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Depression And Anxiety Could Be Fukushima’s Lasting Legacy

Posted in Japan, News on March 12th, 2013

See here for the original story.

by Geoff Brumfiel, March 11, 2013 4:40 AM, National Public Radio Morning Edition.

Two years ago today, an earthquake and tsunami triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan. Hundreds of thousands of people living near the plant were forced to flee. The World Health Organization recently predicted a very small rise in cancer risk from radioactive material that was released. For the nuclear refugees, though, anxiety and depression could be the more persistent hazard. Correspondent Geoff Brumfiel traveled to Fukushima prefecture and met victims of the accident to see how they are coping. He sent Shots this report.

The Togawa family in their temporary home near Kawamata, Japan. From left: Rina, Kenichi, Kae, Yuka and Shoichiro. 

The Togawa family in their temporary home near Kawamata, Japan. From left: Rina, Kenichi, Kae, Yuka and Shoichiro. Geoff Brumfiel/NPR

March 11, 2011, is a day that Kenichi Togawa will never forget. He was taking a break from his job at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant when the ground started to shake. “The earthquake was very big, and also very long,” he says. It scattered desks like Lego bricks and brought down ceiling paneling.

After making sure co-workers were accounted for, Kenichi, like other nonessential workers at the plant, headed for home to check on his family. The Togawas lived in the seaside village of Namie, about six miles from the reactors. Kenichi left work by car, but he soon abandoned it. A tsunami sparked by the earthquake had wiped out roads near the coast, and those that remained were clogged with people hurrying home. He walked for miles, all the while unsure whether his wife and three children were OK.

He felt “a huge relief,” he says, when he arrived home to find his family safe. But the Togawas’ troubles were just beginning. After a fitful night, sleeping together in their living room, they were awakened in the early morning by a siren, warning them to evacuate. When Kenichi went out to recover his abandoned car, he was greeted by soldiers in gas masks. The family threw what they could into the car and fled.

Hours later, the Unit One reactor at the nuclear plant exploded, spreading radioactivity across Fukushima. The Togawas will likely never be able to live in their old home again.

Kae Togawa, 9, must wear a radiation badge whenever she leaves the house. 


Kae Togawa, 9, must wear a radiation badge whenever she leaves the house. Geoff Brumfiel/NPR

At first they lived in a gymnasium in Kawamata town, about 30 miles away. For months, they slept in an open room with many other families and shared shower facilities and eating areas. People cut in line to get food, and others got angry when the kids played too loudly. “We were just like dogs and cats without chains,” says Yuka, Kenichi’s wife.

That was tough, but their current situation isn’t much better. All five family members live in a tiny, temporary house that’s roughly 300 square feet. Sixteen-year-old Rina says she often has arguments with her younger siblings, especially when they’re settling down to sleep at night. “[The room’s] just so small, we hit each other by mistake,” she says.

Yuka is grateful to have a roof over her family’s head, but she doesn’t think of it as a home. “This is temporary,” she says. “We leave our house in the morning and we come home and it’s temporary. It’s like floating in the air.” She worries about her children. For now they are healthy, but she fears they may become sick from radiation exposure.

A monitor in Fukushima City shows elevated radiation levels nearly two years after the accident. 
A monitor in Fukushima City shows elevated radiation levels nearly two years after the accident. Geoff Brumfiel/NPR
Kenichi is also having a tough time. He is more isolated now than he was before the accident. He spends hours each day playing video games. He has put on weight and drinks more than he used to. Other evacuees are doing worse. Many don’t have jobs, and some have taken up drinking and gambling, according to Hiromi Yamamoto, an English teacher from Namie who fled to nearby Iwake City.

Public health officials believe that the stress and isolation the nuclear accident has caused may be more dangerous than the radiation itself. Big disasters are very difficult to recover from, says Ronald Kessler, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School who has studied the emotional fallout from Hurricane Katrina. Over the course of years, mental health problems can get worse and worse. “If it’s something that goes on for a long, long time as Katrina did, that’s where you get into trouble,” he says. “The Japanese situation looks like it might be a similar sort of thing.”

Fortunately, life seems to slowly be getting easier for the Togawas. Kenichi has a new job, and the kids like their school. Yuka is working part time as a nurse. But what comes next for the family is far from clear. “When I think about just today, I can stay happy,” Kenichi says. “But when I think about the day after tomorrow and my future, I feel like I’m in a pitch-black box.”

Challenges of racism in Japan

Posted in Articles, Japan, Korea, News on March 10th, 2013

These articles express the challenges of racism in Japan, but also highlight the difficulties faced by the many Japanese who are trying to combat these misunderstandings and attitudes.

Mr. Norman-Mikine Desaki, a Japanese American who worked as an English language teacher in Itoman City in Okinawa Prefecture has produced two videos on his experiences and concerns regarding racism in Japan among his students.

