This writer, on previous occasions, has expressed irritation over the recent tendency for the vernacular media to rely heavily on English borrowings for neologisms with socially negative connotations, such as sexual harassment, stalking and domestic violence — to name three examples.
As a case in point, an online search for hēto supīchi (hate speech) garnered 4,410,000 hits, as opposed to only 1,550,000 hits for zo’o hyōgen (hateful expressions), the native Japanese equivalent.
In the view of some, use of English (written out in katakana characters) subliminally suggests that these phenomena are anomalies, an invasive foreign species — like snapping turtles in the pond at Hibiya Park — that has somehow managed to grab a foothold.
Be as it may, on May 31, familiarization with the term “hate speech” received a shot in the arm when it jumped from the print media to NHK TV’s morning news show, which took up the topic as it relates to noisy demonstrations in Shinjuku’s Koreatown, organized with increasing frequency since last year by an ultranationalist group that calls itself the Citizens’ Group Against Special Privileges for Zainichi — Zaitokukai for short. Zainichi are foreign residents, mostly Koreans and Chinese, with special resident status owing to their prewar presence in Japan.
The language used by some Zaitokukai demonstrators transcends the boundaries of polite discourse and inflammatory remarks (including the word “kill”) have some people worried.
The NHK program interviewed an unhappy worker at a Korean-owned cosmetic shop in the district, who said, “I came to Japan because I like it, and want to get along with Japanese. But right now I feel like crying.” A Japanese customer in the same store remarked, “No matter how the two sides squabble over the issues, I think nothing’s going to come of these demonstrations. Just seeing it makes me sad.”
In another scene, a Korean was shown collecting signatures on a petition requesting that the demonstrations be halted.
The segment closed with NHK’s announcer saying, “Moves have been initiated in the national Diet to draw up a new law that would prohibit hate speech. But on the other hand, a group of lawyers has stated the view that any new law, which imposes controls would interfere with freedom of expression, and is urging that enforcement should be kept within the scope of current statutes.”
Two weeks after the NHK broadcast, a pro-Korean group went head-to-head against Zaitokukai members outside JR Shinjuku Station. The Kyodo news agency reported on June 16 some 200 Zaitokukai members clashed with 350 counter demonstrators. While 450 riot police were mobilized to keep the groups apart, a scuffle erupted, and police arrested eight people from the two groups, including the Zaitokukai’s 41-year-old leader, Makoto Sakurai (real name: Makoto Takada). Sakurai was released two days later.
Last Sunday’s brawl in Shinjuku rekindled the discussion about drawing up a new law. An editorial in The Okinawa Times (Jun. 18) carried the headline, “It’s time to start considering controls on hate speech.”
“It is time,” the writer asserted, “to send a clear message.”
“The U.K., France, Germany, Canada and others have established laws controlling hate speech,” he continued. “Japan is a signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), but has yet to codify it. The biggest bottleneck relates to the Constitution’s ‘freedom of expression.’ Certainly any legal measures that restrict freedom of expression must be taken seriously. However this freedom, as stipulated in Article 21 of the Constitution, does not necessarily extend to mean ‘freedom to make hateful expressions.’ Furthermore, Article 12 prohibits ‘abuse of basic human freedoms and rights,’ by stipulating that the people have the obligation to ‘constantly endeavor’ to maintain such rights.
“The national and Tokyo metropolitan governments cannot maintain their wait-and-see attitude forever,” the editorial concluded.
Several years ago, journalist and author Hiromichi Ugaya was the defendant in a drawn-out civil lawsuit that tested the free speech issue, from which he emerged victorious. Earlier this month, he published “The Road from Hiroshima to Fukushima: A history of nuclear technology transfer from the U.S. to Japan” (Business-sha).
Asked for his view on hate speech, Ugaya told The Japan Times, “I’m a purist in protection of free speech, even when it accords people the right to ‘offend’ others. This is the ‘American’ concept of free speech. But I feel there should be one exception: Speech that advocates hatred, discrimination or violence against a particular ethnic, religious or cultural group should not be socially allowed. This is free speech based on the current European model, based on French Criminal Law’s counter-libel article, which was drawn up in reaction to Nazism.
“So should hate speech be regulated or banned by the law? I feel wary about this, because Japan has a very short history of democracy, civil rights and citizens’ freedom, which in fact only began from August 1945. There is still a disparity in the balance of power between the people and the state, and an anti-hate speech ‘law’ would mean providing security authorities with another ‘weapon’ by which to control free speech.
“Personally I would prefer to see hate speech kept in check by civil litigation and not by the criminal code.”