Gratitude Towards Japan; We Should Be Showing Appreciation for Their New Stance on Whaling

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Japan’s recent decision to halt whaling efforts deserves our appreciation, and in my opinion that proud nation is worthy of respect for choosing to back down on such a polarizing issue.  Yes, all those who campaign so arduously to see the end of commercial whaling have reason to celebrate, and I think those who put their lives at risk to intercede on the whales’ behalf are heroes, for they represent all that is noble about standing up to protect what is vulnerable in this world.  But I am somewhat appalled by the tone of gloating that has cropped up in some of the news articles and blogs, and I just think that it is time we all look to reaching across the ocean and giving Japan a virtual bow and a handshake.
The reasons behind Japan’s decision are no doubt complex, and include the fact that the Japanese people are learning that whale meat is highly contaminated and are less inclined to purchase it than they have been in the past.  So once again, economics plays a huge part…but then so does the Japanese’ unwillingness to ramp up the game against the protesters, an unwillingness to take human life in order to pursue commercial hunting.  They risked ‘losing face’ in that move, and I think we should offer it back while the time is still fresh.
And least we forget, it has only been a matter of decades since the U.S. closed the last whaling station. “The United States closed its last whaling station in 1971, the Del Monte Whaling Station, at Richmond, California (near San Francisco). These last whales were primarily ground up for dog food.”

QUEST on KQED Public Media.
The United States and other anti-whaling nations often have difficulty in understanding the stance of Japan, as explained in this article from Japan Intercultural Consulting:

Mar 23, 2010
By Rochelle Kopp, Managing Principal, Japan Intercultural Consulting
“…In American culture, there is an underlying assumption of equality, that even people of different ranks are basically the same and should be treated in a similar way. Thus, even someone who is higher than you in the hierarchy is someone who is ok to disagree with. However, Japan along with other Asian cultures has the concept of “face” (mentsu). To disagree with someone in public, thus causing them embarrassment, is to make them “lose face” (mentsu wo ushinau). On the other hand, something that helps to build up a person in front of others can be said to “give face” (kao o tateru). The VIP treatment that Japanese are so good at giving to honored guests and high-ranking people can be seen as an example of “giving face.”
The desire to avoid causing loss of face for oneself, one’s organization, or for others can be said to be the motivation behind many things that Japanese organizations do that are puzzling to Americans. For example, some Americans report that Japanese companies seem reluctant to admit mistakes or discuss problems publicly. Or that Japanese will avoid expressing disagreement with their boss, even if what the boss is proposing is something that they think is not a good idea. Or that Japanese stationed overseas will avoid criticizing the parent company even when, in the eyes of American employees, such criticism is clearly deserved. The persistent fear of loss of face is behind these otherwise inexplicable behaviors.
The instinct to preserve face is something so ingrained in Japanese culture that many Japanese are not aware that it influences their behavior. It’s not something that Japanese often talk about – it’s just that when it comes to the realm of face, the warning bells automatically start to flash.
“Face” was not a concept that even existed in English before westerners encountered Chinese and Japanese cultures in the 19th century. American and other western cultures tend to put a lot of focus on straightforwardness — “telling it like it is” and “calling a spade a spade.” Worrying about someone’s feelings – which is basically what “face” is –is not something that is considered to have the first priority in western business culture. Rather, facts and the truth are given the highest degree of emphasis, feelings be damned. What many Americans fail to realize when working with Japanese, however, is that failure to pay attention to matters of face can cause such offense that it may completely sour the business matter at hand. In other words, feelings truly are important.”
This article originally appeared in Asahi Weekly.
My guess is that there is still a huge battle ahead, within Japan as well as internationally about what happens next.  Japan may lobby to restore their right to hunt whales and kill dolphins, but right now we have a golden opportunity to help that country find alternatives, and to show them our gratitude for taking a step towards resolution.
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