship which he boarded, with ‘very little sympathy’ for the militant conservationists.
‘The press take their cue from the Fisheries Agency, and the media angle was look at these lunatics on the high seas attacking our fleet—we’ve finally arrested one,’ he says.‘Most Japanese are not pro-whaling, but they’re anti anti-whaling. Japan’s line is that it has a legitimate right to whale, and the illegality is on the other side.’
McNeill says Japan’s overseas whaling activities gave it an otherwise rare opportunity to ‘stick its finger up’ at overseas pressure.
‘Japan is so diplomatically and politically under the thumb when it comes to its foreign policy. It doesn’t really have a chance to let off steam, but whaling is one area where it can. In some ways, pressure from abroad is fuelling the Japanese campaign,’ he says.
A reported recovery in certain whale species since the end of commercial whaling has also supported Japan’s call for a scientific-based approach to the industry instead of a permanent prohibition.
In its briefing note issued at the latest IWC annual meeting in June 2010, Japan stated its objective was to ‘resume sustainable whaling for abundant species under international control, including science-based harvest quota and effective enforcement measures…we are committed to conservation and the protection of endangered species.’