Japan launches whale meat vending machines to promote sales. Whale meat has long been a source of controversy. But sales at the new vending machines are off to a good start, operators said.
A Japanese whaling operator, after years of struggling to promote. His controversial product, has found a new way to cultivate clients. And boost sales: whale meat vending machines.
The kujira (whale) store, an unmanned outlet.
That recently opened in the port city of Yokohama near Tokyo. Has three machines for whale sashimi, whale bacon, whale skin and whale steak. As well as canned whale meat at prices ranging from 1,000 yen ($7.70) to 3,000 yen ( $23).
The outlet features white vending machines decorated with cartoon whales. And is the third to open in Japan’s capital region. It opened on Tuesday after opening two others in Tokyo earlier this year. As part of Kyodo Senpaku Co.’s new sales drive.
Whale meat has long been a source of controversy.
But sales at the new vending machines are off to a good start, operators said. Anti-whaling protests have subsided since Japan halted. Its much-criticized research hunt in Antarctica three years ago. And resumed commercial whaling off Japan’s coast.
Kyodo Senpaku hopes to expand the vending machines to 100 locations across the country in five years. Company spokesman Konmu Kubo told The Associated Press. A fourth is set to open in Osaka next month.
The idea is to open vending machines near supermarkets. Where whale meat is not usually available, to boost demand. A vital function for the survival of the industry.
Major supermarket chains steer clear of whale meat to avoid protests from anti-whaling groups, Kubo said. And appear wary even though harassment from workers has decreased in recent years.
“As a result, many consumers who want to eat it cannot find or buy whale meat. We have introduced vending machines in unmanned shops for those people,” he said.
Company officials say sales at the two Tokyo outlets have been higher than expected. Keeping workers busy replenishing products.
At the shop in Yokohama’s Motomachi district. A posh shopping area near Chinatown. 61-year-old customer Mami Kashiwabara went straight for her father’s favorite whale bacon. To his dismay it was sold out, so he settled for frozen onomi, the tail meat considered a rare delicacy.
Kashibabara says he is aware of the whaling controversy. But it brings back childhood memories of eating whale meat. At family dinners and school lunches.
“it’s good to kill whales . But whale meat is part of Japanese food culture and we can respect the lives of whales. By appreciating their meat,” Kashiwabara said. “I would be happy to eat it.”
Kashibabara said she planned to share her buy with her husband. A 3,000 yen ($23) handy-sized chunk, wrapped in a freezer bag.
The meat comes from whales caught off the northeast coast of Japan.
Japan resumed commercial whaling in July 2019. After withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission, ending 30 years of research whaling. Which was criticized by conservationists for commercial whaling banned by the IWC in 1988.
Kubo said the effects of climate change could cause. Whales to move away from Japanese shores due to a shortage of saury, a staple of their diet, and other fish.
Whaling in Japan involves only a few hundred people. And one operator and has accounted for less than 0.1% of total meat consumption in recent years. According to data from the Fisheries Agency.
Still, conservative ruling lawmakers support commercial whaling. And meat consumption as part of Japan’s cultural heritage.
Conservationists say whale meat is no longer part of Japan’s daily diet, especially for younger generations.
Whale meat was an affordable source of protein during Japan’s post-World War. II malnutrition years, with annual consumption of 233,000 tons in 1962.
Whale was replaced by other meats. The supply of whale meat dropped to 6,000 tons in 1986, years. Before a moratorium on commercial whaling imposed. By the IWC banned the hunting of several whale species.
Under research whaling, criticized as a cover for commercial hunting. Because the meat was sold on the market, Japan caught 1,200 whales . It has reduced its catch after international protests grew and the supply. And consumption of whale meat at home declined.
Annual meat supplies fluctuated in the range of 3,000–5,000 tons.
Including imports from Norway and Iceland. Statistics from the Fisheries Agency show that amount has dropped further to 2,000 tonnes in 2019. Or 20 grams (less than 1 ounce) of whale meat a year.
Whaling officials have blamed shrinking supplies over the past three years. On the absence of imports due to the pandemic, and plan to double. This year’s supply with imports from Iceland of more than 2,500 tons.
Japan has enabled Iceland’s only remaining whaling company. Only hunt whales for shipment to Japan, whaling officials said. According to the IWC, Iceland only caught one minke whale in the 2021 season.
Criticizing Iceland’s exports to Japan, the International Fund for Animal Welfare said. It “opposes all commercial whaling because it is cruel.”
With an uncertain outlook for imports, Kyodo Senpaku wants the government to raise. Japan’s annual catch quota to a level that can supply about 5,000 tons. A level Kubo describes as the threshold for sustaining the industry.
“From a long-term perspective. It will be difficult to sustain the industry at current supply levels,” Kubo said. “We need to expand both supply and demand, both of which have contracted.”
With limited supplies, whale meat processing may not be a viable business. And may not be sustainable for generations to come, he added.
Yuki Okoshi, who started serving whale meat at his Japanese-style seafood restaurant three years ago. When high-quality whale meat became available under commercial whaling. Hopes that the supply of whale meat will stabilize.
Okoshi noted the dwindling supply of whale meat in recent years. And said “the future of the whaling industry depends on whether consumers need us. And restaurants like us who are closest to consumers hold the key to survival.”
“Whaling can be a political issue, but the relationship between restaurants. And our customers is very simple,” Okoshi said. “We serve good food at reasonable prices and the customers are happy. Get over there to get it over here.”