Japan whale restaurants cheer hunt resumption

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A chef holds whale meat at a restaurant in Tokyo. (AFP)
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Above, a lunch set of a whale meat restaurant in Tokyo. (AFP)
Updated 03 July 2019

Japan whale restaurants cheer hunt resumption

  • Japan’s resumption of commercial whaling has prompted fury from other countries and campaigners
  • Activists say that one of the three species targeted is threatened with extinction and sub-populations of the other two are depleted

TOKYO: “Two sashimis, three steaks,” cries the waitress at one of Tokyo’s most famous whale restaurants during a frantic lunchtime service where Japan’s resumption of commercial whaling has cooked up new hope.
Mitsuo Tani has spent 46 of his 64 years preparing and cooking whale meat and hosts a mixed clientele at his restaurant: salarymen in white shirts gulping down a quick lunch before heading back to the office, single women, retired couples.
Whale steak is the most popular dish at ¥980 ($9). A thin rectangular piece of meat with as much rice, miso soup, vegetables and iced tea as the customer can eat. Also flying out of the kitchen is whale sashimi — raw slices of whale flesh, skin or liver.
Japan’s resumption of commercial whaling has prompted fury from other countries and campaigners, with activists saying that one of the three species targeted is threatened with extinction and sub-populations of the other two are depleted.
But veteran whale chef Tani is keen to promote the health benefits of whale meat.
“It is five times lower in calories than beef, 10 times lower in cholesterol, two times less fat than chicken. It’s packed with iron. But abroad, people do not know this,” he said.
Not all would agree with Tani’s health-based sales-pitch, however. In 2015, when the Environmental Investigation Agency tested the mercury levels of whale meat sold in Japan, they found it riddled with the substance.
Whipping up a “whale roast beef” at the pass, Tani explained that he had to move from the northern city of Sendai after the 2011 tsunami and the price of whale meat soared amid a significant drop in supply.
In Tokyo, he has never had any problem procuring meat. While Japan was still part of the International Whaling Commission, the whales caught in Antarctic waters for “research” purposes still ended up as sashimi and steak on plates around the country.
Ironically, with Japan leaving the IWC and resuming commercial whaling off its own coast, the quantity of meat may decline.
Japan set an annual quota of more than 600 whales while in the IWC.
The cap now stands at 227 until the end of the year — 52 minke, 150 Bryde’s and 25 sei whales.
It is not the only country carrying out hunts, with Norway and Iceland conducting them in recent years and indigenous people from Alaska to Greenland allowed exemptions to the moratorium.
Hitting back at those who fear the resumption of commercial whaling further endangers whales, Japanese authorities say the quotas have been set carefully “to keep the whale population at a sustainable level.”
“I’m scared that the quantity of whale meat will go down,” admitted Tani.
Another whale restaurant boss, Sumiko Koizumi, hailed the resumption of whaling as “an excellent thing” and said it was down to chefs to promote the meat and dream up new recipes.
Removing the stigma around whale meat will make it easier for consumers, she said, “first because supermarkets will be more inclined to offer it and wholesalers will listen more to our needs and be in a position to meet them.”
Kenta Yodono, sales manager at the Kyodo whaling firm that operates Japan’s flagship whaling boat, said the commercial hunts would catch different species of whales, which would taste slightly different.
“The commercial species will be different and certain people might be concerned that they will not have the same taste. But in general, I think the quality will improve and we can respond to restaurants’ needs,” Yodono told AFP.
He acknowledged activists’ concerns over the cruelty of the whale hunt and said “the fishermen are conscious of the fact that the time the animal suffers should be reduced.”
Tani does have some fears however over the immediate future of his industry, with few chefs training to acquire the specialized cooking skills required.
“With commercial whaling halted for more than 30 years, no one has got into the business and that will not happen overnight,” he said.
“Even if some people get into it now, it will take 30 years. And if they find the work too hard, they will stop. Whale needs to be well cooked otherwise no one will start to eat it again,” added Tani.
Japan has defended the controversial whale hunt as a key part of its tradition and rich culinary heritage.
And Tani agreed. “A country that does not preserve its food culture has no future.”


Israeli jeweler makes $1.5m gold coronavirus mask

Updated 11 August 2020

Israeli jeweler makes $1.5m gold coronavirus mask

  • The 18-karat white gold mask will be decorated with 3,600 white and black diamonds
  • The Israeli company says it will be the world’s most expensive coronavirus mask

MOTZA: An Israeli jewelry company is working on what it says will be the world’s most expensive coronavirus mask, a gold, diamond-encrusted face covering with a price tag of $1.5 million.

The 18-karat white gold mask will be decorated with 3,600 white and black diamonds and fitted with top-rated N99 filters at the request of the buyer, said designer Isaac Levy.

Levy, owner of the Yvel company, said the buyer had two other demands: that it be completed by the end of the year, and that it would be the priciest in the world. That last condition, he said, “was the easiest to fulfill.”

He declined to identify the buyer, but said he was a Chinese businessman living in the United States.

The glitzed-up face mask may lend some pizzazz to the protective gear now mandatory in public spaces in many countries. But at 270 grams (over half a pound) — nearly 100 times that of a typical surgical mask — it is not likely to be a practical accessory to wear.

n an interview at his factory near Jerusalem, Levy showed off several pieces of the mask, covered in diamonds. One gold plate had a hole for the filter.

“Money maybe doesn’t buy everything, but if it can buy a very expensive COVID-19 mask and the guy wants to wear it and walk around and get the attention, he should be happy with that,” Levy said.

Such an ostentatious mask might also rub some the wrong way at a time when millions of people around the world are out of work or suffering economically. Levy said that while he would not wear it himself, he was thankful for the opportunity.

“I am happy that this mask gave us enough work for our employees to be able to provide their jobs in very challenging times like these times right now,” he said.