Racism in Japan

Racism as a Political Weapon                Racism as a Business Defense

     In November of 1999 Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara told the superintendent general of the Metropolitan Police Department, Takeshi Noda, in the event of a major natural disaster, "There is a possibility that foreigners who reside illegally will do something out of hand."

     At the time Japan Traveler published a brief tidbit saying that the governor needed a bit of a history lesson as it was foreigners who were attacked by Japanese mobs, which included elements of the police and Imperial Army during the last major earthquake to hit the Kanto area in 1923. By some estimates as many as 6,000 people (mostly ethnic Koreans and some Chinese) were murdered after rumors spread that foreigners were poisoning wells and starting fires.

     The numbers are described as estimates because most of the victims were hastily buried in makeshift graves in Koto-ku along the Sumida River bank where to this day construction crews periodically unearth bodies from this massacre. But, Ishihara does not seem to know much about history, not even Tokyo history.

     On April 9 Ishihara was speaking in front of soldiers at the Tokyo garrison of the Japan Self Defense Force on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the organization's establishment. He told the troops, "Many sangokujin and other foreigners who have entered Japan illegally have repeatedly committed atrocious crimes. In the event of a major earth quake, even riots may break out." Ishihara went on to say, ''Police have their limits. I hope you will not only fight against disasters but also maintain public security on such occasions. I hope you will show the Japanese people and the Tokyo people what the military is for in a state.'' (Note: In the modern vernacular "sangokujin" means "low-class foreigners" or literally "third world person.")

     In a subsequent interview with The Guardian, Ishihara was quoted as saying, "After the Los Angeles quake, it was ethnic minorities, including blacks and Hispanics, who went looting. The same thing would happen here." He went on to say "Although some Japanese might take part in riots, the strongest fear is about areas with high levels of illegal immigrants."

     But there was no rioting after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake in Los Angeles, which Ishihara seemed to confuse with another Los Angeles incident. Moreover, history in Japan has proven Ishihara wrong as there was no rioting by foreigners in Kobe after the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. In fact, the foreign community in Kobe was widely praised for helping with the disaster relief. As just mentioned, the only rioting in the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake was by Japanese against foreigners.

     It may have something to do with the uniforms or when the go tanks rolling by, but every time Ishihara is talking to the police or the military he seems to get some kind of rush of nationalistic fervor. Watching him on TV, he stands there with eyes glowing and goose bumps running all over his body as if just about to climax in the joy of the moment. Then in a fit of xenophobia he opens his mouth, and the inflammatory racist statements start to flow out.

     It is not surprising to hear such words from a man who started his political career in the early 1970s as the leader of an influential right-wing faction in the diet known as Seirankai (Summer Storm Club). Although similar in ideology to the Shield Society of Yukio Mishima three years before, Ishihara's "club" did not gut themselves after making speeches in front of the Self-Defense Force garrison. Not having quite that much courage or belief in their ideas, the eight members of Ishihara's Seirankai instead chose only to cut their fingers to sign their manifesto in their own blood.

     What is surprising is that a character like Ishihara could rise to such positions as Environment Minister, Transportation Minister and Governor of Tokyo. Even more surprising is that early polls since the April 9 incident show that one-third to one-half of Tokyoites support Ishihara who has a long history of racial slurs, offensive remarks and intolerance for foreigners. Outside of the foreign community, there have been few if any calls for his resignation.

     From early in his career Ishihara, who aspires to become prime minister, has been a proponent of Japan rewriting its constitution and arming itself with nuclear weapons. He has said that hedge funds are part of an international Jewish conspiracy. While Environment Minister and visiting victims of the mercury poisoning in Minamata, Kumamoto Ishihara said that these were people of low intelligence. Last year in the election for governor Ishihara used the derogatory word "shina" to refer to China, and now he is using another derogatory word "sangokujin" to refer to some foreigners in the same sentence he is asking self defense soldiers to be ready to crack down on them.

