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Shall we talk about whales and whaling? (3)

What to eat and what not to


The most frequently asked question to me while talking with my friends here in Australia about the whaling dispute is “have you eaten whale meat?’  “What it’s like?” they ask.  They all look very curious about the ‘mysterious’ and ‘exotic’ meat.  

     I once heard a rumour that restaurants in Japan which serve whale meat had recently been flocked by Australian tourists.  Don’t worry.  It is just a rumour.  And, no.  I have not made a thorough investigation into this rumour as yet.  But Australians are adventurous, brave and open to unknown cultures.  Then, why not?  

     Coming back to the FAQ, yes, I have eaten whale meat.  Like most of Japanese people who are in my generation, I had whale meat at my primary school in Tokyo.  And I must make a confession here.  Actually, I LOVED it.

     School meal – kyushoku ????in Japanese which literary means “supplied meal” – was a bit of an issue for me back then.  Actually I was living in Vancouver from the age of four and never had an opportunity to attend Japanese kindergarten or primary school.  So when my family moved back to Japan when I was seven, my parents teasingly told me “when you go back to Japan, you have to have something called kyushoku which is not necessarily tasty”.  I became a bit scared and was quite cautious about kyushoku on my first day at the Japanese primary school.  

     However, kyushoku time turned out to be the best part of my school life in Tokyo.  Probably because my school had its own kitchen and well trained cooking staff, dishes were wonderfully cooked and, contrary to my parents’ kind warning, they were delicious.   

     Here I am talking about an event that happened in the late 60s, by the way.  It is rather scary to realise that more than 40 years have passed since then!

     Therefore, my memory of the whole menu of kyushoku is rather vague but there are definitely some dishes I still could fondly recall.  Pasta salad, Japanese udon noodle in curry soup, fishcakes fried with sprinkles of seaweed, raisin & brown sugar breads, coffee flavoured milk in a triangle pole shaped pack, bread with chocolate margarine … and I cannot leave out fried whale meat.

     Looking back, however, it is quite bizarre that I did not have any hesitation in eating it.  When I was a kid I did not have likes and dislikes.  I think I had quite a well balanced diet thanks to my mum.  But when it comes to meat, I suddenly became picky.  I could not eat meat which was not on our family meal table.  

     I had and still have my own strict policy.  I do not eat, for example, from rabbits, deer, frogs, pigeons and quails.  This list indicates that I am missing out on most ‘elegant’ French gibier cuisine, I suppose.  Horse meat is very popular among some Japanese, but I do not eat that either.  Bear hands?  No thank you.  I am also not interested in tasting roo or croc meat.  Then, why was whale meat OK?

     To be very honest, I really cannot logically explain my “what meat to eat and what not to” criteria.  Where I draw the line is unclear.  I do have a sense that I am more comfortable eating food from the ocean.  This, of course, includes whales.  That is the only explanation I have at the moment.

     Thus, I believe everyone has got her/his own criteria in deciding what to eat and what not to.  Sometimes logical, sometimes not.  So, what is your policy?  If you find yourself in one restaurant in Japan and were served a whale meat dish, what would you do?

6 March 2011, 5.00pm

Actually, I drafted the above blog a few weeks back.
Now, as I speak … I came across this The Age article “Are you game for roadkill night?” this morning.  Have you seen this?


No.  I wouldn’t be at the Road Kill night for sure.
BUT … I must question myself … what if they were stranded whales? … agh!! … sorry.


  • Damien Kingsbury

    Hi Yoko,

    I trust you got back from Japan okay. And don’t worry about Deakin’s bureaucrats asking you to return early – they are required to do that, but they can’t compel you to. I trust that all of your family is okay.

    Now, onto the whales:

    Like most people, personal attacks against anyone for appearing to be of a group is just plain wrong. I may oppose whale hunting, but that should not be connetced to individuals. I am sorry your friend had the experience she did, and even that you are often asked about it.

    I think there are a couple of issues here that many Australians respond to. 

    The first is that the global whale population came very close to collapsing a while back, with some species facing extinction (e.g. Blue Whale) due to their long maturing time and slow reproduction. As a result, in 1986 the global community agreed to strictly limit the hunting of whales. Australia agreed that this was necessary and it is a view adopted by, I think, most Australians. Whales have since found a place of affection among many people, which adds and emotional element to their concern.

    One can agree or disagree about the necessity of the limitation on whaling, but it did appear that if such a limitation was not imposed some species would disappear. Japan, Norway and Iceland have gotten around this and maintained commercial whaling, with japan doing so by maintaining the transparent facade that they are engaging in limited whaling for ‘scientific research’. No-one likes being lied to, regardless of the importance of the matter. In Australia, frankness is generally valued, which increases the insult attached to the lie. And there is some importance in this matter.

    Fortunately, Australia and Japan have mainatined a good relationship at many levels, so this is a dispute between friends. It is good that friends can object to some of the behavior of each other without losing the friendship. It is an interesting subject, though, in bilateral relations and foreign policy for both countries. 

    By the way, a Norwegian friend of mine said he regards whale meat as delicious. Perhaps if we could farm them, like cattle, it might be more acceptable to kill them for food. But that seems unlikely.

    With best wishes,


    • Yoko Harada Post author


      Dear Damien


      Thank you for your kind message and also for the comment.
      Sorry that it took me quite a while to respond.

      As for Deakin’s contact to urge me to ‘evacuate’ from MY OWN country, although I am deeply grateful for their concern, I must admit that that was the only time I felt a threat this time in Japan.  The push (or pull, should I say?) factor from Down Under – not the earthquake, the tsunami nor the radiation problem in Japan – actually made me to panic a bit.

      The other day, I read an article in The Sydney Morning Herald reporting about two Australian rugby union players who were playing for a Japanese team Kamaishi Seawaves and were caught in the disaster.  A few days after the event, an Australian consular team reached them for the rescue.  Peter Miller left Kamaishi with his young families but Scott Fardy decided to stay to help cleaning up the community there.

      Both Fardy’s and Peter’s decision has to be respected and should not be judged by others whether it was right or wrong.  Deciding from what I had gone through, the final decision should be left to each individual in such circumstances, I believe.

      So, back to business – the whales and whaling!

      Thanks again for taking time to drop a beneficial comment and I totally agree with your point on Australians’ enthusiasm for the frankness and I respect and admire that.  I think I’ve been in this country long enough to recognise the virtue of Australian people.

      But for this particular case, I have to ask a couple of questions. 

      So, what exactly do you think that Japan is lying about?

      Also, then, does this mean that if the Japanese were quite frank about their whaling activity and if the stock of whale spices which they are after at is abundant, is it OK for them to keep hunting whales whether that was commercial or scientific?

      I maybe asking quite naïve questions here but would be grateful if I could hear your opinion.

      Kind regards,


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