Media Mix, July 26, 2020

Taro Yamamoto

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the Tokyo gubernatorial election earlier this month. Near the end, I mention a discussion between activist-writer Yasumichi Noma and journalist Koichi Yasuda on the web channel No Hate TV. The title of their discussion was Liberal Racism, which may sound to some people like an oxymoron, but Noma was quite clear in his belief that racism underlies the entire political and ideological spectrum in Japan. His essential point, I think, is that racism, or, at least, a blinkered view of people and institutions that are not “pure” Japanese, is built into a lot of Japanese social structures, just as prejudice towards people of color and their institutions is built into so-called white culture in the U.S. The difference between Japan and the U.S. in this regard is that people who identify as liberal in the latter are self-conscious about these structures, while in Japan they only pay attention to them if someone else points it out. The far left in Japan, for instance, has always been to a certain extent anti-semitic, Noma says, trading in Jewish conspiracy theory with regards to world finance, etc. Taro Yamamoto, the leader of the left-identified Reiwa Shinsengumi party, is an avowed Emperor-worshipper, and while that in and of itself doesn’t make him a racist, there are facets of his ideology that point to an inherent mistrust of China and South Korea. Noma says that almost all the political parties in Japan “attach certain meanings to certain ethnic groups,” but since they don’t talk about it explicitly, it doesn’t register publicly. The press reinforces these prejudices by not checking them, which means they probably share those prejudices. The tabloid media tend to wear their racism on their sleeves because they think that’s how the average person feels. The mass media is simply more careful with their language. Noma characterizes this phenomenon as being “populism,” thus lumping it together with other right-wing movements in the world that work to exploit the public’s worst instincts about “others.” As Thomas Frank pointed out in Harper’s magazine several issues ago, “populism” tends to get a bad rep for that reason even though its origin in the reformist movement of late 1890s U.S. politics was a direct reaction to the intolerance and greed of the ownership class. Somehow the term has become twisted over the years. Noma’s use of the English word may be slightly misleading, since it implies that populism is a foreign concept. What he wants to say is that all the candidates for Tokyo governor were racist in some way and signal as much to their supporters and to those undecided voters they hope to sway.

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