“The Cove” Taiji Dolphin protesters cancel local demo due to potential Rightist violence


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Hi Blog. I got the following from the organizers of demonstrations against dolphin slaughters in Taiji, Wakayama (subject of documentary “The Cove”). Comment follows:


Posted By: Fonda Berosini
To: Members in “The Cove” – Save Japan Dolphins
UPDATE: Sept.1 Taiji events cancelled
Received August 20, 2010

For several important reasons, we have decided to cancel our plans in Taiji, Japan for Sept. 1st (the first day of the annual dolphin slaughter.)

Most importantly, we received word that an extreme nationalist group known to be violent is set to confront us in Taiji. Our work in Japan has never been about physical confrontation. Since “The Cove” premiered in theaters earlier this Summer, we believe we are making progress by bringing the truth to the people of Japan about the dolphin slaughter and about mercury-poisoned dolphin meat in markets. We will not play the game that the nationalist groups want us to play – we will not have it become “us versus them.”

“We” are now more than 1.6 million people from 153 countries, including Japan. The militant nationalist groups may gather as they like in Taiji; we will be elsewhere in Japan, talking to the media, explaining the problem, and making sure the public understands that we are not there to fight, but to work together.

I know some will be disappointed, but I really think we can do better elsewhere at this time. Please know that I’m not concerned about my own safety, however many supporters – some from this Cause – are planning to join us, and I won’t risk their well being.

We will not abandon the dolphins in trouble in Taiji and other fishing villages. In fact, moving the event will allow us to show the full scope of the problem. Several other communities along the coast of Japan have dolphin kills, although most have abandoned the drive fishery that was depicted in The Cove. And there is also the broader issue of captivity. We would like to discuss these issues in a neutral, conflict-free environment.

Thanks for your understanding. To follow our next steps in Japan, I invite you to check my blog:


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


COMMENT: Debito.org is following this case with interest because it offers one template for activism in Japan (a society that in my view eschews activism of this sort because historically it has been associated with extremism).  The outcome of this case, with so much time, effort, and publicity invested, will of course affect the efficacy of future grassroots protests in Japan.

The development above has stirred mixed feelings in me because:

1) The decision to cancel and move elsewhere the demonstration is understandable because we don’t want violence to mar the demos (and I think some of the groups will make good on their threat of violence — the Japanese police have a habit of not stopping public violence if it’s inflicted by the Right Wing: examples herehere, here, and within the movie Yasukuni).  Only a violence-free demo will reassure an already tetchy Japanese public that not all demonstrators are extremists.  One would need the non-violence discipline and training of MLK’s followers in places like Birmingham and Selma; when faced with biting police dogs and fire hoses, they managed to keep cool heads and evoke public sympathy.  Thanks to the media, of course, who published photographs showing who the one-sided perpetrators of violence were.  There is no guarantee of that in the Japanese media (no doubt there would be plenty of domestic outlets either trying to create faux balance by finding fault with both sides, or just saying that the intruders were there making trouble).


2) In principle, giving in to bullies only makes them stronger, and if the Rightists are able to deter demos in Taiji by threatening violence, then what’s to stop them from threatening the same elsewhere, especially given the anti-Leftist/anti-intruder police and media sympathies I mentioned above?  Whenever any group is able to successfully hold public safety hostage, violence (or the threat of it) will in fact be more encouraged.  Where the demo lines can be drawn, especially in a society that needs police and community permission to even hold a public rally outdoors, will be perpetually gray.  So why not draw them in Taiji?

This is just an internal debate I have going on inside of me.  What do others think?  It’s been one hot summer this year, let’s hope cooler heads prevail and nobody gets hurt.  Arudou Debito on vacation.

PS:  I’ve put this question up as a blog poll, in the right-hand column of any blog page.  Let us know what you think.

26 comments on ““The Cove” Taiji Dolphin protesters cancel local demo due to potential Rightist violence

  • I do think that they should be spreading the message more, but I do not think they should be so soft when it comes to this. If they must stand and be beat up for the cause, that is what they must do. The violence against a group not fighting back should(with hopeful thinking) be seen negatively on the media. I guess this post of mine sounds morbid, since I am pretty much asking for them to get beat up. But if it was me, I’d rather get beat up for something I believe in then run away from it.

  • Peter McArthur says:

    I think this is the right decision. The Rightists have the tactical advantage here.

    The problem is that the rightists don’t need to win over the public’s sympathy. They just need to persuade the public that this is an issue fit only for warring extremists.

    This Rightists’ tactic can be defeated, but it takes time, preparation and sacrifice. Save Japan Dolphins is better off using its resources to get the message out in other ways.

