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The Japanese have practiced whaling for thousands of years. Whaling is the industry in which whales are hunted and killed to obtain meat, bones, baleen, or any part of the whale. To the Japanese, however, whaling holds a greater significance than other countries can relate to. Consequently, in more recent decades, the Japanese have been criticized for their continuation of the industry due to changing cultural perspectives. The Japanese Whaling Association is “concerned about people having the wrong perception of whaling because of the lack of information and the biased information spread” (para. 3). The Japanese believe that they have the right to whaling for a multitude of reasons, and this is mainly because whaling has been a foundational, deeply rooted component of the nation’s culture. Even though international opinion discourages whaling, the Japanese people are reluctant to stop their whaling practices because the Japanese feel that whaling is an integral part of their cultural heritage. One of the main purposes of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) is to regulate the whaling industry in a sustainable way. However, as cultural views and values have changed, members of the IWC continue to make decisions in attempt to halt whaling operations in Japan. The Japanese have been internationally criticized by member nations of the IWC, who believe that whaling is culturally and morally unacceptable, because the manner that the Japanese hunt and kill whales results in a graphic ordeal. The Japanese often perceive these opinions as attacks on their culture. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDC), which has staff worldwide and members that are also part of the IWC, has stated “whaling is cruel and unnecessary and must stop” and further claiming that “many whales die a slow, painful death. This slaughter is pointless” (Fuchs, para. 1). The WDC feels that whaling is a brutal process, as whales are often harpooned, which entails a rather shocking scene. The statement that whales may die a slow death is true, but the pain a whale may feel is subjective based on how an animal is valued in a culture. One could argue the killing of a whale in is no different from the mass slaughter of pigs and cows for consumption. Other countries cannot dictate whether whaling is important or pointless to the Japanese.  Anti-whaling countries including the United States have suggested through public media that the consumption of whale meat in Japan is horrendous (Tanno & Hamazaki, 2000, para. 3). The countries that share the same viewpoint as the United States see why their argument is valid, and cannot relate to the cultural reason why Japan fights for their right to whaling. These two clashing opinions result in  tension on international relations between IWC members and Japan. Even though Japan faces many adversaries, international judgments continue to demoralize Japanese whaling. To Japan, whaling is not considered unethical, and is rather a part of life for many Japanese citizens; in particular, whaling is more important to traditional communities consisting of aboriginals. Whaling in these areas is ingrained in the culture of the natives and still plays a role in the stability of a whaling community. This type of whaling is called aboriginal subsistence whaling (ASW). The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society reports in Japan has stated that four of these communities exist: Abashiri, Ayukawa, Wada and Taiji (2016, para. 22). In all these areas, whaling has been a foundational institute. Takao Hosokawa, a Japanese professor and Agricultural Department worker, states that an unnamed staff member of the Institute of Cetacean Research in Ayukawa claims “it whale meat had been given as a gift. In other words, sharing had been practiced so commonly. As a matter of fact, sharing of whale meat constituted the symbol of this community” (2002, para. 5). In the town of Ayukawa, the provisions that come from a whale are used as a form of expression between individuals, and even serve to represent the entire group. To take away this characteristic is to remove a significant part of traditional culture and would be detrimental to relationships between members of Ayukawa. The aging Japanese population in such towns also contributes to the perpetuation of the whaling industry. Japan’s total population as of 2017 is roughly 126 million (Population Pyramid figure, 2017). There are notably more middle aged citizens and fewer children and young adults, and a general shrinking of the total population. According to a firsthand account from Japanese citizen C.W. Nicol, this trend is reflected in Ayukawa’s population; 38 years ago, the population was a mere 9,000 (1979, para. 9). With such a small population likely composed of older people, traditions are more important to the stability of an area. Elders in these areas would not like to have whaling removed from their communities, because they understand the regional significance and impact of it. To preserve the whaling customs in these towns, Japan defends the institution of aboriginal subsistence whaling. Even in some Japanese areas that do not practice a form of aboriginal subsistence whaling, the practice is still an important part of history kept alive. To maintain traditions and folklore regarding the whale, Japan as a whole continues to regard the importance of the whale through festivals and ritualistic activities. Larger festivals held twice annually reenact ancient concepts. A 2008 description translate from a Japanese website contains photos from thAn extensive Japanese website containing a page that describes the Taiji festival that occurred in August of 2008 mentions that there were fireworks, whale dancing and music, and a portrayal of ancient whaling using a fake whale model, canoe like boats, and actors (Simetani). The Taiji festival is dedicated to honoring and remembering cetaceans, including whales and dolphins, as an essential part of Japan’s survival. Clearly, these festivals are exciting for the Japanese, as the traditional culture is presented in an entertaining way. These festivals still occur, thus indicating that yearly participation is high enough to continue holding the events. The cultural significance of whaling inspires some Japanese citizens to act in a reverent manner as well. One such place where this occurs in the Mie prefecture of Japan. According to the Consulate General of Japan in Sydney, Australia (2012-2016), in the prefecture, “whaling vessels are worshiped” (para. 12). It is evident that whales and the institution of whaling remain fundamental to the Japanese way of life, as citizens across Japan celebrate and recognize the history of whaling. According to an academic journal by Douglas Ezzy, the president of the Australian Association for the study of Religion, up to eighty percent of the Japanese population make a customary visit to shrines or temples at New Year (pg. 20, 216). While many Japanese citizens do not regularly make these trips, there is a sense of obligation to pay respects and regard their beliefs. Therefore, this demonstration of respect to whales through worshiping in the Mie prefecture is significant because it is a regular practice, which further reflects the nationwide importance of reverence to whales. Japan’s cultural dedication to the whale contributes to the continuation of the whaling industry.


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