To mark the one year anniversary of the anti-hate speech law coming into effect on June 3, the Mainichi Shimbun interviewed a 38-year-old man who formerly participated actively in anti-Korean and anti-foreigner hate speech demonstrations to the extent of becoming a leading member. He spoke about his experience and the actions that he now deeply regrets.
The man's involvement with the hate speech groups began following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster. Due to Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (TEPCO) rolling blackouts in the wake of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster to conserve electricity, the company where the man worked had trouble with its operations, and he was unable to return home for three days. During that time, he happened upon an internet post which claimed that the anti-nuclear power movement was a conspiracy orchestrated by leftist groups and Korean residents in Japan. He believed the claims, and started to doubt the anti-nuclear power movement.
After that, he began participating in demonstrations that called for resuming operations of nuclear power plants halted after the disaster, and learned of the existence of hate speech groups. Researching the claims of the groups, he found there were many points with which he sympathized and began participating in the demonstrations with a new sense of "righteousness."
In 2012, the location of the demonstrations he joined moved to "Korean town" in the Shin-Okubo district of Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward. Participating in the anti-Korean demonstrations at least twice a month, the man cultivated friendships with fellow participants and he started to feel like the demonstrations were a place where he really belonged.
While shouting phrases like, "Kick out the criminal foreigners!" at demonstrations, calling Korean residents "cockroaches" and "ticks" became second nature. Gradually, his remarks escalated to "Die!" and "Kill them!"
His sole source of information was the internet. Coming across information not covered in mass media, he felt like only he knew the truth. When news media reported on particularly atrocious crimes, he almost instantly thought that they were committed by foreigners, and firmly believed that news organizations were intentionally hiding the nationality and real names of the perpetrators.
In 2014, he became a central member of a hate speech group, and was dubbed a captain leading the offense of the movement. When asked about what fueled his extreme behavior, he offered the authorization of the use of roads for demonstrations and the many dispatched police officers that surrounded the events.
"Because we had received permission to use the road, I felt like anything I said was protected by the shield of 'freedom of speech,'" he remembered. "Even if opposition groups surrounded our demonstrations, I felt safe because I knew the police officers would protect us. It felt like we had the upper hand."
His extreme behavior culminated in August 2014. At a gathering of over 100 members of the hate speech group at an "izakaya" bar, seven men belonging to an anti-hate speech group coincidentally entered the same establishment. Believing them to be Korean, the group attacked and injured them. In October of the same year, the man was arrested on charges of assault in connection to the incident. As penitence, he vowed to no longer get involved with the demonstrations, but once he distanced himself from the hate speech group, they began suspecting him of joining an opposition group. He was verbally abused by members screaming, "Kick out the traitor!" and his ties to the group were severed.
What ultimately saved him was an email from a 52-year-old, second-generation Korean resident who was a member of an anti-hate speech group. It read, "If you receive any threats or harassment (from the hate speech group he belonged to), just tell me." At first he thought, "Why is he saying this to me when I'm the one who has attacked him?" However, the message became an impetus for self-reflection. He asked the man what he could do to be forgiven for his own aggressive actions. "I want you to promise me that you will never do it again even if you're not forgiven," was his answer.
Even now, video of him participating in hate speech demonstrations remains on the internet. Each time he meets new people, he is always afraid they will discover his past. "There is nothing to gain from joining hate speech demonstrations, but there is a lot to lose," he said. To those who still participate in the demonstrations, the man has this message:
"I want you to quit as soon as you can. I don't want the number of people who have been hurt to grow any further. Don't throw away your precious time and relationships for hate."