- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

TOKYO — Japan has enticed children with whaleburger school lunches, sung the praises of the red meat in colorful pamphlets and declared whale hunting “a national heritage.”

But Tokyo has a problem — by rapidly expanding its whale hunt, Japan now kills more of the giant mammals than its consumers care to eat.

The result is an unprecedented glut of whale meat. Prices — once about $15 a pound — are plunging, inventories are bursting, and promoters are scrambling to get Japanese to eat more whale.

It’s a tough sell.

“To put it simply, whale meat tastes horrible,” said 30-year-old Kosuke Nakamura, one of the diners at a Hana No Mai restaurant in Tokyo who turned their noses up at whale meat.

Young people are put off by the tough, pungent meat, Mr. Nakamura said, while older Japanese are reminded of the lean years after the country’s defeat in World War II when whale meat was considered a good source of protein.

And while few Japanese voice environmental concerns about hunting whales, some younger people say it has brought the country unfavorable publicity.

“Whaling’s so bad for Japan’s image. I don’t know why we still hunt,” Mr. Nakamura said.

About 1,035 tons of whale meat reached market in Japan last year, a 65 percent increase from 1995, according to the national Fisheries Agency. And sluggish demand means inventories have almost doubled in five years to 2,704 tons in 2004.

In the same period, the average price of whale fell almost 30 percent, to a little more than $10 a pound in 2004.

But the glut of whale meat hasn’t stopped the harpoon guns. Tokyo plans to kill — under a research program — about 1,070 minke whales in 2006, up more than 400 from last year. Japan will also hunt 10 fin whales, and a total of 160 Bryde’s, sei and sperm whales, fisheries official Kenji Masuda said.

The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, approving limited hunts for research purposes a year later.

The Japanese government, which distributes the meat and uses profits to fund research, is working to promote whale meat.

“Is it OK to eat whale meat? Of course it is,” reads a pamphlet titled “Delicious Whales” that is distributed by the government-affiliated Japan Whaling Association. “Even if we capture 2,000 whales a year for 100 years, it’s OK because whale numbers are growing.”

Some local governments have begun offering whale meat in school lunches.

Wakayama, a prefecture with a whale-hunting tradition 280 miles southwest of Tokyo, introduced whale meals at 270 public schools last year, with child-friendly whale dishes such as whale meatballs, whaleburgers and whale spaghetti Bolognese.

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