  • It is a tough issue.
    At least sticking to comparing with modern examples in “civilized” countries where protests may occur, in this case:

    1. There is a real chance that if a protestor gets knifed in the gut by a right-wing looney, that the police will do nothing, except maybe arrest the victim and detain him in a koban until he bleeds to death (only half joking on the second bit). When the “justice” system is happy to ignore any laws that should protect you, you have to reconsider.
    2. The Japanese news media will not show any video footage that would “aid” the side of the giajin protestors. They’ll just show footage of them being arrested, without any coutesy blurring of faces or handcuffs.

    Without police protection or media watchdogs, in the face of violence which has support (tacit or not) from the government, things become much more dangerous.

    To face a real risk of death to protect an animal is a bit silly. At least they aren’t going the Sea Shepherd route and manufacturing “risky” situations for the cameras. Murderous right wing nuts in Japan have already proven they are a real threat.
    Unfortunately, giving in to thugs in a case of animal rights makes the thugs feel stronger, and will encourage them to engage in more thuggery against support of HUMAN rights. That’s bad.

    But remember, these right-wingers are really cowards. They hide inside black trucks. They try to “commit suicide” by pricking their beer guts with swords during hospital hours in major cities. They are afraid of a half dozen white people taking video of what they do, even knowing the Japanese “justice” system is on their side.

    Japanese right wingers and media tend to forget that “The Whole World is Watching”. Things that don’t make NHK news DO make it to the BBC and CNN. Including threats of violence and police turning a blind eye.

  • Its a classic Gandhi moment. If you really believe in what you stand for, go and take whatever beatings await and let the media do it’s job.

  • I agree with level 3. The Japanese media will spin off the facts as if the foreign group is the violent and extremist one.
    I think the wisest generals are the ones who know when to attack and when to retreat. I think this retreat aims at chosing the best strategy of spreading the word among Japanese people (and this is the true aim of this protest at Taiji, I think). The world already knows, it is important that the Japanese know, understand and stop the killings themselves.

  • There’s only so far you can spin something. If the Taiji demonstrators just stand there peacefully and never fight back, i.e. protest Gandhi-style, it would be very, very difficult to make them look like the bad guys — and footage of the rightists beating up peaceful protesters would very likely turn public opinion against them.

    The trick is finding protesters willing to stand still and get beaten for their cause.

  • Jib Halyard says:

    The Japanese media is irrelevant. The best thing for these demonstrators would be to ensure as much foreign TV coverage as possible. Any mischief on the part of the rightists would not be swept under the carpet by, say, the bbc or cnn. at least they would have no incentive to do so if the footage was compelling enough.
    gaiatsu is the only way to get through to the japanese authorities, who seem to be more afraid of rightist freaks than of their own electorate.

  • Lee Richmond says:

    Hey Ric, these are nasty people. You’ve done such an amazing thing, nobody wants to see you or any of these other brave people injured or killed. The world knows this is going on now, the seed is sown. It’s very easy for other people to tell you to go anyway, but I wonder if they could stand there and not fight back while being attacked.

  • “The police have a habit of not stopping public violence if it’s inflicted by the Right Wing.” This by itself belies the myth of Japan’s finest being a real police service, akin to their overseas counterparts. Shame!

    To serve and protect? Whom exactly? Not the citizenry, and most definitely not international residents.

  • As one of the local organizers of these events in Japan, I’d like to thank Debito for posting this and starting another debate on the issues.

    Personally I’m glad the events have been moved to Tokyo. I didn’t really worry too much about the uyoku initiating violence. What concerned me more was that we had no control over who would participate on our side. And there are enough loose cannons and people of questionable judgment that it would have been difficult to ensure no retaliation to the inevitable taunts and provocations. Seas Shepherd members were talking of coming from overseas and, whatever you think of their activities, their very presence could have been enough to spark conflict.

    The sorry fact of all this is that there are still so few of here on the ground in Japan, and even then the majority of us are non-Japanese and part-time volunteers. There have been efforts to get more Japanese involved but without an organized campaign it is difficult to raise a flag for people here to rally behind. Many Japanese, rightly, have mixed feelings about The Cove and the fact is that the movie – and all its flaws and shortcomings – will henceforth always be dragged into the debate.

    Partly due to this connection between the planned events and the movie, most of the Japanese people who we work and communicate with were skeptical from the start about the idea of a bunch of NJ’s going down to Taiji. Whether it was intended to be peaceful or not, it would be presented here as intimidation and interference in the life of a quiet fishing village. Though the international media and the more sympathetic/balanced local media might be expected to present the situation fairly, the fact is the majority of Japanese people would get a version that passed through the NHK/Kyodo/Jiji filter. There have already been enough misguided and poorly planned events held in Japan.

