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Reining in anti-foreigner tirades a nonstarter in Diet

Politicians silent on curbing hate speech

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Calls in the Diet for legislation to curb hate speech targeting foreign residents of Japan are being made even as the issue barely registers on the campaign trail for the July 21 Upper House poll.

Over the past six months, demonstrations and parades against foreign residents, especially Koreans, have grown in intensity. In Osaka’s Tsuruhashi district, home to large numbers of “zainichi” resident Koreans, a 14-year-old girl in February using a microphone loudly maligned Korean residents, saying she despised them and warned them to relocate to the Korean Peninsula or be massacred.

Her comments were reported worldwide and were followed in the months afterward by anti-Korean demonstrations in Tokyo and Osaka that grew, with protestors holding signs saying “Good or Bad Koreans: Kill them All.”

Yoshifu Arita, an Upper House member of the Democratic Party of Japan who is leading a Diet effort to enact legal measures curbing such speech, says things have calmed down only recently after politicians began speaking out.

“On May 7 in the Upper House, (Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe said these demonstrations were ‘regrettable.’ Justice Minister Taniguchi used the same word. Chief Cabinet Secretary (Yoshihide) Suga also said these were ‘not good things,’ ” Arita told the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on Tuesday in Tokyo, referring to terms habitually trotted out by politicians in lieu of serious condemnation.

Over the past six months or so, it has been the rightist group Zaitokukai that has been responsible for much of the hate speech. Arita said this was not a coincidence. “Zaitokukai was established during the “right-leaning” Abe’s first administration in 2006 and 2007, and started escalating their aggression after the resurgence of (Abe’s) Liberal Democratic Party and the advent of his second administration last year,” Arita said.

Judging from Abe’s rhetoric in May, Arita doubts the prime minister in particular would be seriously inclined to sign on to any sincere legislative effort to ban such virulent talk.

“In the most recent edition of the monthly magazine Bungei Shunju, Abe was asked about hate speech. His response was ‘I leave this matter to the good conscience of the average Japanese,’ ” Arita said. “But politicians must take responsibility for trying to resolve this issue. The fact that Abe can make such a comment fills me with doubt about how seriously he’s taking it.”

Nor do most Diet members seem to want to mull legal bans.

In late May, a network of 84 human rights nongovernmental organizations conducted a poll of all 717 Diet lawmakers on how they felt about hate speech, getting replies from only 46, although they represented all major parties except the Japanese Communist Party and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), whose co-leader, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, drew international scorn over his attempt to justify wartime Japan’s use of sex slaves, in large part Korean, for the military.

Forty-three of the 46 said they thought a national response to the rise in hate speech was necessary, while 41 said they supported the idea of the Diet investigating hate speech incidents. All 46 indicated the Diet should consider an antidiscrimination law that bans certain kinds of hate speech.

Arita said hate speech not only targets foreign residents and also has the potential to escalate.

He noted incidents in which politicians, during speeches that may touch on topics certain members of the audience may disagree with, find hecklers calling them “traitors” or “people selling out our country.”

“These are words you see not only on the Internet but actually thrown in politicians’ faces when they’re giving their speeches. We’ve not really seen this kind of situation in Japan in the postwar era.”

  • Itsrealfunnythat

    Im sure its not the entire country, but are they aware how racist they sound?

  • Osaka_Doug

    Free speech is important, as long as it is not bullying. Doesn’t every resident in a modern society deserve to live free from discrimination, bullying, harassment, intimidation and violence? What kind of country do the politicians want to create?
    This should be on the minds of voters when they go to the polls. Based on my conversations with people, bullying is not well understood by governments or society here. At least the topic of bullying is starting to be discussed and that is good.

  • Ron NJ

    “It doesn’t directly affect or benefit us, so why bother?”

  • Cristian Muñoz

    Good!!. Korea is a good place to relocate Zainichi gangster terrorists. And this measure will save Japan. :D

  • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

    Constitution of Japan

    Article 21. Freedom of assembly and association as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed. No censorship shall be maintained, nor shall the secrecy of any means of communication be violated.

    I despise “hate speech” and the way Zaitokukai chooses to pursue its agenda, however I positively abhor the idea of a government legislating what is OK or not OK to say. If someone had acted on that schoolgirl’s words and killed Koreans then by all means arrest her and charge her with incitement to murder. However her standing on a street corner displaying what a bigoted idiot she is should not be criminalized.

    • Seb

      Here in the UK, if I went out to the town centre and explicitly called on UK nationals to seek out .. let’s say… Polish immigrants… and cut off their heads.. yeah I would be arrested and charged with inciting racial hatred and racially motivated violence.

