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!

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