Home [ ENVIRONMENT ] Japan’s whaling scandal

Japan’s whaling scandal

E-mail Print

Greenpeace anti-whaling activists Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki (the “Tokyo Two”) have just been convicted of stealing whale meat.  But who really is guilty in this murky affair?

Japan’s whaling program is a sham, as we have reported in earlier articles.  It is conducted under the guise of whaling for research purposes, thereby complying with the letter of international law.  But the research program is just a cover for commercial whaling.  Here is the hitch, virtually no-one in Japan eats whale meat – it is fatty, chewy and bland! 

The whole program is just a means of providing government subsidies to Japanese whaling companies and the Institute of Cetacean Research, and also a means of providing lucrative jobs to bureaucrats and others.  Japan’s staunch defense of whaling might also be used as an outer defense wall to protect Japan’s fishing of the rapidly-disappearing blue fin tuna.  Many governments, like Australia’s, and civil society organizations the world over, like Greenpeace, have been opposing this whaling.

The plot thickens.  Crew members of the whaling ship Nisshin Maru were apparently stealing and selling the best and priciest cuts of whale meat from the taxpayer-funded program.  Some whale meat is also given to politicians and officials.  This should not be done.  First, the whale meat belongs to the Institute of Cetacean Research.  Second, it is supposed to be used in research, although it is always sold off on the market, allegedly as a “byproduct” of whale research.

Then the “Tokyo Two” move into the act.  They steal a box of whale meat from Nisshin Maru to expose the corruption.  They present their findings at a press conference and deliver the box to the prosecutor’s office in Tokyo.  The police the promptly arrest the “Tokyo Two”, and not the whalers who were embezzling the whale meat. 

The “Tokyo Two” were then held by the police for a long period of time, denied access to lawyers and harshly interrogated.  An appeal was made to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention which rendered the following opinion on 1 September 2009: “The detention of Messrs. Junichi Sato and Toro Susuki is arbitrary and contravenes the dispositions contained in articles 18, 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Japan is a State party … The Working Group requests the Government to ensure that the above-mentioned two persons be subjected to fair proceedings which meet international standards of fairness, in accordance with articles 2, 10, 14 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ensuring that all their rights of defense in trial be fully respected.”

The “Tokyo Two” have now just been convicted of theft and trespass, and given a one year jail sentence, suspended for three years.  The fact that they won’t go to jail could be interpreted as a victory by Japanese standards.  In the court case, they were backed by a whaling industry insider who told of systemic theft of whale meat by shipping crew members and also members of the Institute of Cetacean Research.  The “Tokyo Two” will appeal against this harsh judgment.

Stocks of whale meat are now piling up at the Institute of Cetacean Research.  So it has just been announced that the Institute is going to relaunch the provision whale meat for lunches in public elementary and junior high schools at one-third market prices – even though much whale meat is contaminated with mercury!  The Institute is desperate to promote whale consumption and get international approval for a return to commercial whale fishing. 

This whole affair has been a test of the quality of Japan’s democracy.  Japan has always been a country dominated by a government and business elite, rather than the will of the people.  But this elite has not served the country well over the past two decades, especially when it comes to whaling.  Poor taxpayers have to finance all this nonsense.  One can also question the independence of the judiciary which has a criminal conviction rate of 99%, and would be loath to make a judgment against the government.  The "Tokyo Two" never had a chance. 

In a healthy mature democracy, civil society organizations and the media act as watchdogs of public institutions, and seek to protect the interests of citizens and the country as a whole, not just elites who manipulate the system in their favor.  Japan is not this sort of country.  It does not appreciate whistle blowers who embarrass the elite.  Culturally, whistle blowers are considered to be guilty of disloyalty to the system and the nation, rather than being people who defend justice.

Greenpeace has called on the Japanese government to investigate corruption in its whaling industry.  You can be sure that nothing will be done.

Japan, your democracy is failing you miserably.



Greenpeace Japan



Japanwatching.com articles on whaling

“Having a whale of a time”


“Of whaling and dollar diplomacy”