Video One: Racism in Japan

Video Two: Racism in Japan Part Two

See also an article in the Washington Post looking discussing this issue.

韓国の元慰安婦に「殺せ」の郵便物 日本のバンドからか

Posted in Articles, Japan, News on March 10th, 2013

韓国の元慰安婦に「殺せ」の郵便物 日本のバンドからか

See here for the original article.

FREEDOM OF HATE SPEECH: Abe Shinzo and Japan’s Public Sphere

Posted in Articles, Japan, News on February 20th, 2013

Tessa Morris-Suzuki

Japan’s diplomacy must always be rooted in democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. These universal values have guided Japan’s post-war development. I firmly believe that, in 2013 and beyond, the Asia-Pacific region’s future prosperity should rest on them as well. (Abe Shinzō, Prime Minister of Japan, proclaiming Japan “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond”, 27 December 2012) [1]

The vision is beautiful. Japan indeed has something to be proud of. Though its democratic constitution was partly composed by postwar allied occupiers, it has been embraced by the Japanese people and has stood the test of time.

Japan’s democracy is not perfect. (Which country has a perfect democracy?) The political system has been lopsided, and has generally failed to generate vigorous two-party competition; some topics of debate – particularly relating to the Emperor – have long been the subject of media self-censorship. All the same, freedom of thought has thrived for more than half a century, and Japan has developed an impressive array of small scale grassroots social movements, willing to take up challenging reformist and human rights causes. [2]

But now, ironically, the loud proclamations of “democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights” are being accompanied by the rise of practices that suggest the opposite. A combination of soft repression and hard hate speech is creating a troubling reality in Abe Shinzō’s Japan.

Previous Form: Abe, NHK and the Comfort Women

It was an ominous harbinger of things to come: a sad tale of political interference, self-censorship, denials, cover ups, revelations and resignations.

In 2000, groups from that vibrant Japanese world of grassroots human rights action organized the Tokyo Women’s War Crimes Tribunal. Their aim was to address wartime acts of violence against women by the Japanese military which had not been prosecuted by the official tribunals immediately after Japan’s defeat. In particular, the Tribunal focused on the fate of very large numbers of Asian women who were forced or tricked into working in a network of “military comfort stations” all over the wartime Japanese empire, where they were subject to extreme sexual abuse.

The 2000 Tribunal was an NGO event,  but followed the procedures of formal war crimes trials. It was conducted before judges from Europe, North and South America and Africa with extensive experience in international human rights issues. 64 surviving former “comfort women” gave evidence, and the event concluded with a judgment condemning the role of the Japanese state, the late Emperor Hirohito and wartime military leaders. [3]

The Japanese national broadcaster, NHK, made a documentary about the Tribunal, which was shown in January 2001. But shortly before the program went to air, something unexpected happened. Members of NHK’s senior management suddenly demanded drastic changes to the completed program, removing (amongst other things) testimony given by former Japanese soldiers and all mention of the Tribunal’s preliminary findings. (The final judgment was yet to be handed down.)

A Representative of the “Comfort Women” receives the Tokyo Women’s War Crimes Tribunal Judgment

Four years later, in the midst of a protracted lawsuit over the mangled documentary, the program’s chief producer revealed that these cuts had followed intervention from two senior government politicians, one of whom was Abe Shinzō, then Deputy Cabinet Secretary, now Japan’s Prime Minister.

Abe denied pressuring NHK to alter the program, but admitted that he had indeed contacted NHK senior management before the documentary went to air to express his “concerns” about what he saw as its likely “bias”. The program was broadcast at a time when there was increasing debate in Japan about the fate of Japanese nationals who were believed to have been abducted by North Korea (and whose abductions were soon to be confirmed by Kim Jong-il himself). As Abe explained, he “suspected that [the NHK documentary] might be part of an underground plan to quell [public reaction] to the abductee problem and portray North Korea as victim”. [4]

The broadcast also took place just as the government was determining its next tranche of funding to NHK, and, unsurprisingly, NHK management took the Deputy Cabinet Secretary’s concerns very seriously indeed.

Old Politics in the New Media

Two motifs form a constant refrain in Abe Shinzō’s political career. The first is his hawkish stance towards North Korea, and particularly in his response to the abduction of Japanese citizens. This is the issue that helped to bring him to political centre stage.

The second is his close association with those who wish to rewrite Japan’s textbooks to remove references to the darker episodes of the wartime past – and who react particularly sharply to any mention of the “comfort women” issue. Abe and his associates do not deny the existence of the “comfort station” system – the evidence is too overwhelming for that – but they do seek to deny that women were forcibly recruited to the system by the Japanese army. Lobbying by right wing groups has in fact already resulted in all references to the “comfort women” disappearing from junior high school textbooks, but a further bête noire of the right survives: the cautiously-worded apology on the subject made by Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Kōno Yōhei in 1993. Steps towards retracting the Kōno Statement were taken under Abe’s first Prime Ministership in 2006-2007, but domestic and international outcry persuaded Abe to back down. Now, following Abe’s re-election, the issue is back on the agenda.

