National / Media | BIG IN JAPAN

U.S. towns pulled into Japanese politics

by Mark Schreiber

Special To The Japan Times

A recurring news story over the past several years concerns claims of the harassment of Japanese nationals residing on the East and West coasts of the United States. Most appear to have originated from municipalities where South Korean immigrants and Korean-Americans have successfully campaigned to erect statues memorializing the “comfort women,” who were forced to provide sex for Japanese troops before and during World War II.

From late 2013, most of these articles alleged that Japanese nationals (as opposed to Japanese-Americans), including young children, residing in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, California, had been on the receiving end of various forms of bullying and harassment at the hands of said Koreans.

Interestingly, one of the first people to raise this issue was Liberal Democratic Party Diet member Eriko Yamatani, who in the current Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe holds the portfolios of National Public Safety Commission chairperson, minister in charge of the North Korean abduction issue and several other posts.

Following a visit to New Jersey, Yamatani on May 6, 2012, posted remarks in both Japanese and English to the effect that the erection of a comfort woman statue had resulted in Japanese children being bullied.

“A monument for what are called the ‘comfort women serving the military,'” she wrote, “was constructed in the United States, at the public library of Palisades Park, New Jersey.”

Several paragraphs later, Yamatani noted, “Moreover, it cannot be tolerated that Japanese children are bullied and felt sorrowful [sic] due to a lie that Japan conducted the abduction of 200,000 girls which is not true at all, and that the lie has been spread throughout the world.”

In July 2013 the city board of Glendale voted to permit the erection of a similar statue in a public park, this despite efforts by several Japanese residents to fight the decision in court.

By early November the tabloid newspaper Yukan Fuji, citing claims by a women’s patriotic group, Nadeshiko Action, reported that “Japanese children were being called ‘rapists’ by Americans” and that “children hesitate to use the Japanese language in public out of concerns for their safety.”

On Feb. 15, 2014, the Sankei Shimbun expanded on the topic under the headline “‘Spit in ramen,’ ‘Rice served cold’ … The harassment of Japanese in the U.S. over the comfort women.”

The reaction to this reportage was a sense of righteous indignation that spurred heated exchanges on computer bulletin boards.

In the first half of 2014, a continuous stream of articles making reference to bullying in Glendale appeared in such weekly magazines as Asahi Geino (March 6), Shukan Shincho (March 6) and Spa! (May 13-20). The longest, appearing in the May issue of the monthly opinion magazine Seiron, was written by Lower House Diet member Mio Sugita of the Japan Restoration Party and titled “Zaibei hojin ga Kankokujin ni kurushimerareru genkyo” (“The main source of what’s causing Japanese in America to be tormented by Koreans”).

Oddly enough, when reporters in Southern California attempted to follow up on the articles, they ran up against a brick wall: They were unable to track down primary sources — bullying victims, their family members or eyewitnesses — to interview.

In Shukan Kinyobi magazine (June 13, 2014), Seattle-based Emi Koyama wrote, “My inquiries to the Glendale police and Glendale school board failed to find even a single complaint. Moreover, there has not been a single (locally published) article reporting bullying of Japanese children. Naturally the lack of complaints aren’t proof that no bullying occurred, but I suppose it can at least be taken to mean that it did not occur extensively.”

Now almost a year later we come to the current (May) issue of Sapio, in which Southern California-based veteran writer Tatou Takahama has revived the issue. His article cited Takehiko Wajima, director of the Japan Information Center and consul at the Japanese Consulate General in Los Angeles.

“Up to now,” Wajima is quoted as saying, “we have received several reports of harassment of Japanese nationals, who informed us on condition that the details would not be divulged, so we cannot make them public.”

A man referred to only as “Mr. T” told Takahama that he was certain Japanese children had been bullied by Korean children, but feared that should this be reported and the matter taken up by the school board, the bullying would become even worse.

“Parents don’t want to raise the issue out of such concerns,” Mr. T remarked, adding that he hoped government officials would understand the “delicate circumstances” of the Japanese residents and handle the matter discreetly.

Takahama’s article also reported that California resident Nobuhiro Baba is blaming the Asahi Shimbun’s inaccurate coverage on the comfort women (which appeared more than 20 years ago) for this state of affairs. On Feb. 18, Baba joined two other individuals in suing the Asahi in the Tokyo District Court, demanding compensation for his “mental anguish.”

Notably — with a few exceptions such as the latest Sapio article — coverage of the bullying allegations in California has been dominated by the Sankei Shimbun and Yukan Fuji, and magazines Seiron and Spa!, all publications of the Fujisankei media group, which has adopted an unapologetic stance on war-related issues.

If there are any lessons to be learned from the incomplete and contradictory coverage of the claims of bullying in the United States, it would be the ways this topic eloquently demonstrates how the contents of news reporting can be influenced by the dictates of diametrically opposed political stances.