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Social media aids rehashing of historical hate


Special To The Japan Times

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.

Tokyo Shimbun’s relatively extensive coverage of the issue was prompted by more than immediate events. The Hiroshima mudslides occurred just prior to the 91st anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake of Sept. 1, 1923. In the aftermath of that disaster, thousands were murdered after rumors spread that Koreans had poisoned wells and burned down houses. Some were killed by individuals, some by groups of vigilantes, some by civil or military police. Right-wing fringe groups deny there was a “genocide,” the term generally used to describe the killings, and there has never been a government investigation into the matter or an official expression of regret. It took place when the Korean Peninsula was under Japanese control, so the ethnic Koreans targeted were de facto Japanese nationals. Even the South Korean government never demanded acknowledgement of these crimes until local advocacy groups pressured it to demand that Japan identify the victims and apologize.

The 1923 killings were referenced by the U.N. Human Rights Committee in July when it recommended Japan ban hate speech against minority groups. Attorney Yasuko Morooka told Tokyo Shimbun that the committee was dismayed by the Japanese delegate’s response, which was that the murders were not relevant to the hate-speech discussion since they occurred before Japan ratified the U.N. Human Rights Charter in 1995. According to Morooka, by refusing to recognize past authorities’ complicity in mass killings of a targeted minority the current government inadvertently creates a “warm nest” in which anti-foreigner sentiment can grow.

The Sept. 1 issue of the Japanese-language version of the Korean daily Chosun Ilbo features an interview with Masao Nishizaki, a former school teacher who has dedicated his life to investigating the 1923 killings and making sure current and future generations of Japanese don’t forget they happened. He says that most Japanese history text books now don’t mention the killings and believes that without such knowledge it becomes more difficult to check the casual discrimination against Koreans that you find in social media.

“When I hear about hate speech,” he told the paper, “it reminds me of social circumstances in 1923.”

Those circumstances are described in a new book by Naoki Kato called “Kugatsu, Tokyo no Rojo de” (“September, On the Streets of Tokyo”), based on a now-defunct blog Kato wrote chronicling the day-by-day atrocities committed following the earthquake. Kato grew up in the Okubo district of Tokyo, where many Koreans live. While visiting the area last year he witnessed an anti-foreigner demonstration during which protesters yelled, “Kill Koreans.” He was researching the 1923 genocide and wondered how much things had changed in 90 years. He found dozens of eyewitness accounts in public and private records of Koreans being slaughtered on the street. In some cases, vigilantes attacked anyone who spoke with an accent, including people from other areas of Japan, thinking they were Koreans. He also read stories of Japanese people who risked their lives trying to protect Korean neighbors.

The perpetrators did not think of their victims as people. “They killed symbols,” Kato told Tokyo Shimbun in an interview last June. It had been more than 10 years since Japan annexed Korea and in the meantime an independence movement had developed on the peninsula. The Japanese kenpei (military police) violently suppressed it, which led to a violent response. Newspapers at the time characterized this response as being chaotic and vicious, and did not mention the cause, which was freedom from Japanese domination. More than a thousand Koreans were killed by police, but the media only reported the handful of Japanese civilians who were injured in the confrontations. The message was clear: Koreans were dangerous.

Kato thinks there isn’t much difference between 1923, when fear was generated by mass media, and 2014, when fear is generated by social media, since mass media isn’t doing anything to counter it. Tokyo Shimbun is a regional newspaper with limited reach. The more influential Asahi Shimbun, whose predecessor the Tokyo Asahi Shimbun spread anti-Korean propaganda in 1923, has in the past memorialized the lynching victims on Sept. 1, but not this year, probably because the paper is in the doghouse following its admission of misreporting the comfort-women story and may be sheepish about attracting more attention from right-wingers. The free press can also wind up a victim of hate speech.

  • Steve Jackman

    There is no other developed country in the world which treats its minorities and non-citizen residents in such a malicious manner as Japan. Spreading false rumors against them is yet another example of such malicious behavior. I think this reflects much more poorly on the character of the Japanese perpetrators and exposes them for the true bigots and cowards that they are.

    This is one more reason for the Japanese government to pay heed to the recent report by the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which strongly condemned racism, xenophobia and racial discrimination against minorities and non-citizens living in Japan. The committee was very clear in its conclusion that Japan needs to enact comprehensive laws against racial discrimination (something it has refused to do so far).

    • RGW

      Utter, complete bollocks. Only someone with very limited experience outside their own country would make such an ignorant statement.

      • Steve Jackman

        Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.

    • TV Monitor

      Steve Jackman

      You simply didn’t know Japan too well then. Japan was always like this, and this is why Japan was dispised by its neighbors. Now you are only beginning to find out the true color of Japan due to a media Globalization.