While the core of Abe’s political program remains constant, the nature of the media has undergone far reaching changes since the 2001 NHK incident. The greatest change, of course, has been the massive growth of the Internet, accompanied by a proliferation of chat and blog sites where anonymous users post social and political comments ranging from the anodyne to the eccentric to abusive diatribes. This is a worldwide phenomenon, but has been particularly visible in East Asia: booming mobile phone use has been accompanied by waves of Internet nationalism, in which the young in China, South Korea and Japan often trade insults with one another.

In Japan, the online bulletin board “2-Channel”, with many millions of regular users, has become particularly well known as a forum for virulent attacks on those seen as “unpatriotic” or “anti-Japanese”. Some of its discussion “threads” carry violently xenophobic or racist messages, recycling wartime language and imagery that had long disappeared from public discourse in Japan. A Social Media White Paper, published by private marketing companies in 2012, shows that 2-Channel users are predominantly young and male, though teenage girls are also significant participants in the site’s discussions. [5]

It is impossible to tell who contributes to the racist threads published on 2-Channel, as opposed to the site’s many other innocuous conversations on topics such a travel, celebrities and holiday jobs. But the popular image of the 2-Channel racist blogger is of a lonely, frustrated otaku [an isolated person with obsessive interests], probably unemployed or in a dead-end job, seeking some sense of identity by sharing anger and bitterness with nameless others. 2-Channel has recently been overtaken by global social media such as Twitter, but the anger of the “otakusphere” continues to replicate itself in ever changing forums.

Offline, the rise of 2-Channel has been paralleled by the emergence of new forms of far right movement in Japan. One of the best known of these is the “Citizens’ League to Deny Foreigners Special Rights” (Zainichi Tokken o Yurusanai Shimin no Kai, or Zaitokukai for short), established in 2007. Unlike older far right groups, whose loudspeaker vans with their military flags and martial music have long been a familiar sight on Tokyo streets, the Zaitokukai recruits the young, and makes very active use of social media to spread its message via video blogs of its demonstrations. Zaitokukai protest actions are most often directed at Korean residents in Japan, particularly those seen as being associated with North Korea, but the group’s list of other targets is long and eclectic, including indigenous Ainu organizations, China, the Democratic Party of Japan and the documentary movie Cove. Zaitokukai demonstrations are noisy and notable for the offensiveness of their slogans, but have generally attracted a rather small number of demonstrators. [6]

Japan is a country with low levels of violence, and the ugly rhetoric of 2-Channel and the Zaitokukai might be seen as having little more than nuisance value, at least by those who are not on the receiving end of the abuse. But the verbal violence of the frustrated and marginalized can be deeply intimidating, and is particularly alarming when it becomes enmeshed with the centers of political power: with the organs of national government and of its law enforcement agencies. That curious but calculated intermeshing of the marginalized and the powers-that-be is increasingly evident in Japan today.

Facebook Friends to the Rescue: Mobilizing the Otakusphere

Abe Shinzō is one of the Japanese politicians who has responded most enthusiastically to the political opportunities created by the Internet age. He was quick to create a personal website, and has maintained a Facebook page since well before his recent election. He or his personal secretary post comments on the page almost every day, and it boasts over 4,800 Facebook friends and more than 230,000 followers.

On 22 December 2012, six days after the election which returned Abe to the prime ministership, NHK devoted its evening prime time to a discussion program about the election results and the implications of the new government for Japan. The participants in the program were the Secretary-General of Abe’s ruling party, Ishiba Shigeru, the head of the government’s coalition partner, Yamaguchi Natsuo, three university professors and an economist from the influential think tank the Japan Research Institute. NHK invited viewers to send in questions that they would like to have raised during the discussion.

About two hours before the program went to air, Abe’s secretary posted a message on the prime minister’s Facebook page mobilizing its friends and followers to action. The secretary slammed the “bias” of NHK and warned readers that the forthcoming program would be a “clean sweep of Abe bashing”. The web link, email address and fax number of the program were included in the post, and Abe’s friends and followers were urged to bombard the program with their messages. The secretary’s message also made derogatory comments about the discussion program’s panelists, describing one (University of Tokyo political scientist Fujiwara Kiichi) as being “famous for saying that ‘the five abductees who came home to Japan should be sent straight back to North Korea”‘. [7]

Later the same evening, after the program had gone to air, the Prime Minister added his own comment to his secretary’s post, describing the program’s participants (other, presumably than Ishiba and Yamaguchi) as “too low-level” (osomatsu sugi). One panelist was described as being “beyond the pale”, and of two others, the Prime Minister wrote that they should be “ashamed to show their faces in public”. [8]

Shortly afterwards, Professor Fujiwara posted a mildly worded response on Twitter, pointing out that he has never said or written that Japanese abductees should be returned to North Korea. Energetic efforts by at least one pro-Abe website to prove him wrong ended in failure [9], but meanwhile his supposed “statement” on the abduction issue (which in the Japanese context is roughly the equivalent of an American politics professor expressing support for Al Qaida) was circulating like wildfire through Japan’s right wing blogosphere.

