The message of nearly 2,000 people marching through Shinjuku, in Tokyo, last Sunday was strong and direct — stop hate speech and learn to get along. The protest march, dubbed The March on Tokyo for Freedom, was a strong rebuke to the repeated anti-Korean rallies this year led by right-wing groups in areas such as Shin-Okubo, where many Koreans live, work and do business. Their message was one of peace, tolerance and openness to people from different backgrounds.

That message deserves emphatic dissemination in the face of rallies that included perhaps the worst and most virulent hate speech in many, many years. Right-wing groups marching in Korean areas in Tokyo and Osaka called Koreans “cockroaches,” and carried signs saying, “Go back to Korea!,” “Beat them out of Japan,” and “Kill all Koreans.”

Those types of sentiments stand at the extreme fringe of Japanese society, as does all hate speech. This virulent type of hate speech has the potential to incite violence. It also intends to create a climate of fear, not only for the targeted ethnic groups but throughout the entire society.

Sunday’s march was intended to dispel those fears and stand up to defend democratic values. The protest march symbolizes the fact that the majority of Japanese want a society open to diversity and respectful of difference.

Whether Japanese law protects hate speech perhaps deserves debate and deeper consideration. The noxious effects of hate speech should not be underestimated.

Thus far, violence resulting from the hate speech rallies has not spread beyond fistfights and a few arrests. The situation, though, deserves careful monitoring, as there is the potential to escalate into even more harmful and dangerous actions.

Whether or not Japan decides to follow the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which Japan has signed, work to establish laws banning hate speech is an issue that needs discussion.

In the meantime, the anti-hate rallies are a welcome expression of tolerance and openness. The march was organized by the People’s Front of Anti-Racism, an organization that has been at the forefront of confronting the anti-Korean marches over the past year. The marchers included young and old, Diet members, artists, lawyers, professors and authors, and apparently many passersby who joined in after reading the messages they carried.

The right-wing, anti-Korean groups do not represent mainstream opinion. Just the opposite, last week’s march was a clear rebuke to the anti-Korean rallies and a reassertion that Japan is a country whose values include tolerance, peacefulness and a general desire to eliminate discrimination of all kinds.

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