Nationalism rearing ugly head with greater frequency

Rightwingers think nothing of making public death threats


Staff Writer

Angry protesters took to the streets Sunday in Tokyo’s Shin-Okubo district, home to many Korean shops and restaurants, describing the Korean residents there as “cockroaches” and calling for their immediate “extermination.”

It was only the latest in a series of anti-Korean rallies in the neighborhood that have grown more intense in the past few months.

Often spearheaded by the rightwing group Zainichi Tokken wo Yurusanai Shimin no Kai (Zaitokukai), which translates literally as a citizens’ group that won’t tolerate special privileges for Korean and Chinese residents in Japan, these protests have raised eyebrows, especially for their blatant racism and outright death threats.

Some experts say this trend reflects growing public anxiety about the rise of China and South Korea at a time when, despite the recent stock rise and weakening yen, regular people still feel mired in Japan’s economic malaise.

Organized by a different nationalist group, Sunday’s demonstration appeared to have been carefully orchestrated and few literal death threats were heard. Still, the bellicose rhetoric remained unabated, with some saying the Korean residents should be “Holocausted.” The Holocaust was the mass slaughter of European civilians, especially Jews, by the Nazis during World War II.

A 25-year-old businessman from Tokyo who said he is a regular participant in such rallies said his repugnance toward Koreans emerged after finding what he described as the “ugly truth” two years ago while surfing the Internet.

“Korean residents in Japan are often using a Japanese alias, so even though they commit a crime, their real name won’t be made public,” the man, who asked that his name not be used, said, referring to the main theme of Sunday’s protest.

Though at first he balked at chanting the barrage of hateful remarks, he says he has now grown accustomed to it.

“Traditionally, Japanese people have valued politeness,” the young man said. “But look what these Korean people have done all these years to castigate Japan. So I think it’s just that Japanese people have finally learned to unleash their repressed anger.”

Another regular participant, a 36-year-old man who declined to give his name, justified the protests as an “appropriate way to defend Japan’s national interests,” and demanded “the media disclose real names of Korean criminals, otherwise Japanese people will be made a scapegoat for what they did.”

Verbal onslaughts at the street level have long existed, but their frequency has “drastically increased in the past three months,” said a 19-year-old Korean university student in Shin-Okubo.

Akira Maeda, a law professor at Tokyo Zokei University, said participants of such rallies are feeling increasingly alarmed by the rise of China and South Korea. This sense of crisis, or anxiety, leads them to play up their own nation’s perceived superiority, he explained.

The territorial disputes that have recently flared up have fueled a burst of nationalist sentiment, Maeda said, with some people growing dismayed that the Japanese are being “stripped of their rights.”

Zaitokukai leader Makoto Sakurai and other nationalists have argued that Korean residents of Japan receive preferential treatment not granted to other foreigners. This includes being granted the status of permanent residence and allowed to go by a Japanese “alias.”

They say it’s ungrateful of the Koreans to take full advantage of these benefits and yet complain about Japan’s wartime aggression. Such “privileges” are glaring in the face of Japan’s current gloom, as seen in the high suicide rate and lackluster economic growth, they argue.

The rise in nationalism also can be seen on the Internet.

According to data compiled by the office of Kan Suzuki, an Upper House lawmaker from the Democratic Party of Japan, using Tribal Media House Inc.’s Internet search tool, online use of xenophobic language has been spiking in the past few months.

Among terms subject to its survey was “zainichi” (foreign residents of Japan), which, beyond its original meaning, is now being used by rightwing netizens as a derogative reference to Koreans residing in Japan. Daily use of the word zainichi on the Internet, which stood at 7,500 on Dec. 31, rocketed to 25,000 on April 1, according to Suzuki’s office.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has voiced concern over a further spread of race-based invectives, saying it runs counter to Japanese people’s traditional pursuit of tolerance and harmony with others. Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki has meanwhile condemned the repeated use of hate speech in recent anti-Korean demonstrations, saying it is “very worrying.”

Lawyer Yasuko Morooka pointed out during an antiracism symposium earlier this month that free speech in Japan tends to be mistaken as having the right to say anything, including hate speech.

“If left unaddressed, hate speech will only amplify inter-ethnic enmity and discrimination, and trigger physical violence against minorities and eventually genocide, as well. A war might even break out, leading to the destruction of our society,” Morooka said.