     Best known for his comments on the Rape of Nanking in 1937, Ishihara has repeatedly described the well-documented massacre as "a lie." In a 1990 interview with Playboy magazine, Ishihara said, "People say that the Japanese made a holocaust there, but that is not true. It is a story made up by the Chinese. It has tarnished the image of Japan, but it is a lie." Japanese history revisionists and other nationalists applauded and elevated Ishihara when he said, "It would have been impossible to kill so many people in such a short period of time."

     After an uproar from the foreign community in Japan Ishihara spoke on TV three days later to clarify that he was only speaking about "foreigners who reside illegally in Japan." Ishihara expressed "regret" for use of poor semantics, but was adamant that he had nothing to apologize for. He went on to say, "Crimes by foreigners residing illegally in Japan are rapidly increasing."

     According to data at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Web site (http://www.keishicho.metro.tokyo.jp/seian/toukei/ hanzai/hanzai8.htm), crime by Japanese has been increasing and the crime rate by "foreigners in Japan," which is lower than that of Japanese, has been decreasing. In fact, the overall crime rate in Tokyo has changed little of the past ten years, although there has been 37 percent increase in atrocious crimes over the past four years. However, the average crime rate in 1999 by Japanese was 0.694 percent, which was greater than that of foreigners in Tokyo at 0.274 percent. In regard to atrocious crime, the rate for the same year was 0.008 percent for the total population of Tokyo but only 0.005 percent for the foreign population in Tokyo.

     In his television interview on April 14, Ishihara went on to say that he feared for his safety as a resident and that "Japanese cannot walk the streets of Ikebukuro and Shinjuku at night because these places are like other countries. Even the yakuza are afraid to go there." He went on to denounce robberies and drug sales allegedly committed by people illegally staying in Japan and said the Foreign Ministry should urge the Chinese authorities to crack down on "Snakehead" crime groups and other criminals.

     If Ishihara is sincere about these comments, he should take a closer look at his own police in Roppongi, Shibuya and Kabukicho. In these areas of Ishihara's city, drugs are dealt openly on the streets by mostly by Japanese (and some foreigners as well) who have paid for the protection of local Yakuza and are subsequently not bothered by police. Since being transferred from the Shinjuku police station to Roppongi, the new Azabu chief of police has been living a rather flashy life style. During the same period of time police have also been cracking down on Roppongi bars not cooperating with the local Yakuza, including holding two bar owners in detention without any formal charges for over a week.

     Ishihara has also been an ardent proponent of casino gambling, previously in Odaiba and more recently with plans for boat gambling. Since Japan has no experience or expertise in casino gambling, such operations would involve foreign assistance and gambling can very easily bring in the criminal element from places like Hong Kong and Macao, i.e., Snakeheads. Boat gambling would also involve Las Vegas-style shows with dancers and could create a fertile environment for various forms of carnal activities going on while the high rollers take to the seas in a relaxed legal atmosphere.

     Ishihara speaks of trying to fix the Tokyo's problems with populist ideas like taxing banks and other gimmicks like tax revenues from gambling. But the gambling ideas do not seem to match his great concern about foreign criminals. Moreover, the fact that the Ishihara has been attempting to make arrangements for personal investment and purchase of a boat that could be used for gambling suggest that he does not really care about the crime issue so much as using his office and influence to further his own private business interests.

     Like many of his xenophobic predecessors in other countries around the world, Ishihara has been using an age-old formula for garnering public support. He has been able to maintain his popularity by preying on feelings of insecurity about the poor economy and fueling resentment of foreigners in order to make them a scapegoat for the problems Japan is facing. History has shown that people like Shintaro Ishihara can be dangerous. However, History is unfortunately not a subject that Japanese schools have received high marks on, and sadly more than a few Tokyoites have warmed to strong rhetoric and populist themes of Shintaro Ishihara.

by James C. Gibbs


Racism as a Business Defense

     It started out as a simple case of a real estate deal gone bad, not so different from any of hundreds of others just as Japan's so-called economic "bubble" was bursting. Asahi Jutaku and Koa Building K.K. had entered into a joint venture agreement in 1990 to develop a 640-tsubo piece of land for commercial building use in Takasaki City in Tochigi Prefecture.

