“Moby Dick on a Stick” The Whale As Food
If the best association you have of whales can be can be found in art and literature, a.k.a. Moby Dick, then Japan and Iceland along with other countries that are into camera sliders whaling may shock you. Japan has had a long tradition, an ancient history in fact, connected to whaling. Noted Japanese culinary researcher, the late Tetsunosuke Tada said, the Japanese most likely started to eat whale meat during the Jomon period (7000/8000-30000 B.C.E.). There are limited facts that can be acquired as historical support which can provide a rationalize of the Japanese consumption of whale meat during this period. The first facts can be found in one of the traditional home microdermabrasion songs of the Kushiro Ainu and in the lyrics of an ancient song called ‘Yuukara’ from the Saru Ainu (a group of Japanese aboriginals who have lived in the northern part of Japan from the Jomon period). The song of Kushiro Ainu described the following story: “There was an ordinary whale on the Toya coast. A young fellow found it. He shouted the news around from village to village.” Although Toya is currently located about 12 km from the shore line, it was on the shore about 4,000 to 5,000 years ago when the Kushiro Plains was still a part of the underwater metal detector ocean. Several pieces of Jomon (straw-rope pattern) pottery were found in Toya shell mounds. Whales are mentioned in the ‘Yuukara’: “Killer whale, god of the ocean, please bring more than one and a half whales every year. Then, I will be pleased to give my sweet daughter as your bride.” As can be seen from this ancient song, the whale was a very important source of food for ancient people of Japan. The other historical evidence can be found among the objects excavated from visit site shell mounds. Shell mounds have been found all over Japan and provide much information about ancient people’s diets. They contain bones of deer, wild boars, whales, dolphins, sea lions, fur seals and so on. This indicated that the people of the Jomon period ate whales. How, then did they catch large whales? They were able to hunt most mammals and animals except whales by using bow, spear and gaff. Could they hunt whales with these tools? One picture, which was found from a gas tankless water heater shell mound, solved this question. A picture of whaling in this period was found on one of the bones (10 cm in length and 3 cm in width) excavated from the Bentenjima shell mound in Nemuro City. In this picture there are seven persons in a boat, and one of them is trying to spear down a large whale by using hand harpoons. Two harpoons were driven into the back of the whale and were connected to their boat by ropes. There are two ways to catch whales: passive whaling and active whaling. By the former method of whaling, people catch weak (wounded, sick, or decrepit) whales or stranded whales (chased onto the beach by killer whales). In active whaling, people hunt migratory whales in the off-coast area using boats and harpoons. All around the world, there is evidence that various cultures practiced whaling for food, pertroglyphs they left behind attest to that. To this day, many modern cultures still keep to these practices even though there has been much fuss and controversy. These days, whale meat for food is an issue and battleground between conservationists and traditionalists. Traditionalists are arguing for the right to continue their right to practice and protect their cultural freedoms and traditions—hunting whales. Conservationists on the other hand are condemning countries who carry on the practice of commercial whaling. Anti-whaling campaigners have raised the issue with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which makes it illegal to import whale meat into the EU and other countries. Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society are also encouraging visitors to these countries to resist the temptation of trying out whale meat for the novelty, tourist factor. Whale burger in Japan might seem fun and harmless or whale steaks in Iceland or Norway, a juicy alternative. Let your mouth, stomach, and conscience decide.