Japan Grapples with the Rise of Hate Groups
Tensions in East Asia are putting stress on Japanese society as rightwing activists begin to target resident Koreans. This has led to some politicians calling for legislative action against “hate speech”
MICHAEL PENN, TRNN CORRESPONDENT, TOKYO: Since around 2010, Japan has begun to witness a phenomenon it had never seen in the post-World War II era: conservative activists and ordinary citizens have begun marching through the streets of the cities, denouncing China, Korea, the media, and the government officials they accuse of selling out the nation.
But these marchers are turning out to be the relative moderates. Since late 2012, a more radical fringe, called the Zaitokukai and carrying wartime Japanese Rising Sun flags, began appearing in predominantly Korean neighborhoods, such as Shin-Okubo in Tokyo, shouting out that the residents are parasites and cockroaches, and even declaring that they should be massacred.
At the beginning of this year, grassroots anti-racism groups began to organize counter-demonstrations through the internet to oppose the Zaitokukai.
NOBUKATSU KIM, ANTI-RACISM ACTIVIST (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I first got involved about ten days after their February 9 demonstration. I saw on internet news a placard that one of these demonstrators held up. It read: “The Good Koreans and the Bad Koreans; Kill Them All!” Well, I myself am a resident Korean and I understood that complete strangers were saying they wanted to kill me. This threat was aimed at me and it was a scary thought to consider.
PENN: The Zaitokukai and its allied organizations see the threat issue differently. They argue that they are only responding to attacks on Japan’s good name that are coming predominantly from South Korea. They even claim that some Japanese living abroad are being harassed and endangered by Korea’s alleged anti-Japan campaign.
NOBUYUKI SUZUKI, PRESIDENT, RESTORATION POLITICAL PARTY NEW WIND (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Korea is inviting the world to show contempt toward Japan with its accusations about 200,000 young Korean girls being forcefully abducted and used for Japanese pleasure in a systematic manner. But this wasn’t so, and we cannot accept this fabrication. Korea’s goal in making these accusations is to steal Takeshima Island from Japan. This is the territorial objective of their lies, and we have no choice but to counterattack.
PENN: But some anti-racism activists say that they see no direct connection between diplomatic problems and the status of foreign communities in Japan.
KIM: It can’t be helped that there are diplomatic problems between one state and another, but I don’t think such matters permit making trouble for businesses in Shin-Okubo. The business owners are just ordinary people with no responsibility for state diplomacy. It is just an ordinary business district where these kinds of protests have taken place. It’s also an area with a lot of schools, kindergartens, and other children living there. In my opinion there is absolutely no reason to hold such a demonstration in an area like that.
PENN: Zaitokukai demonstrations and marches have been proceeding on a monthly basis. But perhaps as a result of pressure from the police, they are now being kept away from the streets in the heart of the Korean district of Tokyo. Nobuyuki Suzuki, however, boasted at a recent rally that he was the only political party candidate willing to participate in Zaitokukai events. In the July 2013 parliamentary elections, running as the president of his own Restoration Political Party New Wind, Suzuki gained more than 74,000 votes, or 1.3 percent of the total, in his Tokyo-wide electoral district.
SUZUKI (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): In the face of such Korean aggression, what kind of restraint need we show them? Shouldn’t we impose sanctions on South Korea? [Cheers.] Economic sanctions or trade sanctions–there are many things we can do to them. But today in our country, we can talk about cutting relations with North but not South Korea. They tell us such a thing is discrimination. But it is not that at all.
PENN: The Zaitokukai’s full name would translate into English as “The Citizen’s Association That Will Not Permit Special Privileges for Resident Koreans.”
Suzuki echoes the argument inherent in the organization’s name.
SUZUKI (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We don’t need to show restraint toward Korea. The Sea of Japan is our vital defense line. We must show them that no means no and what is mistaken is mistaken. These people have no right to reach their hands into Japan and demand special tax rights, and they also have no right to collect Japanese welfare payments.
PENN: However, when the issue of special rights is put to anti-racism activists like Mr. Kim, he finds the notion so farcical that he cannot suppress a smile.
KIM (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I don’t know even a single resident Korean who is receiving some kind of special treatment. That kind of talk is nothing more than pure demagoguery. With them trying to spread that idea, we must argue against it, but it is really annoying.
PENN: A handful of liberal Japanese lawmakers have been warning about what they see as a rising tide of conservative and right-wing activism in Japan.
YOSHIFU ARITA, HOUSE OF COUNCILLORS (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We now have cases when lawmakers are giving speeches and getting called “traitors”. This isn’t just on the internet–I mean that politicians are getting yelled at to their face. In the 68 years of Japan’s postwar era, I believe that these kinds of acts are unprecedented.
PENN: Arita points out that not only does Japan lack any kind of hate speech legislation; the country continues to ignore demands from international organizations that racial discrimination be outlawed in Japan. At present, Japan is the only major developed nation in which discrimination is not illegal.
ARITA: The Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has asked the government for legislative action on countless occasions, but the government’s answer this January was: “In our country, we have neither the circulation of racist thought nor any racist agitation.” In other words, the government claims that there is no such thing as racism in Japan.
PENN: Like many other analysts, Arita suggests that incumbent prime minister Shinzo Abe lacks sensitivity to these issues, probably because he himself shares many ideological beliefs in common with these conservative activists and that, indeed, many of them could be described as part of his own political base.
ARITA: Prime Minister Abe was recently asked what he thought should be done about hate speech. Abe’s answer was that he would leave such matters to the good sense of the Japanese people. But that’s not sufficient. Politicians have a duty to respond to demands to end discrimination. So to what degree has Prime Minister Abe really examined these serious matters? I’m sorry to say that I have serious doubts that he has thought about it very deeply.
PENN: But the Zaitokukai and their allies reject the “hate speech” label. They argue that the Japanese media has an ideological agenda to always present their activities in a negative light.
SUZUKI: If you take a closer look at the people accusing Zaitokukai of “hate speech”, you will find that they are the same exact people demonstrating each week against nuclear power. So if you call us the political “right wing”, then those people are just the “left wing”. Those people are anti-nuclear and at the same time anti-Japan and anti-Emperor. Quite sympathetic to their beliefs are the leaders of today’s mass media. Since they have effective control of the media, they always portray Zaitokukai as the bad guys. In the same way, they portray the other side as the champions of virtue. I believe that the way the media handles us is profoundly unfair.
PENN: Every serious analyst agrees that the Zaitokukai and those who sympathize with its aims are a small minority in contemporary Japan, but there is scope for debate about just how marginal they really are, or whether or not they are a growing force.
KIM: I think it is fair to see those people as an eccentric group of Japanese, not mainstream. But if they keep repeating such lies for years, isn’t it possible that their beliefs will spread? When I consider that possibility, I can’t really say the chances it might happen are zero.
PENN: The answer to Mr. Kim’s concerns will probably be given by Japan’s mainstream political development. Will Japanese politicians continue to cultivate the political hard right as supporters for their dreams to liquidate what Prime Minister Abe describes as the humiliating “postwar regime”? Or will the Japanese people continue to demand peaceful solutions to the problems and stresses that face their nation?
This is Michael Penn reporting from Tokyo for The Real News.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.