     The contract was signed, Asahi Jutaku's parent company Asahi Seimei (Asahi Mutual Life Insurance Co.) backed up the deal with its good name by assisting with the various local government administrative procedures, Hazama Corp. prepared a design plan, and Koa moved forward with the development. After the joint venture proceeded one year, Asahi Jutaku had breached the contract by not providing its four billion yen investment, and the project was stalled indefinitely. Apparently the excesses of the bubble had taken their toll on Asahi Jutaku and the cash flow projections on the project were not as rosy as they had been in addition to other internal problems.

     What followed initially was not anything out of the ordinary. There were four years of protracted company negotiations to resolve the problems experienced by Koa from the breach of contract, but to no avail. In 1996 the case ended up in court where it remains today as the Japanese legal system slowly churns.

     What was extraordinary and unbelievable was the reasoning used by Asahi Jutaku to defend its alleged breach of the contract. After the story appeared in the Japanese media, Heihachiro Kaneko, who was then Managing Director of Asahi Jutaku, defended the actions of his company in an interview with a newspaper reporter on September 1, 1997.

     Kaneko said, Frankly speaking, I was taken in. After all, what did Mr. Yamada do in the past? Maybe I shouldn't say it, but I had the police investigate this guy. Although every Korean resident here cannot be deemed immoral and there are a number of good Koreans, this man has done a lot of dishonest things, hasn't he?"

     When asked by the reporter if he had ever intended to go through with the joint venture Kaneko responded, Although I should not say it, Mr. Yamada has had various problems. Could you enter into a joint venture with someone a having such a seedy background" The reporter responded, If so, I could never do so."

     Then Kaneko said, He may appear normal today, but he has still been doing something immoral, hasn't he? He has been managing a pink cabaret and engaged in various other vicious operations. In the past, moreover, he was apparently engaged in the blue-/red-light district business. Well, a person may be acceptable if he doesn't look so delinquent, but nevertheless you couldn't do anything together, could you? If I should do so, the respectful business I have been conducting so far would be stained, wouldn't it? I would lose my credibility. Therefore, we could not proceed with the business with Mr. Yamada."

     These comments were directed at Kosei Yamada who was the president of Koa and a person of Korean ethnicity. Yamada was dumbfounded at such outrageous remarks and in response said, In the first place, it is illegal for a private citizen to have the police investigate another private citizen. This is 'seedy' behavior, which should be punished under the law. Secondly, I do have some ownership interest in a pachinko* business, but this is a legal entertainment activity and it is not 'seedy.' Those other remarks by Mr. Kaneko were completely baseless and a lie. It was nothing more than racist defamation in an attempt to get out of a legitimate business agreement."

     No stranger to discrimination while growing up in Japan as an ethnic Korean, Yamada simply could not believe that this kind of prejudice could exist in 1997 in such a large organization as the Asahi Seimei Group and so freely exhibited by a top company executive to the mass media. In fact, Asahi Seimei is a huge company selling insurance to millions of people in Japan. As Yamada put it, Ethnic Koreans in Japan buy insurance too. And what about all of the foreign clients of Asahi Seimei all around the world? How could they allow such conduct by a senior representative of their company?"

     During the initial period of negotiations Asahi Seimei had of course been contacted by Koa with complaints about their subsidiary Asahi Jutaku, but the repeated response was that they were separate corporate entities and therefore no relationship to the problem. Asahi Seimei is, however, the principal owner of Asahi Jutaku and the directors are almost exclusively sent from Asahi Seimei. Moreover, Asahi Seimei was actively involved in assisting with the failed development project.

     Heihachiro Kaneko was in fact an employee of Asahi Seimei from 1958 to 1990 and reached the position of Senior Manager in the Audit Department before he was sent to Asahi Jutaku in 1990. What did Asahi Seimei think about its employee not honoring a contract, engaging in criminal activity and making racist remarks against ethnic Korean's to the mass media? Asahi Seimei promoted Kaneko to the post of president of Asahi Jutaku, and he still holds the post today.

(* Note: In regard to Pachinko being seedy" it is one of if not the leading business industry where Japanese police officers descend to (amakudari) upon retiring.)

 

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