COVID-19 pandemic fuels hate speech in Japan

Posted on : 2020-06-08 17:14 KST Modified on : 2020-06-08 17:14 KST
Current legislation makes it difficult to punish discriminatory language
People protest hate speech in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, on July 16, 2017. (Hankyoreh archives)
People protest hate speech in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, on July 16, 2017. (Hankyoreh archives)

Hate speech has been increasing in Japan amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper reported on June 5.

In particular, the newspaper reported on a spate of telephone and email messages to Saitama Korean Elementary and Middle School in Saitama -- a city in Saitama Prefecture that is part of the Greater Tokyo region -- telling the readers to “go back to your country if you don’t like it here.”

The telephone and email messages can be traced to an incident in March involving a Korean kindergarten in Saitama being excluded from the distribution of face masks. Saitama Korean Elementary and Middle School encompasses a local elementary and middle school and kindergarten. Amid a severe shortage of face masks in Japan at the time, Saitama established plans to distribute 240,000 reserve marks to employees working at daycare centers, kindergartens, after-school classes, and senior citizen facilities in the city. But the Korean kindergarten was not included as a distribution recipient, as the facility is not supervised by the city.

After the kindergarten and members of the public protested the decision as “discriminatory,” Saitama announced that it would be providing masks for the kindergarten as well. The principle of Saitama Korean Elementary and Middle School told the newspaper that some members of the Japanese public were under the mistaken impression that “children at Korean schools were receiving [masks] that even Japanese people weren’t getting.”

Koreans and Chinese become targets for hate speech

The Chinatown in Yokohama, a city in Kanagawa Prefecture, has also been a focus of hate speech in connection with the virus. In March, letters stating that Chinese people should “leave Japan now” were sent to at least six stores in the Chinatown area, the newspaper reported, explaining that the message appeared to have to do with the first cases of coronavirus infections having been found in the Chinese city of Wuhan. With the Chinatown located just 3km from the dock where the Diamond Princess cruise ship has been at anchor following an infection cluster at the time, sales at stores in the area have plummeted by 70%.

Around 2013, hate speech emerged as a societal issue in Japan, with frequent instances of it occurring on streets in downtown locations. Communities where many Zainichi Koreans reside, such as the city of Kawasaki in Kanagawa Prefecture, have been a major focus. In 2016, the Japanese government enacted a Hate Speech Act -- but with the law not including provisions for prohibition or punishment, hate speech has yet to be eradicated. Last year, Kawasaki, a major setting for hate speech, became the first local government in Japan to enact an ordinance allowing for its punishment. This was a step forward, but with the actual system requiring the city to submit a criminal complaint following a review by one of its committees, actual punishment remains difficult.

By Cho Ki-weon, Tokyo correspondent

Please direct comments or questions to []

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles