This past month, two older men have learned the hard way that saying racist things online is just as awful as saying them in public.

Teenager Neo Nakane took a blogger who had posted anti-Korean sentiments on a blog to court and eventually won ¥1.3 million in damages. His lawyer said the verdict was 'revolutionary.' | KYODO
Teenager Neo Nakane took a blogger who had posted anti-Korean sentiments on a blog to court and eventually won ¥1.3 million in damages. His lawyer said the verdict was ‘revolutionary.’ | KYODO

On May 12, a 68-year-old man in Oita Prefecture was ordered by the Tokyo High Court to pay ¥1.3 million in damages to 18-year-old Neo Nakane of Kanagawa Prefecture for racist remarks the Oita man made on his blog three years ago. Nakane, who was in junior high school at the time, pressed charges against the man for remarks made about him and his mother, who is ethnic Korean.

Last year, the man had been ordered to pay ¥910,000 for defamation of character. Nakane and his attorneys appealed, and the Tokyo High Court moved up the stakes in Nakane’s favor.

Nakane’s story goes like this: In 2018 he participated in a peace event in Kawasaki at which he sang an original rap that talked about ending hate crimes and racial discrimination. His performance caught the attention of the man in Oita, who made excessively derogatory remarks against Nakane in his blog. Shocked and hurt by the slurs, Nakane fought for three years for justice.

“I would be glad if the court’s decision would help put an end to unfair racial discrimination made by anonymous persons online,” Nakane told the press at a news conference after the verdict. His attorney, Hajime Kanbara, called the decision “revolutionary,” saying that it was rare for a court to acknowledge racism in the judiciary process.

Kota Hatachi, who authored a Buzzfeed Japan article on the topic, pointed out that Nakane’s victory wasn’t complete because the Oita man refused to acknowledge that his statements were racist, and merely faxed in an apology to the court through his lawyer.

On the same day that Nakane won his case, another instance of racism against ethnic Koreans invited online fury. Yoshiaki Yoshida, the 80-year-old controversial CEO and founder of cosmetics and supplements manufacturer DHC, released a statement via the company blog complaining that several mainstream media outlets — including the Yomiuri and Mainichi newspapers, and Nippon Television — had refused to sell any ad space to DHC after Yoshida made discriminatory remarks on his blog against ethnic Koreans in Japan. Rather than showing contrition, Yoshida openly accused the media companies of obstructing free speech, using what Westerners may recognize as the “some-of-my-best-friends-are” defense: “If you want to talk about love and hate, I love the Korean friends I have. But Japan is putting itself in a very dangerous position if the nation continues to be overrun by ethnic Koreans.”

Besides any incredulity that blogs continue to be a thing in Japan, Twitter users began to ramp up their disapproval of the DHC chief.

“I was aghast upon learning that DHC’s CEO is still going on with the racist rants even after being shunned by the mainstream media,” said user @NeroKei.

Twitter user @k2gtr reacted to a Huffington Post Japan piece on the scandal and called on DHC employees to go on strike and demand Yoshida step down: “Aren’t DHC employees enraged by the fact that hate speech from their CEO will jeopardize sales and possibly leave them without a job?”

Journalist Yoshiaki Sei spoke about the issue on the May 13 edition of Politas TV, an online political news channel that delves into topics such as racial discrimination and immigration.

“I talked to the PR department at DHC and they told me that the company was behind the CEO in all his statements,” Sei told host Daisuke Tsuda. “So there it is: Racism is the official stance of DHC.”

He then launched an online petition calling on convenience stores to stop stocking their shelves with DHC products, and sever all ties with the company.

The Japanese can be touchy when it comes to the topic of racism in their country, with many refusing to acknowledge a problem exists at all.

“There may be people, in the employee ranks, who disagree with the CEO, but they weren’t coming forward to say so,” Sei said. “Other people told me point-blank that I was making a nuisance of myself and that they were just doing their jobs.”

Twitter user @serotonin_nin had some good thoughts on the topic, posting a four-step response Japanese people should consider on the path to dealing with discrimination. Summed up in short: “The first step to eliminating racism is to acknowledge it’s there.”

Perhaps it’s time more Japanese take their first steps down this path.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.