EnvironmentJapan

Japanese firm sells whale meat from vending machines

In 2021, Japan consumed just 1,000 tons of whale meat

Whale meat is not to everyone’s taste, but a Japanese whaling company has enraged millions by selling whale meat from vending machines to boost consumption.

Kyodo Senpaku led Japan’s whaling fleet during its controversial expeditions to the Southern Ocean. The company has now opened its first kujira (whale meat) “stores” at two locations in Tokyo.

The machines sell a variety of whale meat products, including canned items containing meat imported from Iceland, bacon, steaks and red meat that can be eaten raw as sashimi. According to the Guardian, prices range from 1,000 (250 baht, US$8) to 3,000 yen.

Although whale meat was a staple source of protein in Japan during postwar food shortages, consumption declined after the 1960s as pork, chicken and beef became more affordable.

Japanese consumers ate 230,000 tons of whale meat in 1962, eclipsing the figures for beef (157,000) and chicken (155,000). However, in 2021 they consumed just 1,000 tons of whales.

But Kyodo Senpaku said early sales from its seven vending machines in Tokyo proved that many people still had an appetite for the traditional cuisine.

Konomu Kubo, a company spokesperson. said…

“Sales have outstripped our expectations, even though the products aren’t exactly cheap. Some of the items have sold out.”

Customers were a mix of older people who wanted to take a trip down memory lane and inquisitive younger people, but campaigners have accused the firm of making a “desperate attempt” to “prop up the cruel and declining whale industry in Japan.”

Japan’s Whale and Dolphin Conservation said in a statement that the Japanese government provided 5 billion yen (1.2 billion baht, US$40 million) in subsidies to prop up the whaling industry in 2020. Whaling campaigner Astrid Fuchs said…

“Only a small but influential group of politicians and whaling industry stakeholders drive the country’s whaling interests. This latest cynical sales ploy comes at a time when the fisheries agency in Japan is aiming to expand the nation’s whale-catch quotas in around two years’ time, and possibly increase the list of species that can be killed.”

Miki Yamanaka, a Tokyo woman who buys whale meat from vending machines, said…

“My father ate tatsuta-age [fried whale meat] with a nostalgic look on his face, and my eldest son in high school is a fan of whale steak cooked with soy sauce. I’m back again today to buy more.”

The firm will open a third store this week in the port city of Yokohama, and plans to have machines operating in 100 locations around Japan over the next five years.

According to a 2012 survey by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, 89% of Japanese people said they had not bought whale meat in the previous 12 months.

Sales of whale meat from vending machines are part of a campaign by the industry to protect a tradition that stretches back hundreds of years. Every year, Kyodo Senpaku provides about 100 tons of whale meat to schools for use in children’s lunches.

Konomu Kubo said…

“We’re aware of the criticism from anti-whaling groups, including in Japan, but they’re in the minority. What’s important to us is how popular the vending machines have been so far.”

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Jon Whitman

Jon Whitman is a seasoned journalist and author who has been living and working in Asia for more than two decades. Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Jon has been at the forefront of some of the most important stories coming out of China in the past decade. After a long and successful career, Jon is now semi-retired, living in a quiet village in Krabi province, Thailand. He continues to write and is an avid traveler and photographer, documenting his experiences across the world.