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"Everyone is happy today": Japanese people celebrate the first whaling of the season

In Minamiboso, a town near Tokyo, whaling is a tradition that has been practiced for generations

Whale's tail coming out of the surface of the ocean

Whale's tail coming out of the surface of the ocean / Reference image / Pexels

Reuters | Elaine Lies

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A group of men in rubber boots peels off a whale with sharp knives, while Misako Komiya, 86, watches them and plans to cook the five kilos of cetacean meat he intends to buy.

Leer en español: "Todo el mundo es feliz hoy": pueblo japonés celebra primera caza de ballenas de la temporada

"I'll chop it very well, I'll cook it over low heat with sugar, ginger, soy sauce, and sake, then I'll freeze it, it will last a year, I can take it out and eat it little by little with rice," said the old woman, dressed in an apron pink.

Baird's zifia whale - with its sword nose - was torn apart on Thursday on a cement platform hit by Pacific waves in Japan.

"Everyone is happy today," Komiya added.

Komiya was part of a crowd of avid observers that included 45 children led by their teachers to see the slaughter, an ancient tradition in Minamiboso, a town east of Tokyo that has exploited the practice for generations.

Japan argues that most whale species are not endangered and that eating them is a valued culinary tradition. Tokyo left the International Whaling Commission (IWC) on June 30 and resumed commercial hunting of cetaceans on July 1 of this year.

The first minke whale taken in that hunt, in front of the main island of the north of Japan, Hokkaido, was sacrificed by a boat originating from Minamiboso.

"I admit it was nice that our boat killed the first whale in this hunt after the resumption (of the practice)," said Yoshinori Shoji, head of the Gaibo Hogei firm who supervised the slaughter of the 9.7-meter whale.

After hearing an explanation of Shoji and observing how the whale was removed from the ocean, the children, who held pencils and notebooks, were invited to touch the animal's gray and rubbery skin. Almost all did some exclaiming "Wow!". Their teacher told them to write what they felt.

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"Look, such a red meat!" Said one of the children while others looked amazed. A few made sounds of disgust or lifted their shirts to cover their noses as blood ran down the gutters to the sea.

The director of the village's primary school, Noriko Morita, says that children should see the first whale hunted as part of efforts to learn local traditions.

"Eating whales is part of our food culture and we want to teach children to be proud of their hometown and traditions," she added.

After 90 minutes, there were only the bones of the whale left. Workers sorted the meat in containers and residents of the neighborhood lined up with portable coolers to secure the purchase that afternoon.

Shinichi Nojiri, a 59-year-old employee of a shipbuilding company, said he thought the process was a bit grotesque and that he personally could not remember eating whale, although many older Japanese people did.

"I do not think we have to consume as much as we used to in the old days," he said. "There are not so many people who eat it, yes, it's part of our culture, but I do not think it's absolutely essential anymore," he said.

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