January 19, 2018

Whale Meat in Early Postwar Japan: Natural Resources and Food Culture by Jakobina Arch

Abstract

In the face of strong opposition from anti-whaling groups, whale meat consumption became a point of national pride and cultural importance in late twentieth-century Japan. Current efforts to expand inclusion of whale meat in school lunches to preserve Japanese cultural traditions have their roots in the postwar normalization of whale meat as a part of Japanese cuisine. This article focuses on the immediate postwar period of the Allied Occupation of Japan (1945–52) when whales became entangled in state policies dealing with food shortages and democratization. During the Occupation, the distribution of whale meat in school lunches shifted how people should use and think about whales in Japan. Thus policies for maximizing resource use for reconstruction had effects that still reverberate in arguments

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about the value of whale meat today. Food shortages both during and after the war were instrumental in promoting widespread consumption by fitting whale meat into a new framework of distribution for a whole new generation of children fed whale at school. As these children grew older, whale meat became normalized as something that Japanese people ate, no matter where in the country they lived. Tracing whale distribution both physically as meat and more intangibly as discourse about whales in a variety of media, from policy to children’s magazines, this article provides new evidence for one of the long-term environmental legacies of the Allied Occupation of Japan.

by Jakobina Arch

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