July 12, 2013.
The venom in anti-Korean demonstrations in Japan has shocked many and been widely reported in South Korea and China.
Tokyo: Shin-Okubo is where Tokyo residents go when they want a fix of Korean food and pop culture. The busy neighborhood is home to dozens of restaurants specializing in Korea's spicy cuisine and stores crammed with souvenirs inspired by the stars of K-Pop, the musical phenomenon that has swept through much of East Asia.
But amid rising tensions between Tokyo and Seoul over rival territorial claims and conflicting interpretations of wartime history, Shin-Okubo has also become the setting for ugly confrontations between its large ethnic Korean community and Japanese far-right activists.
The latter are small in number, but their increasingly vicious protests have ignited a national debate over how – or if – Japan should respond to the rise of hate speech.
The venomous insults that fill the air during anti-Korean demonstrations go far beyond the impassioned chants heard at regular political rallies. "Kill all Koreans," and "Koreans must die," are common refrains.
In one notorious outburst that was widely reported in South Korea and China, a 14-year-old girl yelled at passersby during a protest in Tsuruhashi, a Korean neighborhood of Osaka: "I can't tell you how much I despise you and wish I could kill you all. You have smug faces and if you continue to behave in that way we will have a massacre here in Tsuruhashi. This is Japan, and you should go back to Korea. You do not belong here."
The demonstrations are being organized by Zaitokukai, a small but well-organized group of far-right activists who oppose granting even limited rights – such as welfare entitlements – to long-term Korean and Chinese residents of Japan.
Its chairman, Makoto Sakurai, was among eight people arrested on suspicion of assault during a recent confrontation in Tokyo with an antiracist group.
The protests even drew a response from Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The anti-Korean abuse heard on the streets of Tokyo, Osaka, and other cities "dishonored Japan," he said. "It is truly regrettable that there are words and actions that target certain countries and races.
"I believe that the Japanese people respect harmony and shouldn't exclude other people. The Japanese way of thinking is to behave politely and to be generous and modest at all times."
Anti-Korean sentiment is nothing new in Japan. The country is home to an estimated 600,000 ethnic Koreans, many of them the descendants of the estimated 780,000 Korean workers brought to Japan during its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.
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Comments: I am happy to know that Prime Minister Abe is taking a progressive stand on the rise of right-wing hate in Japan despite his conservative nationalist politics.
It is, nonetheless, a good sign but he needs to do more by building positive relationships with South Korea and China: engaging in denialist politics is just unacceptable.