For those of you who just moved to Yamaguchi, you may find it a surprise that whale is a popular delicacy right next to fugu, or blowfish. You may feel bewildered and a little distraught. But this month, you will discover the history of whaling in Japan and Yamaguchi which hopefully, will give you a better perception of this controversial topic.
According to the evidence of whale remains in burial mounds, whaling may have begun in Japan as early as the Jomon period. During the 12th century, hand-thrown harpoons were used, a method called tsukitori-ho which quickly spread all around Japan including Nagato in the Yamaguchi Prefecture. Another technique that was used was the amitori-ho, or the net method which was developed later on. Traditional methods were replaced with modern whaling during the late 19th and early 20th century.
Whale was used in Japan for many different purposes such as lamp oil, soaps, folding fans, fertilizers, and more. Currently, it is primarily used for meat and scientific research. Served in many different ways including fried and sashimi, it is often described as tasting like horse meat.
Nagato, which has a history of whaling, celebrates the traditions of whaling once a year in July at the Kayoi Kujira Matsuri. In this festival which was begun in 1992, the men go out in boats to ˝kill˝ the whale (which is made especially for this occasion) with a net and harpoon. Whale meat is served and songs are sung. The Nagato Whale Museum (Nagato Kujira Shiryokan) displays information and equipment used in the past for whaling. The town also has a grave (Kujirahaka), created in 1692 after fishermen found a fetus in a whale they had caught. Memorial services are held at the grave. Shimonoseki, also a major site for whaling, is known for the Karato Ichiba fish market that sells not only fresh whale but other seafood as well.
The traditions behind whaling is significant and truly a part of Japan’s culture. Whether you agree or not with the act itself, one can see that Yamaguchi treasures its culture and history.