    The hope is still that public opinion can be won over, but I have doubts that this will now happen with Taiji as the focus. There are bigger cetacean hunts in other parts of Japan, in particular the slaughter of up to 15,000 Dall’s Porpoises annually in Iwate. The meat from those animals is as toxic as that from Taiji, the health risks even more widespread and real. See here for more details: http://www.dallsporpoise.org/index.php

    Debito mentions the Taiji issue as a possible breeding ground for grassroots activism in Japan. I’d suggest another possible issue. There is still hope that a grassroots campaign could possibly stop the unnecessary and unpopular plan to build yet another aquarium in Japan (the country has more than all of Europe combined) – in the heart of Kyoto, no less. It seems to be a project whose momentum comes from the city’s ties with the major Orix corporation, the personal agenda of Kyoto’s mayor, and a desire to attract Chinese tourists. To date, the campaign against the plan has been low-key (Japanese site here: http://www.eonet.ne.jp/~qzu03325/caring.html) but has managed to stall construction. In the near future, expect to see a more concerted effort, also in English, to enlist the support of potential tourists worldwide and in Japan who would rather see Kyoto preserve some of what’s left of its famous dignity.

    The NY Times covered the story but it has yet to get proper English media exposure here in Japan: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/08/business/global/08kyoto.html

  • … The people who also voted: “Bad idea. By giving in to bullies, you’ll just encourage more threats of violence elsewhere.” should get involved as well.

  • Steve Smith says:

    Hi Ric,
    I agree with everything you’ve said. Why play their game, when its not about playing games, but to educate people about the killing. Nothing will come from confronting the Rightists, other than stress and bloodshed, and after all, that’s what you’re trying to prevent in the first place.
    Kudos to you Ric!

  • Plans were changed because of a bunch of factors. Among them – the radical right-wing group Zaitokukai got involved and were welcomed by the mayor of Taiji; getting people to a place like Taiji is a logistical and financial headache; it was and still is very difficult to get Japanese to become “active” on this issue in any real sense; there was no way to control who would take part, including Sea Shepherd members (see above); the bias in the vast majority of Japanese media outlets. And so on.

    There’s a long road ahead. And it doesn’t necessarily have to go through Taiji. The dolphin slaughter in Taiji accounts for less than 10% of the total number of small cetaceans killed annually around Japan (see the Iwate info above). There is also the shark finning industry, which is actually even more harmful to the marine ecosystem. And there’s the Kyoto aquarium (again, see above).

    In other words, if what is being done to the world’s oceans pisses you off – and it should – there are plenty of ways that you can take a stand here in Japan, and quite possibly be able to do something about it. I’ve been an armchair activist – reading stories, tut-tutting but not doing anything – for most of my adult life, and only really got involved in something for the first time six months ago. Once your eyes have been opened it’s impossible to shut them again. It’s been a hugely educational and often hugely frustrating six months. I’ve met and spoken with some amazing people…and a few dicks as well.

  • Oh, one other thing. This site refers to “The Cove” protesters, a label that is no longer accurate. Two months ago, the focus was on getting the movie released in Japan. Mission accomplished. But the reaction here has been far more complex than the moviemakers envisaged.

    One thing that I advised those coming from overseas and leading these activities was that it’s time to move on from The Cove. The central message of the movie is spot on, the publicity and awareness it has created are invaluable. But the movie is a double-edged sword. It contains some factual errors, it goes against Japanese sensibilities in how it was made, even key Japanese figures who agred to be in the movie have since been turned against it…all of which means that any attempt to debate the core issues gets sidetracked by arguments against the movie itself.

    “Dolphin activists” would be a more accurate label.

  • I believe the Japanese media and local support for this are not only relevant but crucial to the cause. Ric and his team have done an amazing job bringing the issue to the forefront, but it is very easy for the rightists/traditionalists to rally against a “foreign” enemy here, much more difficult when there are throngs of locals standing up against this as well, and they will no doubt get a lot more legitimate Japanese media coverage on this as well. The problem from some of these rightists is not so much the threats that you do see at the protests but also the threats they privately send to individuals, and it is very hard to fault someone for wanting to protect their family or their livelihood.

  • Is it not worth going back to Taiji after the event, to simply show the “normality” with which the whole issue is taken by the locals and Japanese in general?

    or, try and get a BBC or CNN camera team and journalist to follow you and your demonstration on the day in Taiji, to highlight that which shall probably happen as noted above?

