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East Asian xenophobia
Vicious Anti-Korea Graffiti Signals Rise of Nationalism in Japan

A swastika was one of the images that volunteers armed with rags and sponges tried to clean up in Tokyo’s Okubo district on Monday. Hateful graffiti targeting Koreans had appeared around the district over the past few weeks. The volunteers, members of Japanese groups who have opposed right-wing and xenophobic rallies in the past, finally got fed up.

Anti-Korea rallies, propaganda, and graffiti have grown more visible in Japan over the past year or so. Last February hundreds of demonstrators appeared around Okubu district, which is known for Korean restaurants and shops, waving signs that read “roaches” and “go back to Korea.” “Let’s Kill Koreans!” they chanted. The graffiti language cleaned up by the volunteer groups over the weekend was similarly hateful: “Koreans, do not come to Japan”; “Vile idiots”; “Go home.”

Most Japanese are shocked by this kind of hate speech and the groups that support it. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the phenomenon “extremely regrettable” last year. But since then, he and members of his government have become increasingly hostile toward neighboring countries and dismissive of their concerns over Japan’s apparent desire to revise the accepted history of its aggression and atrocities during World War II. This is all a reflection of the rise of nationalism among ordinary citizens, as well as a swing to the right in Japanese politics.

The rightward tilt in Japanese society is especially evident—and alarming—among young people. In Tokyo’s mayoral election in February, 24 percent of voters in their 20s supported General Toshio Tamogami, the leader of a xenophobic far-right political party, whom pundits had almost entirely written off as a fringe nationalist. In parliament, a cohort of young, conservative members of Abe’s party cheer whenever he makes antagonistic remarks about China and South Korea.

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  • Tim Godfrey

    Most of SE Asia has the same complaints about the Japanese war record and waffling apologies.

    Only Korea and China have chosen to make an issue of it 70 years later.
    Most likely because they saw it as a way to garner economic advantage.

    But this endless focus on the war record has resulted in a nasty backlash in Japan.
    Japanese who used to have no strong opinions are now very angry.
    They feel used given the huge sums of money Japan has invested in these countries over the last 50 years.

    The extreme reactions are a reflection of this anger.
    I see no way to ameliorate it now.

    It is sad.

    • NC Chew

      You conveniently overlooked Prime Minister Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine which houses war criminals, who included those who committed atrocities in both these countries. Abe should have known a visit would arouse hostility in China and South Korea. Yet, he went ahead with it. If this wasn’t a deliberate provocation, what is? .

      • Tim Godfrey

        Getting upset over Yasukuni is a good example of pettiness on the part of Korea and China because when you look at the big picture it does not mean much that a few war criminals are mixed in with the thousands of other war dead.

        The problem with the “provocation” argument is it is an endless circle. A provokes B so B provokes A and so on and so on. The only way to break the circle is to stop caring about meaningless symbols.

        Perhaps the thing the makes Japanese the most angry is Korea and China act like nothing has changed in 70 years. They completely ignore the fact that Japan has fully committed to peaceful relations with its neighbors. This entire crisis was entirely caused by Koreans and Chinese who want to live in the past. The Japanese quietly put up with the hostility for decades but it has come to a head and may be spiraling out of control.

        • JB

          “The only way to break the circle is to stop caring about meaningless symbols.” No problem, all you have to do is ignore all of these cultures for the last 1000 years. The “meaningless symbols” are the core of all three nations histories. You need another plan cause that isn’t going to fix it.

  • Jim__L

    Nationalism — far deadlier than religion. Or conquest. The only thing that comes close is government malice / incompetence.

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