Japanese 10-year-olds taken on school trips to whale slaughter
Japanese children as young as ten are watching whales being slaughtered to teach them the "cultural importance" of Japan's controversial commercial whaling industry.
As the whaling season get underway, schoolchildren in Wada, 50 miles southeast of Tokyo, have been on field trips to see the first Baird's beaked whales of the year winched up the concrete slipway and carved up with razor-sharp flensing knives.
Smartly dressed and in bright yellow caps, the children took notes and sketched parts of the 36 foot whale as it was dismembered.
From their small boats, local fishermen will harpoon up to 26 of the whales during the three-month season. Wada can trace its whaling history back to 1612, when the 10-tonne whales were harpooned by hand. It is now one of just four communities permitted to conduct coastal whaling.
Much of the blubber is carved into bricks that are sold to local people, most of whom have eaten whale all their lives, and the remainder is packaged and sold to supermarkets.
Japan defies the International Whaling Commission's 1986 ban on commercial whaling by claiming that its catches are "research whaling", adding that the by-product of scientific research is not wasted.
A Japanese delegation is currently in Santiago, the Chilean capital, where the IWC is meeting, repeating the government line that the populations of minke, sperm and fin whales have recovered sufficiently since whaling was banned that commercial hunts should again be permitted.
Early discussions were described as peaceful and constructive, but Wednesday's session was marked by renewed accusations and finger-pointing involving Japan and Australia, one of the most vocal opponents of Tokyo's plans.
Peter Garrett, the Australian environment minister, said there was absolutely no need to kill whales for scientific purposes. "In Australia's view the programmes are in reality commercial whaling operations prohibited by the moratorium," Mr Garrett said. "It is no longer sufficient for us merely to oppose whaling under scientific permit. It's time for it to stop."
Joji Morishita, of the Japanese delegation, responded by claiming scientific whaling was "legitimate, necessary and delivers comprehensive data crucial to Japan's research".
He added that countries that oppose the research should "open their eyes".
Shigeko Misaki, a former spokeswoman for the Japan Whaling Association, said it was important that a new generation of Japanese was learning the nation's traditions.
"The anti-whaling campaign has gone too far," she said. "It has almost become a religion, that whales are the only symbol of the marine eco-system. People who believe this religion think all Japanese people are evil because we kill whales.
"Food security is a serious problem for Japan, particularly with rising fuel prices around the world, and the government and Japanese people should stand up and say that whale meat is a good food resource that should be used to provide protein," she said.
Whale diplomacy the Japanese way
After conceding to suspend the kill of Australian humpbacks, Japan wants anti-whaling nations to make some concession themselves, its chief negotiator, Joji Morishita, said on Wednesday on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Chile.
"What do we get?" Mr Morishita asked in an interview with the Herald. "We would like to see something from the other side, then it will be easier for us to take the next step."
The request represents one of the few signs since the Rudd Government began to step up its campaign against whaling that Japan might ultimately negotiate to resolve the dispute.
It follows Japan's decision in December to suspend plans to kill 50 humpbacks - a halt that the commission chairman, Bill Hogarth, expects to hold through next summer.
Long-time observers were wary of the offer. "It's like a burglar who comes to your house again, stands on the doorstep, and says, 'If you give me something then I won't rob you this time,"' said John Frizzell, of Greenpeace International.
Asked what concession others could make to Japan, Mr Morishita said: "That's a question they have to ask themselves."
For its part, Australia proposed a new partnership in non-lethal Southern Ocean scientific research. The Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett, urged Japan to take part in this multi-country collaboration.
He backed that up with his most direct request yet at the meeting for Japan to call off to the Antarctic hunt, after declining on Tuesday to ask it to show good faith with a suspension.
"In support of this new partnership approach, and in light of my previous remarks, I would specifically ask that Japan suspend its lethal scientific research in the Southern Ocean," Mr Garrett said.
A spokesman for Japan at the meeting, Glenn Inwood, said: "Japan feels it does not need to respond to this."
Australia's proposed non-lethal research partnership drew wide support from anti-whaling nations but Japan did not comment. However, some observers remain hopeful the country will take part in the first planning meeting, scheduled for early next year.
In an indication of the intense debate ahead on the future of the commission, Mr Garrett also suggested changes to rules governing what he said was the most divisive issue facing the organisation: scientific whaling.
Under the proposed changes governments would be able to issue lethal scientific permits only with the agreement of the commission itself. Under current arrangements any commission member country may issue such permits.
Mr Garrett condemned the practice. "There is simply no scientifically defensible level of scientific whaling," he said.
Unlike at many previous meetings, no symbolic vote was called on the issue.
An uneasy truce called earlier in the week by Mr Hogarth still largely held, following the agreement by 72 nations for a group of 24 to work on privately resolving differences over the next year.