OSAKA — They are called “Net uyoku,” or Internet rightwingers.
Unlike their more vocal colleagues, who are highly visible in their huge sound trucks, blaring slogans at full volume, Net uyoku are usually anonymous and rely on a computer mouse rather than a megaphone to get their point across.
Since the late 1990s, Net uyoku have flooded electronic bulletin boards with their views on issues such as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine and Japan’s wartime role.
Since 2002, they have often vented their spleen at North Korea over its abduction of Japanese nationals, and at Japanese who swoon over South Korean dramas.
The Internet bulletin board Channel 2 (“Ni-channeru”), which allows anonymous messages, is the best known home of the Net uyoku.
Between 1 million and 2.5 million messages are posted daily, and most of those dealing with politics or Japan’s relations with other countries in East Asia reflect views that range from moderately conservative to far right.
Other messages are simply racist or libelous. From early 2004, Sapporo activist Debito Arudou, who has been fighting discrimination in Japan, was the subject of attacks on Channel 2 by Net uyoku, who posted messages calling him a racist and spreading false information about his views, according to Arudou.
After repeated attempts to get Channel 2 to remove the offending posts were ignored by site founder, Hiroyuki Nishimura, Arudou sued for libel at the Sapporo District Court’s Iwamisawa branch.
Nishimura ignored all orders to appear in court and on Jan. 20 the judge ruled summarily in Arudou’s favor, saying his honor had been illegally infringed upon by information that affected society’s view of him. The court ordered Channel 2 to take down the offending posts and to pay 1.1 million yen in compensation. The judge also ordered the IP addresses of those who posted the offensive messages to be made public.
But so far, Nishimura has not complied with the order.
Attempts to reach Nishimura proved unsuccessful — he did not respond to e-mail inquiries from The Japan Times, and no phone number for him or Channel 2 could be obtained. Arudou’s lawyer, Toshiteru Shibaike, said his office has also been unable to contact Nishimura.
Such a lack of communication, legal experts say, illustrates the problem of trying to sue Internet bulletin boards like Channel 2 and the Net uyoku who post on them.
“What can you do if you win a civil suit for libel against one of these Internet bulletin boards and they simply ignore the court ruling? Not much,” said Tetsuya Kimura, an Osaka-based human rights attorney. “Because it’s a civil suit and not a criminal suit, police probably won’t get involved.”
Another victim of Net uyoku attacks was “manga” cartoon artist Hiroshi Motomiya.
In 2004, he found himself under attack on Channel 2 and elsewhere after he drew a cartoon portraying Imperial Japanese troops carrying out the Rape of Nanking. To fight back, Motomiya’s supporters started their own electronic bulletin board, to discuss the tactics of Net uyoku.
But if Channel 2 is home to crude, anonymous and libelous rants, Channel Sakura is the place where Net uyoku post more thoughtful and polite messages. Channel Sakura posts require a pseudonym at least, although many posters use their own names, or the name of their group.
Channel Sakura states on its Web site that it is dedicated to preserving traditional Japanese culture. It opposes revising the Imperial House Law to allow a woman to serve as a reigning empress, and supports a wide variety of rightwing causes.
Posts on its bulletin board often reflect the views of one of Channel Sakura’s biggest supporters, the Japan Conference.
This powerful nongovernmental organization was formed in 1997 and claims 500,000 members nationwide. It works closely with lawmakers to promote policy issues dear to conservatives and many with rightwing views. Foreign Minister Taro Aso is a former chairman, and former Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Takeo Hiranuma is the current chairman of a group of lawmakers that communicates regularly with the NGO.
Unlike Channel 2, personal attacks are rarely seen on Channel Sakura, and when individuals are named, it is usually a politician whose policies the poster disagrees with.
But although Channel 2 gets a lot of mainstream media attention for its extreme comments, Internet experts believe the more sophisticated Net uyoku of the kind who go to sites like Channel Sakura are more influential with policymakers.
“Issues discussed on the more sophisticated rightwing Web sites reflect the views of rightwing politicians and bureaucrats more than those of the anonymous Net uyoku,” said Junko Ikegawa, an Osaka-based freelance writer who writes on Internet issues. “These sites spread their views quickly among like-minded Japanese, creating a politically active, vocal support network of rightwing activists on whom rightwing politicians rely.”