Posted by: Kenji Hall on April 15, 2008
Whaling, like money, is just one of those things you don’t bring up in polite company. It can start as a civil chat but, because of the passions on both sides of the whaling debate, suddenly dissolve into a vicious, bitter shouting contest.
You would assume that’s the kind of talk I had with the head of the Japanese Fisheries Agency’s whaling division. My interview with Hideki Moronuki was anything but. He was worldly and engaging, and our conversation, though at times confrontational, was never hostile. He was a good listener and he parried my points and answered my questions with enthusiasm. As an official stationed at the Japanese Embassy in Italy years ago, Moronuki had engaged his hosts in similar discussions and earned the moniker the Whaling Ambassador.
These are things that can get lost in the telling of a story. Every reporter has been in conversations during the course of the reporting that he yearns to include in a story but, for lack of space, can’t. Here’s one such exchange from my recent whaling story. (Why revisit this now? The Japanese whaling ship, Nisshin Maru, returned to harbor today after several months at sea. It killed more than 550 whales, far below its target of around 1,000. Greenpeace issued a statement saying: “551 whales is still over a hundred more than Japan took three years ago, in what is an internationally recognised whale sanctuary. This blatantly commercial whale hunt must end immediately.”)
Moronuki: The Chinese character for whale uses the same character found in fish. So we think of whales as fish. That thinking has been diluted by Greenpeace rhetoric. Have you ever tried whale before?
Moronuki: How was it?
Moronuki: Where did you eat it?
Hall: In Shimonoseki (southern Japan) and near Ayukawa (northeast of Tokyo).
Moronuki: How was it prepared? Sashimi?
Hall: One time it was sashimi, the other as a breaded and deep-fried cutlet.
Moronuki: Which one tasted bad?
Moronuki: (Shakes his head and chuckles) That's probably because you had either old or bad meat or the chef didn't know what he was doing. If I happen to find whale meat at the supermarket I'll buy it.
Hall: Every time you find it?
Moronuki: Not always. Whale meat is like a cross between fish and livestock. Unless you thaw it carefully the meat gets distorted and bleeds.
Hall: When I had the whale sashimi it bled all over a pile of daikon radish and the rest of my plate.
Moronuki: And the meat was sticky?
Moronuki: That's the sign of a bad chef. You have to thaw the frozen whale meat at around 1 degree C for a week. If you do that, you won't get the drip or stickiness. I buy it a lot and feed it to my three kids. They love it. I live in a small apartment complex where the residents are friendly with each other. In the spring and fall we have BBQ parties. I serve deep-friend whale meat. When I first brought it out I told everyone what it was. None of the other kids was reaching for it. But my kids had eaten it before and they snatched it right away and started eating. Other kids saw that and decided to try it. Once you start eating it goes down easily. That's when I told them that there are whales that are endangered and whales that are abundant, and that as long as there's a way to manage whaling the practice should be allowed.