Ishihara denies racist intent in remarks

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara denied Wednesday that he was specifically targeting minorities of Korean and Taiwanese descent when he said Sunday that “sangokujin” and other foreigners illegally staying in Japan might riot after a major disaster.

Ishihara emphasized that he was referring to illegals who he believes jeopardize public safety. His remarks prompted more people to ring the metropolitan government in support of the governor than those who rang to protest, according to municipal officials.

“I won’t apologize, I’ll explain. When I said ‘sangokujin,’ I wasn’t talking about Korean or Taiwanese nationals. I was referring to foreigners who are here illegally and whose crimes are becoming rampant.”

Sangokujin literally means “people from third countries” and was originally used by occupation forces after World War II to refer to Koreans and Taiwanese brought to Japan before and during the war. When used by natives, it quickly picked up derogatory connotations.

“Because it sounds unfamiliar, I also said “foreigners,’ ” Ishihara, 67, told a news conference at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building.

“It is truly regrettable that the word was misunderstood and did not convey what I really meant,” he said.

Ishihara said he had “used correct Japanese correctly,” adding that a Japanese dictionary says the word “sangokujin” principally means foreigners. He stressed, however, that he would not use the term any more, considering the sensibilities of Korean residents in Japan.

During a ceremony at the Ground Self-Defense Force’s garrison in Nerima Ward, Tokyo, Ishihara said, “Atrocious crimes have been committed again and again by sangokujin and other foreigners who had entered Japan illegally.

On Wednesday he explained, “There are many shady foreigners in Japan who commit crimes with impunity. As Tokyo’s governor, I am alarmed by the thought of this (situation) exploding in the event of a disaster.

Concerning the use of SDF forces to maintain public safety, Ishihara told reporters: “I refuse to take this back.”

“Is it wrong to imagine this scenario?” Ishihara asked. “It is too late to take action after (rioting) erupts.”

“The quantity and quality (of foreigners) here are different from those in Kobe,” he said in reference to the January 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake in the west Japanese city of Kobe and its vicinity, in which more than 6,400 people died.

Japanese nationals and others helped each other in the aftermath of that quake.

In Tokyo, illegal aliens commit atrocious crimes that do not occur in the rest of the country, Ishihara claimed, specifying “Pakistanis pushing Chinese-made drugs.” He said these people make parts of Tokyo “lawless” at night.

“(The drug) problem is rampant because of those foreigners — the true sangokujin,” he said. “Try walking in (Tokyo’s) Kabukicho at certain hours of the night — you’d never believe you were in Japan. Even yakuza are afraid to go there after midnight. And women can’t go there on their own.”

According to the National Police Agency’s White Paper released in January, a total of 32,703 foreign residents without permanent residency were arrested in 1998, or 3.2 percent of all arrests nationwide. Of the figure, 6,377 were arrested on charges of violating immigration laws and 599 were arrested for violating drug control laws.

The year before, 581 foreigners illegally in Japan were arrested on suspicion of drug-related crimes.

Ishihara also reckoned foreigners aren’t the only ones who might commit crimes in the aftermath of a big earthquake.

“I’m not saying some Japanese people won’t loot (after a major quake),” he said. “But I’m talking about a more large-scale riot, like the (1992) riots that occurred in Los Angeles.”

Speaking to reporters later in the day, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori expressed his disapproval of Ishihara’s use of the word “sangokujin.”

“Mr. Ishihara is a former member of the Diet and a writer, but if he spoke as the governor of Tokyo, it may not have been an appropriate statement.”

Ishihara is a noted writer and is considered to have wide knowledge of the language.

Korean communities in Japan have expressed anger about Ishihara’s use of the word.

A group of celebrities jointly held a press conference at the metropolitan government building Wednesday, demanding that Ishihara resign immediately over the remarks.

They included economics commentator Makoto Sataka, television personality Dave Spector and businesswoman Shin Sugok, a third-generation Korean resident.

In a separate move, some 40 people, mainly from local assemblies and civic groups, held a rally in a yard at the metropolitan government building to protest Ishihara’s remarks.

They handed metropolitan employees leaflets demanding Ishihara retract his remarks or step down.