Hate aimed at ethnic Korean residents continues, but one man changes

April 28, 2013


In early afternoon on a Sunday in March, Makoto Sakurai was spewing words of hate over a loudspeaker from the lead car of a convoy of vehicles in Tokyo’s Shin-Okubo district, known as a Korea town.

“Good afternoon, cockroaches in Shin-Okubo. We are demonstrators from ‘Zen-Nihon Shakai no Gaichu wo Kujoshiyo Seiso-Iinkai’ (All-Japan cleaning committee to expel insects that are noxious to society),” said Sakurai, 41, chairman of the Zainichi Tokken wo Yurusanai Shimin no Kai (Group of citizens that do not tolerate privileges for ethnic Korean residents in Japan), called Zaitokukai.

“Let’s tie ethnic Korean residents in Japan to (North Korea’s) Taepondong (ballistic missiles) and fire them into South Korea,” he said.

Asked why he utters such harsh remarks directed at ethnic Korean residents in Japan, Sakurai replied, “As we are really angry at the behavior of South Korea and North Korea, we even say, ‘Kill them.’ Don’t regard our activities as xenophobia. Don’t misunderstand our anger.”

Zaitokukai is a citizens’ group that asserts that ethnic Korean residents in Japan have unfairly obtained or are seeking privileges. The group has protested one issue after another, such as the seeking of suffrage for foreigners, the offering of welfare benefits and the waiving of tuition fees at pro-Pyongyang Korean schools. It has held repeated demonstrations with its members strongly criticizing those measures.

Zaitokukai was established at the end of 2006. It claims to currently have 12,000 members.

When its hatemongers were holding a demonstration in the Shin-Okubo district on the Sunday in March, counter-demonstrators gathered on the opposite side of the road holding placards. Some shouted, “Zaitoku (meaning Zaitokukai), go home.”

The skirmish line has been repeated since February.

Meanwhile, a 39-year-old man was watching the protest from the crowd of onlookers as if he was concealing himself.

The man, whose name is withheld, had participated in demonstrations on behalf of Zaitokukai and other rightist citizens groups 65 times. It was the first time that he witnessed the demonstration from the outside. What he saw made him feel like crying.

He discovered Zaitokukai several years ago when he was working as an employee of a manufacturing company. In those days, he often felt that Japan was being unfairly treated in business dealings with overseas clients. He also felt that, even in such issues as historical recognition and territorial disputes, Japan was always criticized by other countries.

At that time, he found Zaitokukai’s videos on the Internet on his home computer. His wife later told him that he was pounding his desk repeatedly in excitement as he watched them.

The man participated in a Zaitokukai demonstration for the first time in August 2011 in a protest against Fuji Television Network Inc. At that time, Zaitokukai asserted that the broadcaster was biased because it was airing many South Korean dramas.

In October of that year, he joined a sit-in in front of the headquarters of the Democratic Party of Japan, then the ruling party. He could not overlook the DPJ-led government’s weak attitude to China and South Korea.

In drinking sessions held at "izakaya," or Japanese-style pubs, after demonstrations, he became friendly with many other members of the group. Some were company employees and others were housewives. He quit his company and started his own business. He now has two children, both of whom are elementary school students.

The man undertook shooting videos for Nico Nico Nama-Hoso, or the live broadcast portion of the Nico Nico Douga video-sharing website.

Carrying a PC and a video camera, he followed demonstrations and sent videos to the site. Wherever he was asked to go, he went in his car.

His videos always received many positive comments from viewers. Many of these people were also excited about the demonstrations and later joined them.

In the campaign for the Dec. 16 Lower House elections, some Zaitokukai members, carrying “hinomaru” national flags, went to hear the campaign speeches being given on the street by Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe and other LDP lawmakers, who vowed to take back Japan.

The man heard about the LDP’s crushing victory on election night in his car while he was returning home from a demonstration in a local town. After that, the Abe administration was established.

“(In those days) I felt elation,” he recalled.

After that, however, the man felt that he had lost his path. The number of tweets on the social networking site Twitter among Zaitokukai members also decreased sharply.

Then, harsher words began to be used in the group’s demonstrations.

When he had been shooting videos for the live Internet broadcasts, he had felt the growing gap of awareness between demonstrators and passers-by. When he voiced his conflicting opinions in drinking sessions held after demonstrations, other members immediately became angry.

“What is the basis of their anger?” he thought.

“I feel that they are only gaining a consensus among themselves by collecting information favorable to their beliefs on the Internet,” he said.

The man read books written by people in different positions. He learned for the first time the historical process that led to the settlement of ethnic Korean residents in Japan.

In February, he saw a video of a demonstration held in Osaka, in which he did not participate. In that video, the demonstrators were repeatedly yelling, “Kill Koreans.”

He took a large drink of his beer.

In March, a day before the Sunday demonstration in the Shin-Okubo district, he thought seriously about breaking free from Zaitokukai, and finally decided to do so. That night, he aired his break-away declaration from his home in a live broadcast on Nico Nico Nama-Hoso.

“I cannot join any more in demonstrations in which participants yell ‘kill’ or ‘cockroaches.’ Probably, people with different opinions will regard the demonstrators as monsters,” he said.

His ashtray was filled with cigarette butts.

“They (Zaitokukai members) say that they will break social taboos to convey their anger. But can’t they do so without using such (harsh) words?” he asked.

After he aired his declaration in the video, he received a total of 5,471 comments in an hour. One of them read, “You were recognized as an ethnic Korean resident.” Another said, “You should die.”

This time, the hate was directed at him. He felt extreme fear.

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Participants in a protest against ethnic Koreans in Japan march through Tokyo's Shin-Okubo "Korea town" on April 21. On the opposite side, counter-protesters hold banners criticizing the protesters. (The Asahi Shimbun)

Participants in a protest against ethnic Koreans in Japan march through Tokyo's Shin-Okubo "Korea town" on April 21. On the opposite side, counter-protesters hold banners criticizing the protesters. (The Asahi Shimbun)

  • Participants in a protest against ethnic Koreans in Japan march through Tokyo's Shin-Okubo "Korea town" on April 21. On the opposite side, counter-protesters hold banners criticizing the protesters. (The Asahi Shimbun)

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