Tokyo Notes

Rightists’ Childish Attacks

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Tokyo Notes

Rightists’ Childish Attacks

Japanese rightists seem to have found a new target for their distorted patriotism—kids.

A group of Japanese rightists seem to have found a new target for their distorted patriotism—kids.

Police on Tuesday arrested senior members of an online reactionist network for reportedly hurling abuse at students of a pro-Pyongyang Korean primary school in Kyoto in December.

The right-wingers allegedly used a loudspeaker to disrupt lessons and insult children at Kyoto Chosen Daiichi Elementary School and call for the closure of such schools with affiliations to North Korea. Police are also investigating the group for cutting a cable to a speaker in a nearby park that is used by students of the school as a playground.

The group claims that the school placed the speaker and football goalposts in the municipal park without permission from city authorities. It staged further rallies outside the school on a regular basis this year, despite being slapped with a court order banning them from gathering there.

The Zainichi Tokken o Yurusanai Shimin no Kai (Zaitokukai), literally ‘a citizens group that does not approve of privileges for Korean residents of Japan,’ was formed in 2006 to oppose the granting of permanent residency status to Korean residents in Japan.

Nearly half of Japan’s 900,000 or so foreign permanent residents are part of the Korean diaspora that makes up the largest group of foreigners here. Many of these zainichi (a Japanese term meaning ‘foreigner residing in Japan,’ which is often used to refer to Korean residents) Koreans were forcibly brought to work here during Japan’s occupation of its neighbour to the west, or are relatives of these forced migrants.

These zainichi are split into two camps, having pledged their allegiance based on historical ideological loyalties to either Seoul or Pyongyang. About 65 percent are members of the pro-south Korean Residents Union of Japan (Mindan), and 25 percent are members of the pro-north General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), which acts as Pyongyang’s de facto embassy in Japan.

While Mindan only operates a handful of schools in Japan, Chongryon runs more than 200 schools and a university here. Lessons at these schools are conducted in Korean and students have to pledge allegiance to Kim Jong-Il.

One of the rightist network’s beefs is the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s election pledge to make high school education free at state schools. While the government initially excluded pro-Pyongyang schools from the subsidy programme it launched in April, the education ministry is considering an expansion of the scheme to include ten such Korean high schools.

While many people share the sentiment of right-wing groups in this regard, Zaitokukai’s verbal abuse of primary school children is the unacceptable face of nationalism.

Zaitokukai says it has more than 9,000 activists, and total membership of uyoku, or right-wing groups, nationwide has been estimated to be about 100,000 (including groups affiliated with yakuza gangs). While numbers are small compared with the silent majority, rightists certainly make a racket—both physically and politically. Patriotic music blaring from loudspeakers on their black vans painted with national flags and propaganda slogans can often be heard outside the embassies of foes (often over territorial issues) such as China, South Korea and Russia, and Mindan and Chongryon offices.

They also target media organizations, especially those with a more liberal slant.

On June 5, the Asahi Shimbun published an editorial in favour of voting rights for permanent residents in local elections. The following day, perhaps inevitably, a vociferous mob gathered outside the newspaper’s offices bellowing out their belief that only Japanese nationals should be enfranchised.

Rightists have attacked Asahi reporters for using what they believe to be an inappropriate honorific title for the Emperor. Their aggression against left-leaning thought has even led to murder, when a rightist used a shot-gun to slay Asahi reporter Tomohiro Kojiro in 1987 for suggesting Emperor Hirohito had a hand to play in Japan’s World War II intrusions overseas.

And these right-wingers have been prime fodder for the Japan’s growing army of tweeters. Photographs of nationalists protesting recently outside cinemas screening The Cove, a controversial documentary on the annual slaughter of dolphins in a Wakayama Prefecture town, were splashed across the net.

The rightists ironically claimed the film was xenophobic and made by Japan-bashers to portray the country in a bad light. Yet the screenings had a perhaps surprising ally in the nation’s largest conservative voice. A Yomiuri Shimbun editorial on June 22 lambasted the protesters, saying that freedom of speech and expression are the foundation of a democratic society, and attempts to intimidate people into pulling a film screening are unacceptable.