Abe and his ministers give anti-foreigner rallies tacit green light

To the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe:

I read with sadness The Japan Times of July 11. In it, an article (“Politicians silent on curbing hate speech” by Eric Johnston) spoke of the demonstrations taking place, largely in Osaka and Tokyo, which demonize foreign residents in Japan [and in particular Koreans] and openly speak of their murder.

However, my sadness turned to alarm when I read of the middling, noncommittal response of the ministers of your government.

You, Mr. Abe, are quoted as calling these demonstrations “regrettable” but you are apparently content to “leave this matter to the good conscience of the average Japanese.”

Please, just for a moment, imagine your families — your mothers and sisters, your husbands and sons — living abroad in a country where crowds gathered and spoke proudly of the necessity of their murder — where ghoulish mobs of fanatics joined together in condemning them not for what they had done but for who they were.

Would you not expect the government of that nation to protect them? And would you not also claim that any failure on their part to do so represents a dereliction of their duty to protect all of the people under their care, from tourists there for a matter of days through to third-generation residents?

As history has shown us, when your tribalism becomes so exaggerated and your concern for the “other” so shriveled that openly calling for their murder in the streets is an event that merits hardly any comment, then the rope holding our collective humanity aloft appears very thin indeed.

Is your intellect so malnourished or your morality so brutalized that you can view the public advocacy of murder, and murder based on race, as an event deserving of anything other than the most unequivocal condemnation?

Though I love Japan, my ancestry, cultural heritage and appearance makes me different. But does not my desire to live a happy life, to love my wife, to raise healthy children, to seek beauty and friendship in the world around me, do all of these things not make me exactly the same as you?

These ideas represent the core of human dignity, the thread that binds us all. I would have thought that these bonds would have compelled you to categorically condemn the outrages inflicted upon them in Tokyo and Osaka.

That none of you did represents either unconscionable callousness or the most obscene brand of cynicism. You should be ashamed.


Send your submissions of 500-700 words to community@japantimes.co.jp .

  • Casper Steuperaert

    These protests shoul be banned. Freedom of speech, but violation of human rights at the same time.

  • Jeffrey


    Calling for violence does not meet any recognizable standards of “free speech,” but falls under the category of yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.

  • http://kamigatarakugo.wordpress.com/ Matt Shores

    Thank you, M.H.! Excellently written!

    I share your sentiments, and appreciate that Japan Times published your letter.

    As Elie Wiesel put so eloquently, “No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.”

    Prime Minister Abe! — Lead with an assured voice from the front, not with apathetic murmurs from the rear!

    Japanese citizens, residents, visitors of every age, color, (dis)ability, marital status, national origin, race, religion or creed, sex or gender, sexual orientation, veteran status, or any other applicable basis in rule or law — Stand against hatred in peaceful solidarity!


  • Franz Pichler

    Freedom if speech is exactly that! Abe is right on this. As much as it might hurt, people should be free to express their views, if you like it or not. Well done Abe!

    • Guillaume Vares

      The funny thing is that there are already existing laws against public threat in Japan. It is quite telling that none of these racist protesters were charged with anything, and that the government only called these acts “regrettable”. Imagine the reaction from Abe and his clique if groups of people were openly calling for the mass murder of Japanese abroad or in Japan. You wouldn’t be last 10 minutes on any Japanese street if you called for it. These politicians would react with furor.
      Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favor of full freedom of speech, including for morons. But don’t you see the double standard here?

    • MattH

      Freedom of speech and leadership are not mutually exclusive. I’m not for a second advocating the abolition of free speech. I’m advocating the introduction of leadership and human decency into the behaviour of the government. It’s an unfortunate fact that cynical governments often whip up nationalist sentiments in an effort to secure their own position and all I’m seeking to do is raise that possibility for discussion here. I’m not asking that the rallies themselves be made illegal.

    • montaigne1

      Hopefully no one will ever come to your home and demonstrate for your murder. If they did, you might have a different view of the situation.

    • neuxreux

      Freedom of Speech is NOT that! Freedom, whatever form it may be, has its boundaries. One is free to think whatever they believe, but to put thoughts into action (speech is an action) is governed by common sense and law. When one harms another in the context of “freedom” then one does not fully understand what it means.

    • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

      You are presuming the inaction is due to a belief in freedom of speech.

