The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was established in 1948 at the initiative of the United States to establish a new world order in whaling. Initially 15 governments were party to the IWC with Japan at the time under occupation and without the right to join.
The Commission’s objectives included safeguarding the great natural resources represented by whale stocks and providing for the “orderly development of the whaling industry” recognising that whale stocks will increase if whaling is properly regulated.
But by the 1960s an anti-whaling movement had emerged in the West and the IWC focus started to change. In 1972, at the United Nations Human Environmental Conference held in Stockholm, the United States lobbied for a moratorium on commercial whaling; a moratorium that came into effect ten years later.
Japan initially took action to be exempt from the moratorium in accordance with Article V of the convention. Japan made the case that the moratorium infringed upon provisions within the convention in particular that decisions of the IWC be based on scientific findings – at the time the scientific recommendation was that the moratorium was unnecessary – and take into consideration the interests of consumers of whale product.
The United States threatened that unless Japan withdrew its objection it would revoke fishing allocation for Japanese trawlers off the west coast of Alaska. Japan withdrew its objection, but the US nevertheless phased out its fishing allocation to Japan.
In a book, ‘Reviving the Invisible Hand’, by Deepak Lal, a well known economist born in Indian, reference is made to the West’s obsession with promoting its “habits of the heart” including through the propaganda of the NGOs, most of whom espouse various environmental causes (pg. 233). Lal explains that the bread and butter of environment groups involves arousing the fear of “Apocalypse Now” (an enduring superstition of mankind) along with the “muddled cosmological beliefs of the West” about how one should live.
He refers to organisations such as the International Whaling Commission as transnational institutions created after the Second World War to legislate our Western morality around the world and that the infiltration and use of these institution by NGOs as source of potential serious disorder (pg. 234).
What the West doesn’t seem to understand is that while Japan, to again quote Lal, joined the bandwagon of globalizing capitalism, they have done this without sacrificing their culture or cosmological beliefs and see the demand from countries like Australia that they give up their tradition of eating whale – a tradition that can be traced to the Jomon Period of approximately 5,500 BC – as a form of cultural imperialism. Masayuki Komatsu and Shigeko Misaki in ‘Whales and the Japanese’ (The Institute of Cetacean Research, 2003) indicate that the Japanese don’t like others to dictate what “our habits should be” and suggest that the anti-whaling lobby is practicing ethnic and cultural discrimination (pg. 103-104).
At a summit of traditional Japanese whaling communities held in March 2002, it was affirmed that “the basis of Japanese whaling tradition and culture, characterised by the total utilization of the whales and a spirit of gratitude, should be maintained and perpetuated”.
The Japanese have a strong connection to the Shinto and Buddhist religions and believe that deep respect should be afforded animals that are killed so we may eat. This respect involves not wasting any of the animal and so the Japanese have made a virtue out of utilizing every part of the whale. There is also a cemetery for whales in the Koganji Buddhist Temple in Nagato City where the fetuses of whales that “did not live to swim in the sea” are buried and kakochos (books of the dead) dedicated to the whales that gave their lives for the well-being of humans. A service is held once a year in the temple to pray for the souls of the whales.
The Japanese want an end to the moratorium on commercial whaling and the right to continue to harvest whales. They see the moratorium as reflecting Western arrogance and believe that they will prevail, simply because “we are right”.
This is my fourth blog post on whaling following my recent visit to Japan.
Deepak Lal was elected President of the Mont Pelerin Society at its 60th Anniversary Meeting in Tokyo.
The picture was taken in the garden of the Orion Hotel, Chinzanso, on September 12, 2008.