Big in Japan: Whale bacon and other Japanese delicacies

Ever wonder why it is that the Japanese love to kill whales?

Well, you’ve come to the right place as today’s Big in Japan posting is all about the Japanese obsession for culinary oddities like whale bacon and blubber sashimi.

By the way, before I get dozens upon dozens of pointed comments from angry readers, let me be 100% crystal clear about the following point:

I do not condone the commercial killing of whales for either food or so-called scientific research. In fact, I too am horrified by Japan’s relentless campaign to step-up their commercial whaling efforts.

So, can I safely assume that we’re all on the same page now?

Good. Let’s continue.

Although it’s impossible to offer up a single explanation, one of the main reasons why the Japanese are determined to rid the world’s seas of these majestic animals is that whaling has long been an integral part of Japanese culture.

Even in the 8th century, accounts of whaling expeditions were described in the Kojiki or Furukotofumi (古事記), which is known in English as the Records of Ancient Matters, and is the oldest surviving book in Japan.

So you see, to attack whaling is to attack the very foundation of Japanese culture, which is something that conservative politicians over here in the Land of the Rising sun aren’t too happy about.

The story gets even more complex.

In Japan, whales have long been a vital source of food, oil and materials. To understand the importance of whales to traditional Japanese society, one need only hear the following proverb:

“There’s nothing to throw away from a whale except its voice.”

Following the near total devastation of Japan that ensued during World War II, whale meat became an integral part of the Japanese diet since it served as a cheap source of protein.

In fact, had it not been for a steady diet of whale meat, a good number of Japanese would have literally starved to death.

Of course, if we fast forward to today, modern Japanese people are certainly well-fed, and have access to the same abundant protein sources as do Westerners.

However, the memory of eating whale meat is still engrained in the minds of the baby boomer generation, and those in power are not so keen on seeing this memory wiped away by conservationists.

Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that in 2006, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) gave into pressure from the Japanese government. Since then, the country’s fishing fleets have been permitted to kill an annually specified quota of whales from a variety of species including the emblematic humpback.

Although the explicit purpose of these hunts is supposedly for scientific purposes, it’s no secret where the meat is ending up, namely in high-class Tokyo restaurants and (gasp!) in school lunches.

So, how exactly do you serve whale?

I’m told that whale bacon is far superior to the swine equivalent, though true connoisseurs swear by the silken texture of raw slices of whale blubber served sashimi style.


On that note, I think I’ll eat some tofu and vegetables for dinner…

** All photos were sourced from the Wikipedia Commons project **