A new wave of dis­sent in Ja­pan

The Pak Banker - - Editorial - Martin Fack­ler

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.

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