A guest contribution from the Anti-Racism Information Center, Japan


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Japan is unique amongst developed countries in its lack of anti-discrimination legislation. The fundamental anti-discrimination legislation enacted in the developed countries of Europe and in the U.S. about half a century ago has not yet been enacted in Japan. The definition of discrimination such as sexism and racism are not even defined in existing domestic law, and the government does not conduct investigations into discrimination.

As a result, at the social level many forms of discrimination relating to, for example, labor, housing, marriage and education have occurred frequently in Japanese society. At the political level, discriminatory hate speech by far-right politicians can be found too. In the spring of 2000, the then-Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara incited racism at a ceremony of the Self-Defense Forces by saying, “Many Sangoku-jin [an offensive term for Korean residents in Japan] who entered Japan illegally, as well as foreigners, repeat extremely heinous crimes.” “One of your main goals is to maintain security.” The Government of Japan did not respond to the 2001 recommendation that this was a violation of Article 4 (c) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Far-right politicians in Japan have learned that they will not be punished no matter how hard they discriminate. Now the far right is gaining popularity and votes in elections by repeating hate speech. Hate speeches by incumbent Diet (the Japanese legislature) members and Cabinet members are still frequent even today. For example, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso stoked fears in 2017 about potential North Korean refugees being armed, and asked rhetorically, “Can police handle them? Will the Self-Defense Forces be dispatched and shoot them down? We’d better think about it seriously.”. Attacking a different group, lawmaker Mio Sugita – who is close to Prime Minister Abe – said in 2018, that same-sex couples “don’t produce children. In other words, they lack productivity and, therefore, do not contribute to the prosperity of the nation.”

Such hate speech by members of the far right incites discrimination in civil society. The most serious example of this at present is that the police and neo-Nazis in Japan are working together to suppress Kansai Namakon (the Japanese Construction and Transport Workers’ Union, Kansai District Ready-mixed Concrete Branch), the most progressive and militant labor union in Japan. The media never reported this. Hiroyuki Seto, who wrote a book eulogising Hitler (see below), joined the crackdown. Seto is the main adviser to the far-right Japan First party (JFP), which emerged in 2016. Though the JFP has not gained any seats in Japanese elections, it has used its electoral campaigns to further spread hate speech.

(瀬戸弘幸、篠原節著『ヒトラー思想のススメ―自然と人類を救済するナチス・ヒトラー世界観の120%肯定論。』(1990年、展転社)

How to fight?

In Japan’s past anti-discrimination movements, there was no movement to restrain the perpetrators, especially the extreme right. As Japan’s first far-right surveillance NGO, we at the Anti-Racism Information Center (ARIC) have proposed the following counter-strategy.

First, the monitoring of discrimination by politicians. ARIC runs the Politician Racism Database, which monitors discrimination by public officials in violation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and makes it available on the Internet free of charge. Since we began we have published more than 5700 cases. Investigating and visualizing political instigation of discrimination in Japan is the first step towards eliminating it.

The second element of ARIC’s counter-strategy is to stop the spread of third-party intervention. Japan does not have a historical tradition of populist social change such as that of France, the United States and South Korea, and has never experienced an anti-discrimination movement that fundamentally changed society. Therefore, there is no anti-discrimination culture in which people stop the discrimination they see around them. ARIC is promoting bystander intervention, which is widely used in English-speaking countries, in a way that suits the actual situation in Japan, and is calling for third parties to report any discrimination to NGOs.

Third, international solidarity. ARIC is greatly concerned that Japan’s discriminatory culture, including the denial of (so called) comfort women (victims of the Japanese military sex slavery), the discrimination found in manga and anime, as well as shared views between the Japanese and international far right – such as Holocaust denial – will be used by the extreme right and white supremacists in Europe and the United States to further incite discrimination. The Norwegian killer Anders Behring Breivik, praised Japan, and the country continues to be praised, unfortunately, by the international far right. Closer to the mainstream, this August will see the third annual ‘J-CPAC’, the Japanese Conservative Political Action Conference, which is connected to CPAC in America and which hosted Steve Bannon in 2017.

We have a long way to go bring about the changes in discrimination that Japan faces, but ARIC hopes to use its racism database to compare and study the extreme right of Japan with that of the United States, Europe and elsewhere in an effort to build an international coalition to fight the extreme right wherever they are found.

With Solidarity,

Ryang Yong-Song
(The representative of ARIC, a PHD student in Hitotubashi University studying racism in Japan, author of  “Hate Speech in Japan; The rise of society destructive racism”(2016), a third generation Korean resident in Japan, [email protected])