Graffiti reading “death to Koreans” scribbled on a pole in Shin Okubo, a Korean neighbourhood in Tokyo.
Several months ago, the city of Tokyo witnessed racist protests that openly targeted Koreans.
Recently, far-right militants have been more discreet but they are still very active online and on the walls of Tokyo’s Korean neighbourhood where they scrawl racist messages.
“Go back to Korea” is essentially the message being conveyed by most of the racist graffiti on the facades of Shin Okubo, Tokyo’s Korean neighbourhood. The anti-racism organisation Norikonet counted 53 instances of anti-Korean graffiti in February. On March 2, about 50 volunteers scoured the streets with rags and solvent to erase the racist tags.
“Koreans, get lost”. Graffiti in Shin Okubo.

In a country where protests are rare, a number of far-right rallies have been organised in recent years, with an up-tick in the spring of 2013. An organisation known as Zaitokukai is reportedly at the heart of these marches. The organisation opposes what it calls “the social privileges enjoyed by Koreans” and claims to have over 13,000 members registered online. At the rallies, most of which were attended by fewer than 100 people, far-right activists called for the murder of Koreans and described them as animals. Zaitokukai has been organising fewer marches since anti-racism activists have started holding counter-demonstrations.
Japan’s Korean population is currently estimated at 600,000 people.
The swastika, a Nazi symbol, is often used in Japanese far-right protests.
The two protest camps face off in footage from April 2013.

“Koreans that live here are feeling the pressure"

Ryo Watanuki lives in Tokyo. He has a degree in international law.

These days, we see graffiti on the walls saying things like “go back to Korea” or “end Korean privilege”. These people are convinced that Koreans receive more welfare from the government than Japanese citizens and condemn what they perceive to be an injustice. Their claims are utterly false. But for years, online ultra-nationalists [Editor’s note: also known as “netouyo”] have been propagating misinformation on the Internet. It’s a particularly easy message to spread because Japanese society has been very shaken by the economic crisis. And so Koreans became the root of all Japan’s problems.
The Korean media are a prime target for these racist movements, who condemn their view of history, among other things. [Editor’s note: several issues are at the core of the tensions between South Korea and Japan, namely the Korean “comfort women” who were forced into prostitution by the occupying Japanese army from 1910 to 1945].
It is very difficult for the authorities to squash this hateful speech, especially online. If they tried to do anything, Internet users would scream, “this isn’t China!” and brandish their right to free speech [Editor’s note: this right is guaranteed by the Japanese constitution]. And I think that the current government doesn’t really want to quiet the movement. It seems to me that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is benefiting from this atmosphere because it shores up support for him on the political right. He has not come out strongly against these movements.
The Koreans that live here have of course felt the pressure. That said, I noticed that they were not leading the counter-protests. These are led by Japanese anti-racist activists. Koreans are trying to stay out of the fray.
Last October, a Kyoto court sentenced the Zaitokukai movement to 91,000 euros in damages and interest for racist insults made during the 2009-2010 protests. The judge found that the organisation had violated the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, to which Japan is a signatory.