Saturday, June 26, 2010

It's official, The Cove will open in Japan!

By Ric O’Barry
Campaign Director
Save Japan Dolphins
Earth Island Institute

I’m back in Miami now. I can’t tell you all how tumultuous the last few weeks have been. Once people see The Cove in Japan, they will have such a better understanding of the captivity issue, the IWC and more importantly, the senselessness and brutality with which these dolphins are dying. Once that happens, the Save Japan Dolphins Team and I can help the Japanese people end the slaughter of dolphins once and for all!

So when theaters started cancelling their bookings, I got very worried. When nationalist extremists managed to shut down several campus screenings, I was convinced that this film would never make it into theaters. I started to really question Japan’s resolve as a democracy.

But sometimes it only takes one person to stand up and say something is wrong. In this case, Unplugged’s CEO Takeshi Kato would not rest. Kato-san has traveled from city to city – Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, to name a few – meeting with theater owners. He was able to convince several theaters to not only keep the film but to come forward and stand up for the right to show it. If you ask me the nationalists picked the wrong door to knock on when they went to Kato-san's house to protest.

PHOTO: Unplugged CEO Takeshi Kato

He gathered others that are concerned about freedom of expression, and we put together a symposium at the Tokyo Bar Association. Four of the theater owners came forward, along with notable journalists, film directors and pundits. In all, the following people participated in this large press event:

  • Mr. Shinodo, Editor in Chief of Tsukura Publishing
  • Kei ishizaka, popular cartoonist
  • Kunio Suzuki, former leader of the nationalist group Issuikai
  • Soichiro Tahara, renowned journalist
  • Yoichi Sai, film director
  • Mr. Matsumara, theater owner, Osaka
  • Ms. Kamiya, theater owner, Kyoto
  • Mr. Hirano, theater owner, Nagoya
  • Mr. Nagasawa, representative, Forum Theaters

PHOTO: Renowned journalist Soichiro Tahara and film director Yoichi Sai

More than 100 Japanese media representatives attended with 11 camera crews, including the majors, TBS and NHK.

Each theater owner spoke to the fact that they felt threatened, but that they deeply felt it is important to stand up. Kato-san announced that six theaters will open the film on July 3, with 16 more the following week.

I can’t thank Kato-san and his team enough. Especially Miyuki Takamatsu, who has been running all the press and has been our rock since we got to Japan.

Without doubt, this is the best outcome of my many weeks in Japan. When I arrived, The Cove movie was relatively unknown, with protestors dominating the media against it, and theater owners backing out. In a very short time, Kato-san and his team, as well as our Earth Island Save Japan Dolphins Team, turned the issue completely around. The Japanese people are now discussing free speech and important Democratic issues, all because of the dolphins!

Domo Arigato!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Meeting of Minds and a Close Encounter with the Dalai Lama

By Mark McBennett
Guest Blogger
Founder of Japan Zone

It is hard to think of anyone more respected and influential in the Japanese environmental scene than C.W. Nicol. The author of more than 120 books, a seventh-dan blackbelt in karate and a naturalized Japanese citizen, he has been a bridge between the west and his adopted country for decades. But he is also widely known as someone who has spoken and written in support of Japan's whaling industry. So while he and Ric O'Barry are very close in age, could "Uncle Nic" possibly have anything in common with a dolphin conservationist?

Ric O’Barry of Save Japan Dolphins with C.W. Nicol in Japan.

And so it was with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation that I worked to set up a meeting between the two. They both knew of each other's work and were keen to discuss it face to face. Once the logistics of a visit to the mountains of Nagano had been organized, things went smoothly. Nic proudly gave us a tour of his serene and beautiful Afan woodland (HRH Prince Charles was the most recent VIP guest from overseas), which helped build a good appetite for lunch.

That was followed by a long discussion on a wide range of topics, including some amazing stories from the rich and eventful pasts of these two men of action, and they found that they did in fact share some common ground.

Though as expected there were also things they would agree to disagree on, they did so in the spirit of mutual respect and friendship. And I think that this is a friendship that will continue. I would like to again thank Nic and his manager and staff for their generous hospitality.

The following morning, after a wonderful evening meal and the best night's sleep Ric says he's had on this trip, we headed back to Tokyo. While changing trains at Nagano, who should we see blocking our path but the Dalai Lama and his entourage? Before we knew it, he had been ushered down a side corridor, enveloped in a scrum of aides and security people. I've no idea whether the Dalai Lama would know who Ric is or whether we might have had a chance for a photo together, but we took the close encounter as a good sign, and we wish his Holiness the very best with the rest of his tour in Japan.

C.W. Nicol and Nai-atsu
By Ric O’Barry
Campaign Director
Save Japan Dolphins
Earth Island Institute

Nic is totally educated on the dolphin issue as it stands now, and he's going to step up and get all his friends involved to some degree. I showed him the package of (dolphin) meat that we had tested, and I told Nic that if he did nothing more than get a warning label on the package, that would be huge.

I reminded Nic that if this package had been imported from China or the US or Australia -- as in Chinese dumplings -- this product would not be in the markets. It would have been gone a long time ago.

Note: C.W. Nicol, the renowned environmentalist, author, whaling expert, and Japan Times columnist, several years ago made an M.B.E. (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth II and witnessed the Taiji dolphin slaughter while living there in 1978. He told me: "It's been a cancer in my gut ever since."

