Japan's Hate Speech Problem: Part One

07/10/2013 11:48 am ET | Updated Sep 09, 2013

Racism does not exist in Japan. Officially, that is.

The Japanese government is not cracking down on a rise in hate speech and hate group demonstrations because it is one of eighty-six signatories to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

The Japanese mainstream media tend to underplay the hate speech problem and go along with the official government position. This leaves a few lone souls to raise concern.

Kunio Suzuki, senior advisor to Issuikai, a right-wing nationalist party, is deeply disturbed to have his party associated in any way with racist hate groups. He, along with Yoshifu Arita, Democratic Party of Japan Diet member, appeared at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan on Tuesday, July 9, 2013 to express alarm at the lack of public attention to hate speech and hate groups in Japan.

In a panel called "Hate speech in Japan under scrutiny," moderator Tetsuo Jimbo referred to the language of some of these groups as "outrageous." Japan is not as familiar with the term "hate speech," according to the editor-in-chief of videonews.com. There is no direct Japanese translation.

Suzuki, whose involvement with the right-wing movement in Japan dates back 45 years to his student days, is distressed by what he sees taking place on some of Japan's streets. He believes that the average Japanese person would find what's going on despicable and unpleasant, but because the demonstrations are rarely shown on television or appear in stories in Japanese newspapers, the public remains largely unaware of the extent of the problem. (In defense of the Japanese broadcast media, if they do show the footage of the demonstrations with placards that read "Murder Koreans" or "Kill Chinese," they receive a lot of public complaints and calls to ban such TV footage.)

These hateful demonstrations in Japan are regularly broadcast in other countries as opposed to within Japan. As a result, it is common for people overseas to conclude that there is a widespread anti-Korean or anti-Chinese movement in Japan.

Suzuki commented on the fact that the flag of Japan is being flown at these hate speech demonstrations. "The flag of Japan is weeping when it is used in this way." He made a point to distinguish historical right-wing political parties from Internet right-wing groups that believe they have absolutely no limits to what they can say. The Japanese police find it somewhat advantageous and tolerable to allow such demonstrations to occur because it makes the police more necessary. Plus, Suzuki said that the Internet-based hate groups are in close communication with the Japanese police and as a result get away with displaying some terrible language that condemns ethnic minorities like Korean and Chinese.

Suzuki predicts that the image of Japan abroad will become more negative if these hate speech demonstrations are not reported more often in the Japanese press or taken up as a growing problem by Japanese politicians.

Arita and several other members of the Diet like Kan Suzuki have taken action to directly address the rise of hate speech groups in Japan. Arita believes that Japan has moved "two or three steps to the right" in recent history, creating an environment ripe for such groups to grow.

According to both Suzuki and Arita, the Japanese political leadership has not been strong or consistent in its confrontation of the hate speech issue. As reported in May by The Asahi Shimbun, Prime Minister Abe said:

It is truly regrettable that there are words and actions that target certain countries and races. I believe that the Japanese respect harmony and should not be people who exclude others. The Japanese way of thinking is to behave politely and to be generous and modest at any time.

Abe proposed restricting hate comments on his Facebook page. "It's completely wrong to put others down and feel as if we are superior. Such acts dishonor ourselves."

The problem for Japan remains one of too much silence on this issue at home and a magnification of the problem overseas. The "Cool Japan" marketing campaign and Tokyo 2020 Candidate City image and reputation are as much at stake as eradication of extremist, offensive language.