Media watch: Kishida will only go so far in denouncing anti-Korean hate

Sakura Uchikoshi

Whenever North Korea launches another missile in the general direction of Japan, you can bet that anti-Korean behavior among certain Japanese people will increase, especially against residents who are perceived to be North Korean sympathizers, such as students who attend North Korean-affiliated schools. The mainstream media, however, almost never mentions these incidents, so the only way you would know they happen is through marginal media, like Buzzfeed Japan, which on Oct. 18 ran a story about how a student of a North Korea-affiliated junior high school was verbally and physically attacked by a man in his 50s on the JR Saikyo Line in Tokyo in relation to a North Korean missile launch. It wasn’t the only incident of anti-Korean hate. Since September, nationwide there had been 11 cases of verbal and/or physical assault or threats against students of North Korean schools or the schools themselves reported to police. One such school in Kobe received a telephone threat saying that the school would be “destroyed” if the students and faculty didn’t leave Japan. Grafitti on walls near a North Korean school adjacent to Akabane Station in Tokyo advocated for the death of all Koreans in Japan. 

During a regular press conference a representative of the Ministry of Justice was asked about these incidents, and the representative replied that the ministry “does not tolerate discrimination” and would “study the matter” (kento suru), which, in bureaucrat-speak, usually means that nothing will be done. That’s par for the course since these sorts of incidents have been fairly common for many years and nothing has been done, despite new laws that have subsequently gone into effect condemning hate speech. The mood surrounding the matter, both in the media and among some sectors of the general public, seems to be that, while the students themselves are not responsible for North Korea’s aggressive actions, they shouldn’t expect to be let off the hook unless they verbally denounce those actions themselves, and many don’t. But these sorts of threats and acts of violence are illegal, and it is the government’s responsibility to address them as illegal acts that should be prosecuted, and the authorities don’t really treat them as if they were.

Sakura Uchikoshi, a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, talked about anti-Korean hate during a Q&A session in the Diet on Oct. 19. She said that while she deplored North Korea’s actions, she also said that the resulting abuse of Japan-resident Koreans was “intolerable” and cited specific examples of hateful deeds and speech directed at Koreans in Japan, including the arson incident last year where a memorial to Korean residents of the Utoro district of Kyoto was set on fire. She then mentioned former prime minister Yoshihide Suga’s visit to Washington where he met with U.S. President Joe Biden and the two condemned anti-Asia hate speech and deeds in the U.S. during a joint press event. Suga even added that denouncing such behavior proved the resilience of the “democratic spirit” in America. Uchikoshi then asked Prime Minister Fumio Kishida if he would denounce these sorts of hate crimes in Japan in the same way that President Biden did in the U.S., adding that Biden also met with Asia victims of hate to show his solidarity.

Kishida replied “again” that he and the government condemned such hate speech and discrimination, and that in the event such discriminatory acts take place he would take “appropriate action based on legal evidence.” As for showing some sort of support for victims of hate, he said he would “study” the matter.

Uchikoshi, understanding what “studying the matter” really meant, pressed Kishida further, directly asking him if he intended to “meet with victims and listen to them.” Kishida answered that he “understood” that the government has to “hear [the victims’] opinion,” but that setting up such a meeting is difficult given “my position as prime minister.” In other words, the most important consideration regarding support for these particular victims is how it would make him look, the implication being that he thinks it would make him look bad. 

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