That one time we accidentally tried whale meat in Tokyo

Whale farming of any sort is illegal.

That's what we thought until we ventured out into the streets of Tokyo on our first night in the big city.

We wondered into a small, homely and unassuming Izakaya (like gastro pubs) where we thought we would have our first sake and noodle dish. After ordering a few drinks and pointing to a picture in the menu of what looked like a yaki udon (noodle stir fry), the lady behind the bar said to us:

“This is a whale bar, you ok with that?”

At first it didn't sink in. We didn't want to appear rude (or ignorant); what could whale bar actually mean? Maybe it was just a mis-translation of some sort. We did notice quite a few whale pictures on the wall so just thought they were Free Willy fanatics.

“Yeah we're fine” we replied smiling, our stomachs rumbling, eager and excited to feast on our first meal in Tokyo.

The plate arrived, it was a slightly darker looking meat then what we'd expected. It looked like liver but tasted like beef. Everything seemed fine.

Trying whale meat in Tokyo by accident
Whale meat: looks like liver, tastes like beef

We paid and left, but whale bar? What was it exactly? We couldn't have possibly just eaten whale meat right? That's totally illegal – they're endangered species after all…?

Upon returning to our hotel, we were able to get WiFi to check and it all started to sink in…

Turns out whale farming (or whaling) is illegal in most countries in the world, except in Iceland, Norway, the Faroe Islands…and Japan.

We had by accident wondered into a bar, specialising in whale meat and what we ate was a whale meat yaki udon.

We were shocked! We'd marvelled at these beautiful creatures when we went whale watching in Sri Lanka and kicked ourselves for being a tad naive…”whale bar”…

So why do Japan continue to do it?

Culture.

Whaling is an ancient part of Japanese culture, which has been going on for centuries. A BBC report on whaling in Japan found that from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s, whale meat was the single biggest source of meat in Japan. At its peak in 1964, Japan killed more than 24,000 whales in 1 year, most of them enormous fin whales and sperm whales.

Whale meat farming used to be big business before the 20th century, particularly whale oil. The discovery of petrol caused the whaling industry to decline and over the past century, regulations and treaties have been crafted up to control, limit and ban whaling.

In Japan however, whaling continues and is considered a delicacy.

Struggling with our moral dilemmas, we won't be rushing back to sample more whale meat delights any time soon and will stick to the wagyu beef or sushi for our Japanese foodporn.

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Accidentally tried whale meat in Tokyo

7 thoughts on “That one time we accidentally tried whale meat in Tokyo”

  1. Hi, me and my partner would love to try the whale meat. Do you mind sharing more information on the shop name/ directions to the shop? Much appreciated! Thank you!

  2. Hm, fugu shouldn’t be that expensive, not even in Tokyo – the full meal price is right, but you can find it for about £15 for a taster. It really doesn’t taste of much, just some random white fish. Whale meat is sold in many sushi bars in Japan as part of the regular menu, sadly (although they rarely offer it to foreigners/on English menus).

  3. it was posted on my birthday ! how honored!
    BTW, blowfish (gai3 pou5 ,in Cantonese) was a common fish in my hometown as well.
    when i was a kid, my cousins and my sister would bring me to the river bank and go fishing there. although i was usually asked to hold the bucket for them, i had plenty time to play with fishes, one of which would turn into a ball when getting stimulated! and that was blowfish. really cute, huh?
    my parents told us that kind of fish cannot be our food because of the poison. But somehow, some people found a way to take care of it and serve it as dishes on our meal table. and it was popular once.
    Cantonese eat EVERYTHING!

      • i have never eaten the blowfish … some Cantonese do, not me.
        and i THINK they eat blowfishes not because the fishes taste delicious, but because other people can’t eat that fish while they can.
        weird Cantonese dietary culture, huh ?

        just my opinion.

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