Later, I understand Nicol said he likes me very much and read one of my books prior to our meeting to try to understand where I was coming from. Nicol questioned me about all the issues surrounding the dolphin problem, and I tried my best to respond patiently and with extreme clarity. Nic also added very generously that I can consider his place a refuge anytime I want to visit.

Nicol added that he vehemently opposes the dolphin slaughter. It was a real honor to meet him, and he will be very welcome to join our efforts.

On Monday and Tuesday, I continued the relentless round of media interviews. On Monday, I went through a round of hectic interviews starting with a CBS Radio gig in the morning, then a conference with the Tokyo Bar Association in the early evening comprised of four theatre owners; one Japanese journalist, Soichiro Tahara; a film director and cartoonist, Yoichiro Sai and Kei Ishizaka respectively; chief editor of a major publication, Hiroyuki Shinoda; and one lawyer. There were over 100 mass media reps there and Unplugged/Medallion officials distributing The Cove emphasized, "We are not afraid of any attack, and we're ready to release this film in Japan.”

On Tuesday, my interviews were highlighted by a radio interview with Peter Barakan, and I call this blog with him, nai-atsu (Internal pressure).

Ric O’Barry in the studio with the popular radio host, Peter Barakan,
practising nai-atsu (internal pressure).

Barakan is a very popular national TV and radio show host and currently co-hosts the Japanese edition of the renowned American news magazine program 60 Minutes, on TBS TV (Channel 6), and his radio shows are aired over NHK FM. I brought a friend who was with me on the show, Hiroshi Asada, a popular musician who participated with me in a music festival in Tokyo in 1976 called the "Rolling Coconut Review." We talked about why we did the festival---we were trying to stop the "Save the Whales, Boycott Japan" movement. While we supported the “Save the Whales” part, we felt a Boycott of Japan was unfair and not at all effective.

Ric and Japanese musician Hiroshi Asada, who toured Japan together in 1976.

We also talked about the first time I traveled to Taiji -- Hiroshi was there with me. We also talked about The Cove movie and how important it is that people fight back against the assault on freedom of expression. The movie is an important form of freedom of expression.

We played my friend Fred Neil's dolphin song and commented on another one of our mutual friends, a very popular musician by the name of Harry Hosano, who was also featured in our 1976 benefit. This was a half-hour show, it was fun, it was light, and we were able to get the issues out about Taiji, and keep it in the news before an enormous audience. This was a good example of another opportunity to spread the word, as the Save Japan Dolphins Team and I have been doing all along.

Our strategy for the last several years has been all about gai-atsu. Gai-atsu is Japanese for external pressure. It's the thing that has brought about more change in Japan than anything else, according to our Japanese colleagues. The Cove movie and all of the related publicity has bee a form of gai-atsu on a massive international scale. The radio show and all of the other media attention inside Japan is nai-atsu: internal pressure.

The Save Japan Dolphins Campaign has now moved into a new strategy to abolish the annual dolphin slaughter: Nai-atsu!

Canada's CBC had started off today's interviews, and then I went off in the evening to appear at a debate with a journalism class at Waseda University in Tokyo -- Waseda's well known for its journalism and political science courses. The students were very inspired by The Cove film, and the event went smoothly without any nationalist attacks. Three print media reps and one TV journalist attended the debate with students fielding such questions as: "Can this film be considered a documentary or just entertainment?"; "People in Taiji should make their own documentary if they are against of The Cove"; "Everything seems very promotional, even for this debate we are somehow promoting this film."

Later that evening we were to attend a meeting with a "green" group comprising very important business leaders and professionals, but the venue was changed many times to avoid the militant nationalists, and so activist Fonda Bersolini of our Team and I went on a wild cab ride from hell to find the place. The cab driver was totally confused with directions I gave him (as was I!) that were given to me by the group's organizer, and so I ended up spending $250 on a stressful and not so scenic tour through some narrow Tokyo streets, ending up finally returning to the hotel and disappointing some 60 people expecting me to show up. I relaxed most of the following day that culminated with a great dinner with Japan Times journalist, Boyd Harnell, another good friend and supporter in Japan.

Our greatest hope has always been to open The Cove movie in Japan. It's the most powerful tool we have in ending the dolphin slaughter. I’ve spent my life trying to explain what is wrong with the dolphins, the oceans, and our attitudes and actions. Now that we have The Cove, all I have to do is show it! Once people see it, they have such a better understanding of the captivity issue, the IWC and more importantly, the senselessness and brutality with which these dolphins are dying in the dolphin hunts. People in Japan need to see this film.

Please help us spread the word:

It is because of your support and love of the dolphins that the Save Japan Dolphins Campaign has come so far. Now, we are spreading the word throughout Japan, and I know the people of Japan will respond and help save Japan dolphins! Thank you for your support!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sneaking Out

By Ric O’Barry
Campaign Director
Save Japan Dolphins
Earth Island Institute

We were able to slip out last week and screen The Cove film for an adult audience at the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center. Our close friends and colleagues at Elsa Nature Conservancy of Japan set it up. Nationalist protestors found out and showed up at the center, but the building we were in was far from the street, and police blocked them from passing the main gate.

I love getting out and talking to people one on one, and this audience had many excellent questions. At the end of the day it’s really up to the Japanese people what happens in Taiji, so I’m always ready to do what’s necessary to reach them. A lot of the people asked what they could do. I asked them to call theaters and ask that The Cove be shown, and to go to our website in Japan, and send a letter to the Prime Minister and the Health Minister. It’s really up to Japanese people to stand up for their rights. I hope they will!

