[Reportage] Inside Japan’s growing xenophobic right-wing

Posted on : 2013-06-09 11:18 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Nativist far-right groups target ethnic Koreans in Japan with discrimination and foul-mouthed criticism
 March 31.
March 31.

By Jeong nam-ku, Tokyo correspondent

Following former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak’s visit to Dokdo in October of last year, relations between South Korea and Japan were quickly chilled. There was also a sharp increase in the number of anti-Korean protests by Japanese far-right groups. Starting this year, about once or twice a month protesters have taken to the streets in Shin-Okubu, Tokyo’s Koreatown, to shout inflammatory, anti-Korean phrases.

The group at the center of the gatherings is called Citizens against Special Privilege of Zainichi (abbreviated as Zaitokukai). Goichi Yasuda, who wrote a book titled “Right-Wing and Patriotism Online,” says that people join Zaitokukai because they are looking for the solidarity of a family and out of a desire for acceptance. The group is extremely xenophobic. At a joint meeting of Japan’s far-right nationalist groups, the Hankyoreh’s Tokyo correspondent had a chance to hear their unvarnished opinions. The point of the visit was to seek a more accurate understanding of the real identity of groups like this.


Hanging on the middle of the wall behind the stage was a massive Japanese flag. The people got out of their seats, and the Japanese national anthem “Kimigayo” began to play. The host of the event, who was wearing a black suit, came on to the stage, leading two other people. One after the other, the three figures bowed their heads low before the Japanese flag. The host also got down on one knee and raised the hand that was not holding the mike above his head and in various directions as he spoke in the loud tone of a demagogue. The word “South Korea” came to his lips.

“We must drive these filthy foreigners out of Japan!” the host said. The people sitting in the seats responded by saying, “That’s right!” With the introductory ceremony over, the three bowed once more to the Japanese flag one after the other as they left the stage.

This was what was taking place at the Ebarahiraoka District Citizens’ Hall in Meguro District in Tokyo, Japan, around 12:30 pm on June 1. Japanese far-right organizations including Zaitokukai had gathered for a general meeting of the conservative groups active in Tokyo. Of the 382 seats in the hall, about 130 seats were filled, not counting the ten reporters who were present. About half of the people in attendance were in their 20s and 30s. There were few older people to be seen.

The three-and-a-half-hour indoor gathering was a rare chance to hear the Japanese far right express their opinions with complete honesty. When the Hankyoreh requested press credentials, the Zaitokukai agreed, but with one caveat. The reporter would not be allowed to take any pictures of participants’ faces or conduct any individual interviews.

#'A second wave of "Koreaphobia"‘

The first speaker was Yasuhiro Yagi, deputy chairman of Zaitokukai, who described himself as a "net right-winger" who works primarily online.

"People talked about hating Chosun [North Korea] in the past, but they never talked about hating South Korea," Yagi said. "People thought of South Koreans as being on our side. That was the situation up until the 2002 World Cup."

Yagi claimed the World Cup, jointly hosted by South Korea and Japan, was where the first "Koreaphobia" wave arose. After "unfair plays" by South Korea, he said, Internet users began complaining about the "unfair privileges" enjoyed by Zainichi Koreans. As an example, he noted a game against Italy, saying there was a "widespread sense that South Koreans were involved in improper lobbying in politics and sports." Japan made the final sixteen for the first time in its history of playing the event, but South Korea made it all the way to the semifinals.

In Yagi's estimation, the Koreaphobia movement led by right-wingers online began with criticisms of the country's "Korean schools" and escalated from there.

"The second Koreaphobia wave started in 2009 over figure skating," he said. He did not elaborate, but in March 2009 many Japanese websites featured reports that South Korean skater Kim Yu-na had accused Japanese athletes of "obstructing" her by blocking her path during practice before competitions. Some posters claimed Kim was making excuses because of pressure over her performance.

"More and more people are riding on the second Koreaphobia wave," Yagi said. "We need to fight with confidence."


# 'Nuclear power is safe'

The second speaker was Hiroyuki Seto, a onetime deputy leader of the Japanese National Socialist League and former Hiroshima city council member. Seto claimed that the Democratic Party of Japan used improper "scare tactics" at the time of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in March 2011.

