The Washington Post reported something interesting on Feb. 14: A farm in Virginia put up a sign saying “Resist white supremacy.” And it incurred a surprising amount of online backlash.
Calls for boycotts. Accusations and recriminations. One-star Facebook reviews that had nothing to do with their products.
The article pondered: Who, other than a white supremacist, would object to a message rejecting white supremacy?
But if you’ve ever protested racism in Japan, or read comments sections in Japanese media, you’ll know these reactions have been old hat for nearly two decades.
In fact, this column will argue that online intolerance and attack have been Japan exports.
First, let’s talk about the old hat. It’s been well established in both articles and lawsuits that Japan’s online bullying is rife (see “2channel, the bullies’ forum,” JBC, Feb. 3, 2009), with people libeled and doxxed, and many a personal and professional life destroyed.
But it’s not limited to Japanese-language forums. Anyone critical of Japan gets it, and in English, too.
For example, my blog recently critiqued a Japan Times article on the internationalization of Japan’s youth (“Coming of age: 1 in 8 new adults in Tokyo are not Japanese“). As usual, somebody trolled:
“Why is this a good thing? Japan needs to stay Japanese. Keep your Leftist, neo-Marxist ideology out of Japan. Japan does not want to go down the same Leftist road as Canada, UK, Europe, etc. Japan must remain an ethnostate. Keep the poz (HIV-positive) out. We see how that it’s destroying the West. Multiculturalism and diversity are a cancer, and I hope to never see it in Japan.”
This supremacist bile is common in the Oort cloud of online haters — the habitues of message boards such as 4chan and Reddit, who swarm, thrive and mobilize in anonymous echo chambers.
Like their Japanese counterparts, they consider the racial “other” the enemy, and find inspiration in Japan both as an online community (4chan is in fact the English version of 2chan, and is owned by 2chan’s founder) and, as noted above, as an “ethnostate.”
Consider the notable white supremacists who are Japan fanboys:
Jared Taylor, author and guru of America’s so-called alt-right, is a fluent speaker of Japanese, born in Kobe to missionary parents and schooled in Japan until high school. A self-described white separatist, he believes Japan will be more successful this century than mongrel America due to its “racial and cultural homogeneity.”
Richard Spencer, the white supremacist leader who coined the term “alt-right,” advocates America’s “peaceful ethnic cleansing” into a “white ethnostate.” Cloaking ethno-superiority as “identitarianism” (which means, “you identify with your race, with your people, with your culture”), his spokesman claimed, “Everyone in Japan is an identitarian.”
William Daniel Johnson, chairman of the white nationalist American Freedom Party, wrote a book (and a proposed constitutional amendment) advocating the deportation of all nonwhites from America. Majoring in Japanese in college, he is fluent in the language after his Mormon mission in Tohoku, and prospers under what The Guardian calls “an uncanny connection between Japan and white nationalism in America.”
Even mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, the neo-Nazi who killed 69 people at a Labor Party island youth retreat in 2011, is an ardent Japanophile. In his manifesto, he specifically praised Japan as “a model country” for avoiding multiculturalism.
Supremacists see Japan as a viable national alternative, not only because Japan can get away with policies that embed racism and keep immigrants out, but also, more importantly, because Japan gets the acceptance and respect of other rich countries regardless.
Japan’s incubators of hate have returned the favor, offering templates for supremacists worldwide to convert their trolling into real political power.
Steve Bannon, the engineer of Donald Trump’s successful presidential election strategy, is another Japan fan. He was here last December at the Japanese Conservative Political Action Conference, proclaiming Prime Minister Shinzo Abe the pioneer of Trumpism — “Trump before Trump.”
According to Joshua Green, in his bestselling book “Devil’s Bargain,” Bannon harnessed the power of online white male hate, “a rolling tumbleweed of wounded male id and aggression.” Recruiting “rootless white males” from the online gaming community into propaganda outlet Breitbart (the “crown jewel of the alt-right’s media universe”), he is now spearheading an international racist social movement.
These rootless white males find succor in Japan. They enjoy one of the world’s largest gaming communities. They are taken in by narratives of subservient women digging white men (The New York Times opined that “exclusively dating Asian women is practically a white-nationalist rite of passage”). And in the land of the hikikomori (extreme antisocial recluses), they find a society making allowances for awkward, introverted people who communicate best without ever leaving their room.
They also find purpose. As noted above, if anyone is critical of Japan’s nerd terrarium, they pile on, like white samurai. Even though by doing so, they encourage the discrimination that affects them adversely.
The white samurai now join the ranks of the other historical figures who have defended Japan from charges of institutionalized racism.
They join the academics, who are compelled (by the “chrysanthemum club” old guard who explain away Japan’s racism as misunderstood cultural foibles, and by the Japanese institutions that fund their departments) to stick to talking about the “nice things” about Japan.
They join the international diplomats and businessmen who seek to preserve “the relationship,” and prioritize trade over human rights.
They join the Japan culture fans, who know a lot about a stripe of Japanese culture (e.g., anime and manga, martial arts, etc.), but don’t want the overall reality of inequality and exclusionism to darken their dreamy day. As cottage-industry “Japan experts,” they promote false moral equivalencies, diverting attention from serious stuff and focusing instead on Japan’s exotica and erotica.
They all pile on against the pragmatists, who, as foreign residents of Japan, are just trying to deal with the day-to-day, earn an honest crust and avail themselves of opportunities other Japanese have. But if they ever advocate equal opportunity or access, they face the harshest criticism from their own kind. They don’t belong in the ethnostate.
The white samurai are the most powerful of these detractors: anonymous in identity, instantaneous in response and single-minded in purpose, as the true keepers of a hate-based faith.
The biggest loser in this dynamic is actually Japan. Even the United Nations’ special rapporteur on racism noted in 2005 that Japan as a society is “closed, spiritually and intellectually centered.” And as its population dwindles due to its antidiversity policies, its economic power and international clout will too.
And the biggest takeaway from all this is that one cannot ignore racism. As argued umpteen times before, ignoring discrimination only helps it spread. Likewise, ignoring Japan’s incubators of hate for all these years has finally culminated in its watershed moment: Online hate helped America elect a racist president. Now it is undermining liberal democracies worldwide.
Debito Arudou’s latest book, “Embedded Racism: Japan’s Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination,” is now available in paperback. Twitter: @arudoudebito
Send your comments and Community story ideas to: email@example.com
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.