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Counseling offered for Korean youths in Japan victimized by discrimination

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

A nongovernmental group will start a counseling service for young “zainichi” Koreans, the ethnic Korean permanent residents in Japan, in need of advice and support amid growing anti-Korean sentiment.

The service called Harehoko, to be launched Aug. 1, will be provided by KEY (for KorEan Youth), an organization that tries to address discrimination problems and facilitate human rights awareness.

“Zainichi Koreans have always been dealing with discrimination, but as far as I know, we’re the first to offer them help,” said group representative Ryang Yong-song of KEY’s Tokyo office.

Ryang said nationalist anti-Korean rallies that erupted in various areas across Japan last year prompted the group to launch the service, which is aimed at providing aid to Korean youths, who are particularly prone to suffer discrimination and bullying.

Fueled by the territorial dispute over some outcroppings in the Sea of Japan, hate rallies targeting mainly ethnic Koreans intensified across Japan over several months in 2013.

KEY plans to hold two events to drum up support ahead of the launch of the service, and intends to announce the findings of a survey conducted between June 2013 and last March on the prevalence of ethnic discrimination and its association with an explosion of hate speech on the Internet.

Of 203 Korean residents ranging in age from their teens to their 30s who responded to the survey, more than 80 percent said they were aware of or experienced, or have been the target of, hate speech from xenophobic organizations or their supporters.

Last October, the Kyoto District Court accepted a lawsuit by the operator of a pro-Pyongyang Korean school and ordered the nationalist group Zaitokukai to pay damages, ruling that the group’s demonstrations staged near the school were “discriminatory.”

The ruling, which stated that the group’s activities ran counter to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, was upheld by the Osaka High Court in early July.

According to the ruling, eight Zaitokukai activists staged anti-Korean demonstrations near the school three times between 2009 and 2010. Using loudspeakers, members chanted slogans accusing the students of being “children of North Korean agents” and demanding that all ethnic Koreans be kicked out of Japan.

The ruling for the first time acknowledged the insults used in the rallies constituted racial discrimination.

Ryang said that “what we’ve been dealing here, in Japan, is a lack of laws that would prohibit hate speech.”

“In other countries such as the United States, it has already been controlled by law, although it hasn’t stopped people from harassing or intimidating ethnic minorities,” he said. “But here, in Japan, we’re still dealing with problems that other countries have (at least) addressed in the 1960s or ’70s.”

Ryang said that the results of the survey showed that the insults Koreans have been exposed to caused many Korean residents (in Japan) to “feel threatened,” or “become fearful of Japanese people.”

According to the group, about one-third of the respondents reported changes in their lifestyles to avoid hate speech such as avoiding discussions on Korean or Japanese history and avoiding posting their opinions on the Internet.

The study also revealed that many Korean residents had lost their self-esteem or felt negative about being Korean.

Ryang pointed out that hate speech may have a negative psychological impact on Koreans, some of whom, seeking acceptance in Japan, turn against other Korean residents and attack them.

“The point is that most of those who have suffered discrimination have been bearing it silently,” Ryang said. “I believe that if the Korean residents (in Japan) don’t stand up for their rights, other ethnic minorities will never have a chance to do so.”

KEY launched a website July 15, on which it announced the Aug. 1 start of the counseling service.

The group has offices in Tokyo, Osaka and Kobe.