And once the Japanese people see The Cove, they will understand what is happening and start to question their government. We can help them by setting up online petitions and other opportunities to contact their government and ask the politicians to shun the extremists and stop the Japan Fisheries Agency from issuing around 20,000 permits annually to kill dolphins and small whales.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Media Frenzy and The Other Side of the Line

By Ric O’Barry
Campaign Director
Save Japan Dolphins
Earth Island Institute

Three years ago our Save Japan Dolphins Team and I traveled to every possible media outlet I could in Japan to try to get them to write about what’s happening in Taiji. Nobody was interested in doing a story. Now everything has changed! Over the last week I’ve done almost 50 interviews. And the Japanese media have all come to us!

The team at Unplugged/Medallion, our Japanese distributor for The Cove, has been working tirelessly to get media to meet with me, and they’ve done a great job. I really can’t thank them enough for sticking with us. Their offices were targeted five times and now they are losing theaters in their efforts to screen The Cove. Some companies would just walk away, but Unplugged is fighting back.

And I have to say it’s an odd fight – for me anyway. I’m not used to being on this side of a protest line. I see the protestors and a big part of me relates to them. It’s their right to express themselves. It’s just very strange to me when a group is using their right to freedom of speech to shut down someone else’s. After the Asahi Newspaper (one of Japan’s largest) printed an opinion piece Sunday saying that they believed The Cove should be seen and discussed (LINK:, the protestors came to their offices!

That might be fine on the surface, but the nationalists’ facts are horribly distorted. I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it again: The Save Japan Dolphins Campaign and I are in no way anti-Japanese. In fact, I came to Japan the first time in the 70s to help end the “Save the Whales boycott of Japan” movement. At that time several of my musician friends – Jackson Browne, John Sebastian, Warren Zevon, Richie Havens, and Paul Winter – joined with Japanese musicians for a concert calling for an end to the boycott and to whaling.

The protestors are also complaining about how the film was shot and edited. They decry the use of secret cameras and lack of inclusion of the Taiji point of view. I reminded every journalist who asked me that the mayor and fisherman were invited to participate (as is depicted in the film). On the occasion, which I witnessed, they declined. In terms of the “secret” filming, I asked: “Why is it illegal to video tape in a national park?? Shouldn’t someone be asking why the dolphin hunters put up barbed wire and signs in a public park? Technically, they are blocking tsunami access roads.“ (In case of a tsunami hitting Taiji, the park high points around the cove are kept free of buildings to provide high ground for the local residents to escape the floodwaters. The closures with barbed wire to protect the secrecy of the cove killing grounds impede these paths to safety in the event of a tsunami.)

Finally, every journalist brought up that dolphin hunting in Taiji is a tradition, as it is in places like the Faroe Islands and Solomon Islands.

I made it clear that what is happening today in Taiji is not tradition. This method has only been used for the last 50 years. More significantly, the actual tradition in Taiji is to protect mothers and calves. Ancient hunters believed it was bad luck to kill them. As we see very plainly in The Cove, today’s dolphin hunters have no regard for that particular tradition.

I also made sure that every reporter knew that as of last April, tribes in the Solomon Islands met with our Save Japan Dolphins Team and me and agreed to stop killing dolphins. Unlike Taiji, the Solomon Islands are actually very primitive. Isolated and remote, they trade dolphin teeth as a form of currency. This is more of a tradition than what is happening in Taiji, yet they are ready to embrace change. Shouldn’t more be expected in a modern day Japan, the second largest economy in the world?

Below is a copy of a statement, which we translated and gave to every media outlet we met with. I hope it makes our intentions clear.


I’m here in Japan not as a cultural imperialist, but as someone who just loves dolphins. My passion is about stopping what’s happening at Taiji. I am quite proud of the movie The Cove, not because of the tactics, but because it shows the world what is happening. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t have used secret cameras. If it were up to me, I would simply tell the story. Many of you in the media have made fun of the tactics. But the truth wouldn’t have come out without those tactics. If certain people feel offended, I offer my apologies. But I make no apologies for my cause.

Many of my friends love the country of Japan, and they all ask the same question. Why do you need to slaughter dolphins? We have worked with other nations in the world to stop the practice, and to jointly find ways so that the economic impact will be minimal. We would like to have that discussion with the government of Japan, with the fisheries industry, and most importantly, with the people of Taiji. But it is difficult to start the dialog when we call each other names.

I am not a Japan basher. The film does not bash Japan. The cause we have is very specific. We believe strongly in our cause. But we understand that many in Japan feel that this isn’t something that foreigners should be telling to the people in Japan. I ask that we start the dialog today. I ask that we start this dialog so that we can ultimately reach the goal of stopping the slaughter.

I hope that by watching this film, the people of Japan will see what is happening, regardless of the tactics that were used. You can make your own judgment, and then you can choose what you want to do. Some of you will side with our beliefs. Others may feel that the fishermen are right. Still others may not know what to do. However, we want to start the dialog.

On September 1, the killing will start again in Taiji. We have started a movement around the globe that will not stop. The world is with us. We hope that we can reach an amicable solution with our friends in Japan. But so long as one dolphin is slaughtered needlessly, we will keep spreading the truth.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

EDITORIAL: Pressure on 'The Cove'

The Asahi Shimbun, June 14

Yet another grave incident has occurred that threatens freedom of speech and expression.