      • Steve Jackman

        I fully understand that Japan has a long history of xenophobia, racism and racial discrimination. However, what is different now is that other developed and civilized countries around the world made great strides in passing legislation and combating racial discrimination in very meaningful ways during the second half of the 20th century. On the other hand, Japan stands alone as being frozen in time, where people have stubbornly refused to change their racist attitudes by clinging on to outdated sense of “tradition” in the face of a changing world. It is this resistence to change in Japan which is most bothering.

      • Ahojanen

        More recently I’ve seen some progress, though a bit slow, in Japan’s reforms for combating hate speech/crimes. Awareness campaigns prevail and seem successful. You shouldn’t generalise that all Japanese are racist or xenophobic stuck to ethnocentric thoughts and outdated tradition. Look also at a bright side.

        In Europe where I currently reside, there are still problems and social tension despite anti-discrimination laws and programmes. One better step back and review efficacy of such policy. I simply do not want to see many cars on the street set ablaze… this should not occur in a “civil” society.

      • Steve Jackman

        Anti-discrimination laws and combatting racism leads to people setting cars ablaze on the streets?

      • Ahojanen

        I didn’t mean right-wings are responsible for burning cars. It’s just a sign of social frustration in community.

        (Not all but some) European countries have almost failed to defuse social unrest despite various anti-discriminatory laws or integration programmes relating to minority groups. Neo-nazis or their affiliates, despite bans, do exist and act covertly, that is open secret.

        I find questionable for Japan just to follow a “European model” or “UN-backed plans” if any in order to deal with hate issues. In Japan there are already a number of codes covering hate-related crimes. If these are applied properly, actual hate cases can be settled without an extra anti-hate regulation. Making a new law requires clarification of “hate” and balance of other issues, namely free speech. Process must be delicate and time-consuming.

        I never justify hate speech, especially ones which recently took places on the street. These utra-right wings people were crossing the line. But they were also arrested and got verdict on trial (without hate-speech code). And of course they are not representing Japanese people per se.

        Awareness and education are necessary and urgent. We should not rely too much on laws in this regard.

      • zer0_0zor0

        There are a set of complex issues here, and though I want to avoid wading into these heavily mined waters, I’ll venture a couple of comments as an American and long-time resident of Japan that has personally experienced discrimination at the institutional level here, while also having experience living in Korea.

        First, not all traditions are outdated. Many are compatible with modernity. Determining which traditions to preserve going forward and which to abandon is something that is generally a collective effort. Participatory government is key to facilitating such collective decision making.

        Second, not all societies are required to be pluralistic like the USA; however, even in the case where one assumes that to be a desirable goal, Japan is far ahead of other countries in some respects that facilitate residency here. One such aspect would be the visa system, which is far more modern and liberal than that in South Korea, for example. The lack of voting rights for permanent residents, however, is probably something that will gradually need to be relaxed.

        Third, and related to the above point on pluralism, the Zainichi issue has a specific set of historical and inter-cultural circumstances that don’t apply across the board, especially to Westerners. One is the issue of assimilation. It used to be commonplace for America to be called a “melting pot” society. The fact that there is a significant population of Zainichi that refuses to assimilate is a point that reactionary people with low levels of education (i.e., more easily subject to being influenced to mass-media movements) should not be ignored. This is not unique to Japan. One can site similar friction even in modern Germany with respect to the Turkish community, for example.

        Fourth, regarding resistance to change, I’d say again that Japan is ahead of the curve, and leading in some respects.

      • Steve Jackman

        All I can say is that, the proof is in the pudding. The fact remains that Japan erects almost insurmountable barriers for minorities and non-citizens to excel, succeed and reach their full potential (this also applies to foreign companies in Japan). This is why they are almost completely absent from meaningful roles in Japanese society, business and politics.

        One can criticize the US and Europe all one wants, but the reality is that these countries give minorities and non-citizens infinitely more opportunity to be full and equal members of society. This is evident from the results, since you can see these groups very well represented in all aspects of society, business and politics. This is especially true in the US, Canada and UK (and Western Europe to a lesser degree).

      • zer0_0zor0

        Well, Japan is not the West, and it is the most open and liberal country in East Asia, aside from Hong Kong, I suppose. The fact that the LDP was setup under sponsorship of the CIA promoting the Truman Doctrine is part of the reason we have ultra-nationalist reactionaries in office creating friction with Japan’s neighbors over the wartime atrocities, rousing the rabble at home.

        On the other set of issues, though I’ve experienced serious difficulties at times dealing with certain institutions, with others my interactions have been very smooth and professional. I don’t feel that there are barriers to me here, personally. It is very easy to set up a company and go into business in Japan. Taxes are reasonable, and the visa regimen is the most progressive–by far–in East Asia. And if one’s becomes a citizen, one can vote and hold political office, as one American does in Nagoya (or has, at any rate).

        Japanese society still feels more intact to me than American society. I’m not sure what barriers you are talking about, other than possibly the right to vote or hold office.

      • Steve Jackman

        You say that Japan is the most open and liberal country in East Asia except for Hong Kong, so how many countries does that leave?

