Zainichi Koreans and Korean schools have been the main targets of racist attack by xenophobic groups/individuals, both on the streets and on the internet Although issue of hate crime and hate speech against Zainichi Koreans are not-at-all new phenomenon in Japan, it has become unprecedentedly prevalent in the recent years, with the rise of Zaitokukai, a Japanese ultra rightist group.
Since its foundation in 2006, Zaitokukai’s racist rallies have taken place in many urban neighborhoods in Japan, including Ikuno (Osaka) and Shin-Okubo (Tokyo), both historically known as “Korea Town.” Not only do the members of Zaitokukai occupy the streets and shout racist and often false rumors about Korean residents, they actively broadcast their demonstrations on YouTube and other social media, such as “2 channel,” a website similar to “Reddit” in Western media, spreading hate and racist sentiment to millions of viewers in Japan and elsewhere.
Accusing the institution of providing “anti-Japanese education,” Zaitokukai has justified their attacks against Korean schools, including the ones against Korea University in Tokyo in 2008.
One of the most serious and disturbing cases would be the series of attacks against a Korean elementary school in Kyoto. In 2009 and 2010, Zaitokukai staged racist demonstrations in front of the Kyoto Korean Daiichi Elementary School, claiming that the school was illegally using a nearby park as their school field.
“Spy training school!” “Stinky Kimchi.” “Get rid of Chosen Gakko from Japan!” These are just a few of countless verbal assaults a group of dozen adults committed on December 4, 2009, while vandalizing school properties, including a soccer goal and speakers. Contrary to their claim, the Kyoto city had actually allowed the school to use the park for their PE class and extra curricular activities on humanitarian grounds for decades, since the school lacked its own field. Zaitokukai returned to the school twice in 2010: on January 14th with fifty people, and another one on March 28th, with a hundred participants who delivered vulgar remarks for hours, such as “Put lawless Koreans in prisons!” and “Cockroach Koreans, maggot Koreans, go back to Korea” . The series of mindless attacks left elementary-age students with serious psychological scars. Some started to feel anxious to go to school, while others started to cry in the middle of the night out of fear.
On December 9, 2014, after a four-year long court battle, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court rulings and ordered the Zaitokukai to pay 12.26 million yen (approximately $122,600) for material, as well as “major psychological damage through the irrational acts of racial discrimination” it has caused to the school and the persons concerned. The decision also banned racist demonstrations within a 200-meter (approximately 660 feet) radius of the school that had been relocated after the attacks. Adhering to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which Japan had ratified in 1995, the Kyoto District Court determined the Zaitokukai attacks were a form of racial discrimination and acknowledged the court’s responsibility to effectively fulfill the principle of the convention. Similarly, the Osaka High Court condemned Zaitokukai for “damage[ing] not only educational environment of the school, but also social environment in which Zainichi Koreans run ethnic education in our country.” Meanwhile, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had also shown considerable concerns over wide spreading hate speech and issues concerning other types of hate crimes. At last, the four-year court battle ended with a victory.
Despite this historical verdict, Zaitokukai and likeminded individuals continue to organize racist rallies in major cities in Japan, where they are met with “counter-racist” groups, evoking tensions that sometimes escalate into physical confrontation. It was only in 2016 that the National Diet passed the first-ever anti-hate speech law to combat escalating racism and xenophobia. However, the law is far from being perfect with no legal penalty. Furthermore, the law does not protect undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers and ethnic minorities such as the Ainu and Ryukyuan peoples in the face of hate crime. While the government appears to be concerned about discrimination against foreign residents in Japan, it has not yet overturned its own exclusionary policies against Korean schools. In order to truly assure students of Korean schools of equal educational rights, we must bring changes to both the conscience of ordinary people and the state through raising awareness.