Neither Abe nor his secretary has apologized for or revised the comment about Fujiwara, which still remains on the Prime Minister’s Facebook page. No opposition politician and no national newspaper or TV station in Japan has questioned the Prime Minister’s use of Facebook to libel an academic public commentator. Nor did any of them discuss the propriety of the Prime Minister’s Facebook page being used to post a misleading description of a TV discussion program, with the intention of inciting readers to inundate the program with pro-government comments.

The Abe Facebook message can be read as a calculated warning to any Japanese media outlet or commentator proposing to direct searching questions at the current government that they are likely face officially sanctioned harassment and vilification. In the Internet age, direct intervention by politicians in the media is no longer needed; they can get their Facebook friends to do it for them.

The Wrong Side of the Law: Policing Freedom of Speech in Abe’s Japan

Since its establishment in 2007, the Zaitokukai has weathered ups and downs in its fortunes, but rising tensions between Japan and its Asian neighbours and the election of the new government appears to have given the group a new lease of life. It has also spawned a growing proliferation of similar groups which use the same tactics, and often work in coordination with one another: among them the bizarrely named Shinshakai Undō (literally, New Social Movement). The focus of these groups’ recent actions has been the Tokyo district of Shin-Ōkubo, which has a large concentration of ethnic Korean and Chinese inhabitants. On 9 February 2013, some 150 to 200 far right demonstrators staged a march through the busy main streets of Shin-Ōkubo, yelling vitriolic abuse and incitements to ethnic violence at inhabitants and passers-by, and carrying Japanese military flags and an assortment of placards with extremely violent slogans, of which “Kill Koreans” was one of the less obscene. The demonstation was organized by Shinshakai Undō with the support of the Zaitokukai, and featured  marshalls with armbands and face masks, who prowled the pavements, mingling with the very substantial police presence, and occasionally pushing, shoving or physically intimidating people who appeared to express disagreement with their views.

Japan acceded to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination on 15 December 1995. Article 4 of the convention states that signatories agree to “adopt immediate and positive measures designed to eradicate all incitement to, or acts of, such discrimination” by declaring it a crime to disseminate “ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial discrimination, as well as all acts of violence or incitement to such acts against any race or group of persons of another colour or ethnic origin”. [10]

Since signing the convention, the Japanese government has repeatedly lodged a reservation to Article 4. Japan, it says, does not intend to pass specific laws banning hate speech or incitement to discrimination, partly because such laws could limit freedom of speech. But equally importantly, according to the government, hate speech laws are  unnecessary in Japan because acts of race hatred are already crimes under normal Japanese criminal law. Reassuringly, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs points out, if ideas disseminated by any group damage “the honor or credit of a specific individual or group, such dissemination of ideas is punishable as a crime of defamation (Article 230, Penal Code), insult (Article 231), or damage to credit, obstruction of business (Article 233) of the Penal Code. If such activities include threatening contents against a specific individual, they are punishable as a crime of intimidation (Article 222), collective intimidation and habitual intimidation (Article 1 and Article 1-3 of the Law concerning Punishment of Physical Violence and Others). Incitement to racial discrimination is punishable as a crime of instigation (Article 61,Penal Code) or assistance (Article 62) of the crimes if an act constitutes one of the above-mentioned crimes”. [11]

The Ministry goes on to cite a list of other laws prohibiting (amongst other things)  “cases in which a large number of persons assemble and use violence or threat (Article 106)”, “collective violence/intimidation/destruction of utensils (Article 1)”, and incitement to any of these acts (Article 61). [12]

Japan’s most recent report on its implementation of the Convention, delivered in January 2013, re-emphasizes these arguments against hate speech laws, adding that “the Government of Japan does not believe that, in present-day Japan, racist thoughts are disseminated and racial discrimination is incited, to the extent that the withdrawal of its reservations or legislation to impose punishment against dissemination of racist thoughts and other acts should be considered even at the risk of unduly stifling legitimate speech”. [13]

Interestingly, the large contingent of police, who stood by as the racist demonstrators marched through Shin-Ōkubo, seemed much more anxious to control the behavior of the local residents and passers by on the sidewalk than to enforce Articles 1, 61, 62, 106, 222, 230, 231 or 233 of the Penal Code. Video of the event provides abundant evidence of defamation, insult, obstruction of business, threats, collective intimidation and incitement to racial discrimination. Not one of the demonstrators was arrested.

