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When in Japan...Eat Whale

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?
Hall: Yes.
Moronuki: How was it?
Hall: Awful.
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?
Hall: Both.

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?
Hall: Yes.
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.

Reader Comments


April 16, 2008 4:21 PM

Interesting...we (in the West) have 1 perspective, Asians, Africans, Arabs etc, each have a cultural/social/historical perspective, which often clash. Interesting how ALL fishing fleets(Japanese/Taiwanese/Korean/Russian/American) have a great propensity to hunt a species to extermination... whales, abalone, salmon, swordfish, Patagonian toothfish, etc. Of course the average citizen is brain-dead and can't put we have big industry putting millions into the politicians' pockets. The industry figures to make money as long as it can; hunt a species to near extinction, get higher prices for fewer fish. Then, when the whole thing collapses, ask the same corrupt politicians for a federal/state BAILOUT!!!! I see nothing wrong with whaling on a limited basis for Native Americans and other historically-associated people...but the Japanese, like the Chinese (shark elimination for a 3rd rate soup?) are just as rapacious, arrogant and insufferable, as Russians and we, the Americans...who hold no ideals worth mentioning. Your friend above is correct re thawing, but blowin smoke up your proverbial re much else.

Dave Colvin

April 16, 2008 7:58 PM

I agree, why should a country like Japan whale for food, we in the west a close to distroying the tuna population but that is fine as we call it a fish. As long as the fisheries are managed and no one species is about to fail then go ahead.

fish is fish, cows are cows, we can eat all of them just dont ruin it for the future generations.


April 17, 2008 4:16 AM

Shoulda done the interview at a good whale restraunt Moronuki admits.

The Japanese need to change the JARPA program to only allow minke whaling. The current program include whaling of small amount of endangered whales.
I hate seeing about this whaling most stuborn Japanese gives me the urge to eat whale.

The issue most people are concerned are about whether it's endangered or not right?


April 17, 2008 6:44 AM

The problem with Moronuki-san's argument is that, what if there comes a time when you should choose?

"Do you have the will to give up whale meat?"

Unfortunately for the world, most countries' govt's are of the notion, or rather feed the notion that their citizens aren't willing to sacrifice a bit for the common good - and quite a lot of it is *because* these govt officials or even the elite dont set an example themselves


April 18, 2008 2:02 AM

It's so hypocritical for people who don't eat whales to say "you whale eaters should stop eating whales for the common good".

The "common good" is that everyone avoids unsustainable practices. Whaling has not always been conducted in a sustainable fashion, but that doesn't mean that it can not be conducted in a sustainable fashion.


April 18, 2008 2:34 AM

I agree with Timmy. After all, we wouldn't be happy if other people were telling us what to eat and what not to.

And saying "stop eating whales" to Japanese and Norwegians while allowing indigenous peoples like the Inuits to do it is also hypocritical.

It is a matter of sustainability. If whaling can be done sustainably, it seems it actually can, there shouldn't be any objections to it who ever conduct it. (at least for as long as whale carcasses are used as much as possible)

Malcolm J. Brenner

April 24, 2008 11:31 PM

Maybe Moronuki should tell his kids about how a whale dies slowly, screaming in pain, after a 20-kilo steel grenade harpoon explodes in its guts and the whale boat sets its engines in full reverse? They'd have nightmares for a week. You can never make killing a whale "humane," that's why I will always oppose commercial whaling no matter who is conducting it.

jarod mason

July 30, 2009 1:15 AM

I dont think it is ok to kill intelligent animals for the pleasure-I mean pleasure, these Japanese aren't starving-

Where should the line be drawn as to what is an intelligent animal? Not sure. But I know whales are above that line. More power to those who interfer with the whale killing.


August 16, 2009 3:29 AM

Anybody who eats whale meat today is completely ignorant...and that's no longer a valid excuse for a helping to perpetuate a horrible crime against humanity. Whaling is no longer acceptable (if it ever was); furthermore excessive hunting during a time of very heated debate is a slap in the face to the rest of the world. I support any method to stop this action by Japan and any other nation (eg: Norway).


August 16, 2009 9:02 PM

Did you see them kill the Whale on the last Whale Wars? Its unbelievable to me that anyone can support whaling, especially after watching how they do it. It makes me sick.

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