Webcast: Is the Fight Over Whaling in Japan Over?
A Dive into Japan’s Whaling Towns With Dr. Fynn Holm
In 2019, Japan withdrew from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) taking up commercial whaling again in its coastal areas and Special Economic Zones after it has been at the center of many anti-whaling movements for the past three decades. Why has Japanese whaling been so controversial? What role has the IWC played in international whaling? How have international and domestic anti-whaling movements influenced Japan’s way forward? Is Japan’s commercial whaling problematic after all? What about other countries, such as Norway and Iceland doing commercial whaling? To find out the answers to these and more questions, watch the webcast with University Zurich’s Dr. Fynn Holm.
Our key takeaways
There are different claims about how long Japan’s whaling history goes back. Dr. Fynn Holm estimates it at about 500 years based on written sources. There are also regions in the Northeast of Japan with a longstanding “non-whaling” culture that only discovered whaling later in the beginning of the 20th century when introduced by whalers from Western Japan. Industrial whaling in Japan began in 1906. After the second world war, Japan took up whaling in the Antarctica again to feed its people with the permission of the United States. That is why older Japanese people think fondly of whaling according to Fynn.
Most countries in America and Europe gave up whaling in the 1960s and 70s when whale stocks had decreased drastically, and whaling programs were no longer profitable. Japan was affected by the mass disappearance of whales too, but whalers forged their catching numbers and information on the whales caught. By then, it did not depend on the whale meat anymore and the industry was also at the brink of being financially unsustainable. It is not clear to Fynn why the change in the whaling discourse had not reached Japan back then. After the moratorium on commercial whaling came into force in 1986, and before taking up commercial whaling again in 2019, Japan conduced scientific missions to the Antarctica and North pacific.
Fynn is puzzled that Japan is relying heavily on science, but at the same time very emotional when talking about whaling. This can also be observed within the public: most Japanese are not pro-whaling but have an “anti-anti-whaling” attitude according to Fynn for not liking to be criticized by the outside on Japan’s whaling practices. Still nowadays, it remains an emotional topic with all Japanese parties being pro-whaling. Fynn confirms the possible theory that Japan may have given up its financially disastrous scientific missions in return of commercial whaling in their zones in order not having to give in to international pressure on their controversial whaling programs. If there are no subsidies for the sector in the future, according to Fynn whaling will likely disappear in the next 15 years.
Dr. Fynn Holm is a teaching and research assistant in Social Science of Japan at the University of Zurich. He has recently finished his dissertation Living with the Gods of the Sea: Anti-Whaling Movements in Northeast Japan, 1600-1912. His research interests include Japanese history, historical and modern whaling disputes, and global environmental history.