Monday 14 November 2011


Call me cynical. Go on, I won’t mind. I’d prefer ‘sceptical’ but it’s all good. Regardless, when I saw a segment on the news the other day it did prompt a couple of less than generous thoughts. The first is that Japanese curry is pretty special, and not the good special either. I'm no foodie purist, insisting that my food must at all times be ‘authentic’; that it ‘just tastes so much better when you’re actually there.’ I love Thai food, but some of the most disappointing I've ever eaten was in Bangkok.

In fact this assumption that “authentic=good and inauthentic=bad” extends across all spheres, and is frequently wrong. There’s a real question as to whether pizzas are better in Italy or America, and I’d happily put Baltis up against almost anything India has to offer. And that’s before we’ve even gotten on to Chicken Tikka Masala.

Yum Yum Yum Yum Yum

Having said all that, Japanese-style curry is not good. Look at it. I’ve been trying to think of a witty and creative way of phrasing it, but keep coming up short, so I’ll simply say that it looks like shit. And not a good firmly packed log either, but that watery, soupy stuff that jets out of your arsehole when you’re sick, and splashes back up in a way that means you’ll have to have a shower instead of just wiping. It’s even got those random larger lumps in. Go on, look at it.

I've cropped out the splashback

And it’s those lumps I want to talk about (for those of you still with me). Normally they're chicken or pig some other fairly cheap animal. This time though they’re, wait for it, they're whale.

Not seen this in a while, have you?

Whale curry? It’s like they’re deliberately trying to make a bad idea even worse. I’ve eaten whale on a couple of occasions, neither really out of choice. Once was when I mistakenly bought a packet of whale jerky, thinking it was beef. Imagine the most condensed, concentrated flavour possible, then extract all the moisture and anything else which might leaven the brass-knuckled thump of undiluted fish. It felt like my mouth was being kerb-stomped by Flipper.

The other time was an elementary school lunch. You remember how school dinners used to use the cheapest, nastiest cut of meat possible? The stuff with all the tubes in? The same holds true here. Whale is not a luxury food-stuff. It’s the Japanese equivalent of liver and onions; the kind of food your grandparents ate after the War because there was bugger all else. The reason the abomination that is Whale Curry has been birthed is that there’s a glut of whale meat which they’re desperately trying to shift. There’s a glut of whale meat because no-one whose taste-buds haven’t been pummeled into submission by decades of rotting beans and pickled seaweed will touch the fucking stuff.

And yet, every year Japan (and Norway and Iceland, but I know less about them) sends off a whaling fleet to conduct research. And every year there’s a massive pissing-contest with Australia and environmental groups of varying degrees of sanity. It’s like the changing of the seasons (of which Japan has four, but I’m sure you knew that). It’s all so repetitive and predictable and tedious and repetitive that I don’t even have the energy to put research in inverted commas any more.

Why? Why do the Japanese continue to piss off major trading partners simply to harvest food-stuffs no fucker wants to eat? Don’t they realize how bad this makes them look in the eyes of a lot of the world? Don’t they realize how much diplomatic capital it’s costing them to indulge the final incontinent spasms of a dying industry?

This is what Google Images gave me. This and lots of yoga, for some reason.

I honestly think they don’t. Really and truly, the ruling classes seem (not for the first time) to be utterly clueless as to how the rest of the world perceives them. Most Japanese people don’t give a shit either way, except when one of the Sea Shepherd loons pops up on TV and talks about the retribution of Gaia. And then I want to reach into my TV and slap everyone involved. And then I want to cry.

Because this is yet another case where the opportunity for mutual understanding has been jettisoned because both sides care more about being ‘right’ than reaching any sort of acceptable conclusion. It’s not even that they want to win, because almost every action either side takes moves the other further from a solution. No, they have to be right, and fuck the consequences.

Again, no-one in Japan really cares about whaling. It employs a miniscule number of people and in other circumstances I suspect the powers-that-be would be happy to let it fade into irrelevancy. However, for the last century or so Japan has had its national pride consistently shafted by America (mainly), China, and a host of other countries. They’re entirely dependent on the US for defence and so have little choice but to shut up and take it up the chuff on a whole range of issues.

I'm his favourite

Whaling isn’t one of those though. It’s depressingly easy to paint whaling as an issue of national pride, and because it’s one thing America doesn’t care about so much it's become a depository for all the repressed nationalism that other countries can channel in more orthodox ways (small wars, arms races, Eurovision). The thought never occurs that if they stopped putting people’s backs up with the slaughter of easily anthropomorphized animals they might get a more sympathetic hearing on other, more important, issues (see also: Yasukuni, school textbooks, and a long list of other trivial stuff).

It’s depressingly easy to whip up this nationalism in large part because the nuttier anti-whaling activists make it so. Every morally vacant dickhead who popped up on Twitter claiming the tsunami was ‘karma for the whales’ made it easier for the Japanese whaling lobby to claim that the world was out to get them – as well as just making the world a slightly worse place to be. And have you seen Paul Watson and the drivel he comes out with? If you’re looking to develop an uncompromising siege mentality in your opponent it’s hard to think of a better way of doing it than the tactics Sea Shepherd currently employ.

That’s not to say that if the Steve Irwin was actually impounded whaling would just stop. Of course not. But it’s just common sense that you don’t let the other side create martyrs. Every time a white guy 'tells the Japanese what to eat' it gets painted as more neo-imperialism or just flat-out racism. Every time a Japanese politician opens his mouth about whaling he puts his foot in it ("cockroaches of the sea" for fuck's sake). Every time there’s an incident at sea it makes a permanent resolution less likely. And the worst part is, they know this. They know they're backing each other into a corner, but instead of easing off and letting the other side regain enough dignity to feel they don't have to push back, they keep pushing and provoking and pushing some more. Because they're right and they know they're right, goddamit.

It wasn't the Whale which destroyed Ahab, so much as his own arrogance and blinkered obsession. It would be a sad but predictably ironic outcome if arrogance and obsession ended up destroying the whale.

Credit where it's due.


  1. "Don’t they realize how bad this makes them look in the eyes of a lot of the world? Don’t they realize how much diplomatic capital it’s costing them to indulge the final incontinent spasms of a dying industry?"

    Like you mentioned below...the fact that they have to swallow other shit like U.S. bases on their turf...which is their own fault for not revising Article 9 makes them lash out like an ignorant child with few chances to actually lash out.

    The fact that they claim it's for "research" just makes them look more stupid.

  2. I never realised that Australian's were meant to be the vanguard of anti-whaling until I went to Japan. Then people kept trying to justify whaling to me. I was actually planning to write a post on whaling myself.

    As for pissing off a trading partner - I think Australia needs Japan more than the other way around which is why the government doesn't get involved in the whaling.

  3. Chris - Yeah, the research claim does seem like they're just trying to push the tatemae concept as far as it will go before people finally tell them where to stick it. It's so blatantly false it'd be more polite if they just got their arses out and mooned the next IWC meeting.

    Kathryn - Sorry if I've stolen your thunder there. That curry just looked liked the least appetizing thing I've seen in a long while, and couldn't be ignored. And yeah, Australia is probably the junior partner trade wise, but this is pissing off a lot of other countries as well. I just couldn't be bothered looking up all the various sources for them.