'Absurd' product trialled in Japanese vending machines: 'Ethically wrong'

What could be more shocking than selling cigarettes, used underwear and live beetles?

A Japanese business is testing a new line of vending machine products in Tokyo, resulting in international condemnation.

Whaling company Kyodo Senpaku will stock meat from its kills in four unmanned machines at a Tokyo location, according to local media. It hopes to grow to 100 machines over the next five years and expand into Osaka, the country’s second-largest city.

Japanese animal rights activist Ren Yabuki said the announcement does not surprise him because a wide array of vending machines already exist. “For example, live eggs, live beetles, live rock worms. However, it is ethically wrong to sell living things in vending machines.”

A woman makes a purchase from a Japanese vending machine that reads Kujira Store in Japanese (Whale store).
Japanese vending machines will now stock whale meat. Source: Yomiuri Shimbun

Kyodo Senpaku is building a new $67 million factory ship to replace the ageing Nisshin Maru, the vessel which once notoriously hunted in the Southern Ocean inside the Australian Whale Sanctuary. The ship is expected to be operational by 2024, and will likely be key to processing increased kills permitted under the government's planned increased quota.

Does anyone still eat whale meat in Japan?

Sales of whale meat have plummeted across the country due to changing tastes and growing concern about animal welfare. While whaling dates back to the twelfth century in Japan, industrial operations only began in the 1890s. Today, it’s mostly elderly people who eat whale, likely due to nostalgia. “I think some elderly people will never forget the taste of the whale meat they ate during the food shortage after the war,” Mr Yabuki said.

Kozue Mihira, a spokesperson for Kyodo Sempaku, said the machines will help customers who don't know where to buy whale easily find it. "We’ve been surprised by the brisk sales, which have outstripped our expectations," he told Yomiuri Shimbun.

Two Japanese whalers kill a whale in the Southern Ocean back in 1993.
Japanese whalers withdrew from the Southern Ocean after years of international pressure. Source: Getty

Astrid Fuchs from international charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation called the vending machine plan a "cynical sales ploy". "Only a small but influential group of politicians and whaling industry stakeholders drive the country’s whaling interest," she told The Independent.

The charity's UK head of communications Danny Groves called stocking whales in vending machines "absurd". "There is little demand for the meat and the hunts are cruel - involving grenade tipped harpoons that are fired at a moving target from a moving ship. Many whales take along time to die."

Japan, along with Norway and Iceland, are the only countries that continue to commercially hunt whales within their own waters. The country’s whaling fleet withdrew from international waters and left the International Whaling Commission five years ago after years of global criticism, confrontation from Sea Shepherd activists and lawsuits.

Whale meat is expensive and products sold in the Kyodo Senpaku vending machines range from ¥‎1000 - ¥‎3000 ($11 - $33), making it out of reach for many young people. Mr Yabuki said if the machines are rolled out across Japan it’s possible whale meat consumption could increase.

Mr Yabuki is the founder of charity Life Investigation Agency and has partnered US-based Dolphin Project to document the annual dolphin hunting season in Taiji, Wakayama prefecture.

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