Home [ ENVIRONMENT ] Of dolphins and censorship in Japan

Of dolphins and censorship in Japan

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The controversial American made film “The Cove”, which documents the horrors of Japan’s dolphin hunting, is not being shown in Japan.  As reported in the media, this is not because of formal censorship, but due to pressure from extremist, right-wing, nationalist groups. 


But in reality, it is worse than that.  It is really because the passive, submissive and obedient Japanese people let themselves be bullied by these small groups.  

Japan is basically free of formal, legalistic censorship.  Many would say Japan is too free of censorship.  The country is after all one of the world capitals of child pornography and other horrors.  So, in theory “The Cove” should be playing in Japanese cinemas, with Japanese citizens deciding by themselves whether they want to see the film.

“The Cove” portrays the annual killing of dolphins in a National Park at Taiji, Wakayama, in Japan.  There are reportedly several times more dolphins killed in Taiji than whales killed by the Japanese in the Antarctic.  Migrating dolphins are herded into a hidden cove where they are netted and killed by means of spears and knives.  The meat is then sold in supermarkets.  But apparently the main motivation for the dolphin hunting is the revenue generated for the town by selling some of the captured dolphins to aquariums and marine parks.

The film was directed by former National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos.  It won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary Film at the 82nd Academy Awards.

Westerners are very sympathetic to the trials and tribulations of these poor dolphins.  For them, dolphins are near humans with their great sensitivity and intelligence.  Anyone who saw “Flipper” when they were a child is simply in love with dolphins.  For many Japanese, there is not much meaningful difference between a dolphin and a cow.  And dolphin hunting would be seen as an ancient tradition.

We also have to recognize that the film makers were a bit naughty, as many parts of the film were filmed secretly.  They basically invaded Taiji, and not surprisingly received a hostile welcome.

There are however a few curious aspects that are worth highlighting.  The Taiji fishermen undertake their killing in an isolated cove, and clearly are seeking to hide this bloody activity.  Most Japanese were unaware of the practice.  And it seems that the dolphin meat, which is on local school menus, contains dangerously high levels of mercury.  In June 2008, AERA, a Japanese weekly journal, reported that the whale and dolphin meat sold in Taiji contained a level of mercury 160 times higher than normal, and that the hair of a local sample of 8 men and women had 40 times higher mercury levels, based on a research conducted by the National Institute for Minamata Disease.

But perhaps most interestingly, this incident highlights how the Japanese society is tightly controlled and little informed are Japanese citizens.  Virtually no-one was aware of this dolphin hunting.  The media will not discuss the issue of the film because it is too controversial.  And the Japanese public just swallow the complaints of a very small minority of extremist, right-wing, nationalist groups.

Japan is very lucky to now have as its Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, who began his political career as an activist.  As he said in his Policy Speech to the Japanese Diet on 11 June 2010, “my fundamental political conviction is to achieve true popular sovereignty in which the people participate in the political process”.  Surely Mr Kan believes that the Japanese cinema owners should be able to show this film is they want to, and that Japanese citizens should also be able see the film if they want to.

But solving this problem will require long and deep education of the Japanese people.  They need to understand that they can be free if they want to be, and that do not have to obey local extremist groups.  They should also develop a greater curiosity about the world around them.  That might put a few smiles on their faces!


Someone must be reading my articles, because some cinemas have responded positively to freedom of speech and thought activists and are now showing "The Cove". 


Policy Speech by Prime Minister Naoto Kan

at the 174th Session of the Diet, 11 June 2010