Head of anti-foreigner group Zaitokukai to step down

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

The longtime chairman of the ultranationalist group Zaitokukai has announced he will step down and even give up his membership in the group, saying the move will eventually bolster the organization’s influence.

Makoto Sakurai, whose real name is Makoto Takada, said during a program streamed online on Tuesday that he has decided not to run in Zaitokukai’s biennial leadership election, which is currently underway. He has been chairman of the group for eight years.

His successor, Sakurai said, will likely be Yasuhiro Yagi, who is currently the group’s deputy chairman and the only candidate running in the election.

Sakurai said his tenure will end Nov. 30, at which point he will dissociate himself from the group altogether so “Yagi-san can do his job without having to worry about me.”

How his resignation will affect future activities of the group, which is often associated with racist remarks including death threats against ethnic Koreans in Japan, remains to be seen. But in a blog post dated Wednesday, Sakurai said he hopes the change in leadership will enable the group to enter a new phase and increase its presence in society.

“I’m really proud that I have been able to be at its top” as the far-right Zaitokukai has evolved into “the most influential group ever in Japan’s (social) campaign history,” he claimed in the blog post.

“I think it’s time for the group to advance to the next step, which is to wield its (growing) influence to take on a full-fledged social revolution. I hope Zaitokukai under (Yagi’s) leadership will carry out that responsibility.”

Sakurai wasn’t immediately available for comment.

He said on the Internet program that after officially leaving the group, he will remain true to his conservative ideology, and participate in future Zaitokukai events in a private capacity whenever possible. If the group asks, he will even consider appearing as a guest speaker, he said.

Zaitokukai, which claims on its website to have 15,000 members, decries what it calls the “privileges” of Japan’s ethnic Koreans and their descendants, particularly their special permanent residency status. The group frequently stages vitriolic rallies in Korean neighborhoods such as Tokyo’s Shin-Okubo.

In what was widely viewed as a political embarrassment for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, recently appointed Cabinet minister Eriko Yamatani was found in September to have been photographed alongside several senior Zaitokukai members in 2009.

Sakurai, who is known for his provocative style, grabbed headlines last month when he went on a hostile rant against Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto during what was supposed to be a constructive debate on hate speech, even gesturing in a threatening manner only a minute into the event.