  • 思德

    Being able to tolerate loud people with with foul beliefs is the litmus test for whether you actually believe human rights are valuable or not. In America there is a similarly disgusting group of people called The Westboro Baptist Church” that says a lot of harmful and inflammatory things. The mark of a truly civilized country is to be able to keep basic rights of speech going, even when some choose to use those rights to promote terrible ideas. The moment you use government force to shut those people up, you are participating in fascism and censorship, which are just as bad, if not worse, than the isolated groups of racists because THOSE things are a slippery slope and far-reaching in their consequences.

    Stating that the racists making noise are akin to someone yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre implies that Japanese people hearing them could, at any moment, become suddenly violent and attack foreigners, and that is both insulting to Japanese people and absurd.

    If anything, these people give ordinary Japanese a chance to show how friendly and accepting they are of other peoples and cultures in their country, in contrast to some foolish people.

  • Iain Macpherson

    Abe should mensch up and denounce this hatred in much clearer terms. But, although direct incitations to violence should perhaps be penalized, Japan is right to leave such demonstrations, however hateful and horrible, decriminalized. Japan is one of the very few countries where freedom of speech and opinion is not merely paid lip service to, at least for the most part, and *it should stay that way.* To think otherwise is to side shamefully with thought-policing, and against individual freedom and responsibility.

  • +observer+

    Abe is useless. you watch in 2 year time.

  • JS

    I find it ironic that some commenters are defending hate speech under the guise of free speech.

    I think it is fair to say that there is less freedom of speech in Japan than almost any other developed country. There are a multitude of reasons for this, including cultural ones.

    One sees suppression of free speech all the time in Japan (outright censorship, self-censorship, and coercion included). Did no one see the recent YouTube video of a rally for the Upper House elections where Mr. Abe spoke, and the way his security people treated a nice woman who wanted to hold up a sign about her opposition to nuclear power. I didn’t see anyone there defending her freedom of speech.

    It is sad and hypocritical when people only want to defend free speech when such free speech is spreading hate and advocating violence against the less powerful in society.

  • Franz Pichler

    Of course they’re fascists but as long as they’re protesting peacefully a democracy cannot and should not ban them to do that. In Europe we have vey violent demonstrations of salafists inciting much more hatred than that bunch of morons in Korea town and we still don’t ban them. If a democracy can’t live with such a minor issue than it would be a weak democracy. Abe regretted it, that’s all he needs to do, and I believe him, he’s not a fascist. Stop banging about those small issues and look to Syria, Egypt, teh salafists taking over in Europe

  • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

    So the answer to a fascist mentality is to become even more fascist by censoring the wannabe fascists.

    Interesting. That is sure not to embolden hatred.

    It’s their right to protest.
    It should not be their right to utter threats.
    But, they are only taken as seriously as you take them.
    Laughter followed by scorn is the appropriate response.
    But I guess M.H has such a low view of the rest of us that he thinks we’ll be affected by these demonstrations, instead of the demonstrations serving to embarrass the protesters.

    The protesters are exactly where they should be, out where we can see them, making themselves look ridiculous. You can take their photos. Post them to mixi, let it be known who is a bigot, identify them and their places of work. Shame their employer for employing a bigot, then see what happens: let these individuals feel the real consequences of their opinions and beliefs. Why drive them underground where they are harder to identify and punish while their anger grows?

    At the end of the day, their own actions are the best argument against them. In my opinion, there’s really no need to do anything, as it’s all very self-defeating.

  • JS

    Hate speech against specific groups of people is not protected as free speech in most of the civilized world. Most developed countries have laws against hate speech. Below are a few examples:

    Belgium: The Belgian Anti-Racism Law is a law against hate speech and discrimination passed by the Federal Parliament of Belgium in 1981 which made certain acts motivated by racism or xenophobia illegal. It is also known as the Moureaux Law.

    Canada: In Canada, advocating genocide or inciting hatred against any ‘identifiable group’ is an indictable offence under the Criminal Code of Canada with maximum prison terms of two to fourteen years.

    Denmark: Denmark prohibits hate speech, and defines it as publicly making statements by which a group is threatened (trues), insulted (forhånes) or degraded (nedværdiges) due to race, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, faith or sexual orientation.

    France: France prohibits by its penal code and by its press laws public and private communication which is defamatory or insulting, or which incites discrimination, hatred, or violence against a person or a group of persons on account of place of origin, ethnicity or lack thereof, nationality, race, specific religion, sex, sexual orientation, or handicap.

    Germany: In Germany, Volksverhetzung (“incitement of popular hatred”) is a punishable offense under Section 130 of the Strafgesetzbuch (Germany’s criminal code) and can lead to up to five years imprisonment. Section 130 makes it a crime to publicly incite hatred against parts of the population or to call for violent or arbitrary measures against them or to insult, maliciously slur or defame them in a manner violating their (constitutionally protected) human dignity. Thus for instance it is illegal to publicly call certain ethnic groups “maggots” or “freeloaders”.