Policing the Racist Demonstration in Shin-Ōkubo, 9 February 2013

The Japanese police are not always so relaxed in their attitude to demonstrations. For example, in October 2012 a peaceful demonstration against the incineration of nuclear-contaminated waste from the disaster of 11 March 2011 took place in Osaka. Almost two months later, three people who had taken part in the demonstration were arrested and imprisoned on the grounds that their protest route had taken a short-cut through Osaka Station concourse, thus violating the “Railway Operations Act”, which prohibits demonstrations on railway stations. Two of the demonstrators were released after a couple of weeks in gaol, but one, Mr. H., remains incarcerated, more than two months on. Mr. H’s crime was considered particularly grave because, police allege, he remonstrated with a railway official who asked him to stop handing out leaflets, and in the process trod on the official’s toe. [14]

This incident may seem unconnected to the racism of the Zaitokukai and its allies, and so it was, until 13 February 2013, when Mr. H. and three others were accused of a new crime. This time, their supposedly criminal acts stem from a gathering held in September 2012 to discuss the issue of the “comfort women”. The mayor of Osaka, Hashimoto Tōru, had recently published a series of somewhat incoherent comments on Twitter in which he denounced the 1993 Kōno apology and expressed support for Abe Shinzō’s position on the “comfort women”. [15] In response, Osaka citizens invited an 86-year-old Korean former “comfort woman”, Kim Bok-Dong, to speak to a public meeting about her experiences. The  meeting took place without incident, despite (in the words of a friend of mine who attended) the presence of “quite a few ‘nasty’ looking men… standing near the main door of the building making dreadful stares at people who attempted to enter”. A small number of police were also in attendance outside the meeting hall.

It was not until more than four months after the gathering (and almost two months after Japan’s general election) that a member of the Zaitokukai filed a complaint with the police, claiming that he had been “assaulted” by supporters of the “comfort women” (including Mr. H.) who had denied him access to the September 2012 meeting. Despite the delay, police took up the case the alacrity, descending on the houses and offices of “comfort women” supporters to search their premises for incriminating evidence, and even conducting a search of a cafe where the support group holds informal meetings. [16]

In this case, the authorities appear utterly unconcerned about any “risk of unduly stifling legitimate speech”.

Japan’s diplomacy (and Japan’s domestic policy), to cite Prime Minsiter Abe, must always be rooted in democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Many in Japan have worked for these aims for a very long time. But there is no rule of law if the instigators of violence are left to peddle hatred with impunity, while those who pursue historical justice and responsibility are subject to police harassment. There is no respect for human rights where those in power use cyber bullying in an attempt to silence their opponents. And democracy is left impoverished when freedom of hate speech is protected more zealously than freedom of reasoned political debate.



[1] Shinzō Abe, “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond”, Project Syndicate, 27 December 2012,ō-abe (accessed 15 January 2013)

[2] See, for example, Tessa Morris-Suzuki, Morris Low, Leonid Petrov and Timothy Y. Tsu, East Asia Beyond the History Wars: Confronting the Ghosts of Violence, London, Routledge, 2013, particularly ch. 4.

[3] See the VAWW-Net website, (accessed 18 February 2013).

[4] Quoted in Norma Field, “The Courts, Japan’s Military Comfort Women, and the Conscience of Humanity: The Ruling in VAWW-Net Japan vs. NHK”, The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, 10 February 2007 (accessed 18 February 2013). Although VAWW-Net won a suit for damages against NHK and another company involved in making the censored program in the Tokyo High Court, this was later overturned by the Supreme Court.

[5] Tribal Media House KK and Cross Marketing KK eds., Sōsharu Media Hakushi 2012, Tokyo Shoeisha, 2012.

[6] On the Zaitokukai, see Alexis Dudden, “Memories and Aporias in the Japan Korean Relationship”, The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, 5 April 2010 (accessed 20 January 2013).

[7] See, post dated 22 December 2012 (accessed 15 January 2013).

[8] See, comment by Abe Shinzō, 21.59, 22 December 2012 (accessed 15 January 2013).

[9] See  (accessed 20 January 2013).

[10] International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, see the Website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, (accessed 18 February 2013).

[11] See the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan,  (accessed 19 February 2013).

[12] Ibid.

[13] See the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan, (accessed 19 February 2013).

[14] For details of this case, see the “Fukushima Voice” website, (accessed 19 February 2013) and the website “Hōshano Kakusan ni Hantai suru Shimin o Shien suru Kai”, (accessed 19 February 2013).

[15] See Tessa Morris-Suzuki, “Out with Human Rights, In with Government Authored History”, Asiarights, August 2012. 

[16] See the website of the “Nihongun ‘Ianfu’ Mondai Kansai Nettowāku”, (accessed 19 February 2013).