    • zer0_0zor0

      Xenophobia and racism can be found just about everywhere, to some extent.

      Your problem generalizes the issue of Zainichi to all foreigners, and while there is some overlap, there is much that is different, as well. At least the article stays on topic.

      The colonization of Korea by Imperial Japan was a travesty and injustice of tremendous proportions, but that was just a sign of things to come later as Japan mimicked the behavior of Western Imperial (and neo-colonial) powers in China, etc.

      Part of Japanese xenophobia is due to the ill-fated first encounter with Christian missionaries, whom had to be expelled because they were subversive and unilaterally preoccupied with their own traditions, willing to sacrifice those of the Japanese to propagate Christianity. The Tokugawa closed the country off for over 200 years because of the subversive designs of the West vis-a-vis Christian missionaries. Such xenophobia is not completely devoid of a rationale related to cultural preservation, and no amount of reactionary counter-jingoism is going to defeat it.

      Another angle is the connection between the Koreans and organized crime groups in Japan, and the CIA. The CIA is still bent on promoting a form of neo-colonialism, and organized crime groups are a proxy that the CIA has been accused of working through in multiple countries. According to the Japanese Ministry of Justice–and echoed by Robert Whiting–30% of yakuza members are ethnic Koreans. And according to Whiting, the CIA has been working hand-in-hand with the yakuza since right after the end of WWII.

      It’s good to see the United Nations engaging this issue.

    • Tando

      I don´t know where your grudge against Japan comes from. There are many things that could be better. But then, in Japan it is still only propaganda, whereas in the the US you can be killed, if you belong to a minority. Look at the recent cases of young black men being killed. In Germany the Neonazis set refugy homes ablaze. Does that mean, the whole German society is xenophobic? The problem in Japan though is, that so many popular politicians blow into that ultra right wing horn.

      • Steve Jackman

        I have absolutely no grudge against Japan. I just like to call things as I see them, but that seems to come as a great shock to some Japanese and Uncle Toms.

      • Tando

        Yeah I know you are from the Debito Arudo tribe who call everybody, who doesn`t subscribe to their black and white world view towards Japan an apologist. But I think I gotcha. In another post you made the following statement:
        “I have little patience for a discussion with those who want to base their arguments on headline news, such as the unfortunate incident at Ferguson, where a black man was shot by the police. We do not know all the facts of that case, but we do know that he had robbed a convenience store minutes before and may have very well assaulted the cop who shot him.”
        Sounds to me very much like an apologist. That said, I think hate speech in Japan is absolutely disgusting. But would it be correct to call every American a racist, because there is such a thing as KKK.

      • Steve Jackman

        The KKK is an extreme fringe group in the U.S. and can hardly be found anywhere these days. Unfortunately, the racism, xenophobia and racial discrimination in Japan are mainstream and widespread, affecting all aspects of Japanese society, law enforcement, commerce, politics and judiciary.

      • chaosmyth

        USAmericans are Saints & Japanese are evil

  • wrle

    Typical right winged shenanigans of the great Japanese yamato race. Perfect and incapable of any flaws, crimes or wrongdoings and if there is something out of place, its all caused by koreans or foreigners. Its been a century since WWI and what has changed in japanese society in regards to racism? Sure, they are not literally slaughtering koreans out on the streets today like they used to, but their thinking does not differ. How would they like it if japanese residents were treated the same way in south korea or any other country?

  • koedo

    For such an outwardly modern country, Japan has a serous problem with their attitudes toward foreigners. It’s not just an unhinged minority of people. The Japanese have a deeply ingrained belief in their superiority. This is not just my opinion. Numerous public officials have in the past have voiced their xenophobic opinions, such as Tokyo Governor Shintara Ishihara One thing is certain to anyone who has spent any appreciable time in Japan; you will never be seen as anything more than an amusement, at best. At worst, you will be seen as dirty, untrustworthy and violent. Yes, the cities of Japan are modern and wonders of design and technology. However, the attitudes of too many Japanese toward minorities and foreigners is backward and disgusting.

    One would thin k that their humiliating loss in WWII would have taught them something of value about their attitudes and opinions.

    • zer0_0zor0

      There certainly is a fair amount of 本音(honne) and 建前(tatemae).

  • doninjapan

    A sidepoint, but in all likelihood the burglaries of evacuated homes were committed by Japanese…

  • timefox

    Nationality of the person in a photograph? Who contributed the rumor?
    An answer will change by those who read a report.

  • Steve Jackman

    So, how do you feel as a white American when the Japanese hold anti-foreigner demonstrations yelling, “White Pig Go Gome”, as in this YouTube video which shows Japanese at a hate rally against non-Japanese targeting bewildered white American tourists outside their hotel in the heart of Tokyo?


    Or, how about when a white American is not allowed to rent a place because he is not Japanese? I have also seen the police stop white caucasians for random ID checks and stop-and-frisk. Please don’t pretend that whites are immune from racism and racial discrimination in Japan.