    Netherlands: The Dutch penal code prohibits both insulting a group (article 137c) and inciting hatred, discrimination or violence (article 137d).

    New Zealand: New Zealand prohibits hate speech under the Human Rights Act 1993. Section 61 (Racial Disharmony) makes it unlawful to publish or distribute “threatening, abusive, or insulting…matter or words likely to excite hostility against or bring into contempt any group of persons…on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national or ethnic origins of that group of persons.”

    Sweden: Sweden prohibits hate speech, and defines it as publicly making statements that threaten or express disrespect for an ethnic group or similar group regarding their race, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, faith or sexual orientation.

    Switzerland: In Switzerland public discrimination or invoking to rancor against persons or a group of people because of their race, ethnicity, is getting penalized with a term of imprisonment until 3 years or a mulct.

    United Kingdom: In the United Kingdom, several statutes criminalize hate speech against several categories of persons. The statutes forbid communication which is hateful, threatening, abusive, or insulting and which targets a person on account of skin colour, race, disability, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation.

    What about Japan?

  • Deuce

    So because a few riled up hoodlums are making hate speeches against foreigners. I don’t find it ridiculous that the government hasn’t stepped in, the policy of freedom of speech and of being allowed to demonstrate your beliefs is so hindered by the process of an overbearing government then why bother having this freedom at all we may as well be subject to a life of servitude but it is because we have these freedoms that we may do so in calling a government callous for not acting when clearly the political condition is not only delicate but dangerous. Let us just say for instance. There is a public denouncement of this type of activity are the people who called for this rally any better? they are demonizing people for speech not action.

  • Voice of reason

    Oh how tragic!!!! Why are we as human race so foolish. We are but a fool. We never learn from history. We blame our problems to “foreigners”. In the US, we blame things on Illegal immigration in a country built by immigrants. In Europe, we blame it on Muslims. In Japan, they blame it on other Asians especially Koreans. When are we ever going to stop?

    I admire the Japanese people for overcoming the poverty of post World War II. I certainly like to believe that the vast majority of Japanese people are more enlightened than people in the article and certainly more enlightened than some of their leaders.

    Japan is a powerful country. With its power should come with great humility. Please don’t for God sakes walk the path of the United States whose power is not accompanied

  • phil

    Looking at the photo of the japanese haters:The irony of the fabricated swastika korean flag with their own use of the imperial jap flag used in wwII…..wrong and idiotic on so many grounds.

  • Glen Douglas Brügge

    I honestly don’t have an issue with Abe’s remarks. Hate speech, although repugnant, is protected. I may be misinterpreting his words, but they essentially say, “While hate speech is certainly not pretty, the populace ultimately decides whether to listen or not.” And this is essentially how it is all over the world, in any democratic society. In the US we have the Westboro picketers, the KKK etc. No one approves of them, but we cannot forcefully silence them. Maybe Abe’s words of condemnation were not strong enough, but I believe his message was meant to reflect the fact that they do indeed have the right to spew their vitriol.

  • Mijumaru

    Although I don’t object to Japanese holding anti-foreigners demonstrations, I think to speak of murdering foreigners is wrong.

    In Buddhism, speaking of murdering someone results in bad karma. I really wish that the demonstrators will not go to the extreme.

  • Sasori

    The writer seems to think that Abe’s wording is anything other than pure ‘being Japanese’. He simply does not want to be bothered with such things.
    And, as far as Japanese, primarily men, having a sort of concience: Ignorance is bliss, eh?

  • Don Largo


    In point of fact, my understanding of US law would indicate that fomenting violence is not tolerated under the concept of “free speech.” Furthermore the incitement of violence through public media would probably also result in charges of conspiracy were any actual violence to occur.

    About the fire analogy. The Japanese have a history of doing exactly what you say is absurd to suggest: “…that Japanese people hearing them could, at any moment, become suddenly violent and attack foreigners….” It happened once before, and it could certainly happen again.

    As for the fascism and censorship scenario. Fascism usually involves the use or threat of violence as a means of achieving, among other things, censorship, and invoking threats of murder would certainly seem more in keeping with this than disallowing its advocacy would. Fomenting murder and saying “harmful and inflammatory things” are not the same thing at all. Names are one thing; sticks and stones quite another.

    Why so intent upon wrapping up legitimate issues in a package of rhetoric that isn’t even believable to yourself?