Trouble in Tokyo

March 21, 2010  From The Sunday Times

The culture of secrecy revealed by the Toyota debacle and Japan¹s
bloody-mindedness over sea life show how out of step the country is with
the modern world
By Georgia Warren

Japan scares poor nations into voting down embargo

An attempt to ban the international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna was
crushed last week after intensive lobbying by the Japanese. The country,
which buys 80% of the bluefin sold globally, gathered enough support
from developing countries ‹ fearing an embargo would devastate fishing
economies ‹ to vote down Monaco¹s proposal at the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in Qatar. Debate was
cut short and a snap vote came out against a ban. Sergi Tudela, head of
fisheries at WWF Mediterranean, said: ³It is scandalous that governments
did not even get the chance to engage in meaningful debate. It is now
more important than ever for people to do what the politicians failed to
do: to stop consuming bluefin tuna.²

The country uses loophole to keep killing Œfor research¹

The bluefin is not the only sea creature for which the Japanese have a
species-threatening appetite. As one of the most prolific whaling
nations ‹ with a tally of almost 1,000 kills last season ‹ Japan has
long argued that its Antarctic hunts are necessary for scientific
research. The country abandoned commercial whaling in 1986 after
agreeing to a global moratorium, but it exploits a loophole permitting
³lethal research². It says it catches mostly minke whales, which are not
endangered, but conservationists say that most of the whale meat ends up
in Japanese restaurants. Even though few Japanese eat whale regularly,
they defend whaling as a vital part of the country¹s ³traditions².

Sea turns red with blood in annual cull by fishermen

More barbaric still is Japan¹s annual dolphin hunt, in which 20,000
dolphins are butchered or captured by fishermen to be sold for meat or
to aquariums. In a typical hunt, fishermen pursue pods of dolphins
across open seas, banging metal poles together beneath the water to
confuse their hypersensitive hearing. The exhausted animals are driven
into secluded inlets to be butchered with knives and spears, their blood
turning the sea red. Ric O¹Barry, a campaigner against a practice he
calls ³horrific², has described how the fishermen tried to provoke him
and other protesters: ³They will often torture animals in front of us. A
few years ago one fisherman held up a baby dolphin in front of my face
and sliced its head off.²

Insularity and timidity blamed for problems

Japan is increasingly finding itself out of step with the rest of the
developed world. Early this year, when defects forced Toyota, to recall
10m of its cars worldwide, the Japanese cultural tendency towards
insularity and avoidance of conflict was blamed for the delay in the
problems coming to light. This year, Japan is likely to lose its
position as the world¹s second­largest economy to China, and as the
economy shrinks, so its people¹s collective timidity has grown.
According to research, Japanese in their thirties and forties now prefer
to stay home and search for bargains online rather than go out looking
for work, and people shun risk to the extent that they avoid cars,
motorbikes and even spicy food.

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