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ISANA Dec. 2004 No.30 page 1- 2- 3

Thank you, whales. I pray for your soul.

photo Takashi Ishii
Master Violin Maker

  The word "whale" immediately reminds me of food. At the same time, it also reminds me of violin strings. Whale baleen is used to fix the vital part of a high-quality string, namely, where the right fingers touch. Whales thus are useful for such a purpose.

  The Italian word for a whale is "balena." It is also used to mean a fat lady. A woman who was as slender as a smelt as a young girl gradually gains weight to approach the shape of a whale. My wife, Giuseppina, probably can be classified as a minke whale, not yet a blue whale. I myself am like a sardine or saury swimming hesitantly among many whales in Italy. This sardine has lived in Italy for about 35 years. During this period, I have not eaten any whale meat. I could not because whale meat is not sold in this country.

  When I first arrived in Italy, I was very poor. I used to buy flour for business use and ate something like hot cakes and pancakes every day. At times I went to the butcher to buy chopped meat used for pet food for dogs and cats. I also used to eat tuna "toro" (the fatty flesh of tuna). The reason why a moneyless person as I could eat toro--which is of high value in Japan--was because Italians have no liking for that part of the tuna. (It was so when I was young and is still so today.) Therefore, they cut off and threw away that fatty part. I used to get it for free and ate it. Toro is my favorite because I am a great lover of fish. But I was really tired of it after I ate 1 to 2 kilograms of toro at a time. Anyway, in this way, I secured protein for myself. Toro is now very expensive in Italy because the Japanese are competing to buy it.


  The reason why I brought up the topic of toro is to point out that Italians, and other Western people, do not need any food for which they have no preference because of their food culture and taste. Whale is just this case. Westerners satisfy themselves with eating beef, pork and poultry. I do not watch professional baseball or soccer games or professional wrestling because I have no interest in them. I can go perfectly all right without those sports. But I do not venture to tell their fans to prohibit the games.

  It is an evident fact that former big whaling countries in the Western world, which are now against whaling, were responsible for having driven some species of whales to the brink of extinction by unrestricted and disorderly harvesting. But they are now blaming Japan as an uncivilized country for engaging in whaling, turning a blind eye to their old misdeeds. Admittedly, they knew that a single whale could save some people from malnutrition. Yet they hunted whales only for extracting the oil to lighten up their towns and cities, and openly discarded the meat, while knowing that there are people who were in need of the meat.

  In 1878, the worst accident in the history of Japan's whaling occurred in the village of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, western Japan, which claimed the lives of 111 villagers who took part in whaling. (This accident is called "Osemi-nagare.") I think this disaster was triggered, indirectly and directly, by Americans. The life in Taiji was then in distress because large-scale whaling fleets from America had been exhausting whales in the offshore area, causing fewer whales swim to the coastal area. The villagers had a meager chance of catching whales and were compelled to venture to operate even under adverse sea and weather conditions in order to maintain their livelihood, and this is believed to have resulted in the said shipwreck. The village was driven to further poverty because of this accident.


  A single whale could save the livelihood in the village. The purpose of the coming of the U.S. fleet led by Commodore Matthew Perry to Uraga, Kanagawa Prefecture, near Tokyo, in 1853 was to demand Japan to provide food and water to American whaling fleets. Their arrival imposed added hardships on people dependent on the bounty of the sea. Friendship was only an outward excuse.

  At present, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling bans commercial whaling, and Japan is complying with the decision-- reluctantly. Research whaling is being carried out under some conditions, and the Japanese people can eat whale meat coming from the research. When I returned to Japan this summer, I had the opportunity of eating whale meat for the first time in 30 years. It tasted superb. More than that, I was filled with a nostalgic emotion as my childhood memory came back to me. I saw whale bacon being sold in a shopping mall in Hakata Station. When I was a child, my poor family living in Kitasenju, Tokyo, could eat whale bacon from time to time because it was an inexpensive food. I was surprised to find a small block of whale bacon at a store in Hakata Station priced between 4,000 to 5,000 yen--I first thought it was a mistake for 400 to 500 yen. The Western anti-whaling campaigners are to blame for this high price. They robbed us of our small pleasure.

  Recently I watched an American-made TV program in Italy. It was a routine program telling us that whales are friends to mankind and should be treated with great care. But the program concluded by saying that it is regrettable that people in some part of America and southern Italy are eating dolphins. Cetaceans provide less expensive protein than beef and pork. They are not necessarily the most delicious food, but the fact that they are consumed means that they have been companions to mankind from time immemorial. It is because of this reason that the Japanese erect monuments to marine living things that are granted by heaven to help them to survive. This habit of holding memorial services for animals or instruments once used (for example, needles, artificial teeth, pipes or carpenter's tools) cannot be found in the Western world. Giuseppina's family is dairy farmers and they raise various animals. Several times, I saw the scene of slaughter of cattle and pigs. In her house, nicknames are given to ducks and geese. On one occasion, there was a dinner gathering of her relatives. Giuseppina's mother brought a goose on a big plate, saying she cooked it deliciously. That was "Antonio" that had been waddling in the yard until a short while ago. Although everybody ate it with much cherish, I could not.


  "There was a bar on the ground floor of the apartment house where I used to live, and Elisabetta, a seven-year-old daughter of the house, had been cutting with scissors the legs of frogs for cooking. This was something I did not have the courage to do. I don't think the notion of cruelty differs from country to country. But in the Western countries, killing the animals they use for food is not considered cruel at all.

  The sight of rabbits or lambs, being hung in the butcher's shops with their skin peeled, stimulate the appetite of western people, whereas we Japanese are shuddered to see it. It is not only whales that arouse the sense of pity. Why do western people have compassion only for whales? Most people believe that whales feed only on plankton. They don't know that whales eat fish in the amount five times as much as consumed by humans.

  My wife is Italian and our two children are half-Japanese and half-Italian. They were born Catholic and inherited their food culture in the same way I became a Buddhist because I was born in Japan. Our children know about whales only through television and quite naturally they have embraced an anti-whaling emotion. However, they gradually came to have an understanding on whaling--partly as a result of my persuasion.

  As a nation, Japan should continue its steady and patient effort to persuade Western people who do not understand or even do not try to understand. Not only for the whaling issue, but also for other issues of trade and international relations, it is crucial for the Japanese government to make its views clear without any hesitation as any other country does, giving the top priority to national interest.


  Most affected by the anti-whaling campaign are: first, whales themselves and their feed because of the harsh competition over food as the number of whales increased; second, fishermen who make a living by catching whales and fish.

  I am personally indignant only about the whaling policy of western countries and I have no intention of expressing my views on other international issues because I have no knowledge about them. I am not personally attacking many of my close friends in the western countries. But I believe it is my obligation to take time to convince them on the whaling issue.

  Despite my poor stock of knowledge about whales, I wrote what came across my mind about whales in this essay. I may have been wrong on some points and I must admit that I become emotional when it comes to the topic of whales. My apology for any inconvenience I might have caused because of such shortcomings. Lastly, I take this opportunity to express my thanks and respect to the indefatigable effort of the staff of the Japan Whaling Association.

56th IWC Annual Meeting in Sorrent,Italy

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