Monday, February 6, 2012

Interview at a Japanese Jail: Dolphin Defender, Erwin Vermeulen

By Steven Thompson, February 6, 2012  

          Picture of Wakayama Detention Center Provided By Steven Thompson

Wakayama Detention Center, the left door is the entry where the reading materials are checked for contraband. Personal messages are not allowed. Visitors register their names and addresses. We left our cameras and muzzle loaders in lockers provided free of charge. (Picture provided by Steven Thompson)

I met Erwin Vermeulen today at the Wakayama Detention Center, his home at least until February 22nd (photo above). By then, he will have been incarcerated for 70 days for an alleged pushing incident without evidence of any sort.

I went with dedicated activists Scott West and Melissa Sehgal, Cove Guardians working with Sea Shepherd in Taiji Japan. We spoke through glass with an English speaking guard taking notes.

We had a limited time to talk. Erwin can get just one visit per day from up to three people. What would you tell Erwin...ask Erwin if you had the chance and fifteen minutes? We had to talk quickly.

Erwin looked gaunt and pale and hairy. We all touched hands through the glass in the small cold room. We smiled. The guard sat to Erwin's left with a white mask covering his expressions.

We shared personal messages which had been emailed from his girlfriend, family and friends, and even fellow Dutch countryman, Rutger Hauer. which seemed to surprise Erwin. Erwin answered the messages. We shared news of the recent candle light vigils and the messages being collected for him to read later. We took notes. We joked. 

Being around Cove Guardians is fun. After having seen so much death, laughter comes quickly or you don't survive well. Cove Guardians including Erwin see humor in an obviously difficult situation. 

Erwin didn't want another sweater because he said that he was already bundled up like the Michelin Man, or a bearded Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Are you smiling? We were.

He would write more, he said, if he knew that he could keep it. His last writings have been confiscated by Shingu Police. He could have taken his diary with him if every word had been translated from Dutch to Japanese. The Dutch Embassy couldn't find a translator for Erwin; how could Erwin find one? Funny guys those Shigu police officers.

We shared a Dutch news article of the Dutch Parliament's plans to show The Cove movie and increase support for dolphins and whales, all facilitated because of Erwin's inhumane incarceration. We laughed some more. 

Erwin's eyes focused intently on each of us as we spoke in turn. 

There doesn't seem to be anything particularly complicated about Erwin. He loves his family and friends and dolphin and whales intensely. He asked for news from Taiji and from the Southern Ocean Campaign. He asked if he would have the chance to go back to Taiji? We changed the topic. 

Erwin gets up at 7:00am sharp, makes his bed in the freezing cold, and is passed a breakfast tray through a small door from a white mask wearing uncommunicative guard. He is allowed to dump hot water over his body twice a week in a sort of bath and leave his solitary cell once a day for 30 minutes of outside air. He can make his bed to lie more comfortably and warmly only after 4pm. Upbeat music including western tunes are piped into his cell for 6-9pm. I forgot to ask him when he goes to sleep.

He enjoys reading. We brought him nine more books and recent newspapers. His favorite books: Civil Disobedience by Thoreau, The Tao of Pooh and the short stories of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. He seemed tuned in to the impact potential of his incarceration. He has a lot of time to think. 

His food is better than the Shingu hell-hole, but he still feels very much a prisoner. Turning back to the positive: he said he waits attentively for bread, once every five days. He gets to drink soy milk regularly and he occasionally gets a veggie burger. The guard was proud of this and heartily chimed in through his white mask. His English: very good.

Erwin was deeply hopeful that his jail time would be motivational to others to get involved to end the Taiji dolphin hunt. He did not seem like he knew what to do with being so well-known by so many. 

Erwin's stoic message for supporters: "I'm still fine. I'll be back whenever they let me go. Thank you for thinking of me and supporting me and the dolphins. I'm glad that I'm not here for nothing".


  1. I am proud to say that Erwin is a friend on Facebook. He has sacrificed his life for the dolphins we defend together. This determination to save cetaceans should be a message to the world that it is time our ocean friends in Taiji, The Southern Ocean, Faroe Islands, where ever they may be they deserve non-human person status and rights. Dolphins, whales and porpoises are the minds in the water. Thank-you Erwin for making a difference!

  2. Erwin, you are making a difference. More attention is being drawn to Taiji and their dirty secret. I pray you are doing well. I can't imagine what you must be going through inside that jail. Cetaceans around the world thank you. I thank you. Your love for the magnificent creatures shines through with your smile.

  3. Evidence will prove that Erwin is innocent and this has been an attempt to intimidate. If Japan law was equal Mr. Miyoshi should be arrested and sent to trial for pushing Rosie on the pier. There is video documentation of this attack, and yet nothing was done to reprimand Mr. Miyoshi. Instead, a hotel employee alleged that Erwin pushed him, but there is no evidence to support this. Erwin has been locked away for 2 months in a foreign jail without reasonable cause. Interesting the way Japan law works. And they call US racists?

  4. Although I do not personally know Erwin, I pray for his release. If the charge is due to a "push" please show us the evidence! I think he is being held as he stands up to the callous slaughter of Dolphins. I have had my candle burning since 4pm Saturday and will continue to burn it until Erwin is released.. Stay strong Erwin and know that you have so much support and respect from strangers and that you have made a huge difference in our sometimes cruel world..

  5. you're a hero!
    the real killers are loose, the real criminals are in Taiji, Wakayama province is one of the worst parts of Japan, has no honor killing dolphins, killing dolphins is not human, they are cowards and the mentally ill! killing dolphins for money is an act of being that has not evolved!

  6. We really do need all the help we can get.

    Talking with Erwin about Civil Disobedience inspires a small cadre of activists. We found a new member. There are four now. Civil Disobedience will not be for Sea Shepherd or SJD. They cannot go down this road.

    But you, an individual can. We have legal support and a whole new way of looking at dolphin hunt solutions pioneered by Erwin. We will not break any Japanese laws. Add your skills, message me at TDAG please.
    Steven Thompson

  7. Thanks Steven for posting this and to read something about Erwin and how he's doing.
    So good that you were be able to pay him a visit, he must have enjoyed seeing familiar faces.
    I hope you will be able to visit him again or better that we all see him again as a free man again!!

    Keep up the good work there! Take Care!


    Mark van der Hulst