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Time for legislation to prevent spread of hate speech

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On July 8, the Osaka High Court ruled that, yes, standing in front of a primary school while kids are in class, shouting through a megaphone that they and their parents are not human, and then vandalizing the school’s property, is legal discrimination.

The decision against the anti-Korean group Zaitokukai for its actions at a pro-North Korean school in Kyoto is welcomed by all civilized people and will likely (unless the notoriously conservative Supreme Court hears the case) end one of the more high-profile hate speech cases seen in Kansai or elsewhere in Japan.

However, the Kyoto incident is just one of many involving what some countries legally define, and ban, as hate speech. Yet Japan, citing freedom of expression, is reluctant to confront the issue.

Given the official silence and unofficial tolerance, it’s hardly surprising that hate speech is on the rise, especially in Kansai:

In 2011, a Zaitokukai representative visited a Nara museum running a temporary exhibition on Japan’s occupation of Korea. He later showed up in front of the museum and hurled insults at people of “burakumin” (social outcast class) origin, since the museum also has a permanent exhibition on the buraku people. Thankfully, the man was forced to pay ¥1.5 million — not for making derogatory remarks against Koreans or buraku people, per se, but for “defamation of the museum.”

In a particularly shocking case, a 14-year-old girl in Osaka’s traditional Korean district of Tsuruhashi participated in a February 2013 anti-Korean demonstration by shouting through a megaphone that she wanted to kill all of the Koreans in the area.

When comments by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto about Japan’s prewar “comfort women” system being necessary at the time were added to the mix a few months after the Tsuruhashi incident, Osaka found itself with a reputation both inside and outside of Japan as an intolerant city under mob rule, a place where misogynists, bigots and hate-mongers can say whatever they want without fear of social or legal reprisals.

The good news is that, finally, more and more people in Osaka and the Kansai region are fighting back against the haters.

Counter-demonstrations against Zaitokukai in particular are increasing. At the same time, there is a feeling among many here that, as Osaka and Korea have a deep ties, things will work themselves out.

But that’s the problem. What’s needed now is not “historical perspective,” “understanding” or “respect,” but legislation ensuring protection and punishment. This is precisely because perspective, understanding and respect alone will not stop hate speech — especially that directed at new groups or those who have not traditionally been as ostracized as ethnic minorities.

Osaka Prefecture plans to serve as a special zone for foreign workers. But what does Osaka, and Japan, do if a bunch of thugs decide to form a “Committee to Prevent Foreign Workers” and start screaming in front of their homes that they should go back to their own countries because they’re stealing jobs?

More generally, what happens if, amidst the current debate about increasing the number of women in the workplace, a bunch of troglodytes (with political and financial backing from the usual right-wing suspects) who believe women should stay at home and have kids, especially since the population is shrinking, turn their megaphones toward women who are at the office instead? Or turn their anger toward women who have decided not to have kids?

There is no shortage of advice from human rights experts on how to balance freedom of expression with protection against hate speech. Osaka, Kansai and, indeed all of Japan, need to seriously discuss that advice before things escalate further.

View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.

  • Michael Taylor

    There is no such thing as hate speech only freedom of speech. The only time action should be taken against someone for what they say is when they threaten another individual with physical harm. Keep your hands off my free-speech.

  • Michael Taylor

    Pseudo-liberals always want to control the discussion by labeling anything they don’t agree with as hate speech and therefore attempt to shut down the conversation. Both sides of any discussion or debate needs to be able to freely express their opinions no matter how repulsive they may seem to the other side.