Whaling Away on Japan's 'Far Right' on the Front Page

Hiroko Tabuchi's article on "far right" threats against anti-whaling expose "The Cove" is fat with unflattering labels generally absent from the paper's coverage of truly violent far-left political groups.

Times Watch doesn't have an informed position on Japanese whaling. But you don't need one to question whether the Times' front-page story by Hiroko Tabuchi in Yokohama, Japan, on Saturday needed quite so many "far right" labels to get its point across: "Japan's Noisy Far Right Blocks Oscar Winner on Dolphin Kills."

You certainly won't see this big a clump of "far left" descriptions in a front-page story on U.S. politics, or even international politics:

"The Cove," an Oscar-winning documentary about dolphin hunting in Japan, would seem to be a natural fit for movie theaters here, but so far the distributor has yet to find a single one that will screen the film.

And if Shuhei Nishimura and his compatriots on Japan's nationalist fringe have their way, none ever will.

In a country that shudders at disharmony and remains wary of the far right's violent history, the activists' noisy rallies, online slanders, intimidating phone calls and veiled threats of violence are frightening theaters into canceling showings of "The Cove," which not only depicts dolphin hunting in an unflattering light but also warns of high levels of mercury in fish, a disturbing disclosure in this seafood-loving nation.

It is a stark example as well of how public debate on topics deemed delicate here can be easily muffled by a small minority, the most vocal of whom are the country's estimated 10,000 rightists who espouse hard-line stances in disputes against Tokyo's neighbors.

Other areas that have been effectively made taboo by the right wing include Japan's royal family, rights for ethnic minorities, Tokyo's occupation of parts of Asia in the last century, the nation's role in World War II and organized crime groups, many of which have close links with the far right.

There's more, with references to "right-wing protests," "Public fear of the far right," even "a sword-wielding right-wing sympathizer" who killed someone 50 years ago. All for a movement that has used some low tactics but not as yet actual violence to put forth its views - unlike your average left-wing/anarchist protest. In all, the 1,080-word story had eleven highly unflattering rightist references, not including the "far right" headline.