A new wave of dissent in Japan
The groups are openly anti-foreign and unafraid to win attention. The demonstrators appeared one day in December, just as children at an elementary school for ethnic Koreans were cleaning up for lunch. The group of about a dozen Japanese men gathered in front of the school gate, using bullhorns to call the students cockroaches and Korean spies.
Inside, the panicked students and teachers huddled in their classrooms, singing loudly to drown out the insults, as par- ents and eventually police officers blocked the protesters' entry.
The December episode was the first in a series of demonstrations at the Kyoto No. 1 Korean Elementary School that shocked conflict-averse Japan, where even political protesters on the radical fringes are expected to avoid embroiling regular citizens, much less children. Responding to public outrage, the police arrested four of the protesters this month on charges of damaging the school's reputation.
More significantly, the protests also signalled the emergence here of a new type of ultranationalist group. The groups are openly anti-foreign in their message and unafraid to win attention by holding unruly street demonstrations.
Since first appearing last year, their protests have been directed at not only Japan's half million ethnic Koreans, but also Chinese and other Asian workers, Christian churchgoers and even Westerners in Halloween costumes. In the latter case, a few dozen angrily shouting demonstrators followed around revellers waving placards that said, "This is not a white country."
Local news media have dubbed these groups the Net far right, because they are loosely organised via the Internet and gather together only for demonstrations. At other times, they are a virtual community that maintains its own websites to announce the times and places of protests, swap information and post video recordings of their demonstrations.
While these groups remain a small if noisy fringe element here, they have won growing attention as an alarming side effect of Japan's long economic and political decline. Most of their members appear to be young men, many of whom hold the low-paying part-time or contract jobs that have prolifer- ated in Japan in recent years.
Though some here compare these groups to neo-Nazis, sociologists say they are different because they lack an aggressive ideology of racial supremacy and have so far been careful to draw the line at violence. There have been no reports of injuries, or violence beyond pushing and shouting. Rather, the Net right's main purpose seems to be venting frustration, both about Japan's diminished stature and in their own personal economic difficulties.
"These are men who feel disenfranchised in their own society," said Kensuke Suzuki, a sociology professor at Kwansei Gakuin University. "They are looking for someone to blame, and foreigners are the most obvious target."
They are also different from Japan's existing ultranationalist groups, which are a common sight even today in Tokyo, wearing paramilitary uniforms and riding around in ominous black trucks with loudspeakers that blare martial music.
This traditional far right, which has roots going back to at least the 1930s rise of militarism in Japan, is now a tacitly accepted part of the conservative political establishment here. Sociologists describe them as serving as a sort of unofficial mechanism for enforcing conformity in post-war Japan, singling out Japanese who were seen as straying too far to the left, or other groups that anger them, such as embassies of countries with whom Japan has territorial disputes. Members of these old-line rightist groups have been quick to distance themselves from the Net right, which they dismiss as amateurish rabble-rousers. "These new groups are not patriots but attention-seekers," said Kunio Suzuki, a senior adviser of the Issuikai, a well-known far-right group with 100 members and a fleet of sound trucks.