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As an unexpectedly robust Black Lives Matter movement took hold in Japan throughout the month of June, many international residents found themselves participating in a march or demonstration in Japan for the first time.

“Black Lives Matter resonates in Japan simply because a (mass) movement like that is something we don’t see here and it makes people uncomfortable,” says Wakako Fukuda, a former organizer with SEALDs and a current member of the anarcha-feminist group Kouitten. “I think that’s super important. And one of the biggest problems with racism in Japan is that people have a severe lack of knowledge.”

Prior to the large-scale Black Lives Matter marches in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and across the country, a smaller movement of about 200 in late May protested in Tokyo an instance of police brutality against a Kurdish man. Despite their small media profile, anti-racist Japanese activists have been fighting for diverse causes for decades, including discrimination against Ainu, Zainichi Koreans and immigrants, among others. A number of new organizations have been born over the past decade, as tensions have flared up between far-right and far-left groups over anti-immigration rallies. A growing awareness and support for Black people in Japan follows a lineage of other anti-racist activism in Japan.

Here is a guide to just a few of the many anti-racist organizations and movements in Japan, as well as how to support them.

Two networks in solidarity

While 2016 legislation laid a groundwork by declaring hate speech in Japan “intolerable,” Japan still lacks substantial human rights and anti-discrimination laws. The Japan Network towards Human Rights Legislation for Non-Japanese Nationals and Ethnic Minorities aims to fix just that, advocating for human rights legislation in Japan by facilitating collaboration between NGOs, grassroots organizations, politicians and lawyers. In light of COVID-19, they’ve opted to host Zoom meetings and webinars on relevant topics instead of in-person events. They also publish an annual white paper on the status of minorities’ human rights in Japan.

One affiliated NGO, Solidarity Network With Migrants Japan, focuses on the subpar working conditions faced by migrant workers, domestic violence affecting immigrant women, and the long-term detainment and criminalization of refugees. The organization is focused on legislative advocacy to improve regulations for foreign workers, and providing financial support for migrants.

“Racism comes into play in the obviously different treatment of workers from America and Europe and those from developing countries,” says Makiko Ando, SMJ’s deputy secretary general. “There’s a distinction being made. And coronavirus has just made all of these problems much worse.”

You can support Japan Network and Solidarity Network by becoming a member or with one-time donations. Solidarity Network is currently raising money to provide direct cash relief to thousands of migrants that lack access to government support measures in the wake of coronavirus.

C.R.A.C. don’t crack

Controversial within Japan for its relatively aggressive tactics — they are nonviolent but shout at and confront anti-foreigner marches — C.R.A.C. (Counter-Racist Action Collective) was founded in 2013 after hate crimes and hate speech erupted against Zainichi Japanese of Korean descent. C.R.A.C. organized through Twitter to confront hate demonstrations and defend communities, especially in areas with a large Zainichi population such as Shin-Okubo in Tokyo and Tsuruhashi in Osaka.

Zainichi, despite having lived in Japan for generations, lack the full rights of citizenship, and hate speech rallies against Zainichi have repeatedly turned violent. Recent hate crimes include the wall of the Korean Cultural Center being set on fire in March 2015 and the attempted arson of a credit union in Nagoya that employed Korean executives in May 2017.

On the march: A mix of people took to the streets for peaceful marches in support of Black Lives Matter across Japan this summer. | ERIC MARGOLIS
On the march: A mix of people took to the streets for peaceful marches in support of Black Lives Matter across Japan this summer. | ERIC MARGOLIS

Organizers say that racism and oppression toward Koreans is deeply ingrained in Japanese society.

“Racism against Koreans is based on a denial of the war-time history of imperial Japan,” says Yasumichi Noma, the founder of C.R.A.C. “LDP politicians but also politicians from opposition parties believe that the comfort women issue is a hoax.”

C.R.A.C.’s activities include countering hate demonstrations, selling T-shirts, organizing music events, art exhibitions and more. To support them, you can purchase from their store and stay updated on their events at their website.

In defense of detainees

Activists have noticed a glaring human rights issue with Japan’s immigrant detention centers, where foreigners that lose their immigration status can be detained for as long as two or three years in poor conditions. Free Ushiku started up in April 2018 when, Deepak Kumar, a migrant from India, committed suicide after nine months of confinement at the Higashi-Nihon immigration center in Ibaraki Prefecture. The organization’s objective is simple: end the detention camps.

“There’s no standard for when they will be released,” says Wakagi Takahashi, an organizer with Free Ushiku. “So when someone loses their visa status but can’t leave Japan because they lose their job, or don’t have permission to work, they can be taken to these centers. Many have died there. In the long run, we want to totally eliminate the detention centers.”

While that may not be realistic in the short term, organizers are aiming to first end indefinite detention. The organization has worked to raise awareness, send money and phone cards to detainees, and campaign for legislation to end detention.

Events have been put on standstill due to COVID-19, but you can support their organization and mission by purchasing T-shirts on their website and spreading the word about the cause.

Knowledge is power

More focused on education than activism, Hurights Osaka is a hub of information, educational programs and publications, and materials on human rights issues and practice in the Asia-Pacific region. They focus on issues of xenophobia, sexism, police brutality and discrimination against Ainu and other minorities.

Hurights Osaka publishes regular briefs on the state of human rights throughout Asia and partners with public and private organizations to provide training and workshops on human rights issues. Stay up to date with their workshops and how to support them by following their website or Facebook page.

The BLM effect

The recent outcropping of Black Lives Matter marches across Japan has seen the establishment of regional Japan-based organizations, including groups in Tokyo, Kansai, Fukuoka and Nagoya, to name a few. In addition to staging the June marches, these organizations have compiled extensive resources to educate Japanese people about issues of racism and police brutality in the United States and to support Black people in Japan, including lists of Black-owned businesses in Japan to support.

“Japan is not a closed-off island country and Japanese people have engaged in Black culture through music, television, news, movies, and in their daily lives,” the organizers of BLM Kansai tell The Japan Times via email. “We are advocating for peace, freedom and equity for Black people all across the globe through voicing our experiences and marching peacefully to express our grief and solidarity.”

You can show your support for your local BLM affiliate with donations or joining online events.

While there is still much anti-racist work and organizing to be done in Japan, financially supporting and engaging with these organizations is a great place to start.

Learn more about Black Lives Matter groups in Japan on Twitter at: @blmtokyojp, @blmkansai, @blmjp_youth, @BLMfuk, @blmkyoto, @Niigatablm or @BlmTokai.

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