TOKYO - Japan has enticed children with whale burger school lunches, sung the praises of the red meat in colorful pamphlets, and declared whale hunting "a national heritage."
But Tokyo has a dilemma: by rapidly expanding its whale hunt, Japan now kills more of the giant mammals than its consumers care to eat.
The result is an unprecedented glut of whale meat. Prices — once about $15 a pound — are plunging, inventories are bursting, and promoters are scrambling to get Japanese to eat more whale.
It's a tough sell.
"To put it simply, whale meat tastes horrible," said 30-year-old Kosuke Nakamura, one of the diners at a Hana No Mai restaurant in Tokyo who turned their noses up at whale meat.The result is that there is a bit of a whalemeat mountain:
Some 1,035 tons of whale meat hit the market in Japan last year, a 65 percent increase from 1995, the Fisheries Agency says. And sluggish demand means inventories have almost doubled in five years to 2,704 tons in 2004.
But the glut of whale meat hasn't stopped the harpoon guns. Tokyo plans to kill — under a research program — some 1,070 minke whales in 2006, over 400 more than last year. Japan will also hunt 10 fin whales, and a total of 160 Bryde's, sei and sperm whales, fisheries official Kenji Masuda said.I guess the government is going to have to do a lot more marketing since, apparently, the idea of ceaseing whaling is not on the agenda. There are times when I like Japan and think its government is right in being assertive but this is definitely not one of them.