A set menu of deep-fried whale nuggets at the restaurant P-man in Minamiboso, Chiba Prefecture. Photo: REUTERS/Issei Kato
food

Raw, fried or on a bun: the many ways Japanese eat whale

24 Comments
By Elaine Lies

Whale cutlets, sliced raw whale, deep-fried whale nuggets, whale bacon and whale jerky feature on the menu at the restaurant Yoko Ichihara runs - and that's just a small sample of the ways Japan eats whale.

Though Japan's government maintains that eating whale is a cherished part of its food culture, nationwide consumption didn't really take off until after World War Two and peaked in the early 1960s before falling as other protein sources became cheaply available.

A 1986 global whaling moratorium made whale a pricey food that rarely appears on family tables or in ordinary supermarkets, with vendors relying on Japan's scientific research whaling for their supply. Japan resumes commercial whaling on July 1.

"A lot of people came in after hearing that the research whaling had ended, worried that they couldn't get whale anymore," Ichihara said. "They were surprised to hear whale is taken in Japan too."

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Yoko Ichihara takes order from customers at her restaurant in Minamiboso. Photo: REUTERS/Issei Kato

True aficionados have endured, sating their whale cravings largely through speciality restaurants such as the one Ichihara, 42, operates in Minamiboso, just east of Tokyo.

Traditional recipes include blubber with vinegar-miso sauce, thinly sliced whale tongue, whale steak, a hotpot where slices of whale meat are simmered with mizuna greens and, the simplest, raw whale dipped in soy sauce.

Several restaurants have come up with whaleburgers, a patty of whale meat sandwiched between buns or pressed rice.

Ichihara's restaurant offers many of these, as well as a unique take on traditional whale treats: fried whale dressed with slivered vegetables and vinegar, grilled marinated whale steak, and raw whale chopped with miso and scallions.

Aficionados say whale tastes somewhat like beef, but with a stronger flavor. Whaling advocates point to its high protein content and low carbon footprint compared with other meats.

Ichihara's mother-in-law, Yachiyo, praises it as an ideal food.

"When it's in your mouth, it's meat, but when it's in your stomach it's like fish, it's light," she said.

Whale represents only 0.1 percent of Japan's meat consumption, so proponents say getting the next generation to eat it is essential.

Schools occasionally serve it for lunch, including some - like those in Chigasaki, a city west of Tokyo that is not a traditional whaling area - as a way of teaching children what people ate in the past.

To make it appealing to students, whale is usually served as fried nuggets, often with a soy-ginger sauce or ketchup, said Emi Yamaguchi, at the Chigasaki Board of Education.

"Since it's such a rare thing, it'd be too bad to have lots left over," she said. "It's a special event so the kids are excited, and we make it in ways that appeal to them."

The Ichiharas have taken part in whale-cooking contests to develop new dishes, with prizes going to items such as whale-filled spring rolls. A Minamiboso roadside store stocks whale-stuffed Chinese buns and whale ham along with more traditional items and cookies sold in boxes decorated with whales.

Yoko Ichihara wishes more people ate whale at home, but is reassured by the restart of commercial whaling.

"I'd be concerned if I heard we couldn't eat whale in Japan, but since we'll be able to take them here, I have no worries," she said.

But she also noted wryly that the restaurant's most popular menu items are things like whale cutlets and croquettes.

"They like the things that don't taste much like whale, which seems like a bit of a waste," she added.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2019.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

24 Comments
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According to this article, we are being led to believe that the Japanese are interested in consuming whale meat but the reality is different.

Several shops near me stock it.

However, even at a 50% discount, it is being left time and time again unsold.

The reality is that the Japanese government is responsible for killing an animal that the people here do not wish to consume!

11 ( +13 / -2 )

Surely the headline should read "The Many Ways HARDLY ANYONE IN JAPAN Eats Whale"?

I've seen brussel sprouts more popular than whale meat here.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

Whale represents only 0.1 percent of Japan's meat consumption, so proponents say getting the next generation to eat it is essential

"Whale represents only 0.1 percent of Japan's meat consumption, so logic dictates it could easily be phased out of the Japanese diet with little to no repercussions."

