After rain caused deadly mudslides in Hiroshima Prefecture last month, rumors spread over the Internet about burglaries of evacuated homes by "foreigners," including Zainichi (ethnic Korean residents of Japan). Such rumors tend to accompany disasters, so Tokyo Shimbun talked directly to police in the area.
There were six break-ins between Aug. 20 and 31, but the police had no idea of the nationalities of the burglars and seemed reluctant to say much else. The reporter spoke with residents of the stricken area and none said they had heard anything about foreigners looting homes except on the Internet.
He then spoke to several local Korean residents of the region, and all felt anxious about the rumors. As one woman said, "It is getting easier for people to post discriminatory messages" on the Internet. An expert on disasters told the paper that crime actually goes down after a calamity, but because of the attendant atmosphere of desperation and fear many people think otherwise, and thus "poisonous hearsay" flourishes more readily — in 2000, then-Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara told Japanese military personnel that foreigners could be expected to riot after a major earthquake. The expert added that these rumors reflect conventional thinking in the general population, and due to recent media coverage of anti-Korean sentiments the average person may believe them out of hand. It is thus important that authorities squelch such stories as soon as they emerge, something the police in Hiroshima did not do.