Three movie theaters in Tokyo and Osaka have canceled their scheduled screenings of "The Cove," a U.S. documentary about the dolphin hunt in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture.

Those theaters said they have "voluntarily refrained" from showing the film for fear of causing problems for their neighbors because groups decrying the film as "anti-Japanese" had warned they would hold demonstrations against the screenings.

We must isolate this issue from the actual merits of the film, whether the content is appropriate or whether it is of high quality.

Despite the controversial nature of a film or widespread objections to the opinions presented, the right to show that film or to express those views must be protected. That is what freedom of speech and expression is all about. And that is what a free society is based upon.

We can understand why cinemas would be worried about their customers' safety, but in a free, democratic society, we cannot stand by idly while a film screening is canceled in such a manner.

The film portrays the dolphin hunt practiced in Taiji, and the filming was done with hidden cameras. Although the film won this year's Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, residents of Taiji are extremely critical of the film, including its filming methods.

The town government and the local fishing cooperative have asked the distributor to stop screenings, saying the film violates the residents' privacy rights and depicts untruths as facts. The distributor complied by blurring out the residents' faces and showing Taiji's side of the argument in subtitles at the end of the film.

At the climax, the film shows fishermen killing the dolphins and the sea turning red. It is obvious the filmmakers, from their standpoint of protecting the dolphins, sought to portray this as a cruel, savage scene.

Taiji has a long tradition of dolphin hunting. It is, of course, legal. Many Japanese, even those not from the Taiji area, may feel rather awkward watching the film.

But it is understandable that other people feel differently about hunting dolphins. Why are their views different? Why was this film so acclaimed that it won an Oscar?

Despite the strong objections, people need to come face to face with sets of values drastically different from their own. And while doing so, they should reconsider why they are so critical of this piece of work.

These endeavors will provide an opportunity to relativize their own values and contemplate the kinds of prejudice and misperceptions that hinder cross-cultural understanding.

That is exactly why we must thwart any attempts to prevent people from learning about the opinions of others.

A similar thing happened two years ago with the documentary "Yasukuni" by a Chinese director. Many screenings were also canceled in response to pressure at the time.

There are concerns that another chain reaction of screening cancellations will occur for "The Cove." But we hope the 20 or so cinemas around the country stick to their guns and their screening schedules. If any action disrupts their business, then police should take severe measures against the perpetrators.

This continuous habit of "self-restraint" in film screenings is shameful if Japan considers itself a free society. We must raise our voices and not leave the movie theaters out in the cold.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Brave Theater Owner and a Guest Blog

By Ric O’Barry
Campaign Director
Save Japan Dolphins

Earth Island Institute

Osaka, June 12: This blog focuses on the very brave decision of Mr. Atsushi Matsumura, owner of the Dai Nana Geijutsu Gekijo theatre in Osaka, who canceled his scheduled screening of The Cove in the wake of harsh intimidation by radical right wing groups, but reversed his position and decided to screen The Cove in his theatre on July 3rd. Mr. Matsumura had formerly joined two other theatre owners in Tokyo who scrubbed the controversial, Academy-Award-winning documentary, but explained his reversal to a press conference held at his theatre.

We were in the theatre, and the owner, Mr. Matsumura, and I were sitting at a table on the stage with microphones in front of us with about 30 journalists in the audience from major dailies and TV outlets. They asked Matsumura-san if he was afraid to screen the film. He said, yes, I'm afraid, but “I have to do this! This (intimidation) is treading on my freedom of expression, and it could possibly take many theatre owners out of business if these militants dictate what we can say and what we can do.” He added, “Yeah, I'm afraid, but I have to do this, and we're going to do this July 3rd."

A Day With the Nagoya Dolphins By Mark McBennett
Guest Blogger, Founder of Japan Zone

Today was, for me personally, a good day. The occasion was Ric's visit this morning to Nagoya International School (NIS), where my daughter is a second-grader. To have Ric actually visit the school in person was, as you can imagine, a great thrill and a wonderful learning opportunity for the students. We also had a good number of administrators, teachers and even one or two parents present for what was to be an enjoyable but thought-provoking discussion with Ric about the dolphin Campaign.

Ric O’Barry at Nagoya International School.
Photo by Chiho McBennett.

I've only known Ric for a matter of months, but, like anyone who knows him or indeed knows about his decades of activism, I have the utmost respect for him and have spent the last few months working to support that activism. So when he asked me to post something as a guest blogger today, I was more than happy to oblige.

So how did Ric end up at NIS today anyway? The connection goes back to the beginning of this year when I was sent a copy of The Cove on DVD for review on Japan Zone. That led to my doing a couple of interviews via Skype, with director Louie Psihoyos and Ric himself. Later we talked about what could be done to help get the message of The Cove out to the Japanese people, and what could be done that would lead to ending the slaughter in Taiji. There were, and still are, no easy answers.

But it was clear that one important step is to reach out to those people who are interested in knowing more and are maybe looking for a way to get involved. For the most part, that means people who have seen the movie and have discussed the issues in an informed way. So I approached NIS to see if the school would be interested in seeing a copy of the movie, only to find that some students had already completed a unit called "Talk to the Animals" which had included watching it. We looked at building on that, maybe doing a Q&A session with Ric or Louie on Skype, but when I learned that Ric was going to visit Japan in June, an actual visit to the school seemed a much better idea. And as the school's mascot is none other than the dolphin, well, it all seemed like it was just meant to be.