Posted in Japan on August 26th, 2012


Tessa Morris-Suzuki

Hopes and Dreams

They exist all over Japan, like tiny sparks of light, flickering and fragile, but somehow surviving against the odds: the peace museums, the reconciliation groups, the local history movements that work to address problems of historical responsibility neglected or denied by national politicians. As Kazuyo Yamane notes, according to a UN survey, Japan has the highest number of peace museums of any country in the world (Yamane 2009, xii). But the heritage created at grassroots by ordinary Japanese people is constantly under threat from the hostility of nationalist politicians and sections of the media: and never more so than today (see Chan 2008; Morris-Suzuki, Low, Petrov and Tsu 2012)

Among the sparks of light is Osaka’s Human Rights Museum, also known as Liberty Osaka. Founded in 1985, Liberty Osaka is Japan’s only human rights museum. It features displays on the history of hisabetsu buraku communities (groups subject to social discrimintation), the struggle for women’s rights, and the stories of minority groups such as the indigenous Ainu community and the Korean minority in Japan. An important aspect of the museum is its depiction of these groups, not as helpless victims of discrimination, but rather as active subjects who have helped to create the diversity and richness of Japanese history. By 2005 more than a million people had visited the Liberty Osaka (see the MUSEUM’s WEBSITE )

Today, the museum faces the threat of closure. The Osaka city government headed by mayor Hashimoto Toru has decided to halt its funding from next year, on the grounds that the museum displays are ‘limited to discrimination and human rights’ and fail to present children with an image of the future full of ‘hopes and dreams’ (Mainichi Shinbun 25 July 2012)

The ‘Restoration’ of Japan

Hashimoto’s own hopes and dreams for the future have recently been on prominent display. His Osaka Ishin no Kai (generally known in English as ‘One Osaka’, though literally meaning the ‘Osaka Restoration Association’)  has high hopes of gaining a substantial share of the seats up for grabs in Japan’s impending national election, and Hashimoto is being hailed by many as a future national leader – even as a national savior. A relatively young politician with a successful career in law and the media behind him, Hashimoto has succeeded in winning popular support by projecting the image of an action man unafraid of taking the tough decisions.

Like Prime Minister Koizumi in the early 2000s, Hashimoto combines personal charisma, budget-slashing economic neo-liberalism and hard-line political nationalism. But Hashimoto is Koizumi on steroids. His radical plans for reform would see Japan converted into a quasi-federal system with prime ministers directly elected in presidential style, along with massive reductions in welfare spending and voucher-based educational system. He is famous for remarking the Japan would benefit from becoming a dictatorship – a remark that most commentators have not taken as seriously as they should. His penchant for attracting attention by deliberately outrageous statements gives his role on the political stage an unstable and ugly edge that was entirely lacking from Koizumi’s cooler and suaver performances.

At a time when Japan’s political system is mired in factionalism and indecisiveness, bold words have popular appeal. Until recently, Hashimoto has shown considerable skill in mixing policies drawn from various parts of the ideological spectrum, so avoiding being easily pigeonholed in conventional political terms. Ever quick to spot an opportunity to boost his political appeal, he responded to mass demonstrations against nuclear power following the Fukushima no. 1 accident by hastily adding an anti-nuclear element to his agenda for a new Japan.

But as the election draws nearer, Hashimoto’s true colours become increasingly visible. He is now wooing the support of leading old-style nationalist Abe Shinzo, a scion of Japan’s conservative elite and one of the rather crowded field of very short-lived former Japanese prime ministers. (Abe’s tenure lasted precisely one year, from 26 September 2006 to 26 September 2007). Abe Shinzo, for his part, has expressed interest in working with Hashimoto to change Japan’s postwar peace constitution (Nihon Keizai Shinbun, evening edition, 25 August 2012).

History by Government Resolution: Foreign Policy by Tweet

Amidst political change and heightened international frictions in Northeast Asia, Hashimoto Toru has found it impossible to resist stirring the pot of nationalist divisiveness. On 10 August, outgoing South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s paid a provocative and self-serving visit the island of Dokdo/Takeshima, whose sovereignty is disputed between Japan and Korea. Two weeks later, Hashimoto responded in kind, playing the shop-soiled card of historical revisionism: a favoured weapon of right-wing politicians in need of some free publicity.

Using Twitter as his means of communication, Hashimoto chose this sensitive moment in Japan-Korea relations to denounce the Kono Statement: a key element in Japan’s search for reconciliation with its Asian neighbours.

