Japan’s Answer to Amazon Is a One-Stop Shop for Ivory and Whale Meat

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March 20 2014 1:52 PM

Japan’s Answer to Amazon Is a One-Stop Shop for Ivory and Whale Meat

166368319-this-file-photo-taken-on-june-16-2010-shows-a-sushi
Whale sushi made from a lump of minke meat and pieces of blubber is served in the Japanese whaling town Ayukawahama, Miyagi prefecture.

Photo by Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images

Rakuten, Japan’s largest e-commerce marketplace and often described as one of Amazon’s major global competitors, is also one of the world’s leading purveyors of endangered species products, according to the U.K.-based Environmental Investigation Agency.

A report released by the group this week found that “a search for ‘whale meat’ on www.rakuten.co.jp yielded 773 whale products for sale, while the broader term ‘whale’ generated over 1,200 food products.” Meanwhile, “searches for ‘ivory’ on www.rakuten.co.jp yielded more than 28,000 ads for elephant ivory products.”

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Despite international condemnation, the hunting of whales for food continues in Japan thanks to a legal loophole that allows a limited amount of whaling for “scientific” purposes. As the report shows, much of this scientific research in fact ends up as whale steaks, whale jerky, and whale curry.

As for ivory, 95 percent of the products for sale on the site were hankos, “used by individuals and companies to sign documents with their signatures engraved into the ivory.” Much of this ivory likely comes from illegal elephant hunting in central Africa—a practice with some serious consequences for humans as well as elephants. 

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

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