We managed to keep a couple of days open in Ric's hectic schedule. We got him into a quiet, out-of-the-way hotel in Nagoya away from nationalists and reporters where he could get a few hours to himself and decompress. Then this morning we took him and the Save Japan Dolphins Team along to NIS. The school library was set up nicely for the event, and there was an eighth-grader manning the computer for a screening of a short video that served as an introduction.
Seventh/eighth-grade teacher Todd McKeown then gave an eloquent rendition of the journey he and his students had taken to this point. It really is inspiring to hear how they have embraced this topic, difficult and controversial as it is. They have done a wide variety of research and project work and wrote more extensively on this topic than any other they had studied. They welcomed Ric with warm and sincere applause, but had a wide variety of questions ranging from the predictable to ones he had never considered.

Even as we went half-an-hour over time, the students’ questions kept coming. They ranged from things like "Do you work on dolphin issues in other countries besides Japan?" (Enter a copy of the Solomon Star newspaper about Earth Island’s efforts there for dolphins) to "If Flipper hadn't committed suicide, would you have become an activist?" (After a bit of thought Ric's answer was yes, that event was basically a "tipping point" in his work with dolphins). Japan's food tradition is often mentioned as a defense of whaling and the dolphin hunt, and one student asked Ric if he had any traditions that were important to him. Momentarily stumped, he conceded that apart from things like Mother's Day or birthdays, tradition was less important to him than the fact that there is always change, times change, and sometimes things that are considered tradition have to change, too.

Ric talked about his plans, still taking shape, for there to be a major gathering in Taiji on September 1st. There was enthusiasm and support for the idea and hopefully some of the NIS student body and faculty will be able to be there in person.

I hope that some of them will take what they have learned at school, and from their encounter with Ric, and find a way to put that knowledge and experience to good use.

I think that the students who took part in today's event should be rightfully proud of the courage and inquisitiveness they showed. Through their questions they set an example for others in this country and beyond, showing that the ability and the desire to see things from more than one perspective is vital to any true understanding of a complex issue.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Dedicated Japanese Policeman and a Media-Friendly Lecture at Wakayama University

By Ric O’Barry
Campaign Director
Save Japan Dolphins Campaign
International Marine Mammal Project

Wakayama City, Japan, June 10: This blog is dedicated to the memory of one of the finest police officers I've ever had contact with in Japan. Sadly, I got the news from his son during a routine courtesy call at the local police office that I usually make before going down to nearby Taiji that he had died two days ago.

Officer Toshiyuki Yamamoto was with the Shingu Police Department in Wakayama prefecture and would sometimes meet me at the Katsuura train station, close to Taiji, where during routine meetings I would discuss my agenda with him before monitoring the dolphin drive hunts. He liked to call me the “samurai dolphin man.” During our conversations he was always polite and treated me with the utmost respect. He was sympathetic with my feelings towards the dolphin hunts and the related health issues and was always objective when interacting with the Taiji dolphin hunters and me. Every time we reported the dolphin hunters for physically attacking us, he would go and give them hell and get them in line. He was great, and I'm really going to miss him. In his memory, my appearance today at Wakayama University was also dedicated to Officer Yamamoto. I opened my speech to the students there in honor of his professionalism and kindness extended toward me through the years.

I’ve said this repeatedly – the dolphin slaughter should not be blamed on Japan or the Japanese people. It is only a small number of dolphin hunters and bloated bureaucrats in the Japan Fisheries Agency who are responsible for continuing the dolphin hunts, despite widespread opposition when you tell the Japanese people the ugly truth about these annual slaughters. To overturn the hunts, we have to get the truth out and help the Japanese public take action with their own government.

Ric O'Barry talks with Wakayama University students in Wakayama City, Japan, following a recentscreening of The Cove documentary at the university. (June 10, 2010)

Photo credit: Miyuki Takamatsu

Our Save Japan Dolphins Team began our trip on Thursday, bound for Wakayama City to address students at Wakayama University. They had already seen The Cove documentary at the university and were eager to discuss the multi-faceted issues of the dolphin slaughter, including the serious health concerns faced by consumers of toxic dolphin meat and the issues fueling the captive dolphin industry. I received a very good reception from more than 250 students who attended the symposium, which, as a bonus, was also covered by Japan's most prominent print and broadcast media such as NHK-TV, Fuji-TV, TBS-TV and all of the highest circulating dailies; the Yomiuri Shinbun, Asahi Shinbun and Mainichi Shinbun.

Our Save Japan Dolphins Team and I have been meeting with media for YEARS about the dolphin slaughter in Japan, but now the Japanese media is coming to us!
Although security was tight at the venue, a black van with a loudspeaker mounted on its roof was seen parked nearby the university, but police monitored the vehicle and no incidents from nationalist groups, which loudly support the dolphin slaughter, occurred. (Of course, before The Cove came out, one never heard a peep from nationalist groups in Japan about the dolphin slaughter!)

The discussions between the students and I went very well with some students saying that although they didn't necessarily agree with all areas of the film, it was important to raise the awareness of the different issues involved. I urged students, who questioned whether there were high mercury levels in dolphin meat, to go to Taiji, buy the meat and have it tested themselves. I mentioned that some of the toxic dolphin meat is processed into pet food and fertilizer, and that studies made in the Faroe Islands show toxic effects to consumers of dolphins and pilot whales there. The media representatives were given a translated version of The Japan Times article

Tomorrow, I head back to Tokyo for further interviews.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Interviews and Surprising Support

By Ric O’Barry
Campaign Director
Save Japan Dolphins Campaign
Earth Island Institute

Tokyo, June 9, "Keep the motor running" is the theme of today's events that started off in the morning with a grueling round of more interviews capped by an unexpected turn of events in the evening.