Maeda of Tokyo Zokei University said the term “hate speech” carries a somewhat innocuous connotation. Compared with “hate crime,” “hate speech” tends to be taken less seriously, he said. The downplayed concern has encouraged ultranationalists such as Zaitokukai leader Sakurai to make hate-filled speeches and somehow believe that they are causing no tangible “harm.”

“They say all they did was just vent their anger,” Maeda said.

He also commented on the virtual impunity with which these nationalists have been allowed to call for the obliteration of Koreans in Japan, and that it’s time for officials to act.

“The government should create a domestic law that unequivocally bans people from inciting discrimination,” Maeda said.

But he also said such a law should let violators off with no penalty, as that would make its enactment more viable, given the Japanese public’s preoccupation with free speech. Still, Maeda believes, the law would deliver an important message.

“The existence of such a law would give the state a good reason to crack down on such demonstrations and convince the Japanese public they shouldn’t do the same.”

  • timthesocialist

    This is not acceptable. This is sickening and wrong.

  • KenjiAd

    The Article 20.2 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Japan signed and ratified in 1979, states as follows.

    “2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.” (ref-1)

    In many countries, what those Japanese ultra-nationalists are doing, would be considered a crime. Germany has one of the toughest law (Volksverhetzung, ref-2) which criminalizes, among other things, the Holocaust denial.

    A notable exception is the US where the freedom of speech (1st Amendment of the US Constitution) is generally interpreted to mean that laws criminalizing “hate speech” would be unconstitutional. But even then, many colleges enacted their own speech codes banning the hate speech inside the campuses.

    The Japanese Legislature must act quickly and decisively to enact the laws that prohibit the hate speech, especially the ones that incite violence, as required the ICCPR Article 20 which Japan signed and ratified. Just saying “hate speech is no good” isn’t enough. These people will kill non Japanese eventually otherwise. Japan has a sad history in this area and we can’t afford to repeat it again.

    1. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CCPR.aspx
    2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volksverhetzung

  • nydolby

    Special privileges?

    Those rightwingers target are not only Koreans, if unchallenged, sooner or later their target will be Americans.

    After all, who enjoys tax breaks, utility bill exemption and law jurisdiction “privileges”?

    If Chinese and Korean rise can become the source of their frustrations then Indian and Russian rise are also imminent.

  • Edward Park

    These “protests” reflect a critically important blindspot in Japanese law. Most multiethnic nations have adopted some form of anti-hate speech laws within a broader rubric of human rights and/or vulnerable minority protection. The things that these demonstrators scream out at Shin-Okubo are perhaps best examples of “hate speech” one can imagine: their statements calling for “extermination of Koreans” are open invitations for violence, and these type of statements are categorically and clearly unprotected speech. The fact that these protests are tolerated at Shin-Okubo–an area known to have large Korean population–is a huge and serious lapse in Japanese government’s responsibility to protect public order and safety: if this is not akin to screaming “Fire!” in a crowded theater, I don’t know what is. Many of us who are Koreans in Japan (my stay is temporary and I have American citizenship), wonder what the Japanese government’s response would be if these same protestors were marching into Nishi-Azabu screaming for the extermination of “American cockroaches.” I have a sinking feeling that the response on the part of Japanese authorities would be very different. It is clear that Japanese authorities do not have the desire nor the will to do anything about the Shin-Okubo demonstations except to retreat into silence and proceduralism. Having witnessed the demonstration this past Sunday (May 19), I was heartened by the large number of Korean, Japanese, and other counter-protesters. I would invite all good people who want to build a more just, inclusive, and humane Japan to join the counter-protesters to let the world know that vast majority of Japanese reject the hateful message of the demonstrators. The demonstrators had the gall to invoke the Holocaust as something that should happen to Koreans who live in Japan. One of the lessons of the Holocaust in Germany and then rest of Nazi-occupied Europe is when good people remain silent, evil people–however small–get their way. Given the passions at the demonstration, I have no doubt that there will be violence if the demonstrations continue. The time to act is now.

  • 151E

    Echoes of Rwanda here. I wonder if the same use of language was a conscious decision.

    And why is it that the lowliest specimens amongst us always seek to dehumanize others while fancying themselves as the ubermensch, when a brief look in the mirror should be enough to disabuse them of any such delusions?