      If I were a Korean in Japan calling for the massacre of Japanese people, I can bet you that I’d be arrested almost immediately. Why should it be any different in the reverse situation?

      I’m all for freedom of speech to a big extent but I’d be a bit wary if, say, there were parades in Japan today encouraging Japanese people to travel to the UK to murder white people (I’m white btw).

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        This is not the UK. Japan has a Constitution expressly protecting freedom of speech, expression, and conscience – the UK does not. Which is natural, the UK did not write Japan’s Constitution, the US did, and the US Constitution has the same clauses – which is why there are not, and cannot be, hate speech laws in the US. They are unconstitutional.

        If a Korean in Japan called for the massacre of Japanese people, I very highly doubt he’d be arrested. There is no crime he could be charged with, aside from possibly assembling/protesting with police permission – a misdemeanro. The police might force him to move on, or take him in for a talking-too, but that is as far as it would go.

    • Ron NJ

      As the current judiciary (and the LDP!) has shown, the constitution is no barrier to anything whatsoever, doubly so when the rule of law (or lack thereof) here is only upheld so far as it directly benefits those in power.

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        Possibly true, but that is all the more reason to actually defend the Constitution and prevent the LDP or unelected bureaucrats from legislating what people can and cannot say, is it not?

    • http://thehopefulmonster.wordpress.com/ Sublight

      Agreed. Hate speech should be confronted, condemned or ridiculed. Giving the government (any government, not only Japan’s) an open-ended mandate to declare speech criminal simply for being unpopular or offensive goes against the foundations of a democratic society.

  • 思德

    The problem is not a legal one but a cultural one. No amount of laws will stop one people group from hating another. Only sustained rebuffing from the society at large will cause these people to at least shut up, if not change their attitude. The problem isn’t that Mr. Abe won’t make laws to gag people, it’s that he won’t personally say, “I think saying Koreans should go home their country or be massacred is abhorrent and not something any decent Japanese, let alone human being, should say.”

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

      Not only would that not stop hate, it would make it worse, because now not only is their hate for whatever group, there is hate for the government’s attempt to engineer their opinions.

      Some passing thoughts:

      1: By censoring bigotry, bigots are transformed into persecuted victims who deserve sympathy.

      2a: Imagine grabbing all the homeless people and throwing them in a corner where no one can see. The problem persists, and is now more likely to persist because it’s invisible to charity. But what else do you expect from a society worried about appearances over reality?

      2b: The other part of this is the unwillingness to confront. If there was more willingness to do that, these kinds of opinions would be more easily put n their place, culturally speaking.

      3: Finally, once some speech is legally “unacceptable” due to “insert social justice cause here”, then out will come the wolves looking to push the bar further in the name of their own pet causes. There is already so much that can be bought and sold by majority will and political pressure groups: free speech should never be for sale, whether we approve with whatever particulars that are stated or not.

      Politicians being silent on this issue is the best possible thing. By the way, why is it that for every social ailment that exists, there is someone like Eric Johnston who thinks the solution is more laws?

    • Charlie Sommers

      What makes this discrimination even sillier is that many Koreans have been in Japan for generations and are, for all practical purposes, Japanese. When I lived in Japan, way back in the 1960′s, I saw many Japanese incorrectly identify Korean women as Japanese women and show considerable surprise when they learned of their mistake.

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        “Koreans have been in Japan for generations and are, for all practical purposes, Japanese.”

        Just don’t try telling the Koreans that…

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

    The guns of government are far more dangerous than the words of citizens.

    Best to keep the state’s power in check.

  • http://ameblo.jp/cluttered-talk/ Michiko

    Sorry the writer, no it’s not correct, Japanese Netouyo guys on the internet, all racists, Zaitokukai’s motherland, haven’t had any feeling that they were “preached by our loving PM”, after he testified it on Diet, that’s for sure that I know, through watching them, preaching them, and fighting them by myself.
    What they understand now is, as “He’s in our side, he has not meant it for us, or from all of his heart, still he’s ours”.
    I think they’re not so wrong, since he posted on his Face Book recently, that he “firmly despises Sayoku people, as well as all of Netouyo does”, there’s barely a particular thing found in any of his statement, being different from what Netouyo boys usually have.
    It’s obviously an appearance of Shibaki-tai the group protesting racists, in early this year, if there was someone or some party to be pointed out for making an effort to get them less noisy, and less vulgar.

  • N. Yokoyama

    “A person who intimidates another through a threat to another’s life, body, freedom, reputation or property shall be punished by imprisonment with work for not more than 2 years or a fine of not more than 300,000 yen.”

    (Penal Code, 1907. Article 222.)