I was warned by The Cove's distributor to scrap an appearance at a scheduled screening of the documentary that night due to security concerns. The special venue was held at a large theatre in Tokyo attended by some 600 Japanese, including 60 of Japan's top journalists. The event was organized by a Japanese editor who felt their civil liberties were being trampled on, and, since they couldn't provide security, I was told I wouldn't be allowed to go. I told them I'm going anyhow and I did. They ushered me in the back door, and I went on stage after the film, which was very well received by the journalists and others that were there, and I held up our sign about Japan's constitutional article 21, about freedom of the press, and I read it slowly, emphasizing the last line which reads "and all other forms of expression." And I said therefore you have the right to see The Cove, and they applauded that.

There was a panel of five or six people sitting on the stage, and they were going to have a panel discussion after I left, so I reminded them that while they're having their discussion to consider article 21. I also told the audience that the movie will do what the Japanese media so far has failed to do, and that is, to inform the people. There were people in the room from the extreme nationalists, and since I surprised the audience (because I wasn't on the agenda) they didn't have time to send in their loud protestors. I was able to get in there within five minutes, and get out of there and into the car, which had the motor running, and Unplugged got me quickly back to the hotel! Whew!

There's so much media attention now, and many of the journalists will be going down to cover the Wakayama University event tomorrow, where I’m talking to students. So what the nationalist militants did by calling the theatres and threatening them to drop out seems to be backfiring on them, because their protests against the film have generated a lot more interest in the movie throughout the country.

I'm all over the news now, and the same extremist who targeted the distributor know I'm here. I stay in the hotel and don't walk around!

I wanted to personally thank all of you who have contributed to Save Japan Dolphins for your support! We are finally making major inroads into Japan, with The Cove movie and our message of hope for the dolphins. Your support has meant a lot! Thank you!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Arrival in Japan

By Ric O’Barry
Campaign Director
Save Japan Dolphins Campaign
Earth Island Institute

Tokyo, Tuesday, June 8: Just back from a film festival in Italy and still on jet lag, I hopped another flight to Tokyo, arriving tired and hungry, and afraid I might be turned away by immigration.

But surprisingly, they escorted me through a single lane away from everyone else and, after passing me through the biometric fingerprint and retinal scan, I was met by a horde of 30 police and a Japanese media blitz that surrounded me in a frenzy of TV and still cameras, lit up by scores of portable lights. Onlookers must have thought I was some kind of film celebrity, although in the past the Japanese media always ignored me. When asked about The Cove movie, I only said it was just entertainment, but I also mentioned that Japan's constitutional article 21 prohibits the censorship of an issue where the people have the right to know. After that I was quickly rescued by officials of Unplugged Inc, distributors of the Oscar-winning Cove documentary, who whisked me to their car bound for my hotel in Tokyo.

The officials told me that on Monday a total of 55 Japanese people, including journalists and filmmakers, harshly criticized theatre owners in Tokyo and Osaka for giving in to the demands of the nationalist activists to cancel screenings of the award-winning Cove documentary. The outraged group said the cancellations threaten freedom of expression.

Read the article here:

The Cove is still scheduled to be opened in more than 20 theatres later this month.

Tomorrow, June 9th, more media interviews are scheduled and the following day I'll be going to Wakayama University to get the reactions from many of the students there who viewed The Cove. Taiji is in Wakayama Prefecture, so their reaction will be very interesting.

All in all, we are off to a very good start in getting the truth out to the people of Japan about the dolphin slaughter. This will be the first chance the general public in Japan have the opportunity to view The Cove.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Setback In Japan for The Cove Movie

By Ric O’Barry
Campaign Director
Save Japan Dolphins Campaign
Earth Island Institute

I’m leaving shortly for Japan to help promote the opening of The Cove in more than 20 theaters, but already, the powerful forces that oppose our efforts to protect dolphins are at work. It was just announced that the Tokyo theater N. Shibuya will not screen The Cove, bowing to pressure from Nationalists and fishermen’s unions who have inundated the theater owners with threats and phone calls. So far, two additional theaters have canceled, another one in Tokyo and one in Osaka.

Of course, we’ve known from the beginning that the Japan Fisheries Agency would likely get the Nationalist thugs and unions involved in the Taiji dolphin issue, just as they have done so for years for their illegal and immoral whaling operations. By threatening loud demonstrations in front of theaters, they can intimidate theater owners.

The Cove won every major international film award including the Academy Award. These awards are given for "entertainment value". The Japanese people have a right to see it if they want to. Article 21 of the Japanese Constitution guarantees them the right. It's not right that a small minority of extremists could take this right away from them. To do so is a clear threat to democracy.

The opponents of screening The Cove claim the film is “anti-Japanese,” but the film and we have always made it clear that neither the people of Japan nor the country is at fault in the dolphin slaughter. The slaughter is only supported by the Japan Fisheries Agency and a handful of fishermen, who are keeping the truth secret from the people of Japan.

Right-wing extremists demonstrated at the home in Japan of Medallion's CEO, Mr. Kato, whose company is distributing The Cove. You can see the out-of-contral demonstration in the link below. Among the many things they are chanting as they beat on his door: “Criminal, Terrorist, Traitor.” Mr. Kato had to sneak his family out a backdoor.

