The thorny issue of whaling dominated Japanese leader Shinzo Abe's one-day trip to New Zealand yesterday, with Prime Minister John Key saying they had agreed to disagree on the matter.
New Zealand and Australia hauled Japan before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over its "scientific" whaling programme in Antarctic waters, leading to the UN court ruling in April that it was a commercial venture and had no research value.
Abe has since signalled that Japan intends to explore ways it can resume the annual Southern Ocean hunt without breaching the ICJ ruling, setting up a potentially awkward meeting with Key.
The host said Abe had confirmed the plan to resume whaling and Key reiterated his position that he wanted the harpooning to stop.
"The prime minister [Abe] did make it clear that they are looking at what sort of whaling programme, in theory, could be conducted that fits within the rules," Key said.
"He was very clear to say that Japan will abide by the ICJ decision but it's also fair to say that there's a difference of opinion. New Zealand would certainly prefer to see the end of all whaling."
Key said the issue would not damage the relationship but New Zealand would be closely watching any Japanese attempt to revive the hunt
Earlier, he told commercial radio that "it would be very disappointing" if whaling resumed.
Tokyo called off its 2014-15 Antarctic season after the ICJ's decision.
Whaling overshadowed talks designed to shore up the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an ambitious plan for a free-trade deal encompassing 12 nations, including Japan and New Zealand.
Abe also travelled to Christchurch, where he paid tribute to the 28 Japanese students killed in a devastating earthquake in 2011.
He laid a wreath at the site of the CTV building, which housed an English-language school the Japanese students were attending, which collapsed and burst into flames in the disaster, claiming 115 lives.
The Japanese leader then left for Australia.