The government's decision on Friday to continue research whaling in the northwestern Pacific for fiscal 2014 reflects domestic voices demanding that the government protect "Japan's whaling culture," but the decision is likely to trigger stronger protests from Western countries where public opinion against whaling is deep-rooted.
In March, a ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Japan to stop research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean, and the government decided to accept the ruling since it has a policy of respecting international law.
Though the court only ordered Japan to stop whaling in the Antarctic, the government was cautious about whether it should continue whaling in northwestern Pacific waters.
A senior offical at the Foreign Affairs Ministry said: "The ICJ judged that Japan's research whaling is virtually commerical. Taking that into account, we should halt [whaling] in the northwestern Pacific, too."
But some lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and other parties that represent the interests of the whaling industry have insisted that Japan should continue research whaling by all possible means.
Former Environment Minister Shunichi Suzuki, who heads the LDP's whaling group, welcomed the government's decision to continue whaling in the northwestern Pacific.
"We shouldn't easily give up what is rooted in our traditional culture," Suzuki said, praising the government decision.
"We made the [whaling] plan with due consideration for standards stated in the ICJ ruling," Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told the press Friday. "We would like to make this clear to [antiwhaling] countries."
However, Japan's decision could draw criticism from US and European media, or prompt antiwhaling countries to file a fresh lawsuit in an international court.
The government has decided to postpone the departure date for its whaling fleet, initially set for Tuesday, to Saturday or even later in the hope of avoiding tension with the international community ahead of US President Barack Obama's visit to Japan on Wednesday.
For fiscal 2015 and later, the government wants to continue research whaling-including in the Antarctic Ocean-and will submit a new plan to the International Whaling Commission as early as this autumn. However, the IWC, dominated by antiwhaling countries, could demand the plan be revised.