In 1993, after the government had collected and studied extensive documentary evidence over a two year period, Chief Cabinet Secretary Kono Yohei acknowledged that the  Japanese military had been responsible for forcibly recruiting Korean, Chinese and other ‘comfort women’ to work in wartime military brothels where they were subjected to extreme sexual abuse. Kono’s carefully worded statement of apology noted that brokers had often been used to recruit the women, but that in some cases Japanese soldiers or officials had carried out the recruitment themselves (For the text of the Kono Statement click HERE)

Fourteen years later, the Abe cabinet issued a partial retraction, denying that Japanese military or government officials had been personally involved in forcible recruitment of ‘comfort women’. This resolution not only ignored crucial parts of the available evidence, but also failed to answer the obvious question: how does the use of brokers (which no-one denies) diminish the moral responsibility of the Japanese state and army? Or, to put it more bluntly, does employing others to do your dirty work make it OK?

Hashimoto Toru’s analysis of this profoundly sensitive, painful and controversial issue is a long, rambling and totally uninformed series of tweets which runs in part as follows: ‘In 2007 the Abe cabinet made a cabinet resolution that there was no evidence that comfort women were forcible recruited by the military or officials. That is the view of the Japanese government. I am a Japanese, so I stand by the view of the Japanese government. Besides, I am not a historian, so I’m not going to do the work of collecting historical documents to deliberately overturn the Japanese government’s cabinet resolution.’ (for an unofficial translation of the tweets, which are recommended reading for anyone interested in the current state of Japanese politics, and further information, click HERE)

Hashimoto’s bright new Japan, it seems, will be a place where not only the country’s future but also the events of the past are decided by government resolution. George Orwell would have loved it.

Even without being a historian, though, Hashimoto might have recalled that the ‘comfort women’ fiasco was one of the less glorious moments of his would-be ally Abe Shinzo’s brief tenure as Prime Minister. Having pushed through the cabinet resolution, which caused considerable damage to Japan’s relations not only with South Korea and China but even with the United States, Prime Minister Abe then publicly  backed down, and repeatedly stated that his government intended after all to stand by the Kono Statement. He went on (bizarrely) to make a rather half-hearted apology, not to the victims themselves but to President George W. Bush, for any hurt caused to the ‘comfort women’ (Okinawa Times, 27 April 2007). Equally bizarrely, Bush solemnly accepted the apology.

Another Future is Possible

Hashimoto politics poses a dilemma for his critics. This is not politics by persuasion but politics by performance. The object of the current performance is obvious. It is to provoke impassioned counter-attacks, preferably from those who can be labeled left-wing and foreign – best of all from those who can be labeled Korean or Chinese nationalists. This will then allow Hashimoto to assume the ‘moral high ground’ as a martyred nationalist hero assailed by ‘anti-Japanese’ forces. In responding to Hashimoto-style politweets, it is important not to act out his predetermined scenario. But it is equally important that the considerable number of relatively sensible people who have seen Hashimoto as a possible beacon of hope for Japan should recognise what sort of person they are dealing with.

More broadly, the Hashimoto phenomenon can be placed in the context of the current political instability in Northeast Asia as a whole. A presidential election is imminent in South Korea; a change of leadership is underway in China; and an untested new leader in power in North Korea. All of this magnifies the uncertainties created by the massive disaffection from the mainstream parties in post-disaster Japan. It is from this context of change and anxiety that the resurgence of territorial disputes over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and Takeshima/ Dokdo, as well as of nationalist rhetoric such as Hashimoto’s, emerges.

This makes a careful and considered response to the Hashimoto phenomenon particularly important. Above all, this phenomenon should not be ‘nationalised’. Hashimoto does not speak for Japan, and to condemn Japan because of his comments would only be to boost his demagogic appeal. The best reply from those who hope he never will speak for Japan is to allow his words to speak for themselves. Those outside Japan who are alarmed or offended by these words should seek out and lend support to the embattled peace, human rights and reconciliation groups in Japan which also seek a different future, so that their voices too may be heard at the national level.

Japan urgently needs political renewal and hope. But this is not going to be achieved by replacing the dull faces of traditional party politics with an egocentric would-be megastar who plans to conduct foreign policy by Twitter.  Rather, it is at the grassroots level, in places like Liberty Osaka, that the real hopes and dreams for the future are still being quietly nurtured. The worst tragedy of all for Japan would be to allow the search for ‘restoration’ to extinguish the sparks that still burn bright in many parts of the country.



Chan, Jennifer. 2008. Another Japan is Possible: Social Movements and Global Citizenship Education. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Morris-Suzuki, T., Low, M., Petrov, L. and Tsu, T. 2012 (forthcoming). East Asia Beyond the History Wars: Confronting the Ghosts of Conflict. London and New York: Routledge.

Yamane, Kazuyo. 2009. Grassroots Museums for Peace in Japan: Unknown Efforts for Peace and Reconciliation. Saarbrucken: VDM Verlag Dr. Muller.

Tokyo Demonstrations

Posted in Japan, News on July 2nd, 2012


Posted in Japan, News on March 11th, 2012






‘If only there were no nuclear plants’

‘I can’t forgive [the government]. I absolutely cannot forgive [them].’

