Kyodo: Japan’s laws against hate speech piecemeal, lack teeth


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Hi Blog. One more blog entry about hate speech in Japan (because these developments are important and deserve archiving, as they set the tone for how the new law will be enforced and possibly lead to laws against other forms of racial discrimination). The Mainichi articles thus far archived on (here, here, and here) have talked about the positive developments of people being called to account for their hateful speech, and the chilling effect (for a change) over anti-foreign public rallies. Yet Kyodo below makes a (rather mild) case that the law does not go far enough. Read on. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito


Japan’s laws against hate speech piecemeal, lack teeth

When Moon Kong-hwi saw the scene, he thought the bottom of society had dropped out.

It was five years ago when he witnessed people engaged in hate speech in Osaka’s Tsuruhashi district, one of the country’s famous Korea towns. Since the vitriol came at maximum volume, what still echoes in his ears are words that raise fears.

It happened in front of JR Tsuruhashi Station. What he heard outside of the station’s exit was screams such as “Go back to South Korea!” and “Get out of Tsuruhashi!” by a dozen of people who held loudspeakers and rising sun flags.

“Uttering discriminatory words shouldn’t be done in society. But common sense is no longer there,” he said.

He could not do anything and went home, painfully aware that he is a minority in Japan. Since then, he has made it his mission to put information on the internet so his young son and daughter will not encounter such derogatory displays.

There is one-minute video shot in Tsuruhashi in February 2013. A young girl yelled at Koreans living in Japan: “I really can’t stop hating you!” “We will carry out a massacre in Tsuruhashi!” she continued.

The girl, now 18, lives in the Kanto region. She still wages hate-speech campaigns while aiming to be a TV celebrity.

“The purpose of the campaign was to demonstrate that Japan is no longer a peaceful country. Looking at the reactions on the internet, I thought it was successful that we turned their eyes to the issue,” she explained.

Asked if she believed if what was in the video constituted discrimination, she said, “Saying it is discriminatory itself is wrong. In a really racist country, people throw cans at those who are discriminated against.”

“In today’s Japan, do we have that much discrimination?” she asked.

Japan’s first hate speech law, which took effect in June, was created in line with Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, and Article 13, which guarantees basic human rights.

Experts, though, say the law is flawed because it lacks both a stated prohibition of hate speech and carries no punishment for perpetrators.

In July, an ordinance to curb hate speech took effect in the city of Osaka. It helped minimize threatening expressions, including “Die!” and “Kill them,” but did little to curb slurs like “the crime rate among Korean people is high.”

Yet the environment surrounding offensive displays appears to be changing.

Kawasaki announced on May 31 it would not allow the organizer of a hate speech demonstration to use a park following past remarks and activities. In Osaka, police called for “a society free of discrimination.”

But perpetrators of discriminatory behavior have turned their attention to the political arena.

Makoto Sakurai, 44, the former head of the anti-Korean group Zaitokukai, ran in the Tokyo gubernatorial election in July, and said in a campaign speech: “This is a free country. It is free to call you anything during the campaign.”

Sakurai was able to publicly pledge, for example, the “abolition of public assistance for non-Japanese” because Article 21 protects freedom of political activities as well as freedom of speech, while the election law prohibits interference in political speeches.

He did, however, refrain from the violently offensive outbursts that he has frequently made in the past.

Sakurai, who had said he was not interested in elections until the gubernatorial poll, was not elected but garnered about 110,000 votes. He launched a political group and said in his blog that his goal is to gain a majority in every assembly in Japan.

Regulations and ordinances have helped tighten curbs on hate speech, but the discriminatory feelings deeply embedded in people’s minds have not changed much.

“How could the Constitution encourage discrimination and hurt people’s feelings?” said one activist in the “counter” movement against hate speech. Surging nationalism has raised the question and society is searching for an answer.


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6 comments on “Kyodo: Japan’s laws against hate speech piecemeal, lack teeth

  • Jim di Griz says:

    Article just confirms worst fears; Japan doesn’t understand what ‘hate-speech’, ‘discrimination’ and ‘racism’ are, so using words like ‘legislation’ in the same breath is just a sick joke. After all the police get protected and defended when they use racist discriminatory hate-speech, so it’s impossible to expect that any such laws with meaningful penalties will ever be enforced.

    Japan may as well legislate unicorns and mermaids.

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    Yes, part of the problem is that too many people don’t get what is discriminatory, or divide discrimination into “kubetsu” and “sabetsu”, and then decide that theirs is the first and not the latter.

  • Or the prevalent belief that it’s not discrimination if ALL foreigners get treated the same (excluded). You see the subtle point here is “we are treating the blacks the same as the whites, so no discrimination. What they fail to realise though is that discrimination based on who is Japanese and who is not is almost certainly always racial discrimination in the sanse that it pits the Japanese racial identity against everyone else. Just like saying “whites only”, or “blacks only”, it divides people up based solely on notions of race (no matter how nonsensical such notions of race are).

  • Looks like the hate speech laws are finally going to get some teeth:
    Japan’s 1st bill to punish hate speech submitted in Kawasaki
    構成要件を厳密化 「表現の自由」に配慮 川崎市「ヘイト」罰則条例

    Japan’s 1st bill to punish hate speech submitted in Kawasaki
    November 25, 2019 (Mainichi Japan)
    KAWASAKI, Japan (Kyodo) — The city of Kawasaki on Monday submitted to its assembly an ordinance bill to introduce criminal penalties for hate speech, the first in Japan.

    【Related】Man fined over hate speech posted anonymously on blog

    Japan enacted in 2016 a law designed to deter hate speech, but it lacks provisions to ban or punish the use of discriminatory language, leading critics to call for tougher steps to eradicate discrimination against ethnic minorities.

    “In order to promote the creation of a city in which no citizens are subjected to unjust discrimination, we will deepen discussions and work toward enacting the ordinance,” Kawasaki Mayor Norihiko Fukuda said.

    The Kawasaki bill, expected to pass the assembly in mid-December and take effect on July 1, bans discriminatory remarks against a person from a particular country or region in public spaces such as on the street or in a park.

    It calls for issuing advisories and orders to violators and disclosing the names and addresses of repeated violators while making them punishable with a fine of up to 500,000 yen ($4,600).

    To address concerns regarding freedom of expression, the bill calls for hearing from a board of review in taking actions and restricts the effect of the advisories and orders to six months.

    Hate speech targeting ethnic minorities in Japan often includes threats to kill people of certain nationalities and extreme insults or remarks. ENDS

  • Good news it seems, but I did not understand this part:

    “If the violator does not follow advisories or orders from the mayor to desist, and repeats the offense three times, the city government will file a complaint with investigative authorities under the procedures laid out by the ordinance. ”

    So private individuals cannot make a criminal complaint? (Yeah yeah I know that police are the arbiters of who can file a criminal complaint in Japan, but it seems this law is up to the local government to file a complaint?)


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