Last November, Yoshiaki Yoshida, founder and CEO of DHC Corp., which mainly sells health supplements and cosmetics, posted a message on its official online store about DHC’s rival, an affiliate of Suntory Holdings Ltd., in which he said that almost all the talent employed by the affiliate in its advertising are “Korean-related.” He then referred to the company with a made-up word that merged a derogatory Japanese term for Koreans with the Suntory name.

In contrast, he said that DHC only uses Japanese talent in its ads because DHC is a “pure Japanese company.”

The message prompted an outpouring of online comments condemning Yoshida for his broad discriminatory rhetoric, which some labeled hate speech. Most large media outlets avoided any coverage of the statement, presumably because DHC is a major advertiser.

Yoshida’s right-wing views have been known for years. In 2018, the Broadcasting Ethics & Program Improvement Organization warned Tokyo MX, a satellite TV station, of “human rights violations” due to a news show produced by DHC Television Co. that depicted the anti-base movement in Okinawa as being led by people who “look like terrorists.”

The latest controversy might have escaped the attention of the general public if NHK hadn’t covered it on the April 9 edition of its morning news program, “Ohayo Nippon.” As the media watchdog web magazine Litera pointed out on April 11, NHK, as a public broadcaster, doesn’t have to worry about lost advertising the way commercial broadcasters do, but its news coverage is typically even-handed when it comes to controversial topics. In this case, however, it said that Yoshida’s statement was clearly bigoted.

What made the report especially newsworthy was another statement from Yoshida, apparently directed at NHK when he found out “Ohayo Nippon” was doing a story on him, and which NHK read on the air. In the statement, Yoshida said NHK was a force in the “Koreanization” of Japan, and that almost all its employees were “Korean-related.” The letter also stereotyped Koreans with a crude physical description, and said that while Suntory, as a private company, was free to hire whomever it wanted, NHK had a mandate to collect subscription fees from all Japanese people, so Yoshida was not going to let the broadcaster off the hook.

Yoshida also characterized himself and other Japanese as being in the minority. “Korean-related people comprise the majority of people in Japan,” he wrote, and thus he couldn’t be accused of racism since, according to his thinking, racism is only practiced by the majority toward a minority. He said NHK is the enemy of Japan and so must be destroyed.

The statement, which also ended up on DHC’s website, is best described as a paranoid rant — the original Suntory broadside, after all, was obviously a response to DHC losing market share to Suntory.

In an April 13 article, Tokyo Shimbun said that Yoshida’s position is simply preposterous, but the real issue is not the ravings of one individual, but rather the stance of his company. Since Yoshida is the CEO of DHC, such a statement can be read as corporate principle. When Tokyo Shimbun called the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), which DHC once belonged to, the publicity person had no comment. The newspaper also called broadcasters that carry DHC commercials and all replied that they had nothing to say about the matter. As long as the commercials themselves do not violate in-house guidelines, they didn’t see any problems.

Journalist Koichi Yasuda, who often covers hate speech issues, told Tokyo Shimbun that the business world must recognize its social responsibility. By dealing with bigots, companies invariably empower their bigotry and render it acceptable to more people.

Yasuda discussed this aspect in more detail on “No Hate TV,” the internet talk show he co-hosts with activist Yasumichi Noma, who said that the public may mistakenly think media outlets would cover Yoshida’s statements if they weren’t taking money from his company, but the mass media doesn’t all view Yoshida’s statements as a problem, because they don’t really know what hate speech is. Moreover, Noma implies that NHK’s non-commercial status had nothing to do with its decision to cover Yoshida. It was probably just the idea of one person who works for “Ohayo Nippon.” Such persons are the exceptions in the media world, not the rule.

In the Tokyo Shimbun article, Rikkyo University associate professor of sociology Takahiro Akedo said that ignoring or tolerating such speech by people who hold positions of power undermines social standards and the public becomes insensitive to discrimination. Yoshida isn’t the only successful Japanese businessman who spouts divisive rhetoric without being called out by the media. Cosmetic surgery clinic head Katsuya Takasu, who denies that the Holocaust and the Nanking Massacre happened, is a huge advertiser and media presence, as is hotel chain APA Group President Toshio Motoya, a noted historical revisionist. What’s distressing about the ideas they espouse is that anyone who disagrees is labeled anti-Japanese, thus instilling a kind of passive racism. A common insult used by right-wing extremists is to say someone is secretly a Korean, which often results in the targeted person denying such an association, as if being Korean is a bad thing.

Many will say that Yoshida’s right to air his opinion is protected by the Constitution, but Japan has legislated against hate speech and, as Noma said, it’s not clear if people think Yoshida’s words qualify. In any event, if a person finds that a company’s corporate principles offend that person’s sensibility, they also have the right to not patronize that company, and a movement has been launched to boycott DHC products because of Yoshida’s discriminatory claims. In order for the movement to gain any meaningful traction, however, discriminatory issues need to be explicated by more than just the usual activist contingent.

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