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Sakurai: a very dapper demagogue

The man behind 'Japan's most dangerous hate group'

by David Mcneill

Makoto Sakurai brings to mind that old joke about the man in a pub who says “I’m not racist, but . . . “

He is not against foreigners; he just doesn’t want many of them to come to Japan. The ones who are still here can stay, probably.

He dislikes Koreans, especially those who are already here and who moan about what Japan did to them in the Pacific War. Besides, he says, Koreans forget that they invited Japan into their country in 1910.

Chinese people are fine as long as they don’t come to this country. The ones who are already here make him “uncomfortable” because they are “criminals” and “liars” who “can’t be trusted” — even second- and third-generation Chinese or those who arrived before the Communists took power in 1948.

As for the occasional racist epithet, well, they just slip out.

“I get angry when I think about how Koreans don’t respect this country, or why they don’t give us back Takeshima,” he says, referring to the group of islands whose sovereignty is disputed by Seoul and Tokyo. “When I’m upset, those words are what comes to mind.”

Sakurai and his Hinomaru-waving colleagues can regularly be found standing outside the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo screaming “cockroach” and “kimchi” at the people inside. The Chinese are “shina-jin,” roughly equivalent to “chinks.” Australians must live with the more prosaic “hakujin-me” (whiteys) when the group protests against that country’s antiwhaling stance.

“That’s not racist,” insists Sakurai. “It’s just letting off emotions.”

His group has been known to descend with their bullhorns and banners on Utoro, a tiny Kyoto enclave of mostly elderly Korean residents descended from forced wartime laborers, and blanket the area with leaflets in ways “shockingly evocative of the Hitler Youth brigades or the American Ku Klux Klan,” said historian Alexis Dudden recently.

They came out in force last year to harass Noriko Calderon, a young girl born to a Filipino couple charged with breaking Japan’s immigration laws. Sakurai wanted her sent back “home” to the Philippines, a country she had never visited.

The group’s poisonous invective garnishes a string of striking demands: Japan should stop being “soft” with other Asian countries and use military force to take back the Takeshimas. Chinese criminals should be expelled, along with other lawbreaking foreigners. Some of Sakurai’s followers even want to go to war with Australia over its stance on whaling.

An overreaction, perhaps? Sakurai shrugs.

“It’s immaterial anyway, because the Japanese government will never do those things, but if it had any courage, it would.”

Such views are normally the preserve of Japan’s thuggish, sartorially challenged ultranationalists, but Sakurai looks nothing like the shaven-headed patriots. Baby-faced, soft-spoken, plump frame squeezed into a sleeveless sweater, the 38-year-old looks more college professor than ringleader of what Dudden calls “Japan’s fiercest and most dangerous hate group today.”

On demonstrations he often wears a three-piece suit, complete with gold watch chain dangling from side pocket. In his tiny, cramped Akihabara office, beneath a portrait of Prince Naruhito and his troubled family, Sakurai looks so bland it’s difficult to believe he is the author of a notorious comic on Hating Korea, or that he is the leader of the Citizens’ League to Deny Resident Foreigners Special Rights (the Zaitokukai), which threatens violence against Koreans in this country.

Why such relentless invective?

“To tell you the truth, Japan is extremely bad at dealing with foreigners,” he says. “Until about 100 years ago, before the Meiji Restoration, there were almost no foreigners here. We’ve only been dealing with them for a little over a century. But with globalization we understand that a lot of Japanese people go abroad, and that naturally a lot of foreigners now come to Japan. We realize we can’t prevent that. But they should obey Japanese rules.”

So he’s not actually against foreigners coming to Japan, just those who break the law?

“No, we oppose immigration. The (ruling) Democratic Party of Japan has proposed allowing 10 million people to come here. According to the ministry of health, by 2050 there will be 80 million Japanese here — that’s a fall of over 40 million. By 2100 it will be 20 million. If it continues like this our working population will disappear. So people are wondering what we should do. Should be accept millions of foreigners? I don’t think so.”

What about foreigners who have come here, married Japanese citizens, who pay taxes and have children. Would you send them all home?

“That’s different. Those people weren’t invited to come here by the government. The government wants millions of people to come in and work like robots in industrial jobs. They can’t treat foreigners like robots. Are you going to treat them as citizens? The DPJ is not talking about this. They should be allowed in step by step. It should be deliberated.”

Then you support a policy of phased, planned integration?

“If we’re saying, ‘OK, let’s set up schools for these people to help them blend into our society,’ I can understand that a little. But that’s not happening. The government is simply saying, ‘Come to Japan as workers.’ There’s no debate.”

OK, so let’s say there is a debate. Let’s say the government does deliberate this and create a policy that will allow phased mass emigration of 10 million people to come here. Would that be acceptable?

“No, I oppose such a move. Look at the Scandinavian countries. They let immigrants in and it resulted in cultural friction. You can’t let people in who are from different religions and cultures. It creates too many problems.”

Of course there are some problems, but many societies have successfully integrated large immigrant populations. What about Britain?

“Britain is getting what it deserves (jigo jitoku) because it was a colonial power. All those people it colonized and suppressed are coming back.”

Didn’t Japan do the same to Korea?

“No, that wasn’t colonization; it was an annexation (heigo). The Koreans invited us to come to their country.”

And so on, and on. When pushed, Sakurai says the fallacies of current thinking about mass immigration are laid bare in Germany, which proves for him that Japan doesn’t need to accept millions of foreigners. Instead, it should live with what it has.

“There are what, 70 million people in Germany, about half the Japanese population. Is Germany a poor country? Of course not. The idea that if the population falls we will become poorer is weird. And where are all these foreigners going to come from? The only place is China. Those people are completely different to us. Where are they going to go? We haven’t given a single thought to the cultural friction they will bring.”

Why give any space to such views? One reason is that Sakurai’s group, though miniscule and far to the right of the mainstream, appears to be growing. Now about three years old, it claims about 8,000 members and 23 local chapters.

Another is its composition. Unlike the testosterone-charged ultranationalists, Zaitokukai demonstrations boast a fair smattering of women, middle-aged salarymen and otherwise ordinary people.

Many have come on board since the failed neoconservative movement of ex-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who tried but largely failed to retool Japanese nationalism around populist issues such as constitutional change and saber-ratting against North Korea.

The protesters have learned to mimic the tricks of leftwing groups such as anarchists and citizens’ movements, extensively using the Internet to organize and propagandize. Videos of their confrontations with the cops and “enemies” score thousands of hits.

As for who the enemies are, that’s straightforward: They’re non-Japanese, especially Chinese and Koreans — people, he says, who “do not share the same values” as Japanese.

“They don’t have the same value for life as us, and they don’t respect our culture,” he says, denying that he uses the word “beast” (kemono) to describe his Asian neighbors. “We shouldn’t allow such people to come here.”

“That’s not discrimination. It’s common sense.”

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