There. I fixed it.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

This is a very misleading article, JT. Not all your readers lived long enough in this cpuntry to know that the Japanese DO NOT regularly eat whale meat but this article is trying to paint a different picture. Haven't seen a whale meat in my local supermarket for a while now, and even if I do it's always on sale with nobody showing any interest on buying. Schools serve this for lunch to children who are expected to eat it. School children here are trained to eat anything served at school lunches, unless they have health or religious reason not to.

I bet the researchers who have virtually zero published data on this topic or the government who are proud are stubborn, aren't too excited to eat whale either. But who knows, Abe and friends may come out wiht a video showing how much they love fried whael with sake.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

There are some prefectures which consume zero whale meat.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Wasnt there an article a few weeks ago saying there’s an overabundance oof whale meat on the shelves? This is a very politicized or paid article. Oh, well. C’est la vie. Take the news with a grain of salt.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Whale represents only 0.1 percent of Japan's meat consumption, so proponents say getting the next generation to eat it is essential.

Or they could just drop it? Phrases like flogging a dead horse come to mind.

a way of teaching children what people ate in the past

And why people don't eat it today? Does this education in what people ate in the past also include daikon meshi (because white rice was too expensive for commoners)? The Buddhist vegetarian philosophy? If not, why not?

Funny how it's an integral part of the culture, an important part of tradition... yet they have to come up with whaleburgers, develop new dishes, whale-stuffed Chinese buns and whale ham.. and even the supposed aficionados and fans of whale who make the effort to find a whale restaurant go for things that don't taste much like whale.

What is the point??

5 ( +6 / -1 )

But she also noted wryly that the restaurant's most popular menu items are things like whale cutlets and croquettes.

"They like the things that don't taste much like whale, which seems like a bit of a waste," she added.

To waste, you can add, cruelty, they are a social creature, and you are killing its members, with small explosive hooks !

Really really bad PR for Japan.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

What was one of the subject cliam in G20 meeting ???. All lip service.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

just another disgusting puff piece this article, trying to get peeps to drink the kool aid that whaling is ok

5 ( +6 / -1 )

The school lunch will be most fitting

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I feel dumber having read this article...

7 ( +7 / -0 )

If you talk to the previous generation, ie your parents, you'll realise that whale was much more prominent. My mother used to say whale sustained her family, and that it's a culturally significant source of protein. If rice is to energy, whale is to build strength.

Even though I don't like whale, I still think it's cultural prejudice when foreign countries lecture Japan on what is a very culturally sensitive issue.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

Together they will kill 227 whales through to late December, according to the fisheries agency, which had delayed announcing the quota until the conclusion of the G20 summit in Osaka on Saturday. The quota includes 52 minke, 150 Bryde’s and 25 sei whales, the agency said.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I love whale meat. Beats Chicken any day.

-8 ( +0 / -8 )

What is up with the campaign to kill whales? "Raw, fried or on a bun: the many ways Japanese eat whale" should be "Prohibited for the safety of the ocean: Raw, fried or on a bun: the many ways Japanese eat whale." Fixed it for you. Cripes.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Tried it three times and that was enough for me. Whale will never beat the taste of chicken, Turkey or Ostrich.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Serve up some Whaleburgers at the Olympics Mr Abe.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Whatch a documentary called "The Cove",dolphins herded into a bay and slaughtered on mass,whaling is just another barbaric act.

The Japanese excuse of" it is our culture" just does not fit into modern society.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Not even one in ten of my university students have ever even tried whale, and none of those said they really liked it. No one wants it except nostalgic old people who ate it when it was a necessity after the war. The fact that the subsidy for "research whaling" has ended means the industry will have to pay for itself.....I think Abe has found a face saving way to let whaling die naturally.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I don't see any "deep fried whale nuggets" in the photo.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I just don't like it any way i've tried it!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Whale meat tastes ok, but I prefer Panda bear...much more tastier and healthier for you too.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I've seen brussel sprouts more popular than whale meat here.

That's because most people don't know how to properly prepare brussel sprouts.

I love whale meat. Beats Chicken any day.

Not my chicken.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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