Outrage grows over Sono ‘apartheid’ column


Staff Writer

Public outrage over what is widely seen as a pro-apartheid column penned by conservative author Ayako Sono has shown no sign of abating more than a week after its publication.

As of Friday morning, 111 university professors and scholars nationwide had expressed their support for a letter of protest by some members of the Kyoto-based Japan Association for African Studies in which they called for the column to be retracted.

The letter, submitted to Sono and the Sankei Shimbun on Monday, argues that the author’s stance that immigrants should live in segregated communities is tantamount to defending South Africa’s apartheid policies and deserved international condemnation.

“The idea that people should live apart from each other according to their races constitutes the very foundation of apartheid,” the letter says.

Sono’s column represents an “intolerable” affront to efforts made by global society to battle racism, the letter says, adding that the Sankei’s decision to run the piece “damages Japan’s reputation” as a trustworthy member of the international community.

“We therefore demand the column be retracted,” the letter concludes.

For her part, Sono, who is also a former member of an education reform panel to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said in a statement to The Japan Times on Thursday that she has no intention of retracting the column as she believes that doing so would be equal to “forfeiting freedom of expression.”

She also said she never intended to praise the apartheid system.

Instead, Sono said, her intention was to encourage people of different races to live “separately by choice.” In South American cities such as the Peruvian capital of Lima, there are dedicated colonies for Japanese “nikkei” immigrants where both the Japanese language and culture are kept intact, she said.

“Likewise in Japan, there are communities for Brazilian immigrants. These communities sprang up almost spontaneously, but none is actually segregated. People live in such areas if they want, and come in and out of them as they wish,” Sono said. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with such a style of living separately by choice.”

But her Feb. 11 Sankei Shimbun column has nonetheless widely been seen as encouraging apartheid. In it, the 83-year-old writer suggested that while Japan should embrace more foreign immigrants to make up for the labor shortage, they should live apart from mainstream society.

“Since learning about the situation in South Africa 20 or 30 years ago, I’ve come to think that whites, Asians and blacks should live separately,” she wrote.

The Japan chapter of the global human rights organization International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) said in a protest letter Tuesday that her column was “unforgivable.” It runs counter to Japan’s international pledge in 1995 to condemn and eliminate all forms of racism, the group said.

A group of current and former students of Swahili at Osaka University sent a letter to Sono and the Sankei on Wednesday demanding the column’s retraction.

“Ms. Sono says in the column it’s an ‘extremely daunting task’ for immigrants and mainstream residents to live together,” the letter states. “But such an idea is outdated. Even if it requires an effort, in this age of multiculturalism, we need to try to cohabit with others.”

  • cobrawolf

    Japan is showing it’s true color (or lack of )

    • Nick Anderson

      That’s not really fair, it’s an 83 year old hag with an 83 year old view of the world, I’d hate for the world to judge the entire United States based on Paula Dean or that Duck Dynasty clown with a beard down to his crotch, this isn’t really a Japanese thing, it’s more of an all old people minus a handful are horrible human beings thing, but lucky for us, that problem has a rapidly approaching expiration date.

    • Steve Jackman

      I absolutely agree. It’s interesting that The New York Times just published a great story about the struggles of the company Airbnb to expand in Japan, in light of Japanese society’s xenophobia of having foreigners live amongst them. The New York Times article even mentions the famous “No Foreigners” signs at Japanese restaurants in Tokyo.

      The online title of the article on The New York Times’ Website is, “Meet the Unlikely Airbnb Hosts of Japan” (written by Sara Corbett, dated, Feb. 18, 2015). A version of the article also appears in print on February 22, 2015, of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: ‘How Can We Find More People Like You?”. Highly recommend reading it!

    • harryspaz

      O! great defender against discrimination! We thank thee verily for fighting the good fight against racism by painting an entire nation with one brush!

    • Al Beau

      What? Sankei Shimbun is a right-wing newspaper. Japan has a wide range of newspapers just like any other country. Would you judge the US just by what FOX News says?

  • GBR48

    Widespread condemnation is enough.

    Academics should know better than to demand a ‘retraction’. People should always have the right to express their opinions, however unpopular or ridiculous. That’s what free speech is all about.

    She has lost public respect for the piece, and will have to accept the consequences of writing it, which is punishment enough.

    The general consensus is clearly that apartheid belongs in the historical past, which is something positive to take out of this.

    If she can’t understand the difference between immigrants forming communities by choice and her apparent desire to implement ghettos, then all we can do is leave her be.

    She’s 83. When I’m 83, I’m sure I’ll be out of touch with contemporary ethical values and some of you may well be too. It happens.

    Now everyone move on.

  • Brian Southwick

    With 111 professors and scholars and a handful of others outside the expat community protesting Sono’s comments, I would hardly characterize the outrage as “public”.

  • tornadoes28

    Crazy old hag.

  • Chronos

    Well that isn´t exactly news… It’s been a while since japanese extreme right wing is gaining more attention… From the press, youngsters, men and women… And some listen to it and actually think they’re right!And history has demonstrated that extreme thoughts, political views, religiousness etc… Have had a tragic outcome for humankind…

  • manthony

    I think a better solution, given the climate of intolerance, is to put people like Sono in segregation, away from the rest of us, lock the gate, and throw away the key. Two birds, one stone.

  • Jason Gray

    Had to steal this from Twitter: “She writes like a woman twice her age.”

  • WalterFeldman

    Free speech can be so annoying…

  • Woot Woot

    She has a point. I think this is exactly what Japan needs. Now if only Abe would listen to the wise words of the old.

  • Robert_in_Japan

    82 years old! We seriously need a retirement age for politicians. This would solve a lot of problems if it was set at 65.

  • Carla Johnson

    She probably doesn’t like her granddaughter’s gaijin boyfriend so she’s taking it out on all of us.

  • cobrawolf

    Isn’t is age discrimination to defend her comments by saying just because she is 83 she has lost touch with reality and is crazy? I know several people well into their 80’s that are very intelligent, socially conscious and keen on current affairs. Her age is not an excuse. It is the Japanese again trying to dodge any criticism of their society. And yes, racism (extreme nationalism) exists in American too. The difference it, in America it is out in the open, everyone knows it exists, we talk about it in schools, teach cultural tolerance, and that is it wrong. This is not the case in Japan. Japanese will just pull out the victim card and say who are we to judge them? Just let us be Japanese …. well 1000 years ago you could as a island nation. Just close the doors and good bye world. In a society that promotes group belonging, Japan sure has not applied that ideal to the international stage. The Japanese on the most part suffer from chronic guestism, are group narcissistic , xenophobic, and full on internationally retarded. They do not like their faults to be illuminated, as any narcissist wouldn’t. Japan is not yours, it’s OURS.

  • Caolan Garret

    I wonder how she feels about Japanese Americans that were sent to internment camps during WWII. They lived separately by choice. Choice of the white man that is.