Watch Video on YouTube

In response to these brazen attempts at intimidation, Mr. Kato's stated: “Since The Cove won the Oscar, our office and my house has been relentlessly attacked by propaganda activities. Now these attacks have begun on theaters. Theater N Shibuya made a tough decision. The Cove is not an anti-Japanese film. We need to debate the content in constructive way. We lament that we are losing the opportunities to see the film about Japan, in Japan.

Why are they so scared about the truth of the dolphin slaughter getting out? The answer is obvious: Because they know that the massive dolphin slaughter is indefensible — tragically cruel — scientifically unsupportable. Dolphin meat is laced with poisonous mercury and should not be eaten by anyone. And anyone who sees The Cove knows that the hunts are not justified.

We can get around the threats and pressure by standing behind the distribution company Unplugged/Medallion trying to show The Cove, by having me and the Save Japan Dolphins Team in Japan presenting The Cove movie, and by making the opposition a story in itself in Japan, so the public knows the government, the unions and the Nationalists are trying to hide the truth from the people of Japan.

I know the Japanese people will press for an end to the dolphin slaughter once they know the truth.


If you speak Japanese, or have friends or family that live there, please show your support by:

Your donations will help us spread the word in Japan about The Cove, the movie the dolphin killers and right wing don’t want the Japanese people to see. Please help if you can: Donate Here

Your support will help me on this trip to Japan to meet with Japanese media to break through the blackout; screen The Cove throughout Japan; and stand up for the official movie opening at more than 20 theaters.

Thanks again for all your help and support. While I’m in Japan, it helps a lot for me to remember the many dolphin supporters around the world who are with Earth Island and me for this Campaign to Save Japan Dolphins. I really appreciate it!

Experts fear Taiji mercury tests are fatally flawed

Special to The Japan Times
Sunday, May 23, 2010

On May 10, in a front-page lead story headlined "Taiji locals test high for mercury," The Japan Times reported the results of tests by the National Institute of Minamata Disease (NIMD) that found "extremely high methyl-mercury (MeHg) concentrations in the hair of some residents of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, where people have a tradition of eating whale and dolphin."

Specifically, the tests of 1,137 Taiji residents last year revealed that average MeHg levels were 11.00 parts per million (ppm) for men and 6.63 ppm for women — compared with an average of 2.47 ppm for men and 1,64 ppm for women at 14 other locations in Japan.

However, the May 10 report stated that "experts were at a loss to explain why none of Taiji's residents have mercury-related health problems" and that the NIMD would "continue to research" why no symptoms were observed, according to NMID Director General Koji Okamoto.

Such continuing research will perhaps intensify in light of further tests by Masaaki Nakamura, chief of the NIMD's Clinical Medicine Section, on 182 surveyed Taiji residents having the highest mercury levels. Dr. Nakamura's results found that 43 residents tested above 50 ppm of MeHg, with one showing a level of 139 ppm.

Nonetheless, all those tested were declared healthy at an NIMD-sponsored press conference in Taiji on May 9, at which the institute didn't give the 43 residents any dietary advice, with Okamoto noting, according to media reports, that, "It's important that they decide what they should eat."

Okamoto's comments have drawn scorn from respected medical authorities on three continents regarding those afflicted residents of the village of Taiji, where the 2010 Oscar-winning docudrama film "The Cove" was made about the annual slaughter of dolphins there. Before the NIMD report on Taiji residents was issued, The Japan Times interviewed Okamoto. Asked his opinion whether mercury ingestion was dangerous, he said, "At this time we don't find people problematic (from consuming dolphin meat)."

Asked about the standard two-point "discrimination protocol" used in detecting neural damage, Okamoto said, "Neurology experts do not consider this (sensory) test routine in Japan."

Japan's Supreme Court in 2006, however, upheld that protocol as the standard for determining compensation to survivors of the world's worst mercury-pollution disaster, which occurred in Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, on the island of Kyushu in the 1950s. There, and in surrounding villages, a known 1,787 victims died from methyl-mercury poisoning after their consumption of contaminated seafood from Minamata Bay, and thousands more were affected by what became known as Minamata Disease.

That two-point "discriminatory protocol" test of sensory functions certified by Japan's top court is the clinical protocol that detects mercury-related brain damage. It is also the test applied by Shigeo Ekino in a joint study to diagnose the neurotoxic effect of MeHg on the cerebral cortex (brain) and neurons (the nervous system).

Ekino, a professor at the Graduate School of Medical Sciences at Kumamoto University, in Kumamoto, Kyushu is known for his studies of mercury- damaged brain specimens from Minamata victims. He has also published reports revealing how even low levels of MeHg can cause irreversible brain damage.

Ekino employs the two-point test to ascertain mental disability. This involves a subject lying on their back with their eyes closed while one or two compass points are applied to their thumb, forefinger or lip. If the subject feels only one compass point when two points are applied, that points to probable damage to the somatosensory cortex (where the sense of touch is located). Ekino is famous for his breakthrough studies of mercury- damaged brain specimens from Minamata victims, revealing how even low levels of MeHg can cause irreversible damage.

Meanwhile, commenting on Okamoto's advice for Taiji residents that it is "important that they decide what they should eat," Dr. Pal Wiehe, chief physician in the Department of Occupational Medicine, Public Health in the Danish-controlled Faroe Islands, said, "This is inappropriate advice . . . We have seen over a period of time that there were negative impacts at all levels in our neurological, physiological and psychological tests that were irreversible."