  • Rex Monaco

    The Communists in Japan have been doing this exact same thing for decades in Okinawa and Misawa. But their target was Americans so nobody cared. Or did nobody care because they were left-wingers?

    Either way, this is the ugly part of democracy. If you outlaw this, then next time it will be your speech and your right to protest that is outlawed.

    In the USA we have the KKK which is a wretched organization. But the same laws that protect their speech, protects the wretchedness of the Nation of Islam too say equally hateful things.

  • Sarah Morrigan

    Um… the whole thing about Koreans using “tsuumei” or Japanese-style alias has everything to do with the Japanese racism dating all the way back to the Soushi Kaimei during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Until Korean names became “cool” thanks to the Hallyu boom, Koreans in Japan were pressured by the Japanese to adopt a tsuumei. Now that the same racists and xenophobes are changing their colours and crying foul over this, calling it “zainichi tokken.” Funny how most of those racist agitators don’t identify themselves to the mass media…. Double standard.

  • thedudeabidez

    Pretty much par for the course with the far-right here. At the anti-nuclear demonstrations, they would show up in small numbers deliberately trying to start fights from behind a cordon of police and city hall officials, flipping the bird at people participating in the demo and calling for them to be burned alive in the molten cores of the reactors.

  • Lily

    If the UK can arrest someone for racist slurs on Facebook, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/05/24/lee-rigby-murder-facebook_n_3333070.html?utm_hp_ref=tw Japan is long overdue on such legislation. Discriminatory hate speech must not be tolerated. A call for genocide is beyond absurd and hurtful. Come on, as Bill Gates commented on gay marriage, “it’s 2012”. If it is integrity that the Japanese population takes pride within themselves, these protestors need to acknowledge that they cannot go around making scapegoats for their social-ecological problems. The Japanese culture is worth so much praise. Its genteel disposition and consideration shown to other, but perhaps limited to Japanese, citizens is like none other. It surely cannot take much more to extend those to our neighbours. If Japan is serious about its future grounding on the global economy, these measures cannot not be postponed. Stop blaming the “inward looking” youth for the struggle this sophisticated country faces admist international competition. These basic human considerations underpin such relations, even that of cold hard business.

  • Barbarisk_Kloakkrypsurinvanare

    Immigration is ok, aslong as it’s not TOO MANY immigrants.
    If you take in too many immigrants, they will eventually become a threat to the national and ethnic identity of the country. Trust me, you do not want that to happen. It’s Hell.

    (Random Swede)

  • Chester

    I am an American of European descent who grew up in what is referred to as the “deep south” of the US during the 1960s and 1970s. This was a time in which African-Americans were visibly discriminated against and the derogatory use of the “N” word was common. Segregation along white-black lines of everything from bathrooms to schools was rampant. In retrospect, it was disgusting and entirely unbecoming a civilized society.

    While repugnant, this was within a single country. Not true in Asia. The potential for accidental escalation in Japan such that it becomes an international Korea-Japan conflict, with the tremendous loss of life and destruction, is unimaginable. More importantly, it is time for the Japanese, Korean, and Chinese people to set aside past conflicts and start to behave and think more rationally. The hatred that I have witnessed in all three societies among each other is quite alarming and seemingly out of place for the 21st century.

    Hyper-nationalism is ugly, mean-spirited, and rooted in fear. The first step to effectively countering it is recognizing this and publicly shaming those engaged in promoting it. Time for all of the governments, not just the Japanese, but the Korean and Chinese governments to take a courageous stand.

    Asia for the Asians, not the Koreans, Chinese, nor Japanese. Unity is the only way for this ideal to survive. Anything else invites conflict and ultimately outside intervention.

  • EastAsianNationalist

    Nationalism should be encouraged in all nations. The solution to inter-asian conflict is collective nationalism, allies amongst patriots. Not failed, unrealistic western ideas like “tolerance”.

  • Commonsensi

    I wish I had a group of people to blame all my life’s shortcomings and failures on. That would be so much easier then owning my own mistakes and problems. #Sarcasm

  • https://www.icloud.com/photostream/#AH5n8hH4JHtYAg 龍誉紫暮

    Why is it when Chinese or Koreans do this it is classed as Patriotism, but when Japanese do it it is called as Nationalism.