Faced with a chorus of condemnation from antiwhaling countries, Japan has been pushed further into a corner.
At its general assembly Thursday, the International Whaling Commission passed a resolution aimed at getting Japan to postpone its resumption of research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean with a majority vote.
The resolution, which was proposed by New Zealand - a staunch whaling opponent - is meant to stop Japan's research whaling until the IWC discusses the issue in its next general meeting in 2016.
Although the International Court of Justice ordered Japan to halt research whaling in March, Japan announced Wednesday that it would resume its programme in 2015. The latest resolution was aimed at stopping the resumption.
As the resolution is nonbinding, Japan is set to resume research whaling as planned. However, the country is braced for intensified criticism from the international community for "violating" the resolution.
If it insists on resuming research whaling, Japan needs to make convincing arguments by presenting scientific data that would support the significance of research whaling.
Japan has stressed it obtained tangible results from research whaling, such as learning how whales damaged fishery resources by eating huge amounts of fish.
It is important for the nation to cite more specific examples like this to win a wider acceptance of research whaling from the world. As it stands, however, resumption of whaling operations could invite intensified calls for Japan to halt research whaling not only in the Antarctic Ocean, but also in the northwestern Pacific.
Hauls less than quotas
Japan has set the annual whale quota for research in the Antarctic Ocean at about 1,000, but its actual hauls have been less than 300 a year for four consecutive years.
Even if the obstruction of Japan's operations by the antiwhaling organisation Sea Shepherd is factored in, the figures have been much smaller than the quota. Japan's claim that it must catch that many whales to obtain necessary samples for research purposes has become less convincing.
Japan is set to submit a new plan for research whaling to the IWC Scientific Committee by the end of November. It must use its ingenuity to devise a plan to win support from as many countries as possible by, among other means, reducing the haul to the minimum necessary.
Japan aims to revive the commercial whaling it withdrew from in 1988, but the demand for whale meat has been sluggish. There is only a limited demand from consumers and fishery businesses for commercial whaling.
Now, it may be less significant to continue large-scale research whaling as a precursor to resuming commercial whaling.
Research whaling is conducted with huge amounts of funds from the state coffers. The government must thoroughly explain to taxpayers why the nation needs to continue research whaling.
In coastal seas along Hokkaido, Wakayama Prefecture and other areas, whalers catch small species of whales, a practice that is not subject to the IWC control.
We hope the precious food culture based on Japan's tradition will be handed down to later generations.