Wiehe said he conducted pediatric studies, starting in 1986 with newborns, then the same subjects at the ages of 7, 14 and, last year, at the age of 23. The tests involved a doctor specializing in occupational medicine and neurology, two psychologists and a pediatrician specializing in neuro-pediatrics.

Wiehe cited a wide range of symptoms emerging from this study, including attention-deficit problems, memory- retention disorders and other neurological symptoms that remained permanent at every age level. "We have also seen an impact on the cardiovascular system, such as heart-rate variations from MeHg, and also a negative impact on the immune system from ingesting whale blubber that contains significant levels of organochlorines such as PCBs and DDT, and other pollutants. . . . We have not seen . . . that selenium (Se) gives protection (against MeHg toxicity) . . . and claims by the NIMD that Se gives some protection . . . are questionable."

A joint study on prenatal exposure to MeHg, involving Japanese experts including Mineshi Sakamoto, an NIMD toxicologist, corraborates Wiehe's findings. The study, titled "Mercury and Heavy Metal Profiles of Maternal and Umbilical RBCs [Red Blood Cells] in the Japanese Population," revealed that Se had little effect as a protective barrier against placental transfer of MeHg to a fetus.

Regarding Ekino's study of the neurotoxic effects of mercury on the cerebral cortex, Wiehe said, "Absolutely, that's what we have been studying for years . . . and what we have seen in Minamata we have seen in the Faroes due to lower doses of MeHg."

Commenting on the high concentration of mercury in Taiji dolphin meat in 10 certified lab tests conducted on different dolphin species, which found the highest level, at 14.3 ppm, was almost 36 times over Japan's advisory level of 0.4 ppm, Wiehe said, " That to me, without any doubt, is dangerous to consumers' health . . . our average concentration (in pilot whales, which are oceanic dolphins) is 2 ppm."

He added, "We don't consider pilot whale meat proper human food." In fact, despite some harsh local opposition, on Dec. 1, 2008 Wiehe successfully recommended to the government of the Faroe Islands that residents discontinue the consumption of pilot whale meat.

But Wiehe is no ecoterrorist. Coming from the Faroes, where — as in Taiji — there is an ancient local culture of hunting and consuming cetaceans, in his youth he took part in the hunts, ate the meat of pilot whales and still says he respects that tradition. But he stresses, "Health issues are more important than tradition."

The NIMD report declaring Taiji residents free of mercury damage also drew flak from one of Japan's top medical researchers, who requested anonymity. He commented, "It is a miracle if no one has symptoms and, if true, it contradicts all scientific studies — or maybe Japanese people are supermen."

Just as the researcher said that fears of intimidation (and the withdrawal of research funding) prompted him to request his name be withheld, the Taiji dolphin-cull story and the toxic meat it produces is mostly ignored in Japan's vernacular media. Indeed, this writer has repeatedly been told by editors that the whole subject is "too sensitive" for them to cover.

Whatever the attempts in Japan to ignore questions surrounding the NIMD's approval for Japanese citizens to continue eating toxic dolphin, however, one of America's leading neurologists, Florida-based Dr. David Permutter — a recipient of the prestigious Linus Pauling Functional Medicine Award for his research into brain disease — was far less inhibited.

In a recent telephone interview, Permutter said, "To me, these (MeHg) levels found in dolphin meat are absolutely dangerous. A study was just published demonstrating that even low levels of mercury profoundly disrupt the blood- brain barrier and increase the presence of inflammatory reactivity in the brain . . . "

He continued: "These levels (of MeHg) are dramatically elevated. This practice of serving dolphin meat is tantamount to poisoning people; they may as well serve them arsenic, it would be no less harmful! What they're doing is wrong on every count; it's the wrong thing to do for the people and the wrong thing to do for the dolphins. No matter how you look at this, it's perverse — it's a tragedy and it should be condemned. If the role of government is to protect the people, then they're failing miserably in their role." Meanwhile, Japan's National Institute of Population and Social Security Research has cited mortality figures in Taiji, for 2007, at 67 deaths from a population of some 3,500 residents — putting the town's overall mortality rate more than 50 percent above other villages nationwide of roughly the same population. However Kozagawa, west of Taiji, where dolphin meat is also consumed, showed an even higher rate — with 82 deaths from a population of 3,426 people in 2007.

Comparable villages of almost similar populations were Hiiezuson, Tottori Prefecture, which posted 31 deaths from a population of 3,110; Akamura, Fukishima, with 29 deaths among 3,387 people; Minamiyamashiromura in Kyoto with 37 deaths among 3,369 residents; Kitoshiobara in Fukishima Prefecture with 38 deaths among 3,307 residents, and Yomogitamura, Aomori Prefecture, with 35 deaths among 3,370 people.

Although age-related data and cause of deaths were not available from the research center, the balance of probability may point to some early mortality, mercury-related deaths, based on the effects of long term consumption of food containg high levels of MeHg.This, of course, is inconclusive and just an assumption based on the above scientificc studies related to the long term effects of mercury on suppression of theimmune system, damage to the cardiovascular and central nervous system, and severely diminished neurological function.

Chiho M. Jingu and Mark McBennett contributed vital research for this article. Stephen Hesse is taking a well-earned break, but his column, "Our Planet Earth," will return to the Nature page as normal next month.