Japan has for decades been steadfastly defiant about hunting whales despite widespread anger, including from key allies like the United States.
After roughly 30 years of what it has called “scientific research whaling”, which saw several hundred Minke whales taken annually in the Antarctic and North Pacific, Japan will resume commercial whaling on 1 July.
The country announced it would confine its hunts to Japanese territorial waters but end its controversial annual expeditions to the Southern Ocean, following its withdrawal from the international whaling treaty last December.
Some areas whaled in prehistory, and in modern times eating them has been mostly confined to specific regions. Whaling historically thrived in the western Japanese town of Taiji – made notorious for the dolphin hunts featured in the Oscar-winning movie “The Cove” – until its whaling fleet was devastated in an 1878 storm. They currently have a ship that takes part in coastal whaling and will join the July 1 fleet.
Though Japan’s government insists eating whale is an important part of the country’s food culture, consumption did not become widespread until after World War Two, when the occupation authorities encouraged it to feed the impoverished population.
Eating whale peaked in the early 1960s, falling off as other meat became more available. Many older Japanese nostalgically recall eating fried or stewed whale in school lunches.