Glen Inwood recently sent me some books about whaling from a Japanese perspective. They are so interesting with a lot of history. Given many readers of this blog have a particular interest in whaling, I plan to post some extracts from these books over the next few months. Here’s the first installment:
“Since time immemorial, the Japanese people have been religiously taught to avoid eating four-legged animals – a teaching that has its genesis in the influence of the Buddhist faith. When Buddhism was introduced from the Asian continent well over a thousand years ago, the Prince Regent Shotoku, who ruled the nation at the time, quickly became a devoted follower of the new faith. He promoted a marriage of Bhuddism with the indigenous Japanese religion, Shinto.
After Prince Shotoku, there was a successful coup bringing Emperor Tenchi to power, and he wasted no time in declaring Buddhism the national religion. In the seventh century, Emperor Tenmu prohibited the eating of land animals entirely. The whale, however, lived in the ocean and was regarded as a fish, and therefore notably not included in the prohibition.
Centuries after this decree, in 1687, the Shogun Tsunayoshi introduced a special mercy law protecting animals. He loved dogs to the point of madness, and all animals were further protected by this law. However, even under this Shogun, whales were not protected.
Moreover, because this law made it harder to procure animal meat, the whale found itself even more sought after as a crucial source of protein in the Japanese diet. It was during this era that net whaling developed, and whale meat consequently became a more regular feature of the Japanese diet.”
(From Whales and the Japanese by Masayki Komatsu and Shigeko Misaki, pg. 54)
And here’s a link to a recent news story with Japanese surfers complaining not enough was done to save stranded melon-head whales.