‘I absolutely cannot forgive [the government]. Even if I died, I won’t forgive [them].’

In the now deserted town of Minami-somachi, an old banner reads ‘Nuclear Power: The Energy To A Bright Future’


Bulletin board walls are covered with details of missing persons


Radioactive waste disposal is a mounting problem: bagging the waste off of contaminated land and placing it on a different spot is evidently not an effective way to eliminate radioactive material, workers of restoration projects say.
It merely transfers the same highly radioactive material onto a different area.

Children in primary schools are advised to stay indoors during breaks and PE classes

 Mums – often those who had to depart their homes and leave their working husbands – share their stories

Getting radiation checks are often quite costly and not funded by the government

‘Fishes from Aomori Prefecture (342km from Fukushima)’

‘Fishes from Hokkaido (595km from Fukushima)’

A map of radiation movement

‘We don’t need nuclear plants’

‘Against reactivation [of nuclear plants]! We don’t need nuclear plants!’


After the Tsunami

Posted in Japan, News on December 30th, 2011



Click on individual photos to open in a separate window

Fukushima 4

Click on individual photos to open in a separate window


Call for compassionate approach to asylum seekers in Asia-Pacific

Posted in Australia, China, Human Rights Ideas, Japan, Korea, South Asia, Southeast Asia on October 8th, 2011

For the original report on the University of New England website please see here.

Call for compassionate approach to asylum seekers in Asia-Pacific

Researchers and human rights advocates meeting at the University of New England have pledged their support for replacing mandatory detention with the processing of asylum seekers within the Australian community.

Their resolution to this effect was an outcome of the international conference “Regional Responses to Labour Trafficking and Refugee Movements in Asia-Pacific” held at UNE on Monday 26 and Tuesday 27 September.

“This year marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, defining their rights and States’ legal obligations to protect them,” said UNE’s Professor Amarjit Kaur (pictured here), the co-convener of the conference (along with Professor Ian Metcalfe). She said the conference resolution called for “the processing of asylum seekers in the community to replace mandatory detention in accordance with the Government’s ‘Detention Values Statement’ and in compliance with Australia’s obligations to international human rights conventions”.

“The general feeling among the participants was that the current approach of both of Australia’s major political parties – which relies on prolonged detention of many asylum seekers and ad hoc schemes for off-shore processing – is inhumane, counterproductive, massively wasteful of resources, and a violation of Australia’s responsibilities under international law,” Professor Kaur said.

A major focus of the conference was a comparison of the immigration policies of countries in the Asia-Pacific region over time, and an investigation of the causes and effects of immigration policies and their implementation.

Sharuna Verghis from Health Equity Initiatives, Malaysia, discussed the health-related vulnerability of migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia – a country, she said, with “a conspicuous lack of a comprehensive and coherent migration policy”. Robin Jones from UNE reported on the plight of the minority Karenni people from Burma who have fled persecution to arrive at refugee camps over the border in Thailand. Dr Jones, who spoke from her first-hand experience with the Jesuit Refugee Service, talked about “the general hopelessness that pervades camp life” and “the children’s behaviour – which demonstrates their emotional state and suffering”.

UNE’s Professor Helen Ware spoke about the experiences of Sudanese refugees coming to rural and regional Australia, while Judith Roberts from Northern Settlement Services and Kim Hastings from Regional Development Australia – Northern Inland focused on the New England region in discussing patterns of settlement under the Federal Government’s Settlement Grants Program.

On the subject of labour trafficking, Professor Kaur explained how government policies relating to migrant workers in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand had weakened the legal status of those workers – increasing their vulnerability to labour trafficking and people smuggling. Sister Margaret Ng from the Josephite Counter-Trafficking Project looked at trafficking in Australia, the Australian Government’s approach to trafficking and response to trafficked people, and the impact of trafficking on its survivors.

Other key speakers included Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne,  Professor Tessa Morris-Suzuki from the Australian National University (who focused on the situation in North-east Asia) and  Professor Farida Fozdar  from the University of Western Australia. Myat Mon from Thailand’s Assumption University described the situation of Burmese migrant workers and refugees in Thailand.  Four UNE PhD students presented papers on migrant workers and labour trafficking in Australia  (Melinda Sutherland), South Asia (Zahid Shahab Ahmed), Indonesia (Cakti Gunawan) and Macau (Pao Sio Iu), while Dr Zifirdaus Adnan (UNE) compared the labour-export policies of Indonesia and the Philippines. Dr Saroja Khrishnasawamy (Hunter New England Health and UNE) discussed mental health issues in refugee camps in Sri Lanka.

August ‘This Month’s Photo’

Posted in Japan, This month's photo on August 23rd, 2011

Ogawa Ryukichi