Kawasaki is stepping up security measures near a community center located in one of its largest Korean neighborhoods after the facility received a New Year’s card threatening to “exterminate” ethnic Koreans living in Japan.

At the heart of the threat is Fureaikan, a community center established in 1988 by the city in its Sakuramoto district — home to many ethnic Koreans — as a hub of cross-cultural communication between Japanese and foreign residents.

Earlier this month, the facility received a New Year’s card with a message — written in strange, blocky Japanese characters and looking as though they had been drawn with a ruler — that began with a chilling sentence: “Let Zainichi Koreans be exterminated from the face of the Earth.” It then went on to say, “If there is anyone left alive, let them be brutally killed,” according to Fureaikan.

The card contained what appeared to be the sender’s name, but its authenticity remains under police scrutiny, Fureaikan said.

The card is “unforgivable,” Kawasaki Mayor Norihiko Fukuda said at a news conference Thursday, adding it runs counter to the spirit of the anti-hate speech ordinance enacted by the city in December. The regulation was widely hailed as a huge step toward curbing racism, as it became the nation’s first anti-hate speech ordinance to stipulate criminal punishment.

Kazuhiko Takeshita, a Kawasaki Municipal Government official, said the city will file a formal complaint with police and deploy security guards near Fureaikan to boost vigilance.

“The card is nothing but criminal,” said Tomohito Miura, an official with Seikyusha, which is commissioned by the city to operate the community center.

“The language used is so radical that the impact it has had on our community is pretty big.”

According to Fureaikan, the number of visitors to the facility has already taken a big hit, plummeting by 843 from a year earlier to 2,315 between Jan. 4 and 21. The facility says some concerned children have asked staff if they were going to be killed.

A campaign is now underway on Change.org urging the central government and the city to harshly denounce the card as well as release statements that articulate the stance that “hate speech and hate crimes are unforgivable.” As of Friday afternoon, the petition, organized by Japan Network towards Human Right Legislation for Non-Japanese Nationals and Ethnic Minorities, had garnered more than 20,000 signatures.

The petition pointed out that Fureaikan in the past has frequently become the target of racists who would, for example, bombard the facility with vile phone calls saying, “Go back to Korea” whenever Tokyo’s relations with Seoul went south. The New Year’s card, it said, is no exception.

“The card has frozen Zainichi Korean residents with fear, despair and a sense of isolation by declaring they should be massacred, and instigated communal divisions, discrimination and violence. It’s an extremely despicable act,” the petition said.

“This is nothing but hate speech and a hate crime. It must not be tolerated.”

An official with the Kawasaki government’s human rights protection office, however, said the card is unlikely to be punishable under the new anti-hate speech ordinance, which will fully take effect in July this year.

This is because the ordinance only penalizes acts to disseminate discriminatory remarks using loudspeakers, placards and the distribution of flyers and pamphlets in public. Violators face a fine of up to ¥500,000.

The best the ordinance can do against the card, he said, would be to provide consultation programs and take other necessary measures to help victims of its vitriolic language. But it’s possible the card will constitute a separate criminal offense that’s not covered by the ordinance, the official said.

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