  • The moving/cancelling simply reflects the depth of conviction for the cause. Its important but not important enough to risk ones life to physical harm at this point. Peaceful demonstrations by Ghandi still resulted in violence but their convictions for their cause warranted the necessity to do so in their eyes. Were the issue more serious(and by saying that Im not trying to invalidate the seriousness that it actually is), letting Japanese see the violence and length to which they were willing to go to harm protestors would’ve put an ugly mirror up to their society’s own face and the international condemnation and embarrassment would have been most likely well reported.

    All in all, how this movement continues to progress will be interesting but in my opinion the capitulation to the threats should not be considered an win for the nationalists. They are their own worst enemy.

  • Are there any formal plans for protesting in Shimonoseki on November 9 & 10? Could they have found a more remote location for the meeting of pro-whaling states as Japan attempts to plan for the repeal of the ban on commercial whaling? It should be interesting to see how many of the 40-some nations invited decide to attend. Would also be interesting to know just how many of these nations will get an expense paid trip to Japan on our tax money to participate.

    I have been seriously considering a trip to Taiji the third weekend in September as a lone protester. Considering previous posts, this may not be a good idea.

  • My heart is breaking and if i had the money to go to Taiji to be there i would. So since im unable to go i have chosen to make my peers in California aware of what is going on there in Taiji. Which I will add that alot of my friends had no idea what was happening in Taiji was even taken place. I am trying to contribute any way I can through awareness and am making arrangements to donate money. But i will say that personally I’d take a good, hard, and serious butt whoopin while standing there in silence for this cause.

  • Taiji drive fishing has commenced with no protests (source in Japanese):


    I was actually there last weekend. I seemed to be the only foreigner there, and none of the locals seemed to be bothered about a lone foreigner being there (I wasn’t protesting or anything).

    太地町でクジラ追い込み網漁 目立った抗議行動なく
    2010年9月2日 12時28分

  • An article from GrindTV (international news outlet) regarding the new hunting season commencing in Taiji (English): http://www.grindtv.com/outdoor/blog/20198/despite+swelling+opposition+dolphin+hunt+begins+in+taiji+japan/

    This quote in particular caught my eye:

    “We will pass down the history of our ancestors to the next generation, preserve it. We have a strong sense of pride about this,” town Mayor Kazutaka Sangen told the AP. “So we are not going to change our plans for the town based on the criticism of foreigners.”

    In other words, ‘Oh look, it’s those pesky foreigners again! How dare they interfere with Japanese tradition!?’ (imagine me saying this in a sarcastic voice)

    There’s also a video linked from the article with subtitles in Japanese. I think it’s beautifully done and it should reach as many people as possible. I will link to more relevant news articles if I find them.

  • Cabby,

    No, there weren’t any right-wingers either. Quite a peaceful town, actually (if you aren’t a whale or a dolphin, that is). I did have a camera but the local supermarket had a sign that said “no photographs and no interviews,” so I couldn’t flash it around.

  • @ Graham

    Can’t one take one with a phone while pretending to text, switching the phone shutter sound to some incospicuous J pop jingle?

    Or does the whale/dolphin meat have attendants standing there to serve the no doubt “constant” stream of domestic consumers of this popular culinary speciality?

    Or, just buy some as evidence? I ve never seen it in Tokyo, so I wouldnt know, seriously.

  • Speaking of Taiji, there is a update on the issue:

    Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011

    Of Taiji, activists know nil: curator

    Staff writer

    A curator of the Taiji Whale Museum on Friday criticized opponents of the town’s dolphin slaughter for their lack of knowledge about Taiji, which was featured in the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove.”

    “I am neutral (as to whether catching dolphins for human consumption and display in aquariums is right or wrong), but it is unfortunate the issue is discussed among people who don’t know about Taiji and the people there,” Hayato Sakurai, curator of maritime history at the museum in Wakayama Prefecture, said at the Foreign Press Center Japan in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

    Sakurai traveled to Tokyo to tell journalists about the history of whaling in Taiji.

    “The question for Taiji and the world is how humans interact with whales. The answer belongs to the future and the new history it will create,” said Sakurai, who worked for the New Bedford Whaling Museum in the U.S. until he moved to Taiji with his American wife in 2006.

    When asked for his opinion about Taiji locals being less outspoken than those protesting the dolphin slaughter, he avoided answering directly, saying: “The situation is very complicated and political. I feel powerless in this very complicated situation.”

    — But powerful enough to criticize the opponents, at least.


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