"Since May 27, the UN Scientific Committee has been holding a meeting where 85 scientists are giving reports from their research over the past two years. The reports said that [the disaster] did not and will not have any impact on residents’ health," Seto said.

"I was also worried about living in Fukushima, but the Zaitokukai is the only group to maintain that there was no human impact from the Fukushima accident and that the power plant needs to go back online," he added.

Seto did not address a World Health Organization Report in February saying the cancer rate for children in the area around Fukushima could rise as much as ninefold.

Seto criticized then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan for assigning the accident a Level 7 rating, "putting it on par with Chernobyl."

"Kan made things worse by ordering that no reactor exhaust be released before he arrived" at the plant, Seto claimed.

Seto said that Kan, a noted opponent of nuclear power, wanted to use the situation as an excuse to end all use of nuclear power in Japan. He also repeatedly used the incorrect term "steam explosion" to describe the hydrogen explosion that actually took place at the plant.


# 'Xenophobic? Maybe xenophobia is a good thing'

Makoto Sakurai, the Zaitokukai's chairman, is very good with words. He appeared onstage with a guest by the name of "Yu."

"If it's xenophobic to tell South Korea to get out of Takeshima [the Japanese name for Dokdo], then maybe xenophobia is a good thing," Yu said to thunderous applause.

Sakurai talked about an incident in which a 31-year-old man with South Korean nationality was arrested by police after stabbing two Japanese people in Osaka in May 24. "He wanted to hurt a few 'real Japanese,'" Sakurai said, before fulminating over the fact that the man was judged mentally unfit before the trial had finished.

He also claimed that fully 5,000 of Japan's 500,000 Zainichi Koreans had been arrested for various crimes over the course of a year. (According to statistics from Japan's National Police Agency, a total of 1,007 Zainichi Koreans were arrested in 2012.)

He went on to deride South Korean celebrities. "They get plastic surgery that makes their faces all look the same," he said. "You can't tell them apart."

"There was a photo in South Korean newspapers showing eggs being thrown at masks of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto," he continued. "That's hate."

Directing his gaze to reporters seated at the back, he demanded that the mass media "provide an answer." Throughout the crowd, various voices could be heard echoing his demand.

He went on to complain that Zaininchi Koreans were not naturalizing as Japanese citizens, despite the Japanese government offer them "privileges" by loosening restrictions.

"It's because they have no sense of attachment to Japan, and they can enjoy benefits from living as Zainichi Koreans," he thundered.

The Zaitokukai regards it as a "privilege" that financially struggling Zainichi Koreans receive livelihood protection benefits. The benefits are available to all foreigners with low earnings, and Zainichi Koreans represent the large group - a fact the group takes pains to play up. They also object to the presence of information about the system printed in Korean in subway stations and other public places.

"Good or bad, the Zaitokukai is drawing more attention than any other group in Japan right now," Sakurai said.

He went on to deliver a message to the South Korean press, including the Hankyoreh.

"Our actions mean nothing if people don't hear that we are scary people," he said. "I hope you let Koreans know how angry we are about them saying the Japanese should die."

# 'We might as well keep saying "Die, die"'

A number of other people spoke briefly before the event finished, including Keinosuke Nakai, head of the Association of Friends of the New National Flag; Hitoaki Tominari, head of the Tokyo Youth Association; Yoshiharu Kaneko, head of the Association for Reclaiming Japanese Self-Defense; Akemi Kikukawa, head of the Association of Citizens Prohibiting Aggression Against Japan; and Takayuki Kanemoto, head of the xenophobic group Haigaisha.

Kikukawa complained, "We only used the expression 'Die, die' once at a demonstration, and it kept getting press. We might as well keep using it."

Nakai talked about "making a new group for getting rid of criminal Koreans."

Kaneko talked about Abe's expression of dismay before the Diet of Japan about the extreme language used at a Shin-Okubo demonstration.

"He should thank us," Kaneko said. "We make them look like moderates."

All of the speakers called for the severing of ties with Seoul.

The organizers estimated the audience for the Internet broadcast at around 8,500, suggesting that only a small portion of Japan’s 130 million people were interested in hearing what the speakers had to say.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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