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Japan's few remaining whalers stick to their harpoons

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Whale meat, raw and grilled, is still eaten with relish in a few small restaurants tucked away in smoke-laden back alleys of Tokyo's Shibuya district. In the older parts of town, housewives can still find a few shops selling the traditional delicacy.

A middle-aged Japanese journalist recalls: "When I was a boy we ate a lot of whale meat at school. It was just after the war when you couldn't get beef or pork."

But that is a fading memory.

Japan now has a single whaling fleet limited to a strict quota of tiny minke whales in the Antarctic. Among whales, the minke is a veritable sprat -- the sort any self-respecting fisherman would toss back into the sea in disgust.

But that is all there is. And later this month an attempt will be made to take even that away from the Japanese.

Meeting in the English south coast town of Brighton July 20-25, the 26-nation International Whaling Commission (IWC) will hear repeated demands for a global ban on all commercial whaling.

Japan, therefore, is currently engaged in preparing a last-ditch defense of the remnants of its once-proud whaling industry.

In fact, the Japan Whaling Association is fairly confident it can muster the necessary votes against the prohibition of all killing, which would require the support from three- quarters of the IWC membership.

But there is growing anger at the way the commission is being dominated by non-whaling countries which would be unaffected by the blobal ban they seek. Japan clings to a 1946 IWC regulating convention designed to prevent overexploitation of diminishing herds at a time when countries like the United States and Britain maintained large fleets (both have adopted an antiwhaling position).

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