Monday, September 13, 2010

Chapter Six: Whales' Tale or If you are Japanese, you may want to skip this blog.

So, there i am, just minding my own business, in shibuya, which is this crazy five-way intersection of human chaos, and i decide to venture up this road to Shibuya 109, a trendy teen place, not to teen watch but because it is near the only bank that takes my ATM card. it is. 

i see this sign, and i am really rather startled, especially as all the masses of japanese and tourists walk by without even a pause in step.

For those who know Japanese, this is hiragana for "whale" so this is a restaurant that just specializes in whale dishes. I had to look more closely, and i then noticed that there is even a helpful outside menu.

That menu photo i took the following day, and i took it obliquely so that no one would notice. i just did not want to get into it with a local.

My thoughts on this are complex. First, i have a genuine, heartfelt, and profound respect for Japanese culture. I agree with historian Friedman who included Japanese as one of seven distinct cultures in the world, and i am convinced that the Japanese diet is the most healthful and delicious in the world. My stomach has never been more blissfully happy.
Second, i have to remind myself and perhaps a few blog readers that much of New England's glory days of wealth in the 19th century were completely related to whale blubber, the source of oil for lamps for light and heating. All those picturesque coastal New England towns with stately, elegant Captain's homes with widow walks, particularly along the Cape, Nantucket, and Martha's Vineyard, were all paid for by New England whaling, which brought whales to the brink of extinction, so we New Englanders tread a historical fine line.
I bet you that most average Japanese have no idea how many Western European nations and Americans view their whaling practices, as i am equally certain that it gets scant media coverage here.  And, while yes, i think the whale restaurant should be shuttered and closed, i think that my main argument is that not just Japan but Norway and Iceland (the other two nations in this trio of whale infamy as they actively harpoon) are some of the wealthiest places on the planet with 7 of the top 10 most expensive cities located within Japan (it has 4, tokyo # 1) and Norway (it has 3) so these nations can afford alternative food sources for protein. So frankly, there is no real need in Norway, Iceland, or Japan for protein supplementation with whalemeat. 
I have no idea what "research" the Japanese government purports but i suspect it is something like 101 ways to create whale sashimi...OK, my rant is over.  But honestly, as much as there is to love about Japan, and as much as I love being here and living here, i have to be critical when there is something that i observe or experience that really gets under my skin, and this was it.  I thought, could the restaurant at least be more discrete, it just hangs right out there as if to make the point that the country does not care what the world thinks of its whaling practices.

Coming soon:  Chapter 7:  Our House:  Before Container Comes...

1 comment:

  1. Which Friedman were you referring to, Milton or Jonathan? Which book does he discuss this. Anthropologic basis of current economic/social success of nations is an intense interest of mine, and I haven't come across the work you mention.

    PHENOMENAL blog you've put together here. I encourage you to put together these remarks, photos etc for a New York Times series. I could help you do this in any way you see fit...