A government spokesman looks at the bright side of the recent court ruling against Japan’s “scientific hunt”

A-whaling we will go

by Julian Ryall

Joji Morishita, Japan’s representative at the International Whaling Commission, caught the assembled press some what wrong footed when he appeared at the FCCJ on June 10 and declared that the recent decision by the International Court of Justice forbidding Japan from carrying on its “scientific whaling” program in the Antarctic Ocean was not such a bad thing after all.

The ruling has been hailed by critics of Japan’s stubborn insistence on its right to carry out both scientific and, ultimately, commercial whaling operations, but Morishita dismissed suggestions that the court had put a final nail in the coffin of the whaling industry here. “I felt that the ICJ decision actually was good for Japan,” he said. “And as the days have passed, that impression has been strengthened.”

Morishita went on to dissect passages in the court’s ruling that Japan is interpreting as being supportive of its policies, including part of paragraph 56 that states that the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling was concluded “to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry.”

Japan understands this phrase, which dates from the signing of the convention in December 1946, to mean that the “object and purpose” of the agreement is to harvest whales commercially. Other fragments of the ruling confirm that lethal methods of scientific whaling are not forbidden, while the court also recognized that the sale of the by product from the scientific slaughter is not sufficient on its own to invalidate the Japanese program. Consequently, a narrow reading of the ICJ’s ruling has left Japan with a loophole.

Joji Morishita at the Club

Morishita saved the Japanese government’s trump card for last, highlighting paragraph 246 of the court’s decision. This states: “It is to be expected that Japan will take account of the reasoning and conclusions contained in this judgment as it evaluates the possibility of granting any further permits” to conduct whaling.

Armed with this perceived backing for a resumption of its scientific whaling program, Morishita said the government has set in motion the procedures to win approval from the International Whaling Committee to restart operations in the Antarctic Ocean as soon as next year. “For fiscal 2015, we will submit a new research project for the Antarctic Ocean that will reflect the court’s ruling,” he said.

The new plan must be submitted to the scientific commission of the IWC six months ahead of the next scheduled meeting of the organization, which is scheduled for May of next year. “For Japanese nationals, the whaling dispute is often regarded as an attack on Japan from outside,” Morishita said.

“Whaling is often criticized as evil, barbaric and inhumane and [some say] that it is wrong [that whaling] survives in the 21st century,” he said. “If whaling involved over exploitation or non controlled activities, then Japan should expect to be blamed, but what we want to achieve is sustainable whaling, with catches within a sustainable number.”

And even though few Japanese consume whale meat today, the government is sticking to its contention that whale is an important part of Japan’s food culture. “Even if some country thinks that whales are special or sacred, as long as whales are sustainably utilized then that view should not be forced on others,” he said. “If people in India tried to impose their way of treatment of cows on the rest of the world and tried to promote the prohibiting of eating hamburgers at McDonald’s, what would happen?”

Morishita’s comments at the FCCJ coincided with the government backed “whale week” at Japanese restaurants, with Yoshimasa Hayashi, the minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, photographed enthusiastically tucking into a bowl of whale meat. “Whaling and whale meat cuisine is an important part of Japanese culture,” Hayashi said. “I would like to proactively provide information about it to the public widely and deepen the understanding for the whaling.”

Equally, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a parliamentary commission in Tokyo on June 9, “I want to aim for the resumption of commercial whaling by conducting whaling research in order to obtain scientific data indispensable for the management of whale resources. To that end, I will step up further efforts to get understanding from the international community.”

The reaction from environmental groups was predictable and swift. “If Prime Minister Abe genuinely seeks understanding from the international community, complying with the judgment of the World Court would be a good start,” said Patrick Ramage, head of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s whale program.

“What is ‘regrettable’ is that the respected leader of a great nation would suggest, in 2014, that Japan’s cultural relationship with whales is defined solely by eating them,” said Ramage. “Claiming an attack on one’s culture in an attempt to preserve the narrow interests of a small cadre of government bureaucrats is beneath the stature of a world leader such as Prime Minister Abe.”

Ramage suggested that the “zeal” with which the fisheries ministry is now promoting the consumption of whale is little more than “a cheap political stunt” designed to draw attention away from “his failure to adequately address the needs of Japan’s agricultural and fisheries sectors.”

“As the world continues to turn away from whaling, photo ops such as the one showing Minister Hayashi chowing down on whale meat will only undermine Prime Minister Abe’s goals to double the number of foreign tourists to Japan,” Ramage said. “The ‘Cool Japan’ that Prime Minister Abe so badly wants to sell to the rest of the world will fail if Japan continues to pretend that eating whales somehow protects and promotes its proud cultural heritage.”

Julian Ryall is the Japan correspondent for The Daily Telegraph.