Years ago I visited the Japanese Far Seas Fisheries team in Tokyo Japan. This is the same department that has responsibility for whaling. The visit started well enough as the civil servant I was visiting, on noting that I was wearing a tie (and that he himself was not) made a colleague take off his tie so that there was an 'equality in our appearance'.
I should have realized early on that such an approach was an indicator of how Japanese Government negotiators view the world. Sometimes it’s not the logic of the situation that guides their positioning on the issue of whaling, but often some deeper reasoning that steers them and sometimes something that can be quite superficial.
I remember that after 2 hours of interviews the senior civil servant concerned was just building up to a crescendo of argument, claiming that whaling was ‘going to feed the third world’, was ‘going to be a source of a cure for many of the worlds major diseases’, - when I stopped him and asked him what his personal view of whaling was.
Pausing for a few seconds, and dropping the rhetorical stance of his previous pontification, the gentlemen said that, actually, he thought whaling was a distraction from the real issues that Japan faced in fisheries management.
When I pressed him why Japan would pursue such a policy that did not really serve its interests he pointed out that the system found it inherently impossible to change its set direction. I gathered from what he was saying that too many elements of the Japanese Government, civil servants and the fisheries industry, were locked into this self-destructive cycle of pride and annual whale killing, and no one element was placed to break out the cycle.
I asked him why he didn’t try and change things and his response was most probably the most damning indictment of the whole sorry tale.
He noted that his predecessor at the Ministry was now employed in one of the major fisheries companies (also involved in whaling) and that he owed not just his past allegiance to this individual, but that when he himself retired from the Ministry (I believe there was compulsory retirement at 55 in those days, but my memory may deceive me) he was relying on getting a job with his previous colleague.
It seemed that his continued support for whaling was his pension fund. A continuation of whaling meant that he and other civil servants would have a future job.
I now read that The Australian newspaper notes in a report on the Japanese whaling operation that a Japanese ‘parliamentary waste-cutting panel, convened by the new Hatoyama government, has recommended the [whaling] program's main source of loan funding, the Overseas Fisheries Co-operation Fund (OFCF), be effectively shut down’. The Australian also notes that ‘four of the OFCF's 12 directors are Fisheries Agency amakudari -- senior bureaucrats parachuted into companies and agencies that have relationships with their former ministries.’
As the Japanese whaling fleet sets sail it seems that in Japan dead whales still pave the way for ‘dead [retired] men's shoes’.
Thursday, November 19. 2009