Behind Japan's outspoken and irrational defense of whaling there is an undercurrent of dissent within the Japanese establishment.
This week the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Tomohiko Taniguchi, the official voice of Japan for the last three years has expressed his views on Japan's controversial whaling activities.
Taniguchi was the voice for the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo. His role was to speak to the international media every day. He reports that of the hundreds of matters he had to deal with, that the one he dreaded most was defending Japanese whaling programs. It was part of his job to defend official policy.
"I was being summoned by CNN, BBC and ABC on this issue far more than any other issue," Taniguchi says. "I hated this issue because there's no point in Japan sticking to its position."
Today Taniguchi is an adviser to Japan's Minister of Foreign Affairs. But, since July, he is no longer an employed official, so he is free to speak his mind. And he does.
At the same time this may be officially Japan feeling the waters using Taniguchi's big toe.
"The Japanese whaling industry generates revenues of 7.5 billion yen a year, which is $120 million at the current exchange rate. It's tiny."
Japan's economy, the world's second biggest, has an annual output of 515 trillion yen or $8.2 trillion. So whaling accounts for 0.0014 per cent of the national economy. Or less than one-tenth the value of the country's annual market for toothbrushes.
And the total number of people who derive a living from whaling, including dependents, is between one and several thousands in a country of 130 million.
"Japan has nil national interest in the whaling industry," Taniguchi continues," The stake for Japan is near zero. If Australians criticise the Japanese auto industry, Japan must do everything possible to protect the auto industry. This is not the auto industry."
Taniguchi is writing a long piece for the Japanese magazine, Wedge, to ask Japanese citizens to consider the balance sheet of national interests. On the other side of the ledger, he contends, "this issue is doing substantial damage to Japan's image in Australia, the US, Canada, the UK, New Zealand", the entire English-speaking world.
The Japanese whaling fleet set sail this week for the annual slaughter in the Southern Ocean. According to the report in the Herald, the bad publicity has already started.
And the dissent is beginning to burst out of other seams in the Japanese establishment. In May, 2008 Taro Aso, then secretary-general of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said if Australia's feelings towards Japan were hurt unnecessarily "only in order to sustain such a small industry", then Japan should "address this issue as quickly as possible", according to an official record of his remarks. Aso made fun of the whaling industry's pretensions to scientific legitimacy.
"Has anyone heard of any scientific results coming from Japan's whaling program?" he posed rhetorically.
When Aso became Prime Minister, it raised hopes that he would dispense with the 500 million yen government subsidy that sustains the industry. But the whaling fleet is again on the high seas, and Aso's prime ministership is in difficulty.
Taniguchi hopes the whaling industry will fade away. Whale meat is not a big seller, an uneconomic activity. About 80 Japanese parliamentarians support whaling, but it is a core issue for only six to eight. With the Government's deficit worsening, the annual subsidy becomes harder to defend. But Taniguchi advises Australia, and others, not to press too hard, lest this only entrench Japanese political support for whaling.
This may explain why the Rudd Government is heeding this advice, and both countries are seeking to cool the issue. Japan is not sending Customs officials with this year's fleet, and Australia is not sending a Customs vessel in pursuit.
According to the Herald, many countries have an ugly blemish that mars the total image and makes other peoples recoil in distaste. China has Tibet, the US has Guantanamo Bay, Turkey has Armenian genocide, and Japan has whaling.
Uneconomic and increasingly costly to Japan's image, Taniguchi expects it will disappear in a few years.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society believes we need to keep the pressure on the Japanese fleet now that Australia has retreated and Greenpeace has surrendered to Japanese whaling interests.
"Economics is the key," said Captain Paul Watson. "We need to keep costing the whaling fleet their profits. We need to keep them spending more money and making less. We will end whaling and when we do Greenpeace will claim victory and the Australian government will claim they did it on their own. It does not matter. What matters is that we silence the harpoons in the Southern Ocean and that we save as many whales as we can this season with the resources available to us.
The Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin will depart from Brisbane on November 30th for the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.