In September 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake devastated parts of Greater Tokyo, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives. The disaster caused chaos, followed by groundless rumors that ethnic Koreans had poisoned local water supplies to kill Japanese, and had taken advantage of the post-quake confusion to plot crimes.
After newspapers reported the false rumors, vigilantes murdered ethnic Koreans. Meanwhile Japanese officials sat idle as more than 6,000 Koreans were massacred.
But this was not the only time fake news has led to anti-Korean sentiment in Japan. More than seven decades after Korean independence, anti-Korean feelings continue to thrive across Japan.
In 2014, the Osaka High Court upheld a lower-court ruling on Zaitokukai, a far-right group, which was ordered to pay 12.26 million yen (US$113,700) in damages for hate speech targeting a school for ethnic Koreans in Kyoto. After the High Court ruling, the United Nations Human Rights Commission said the Japanese government should prohibit hate speech, especially that stemming from racial discrimination, noting that vitriol against Koreans was getting serious across the country. Indeed, anti-Korean tirades have become rampant in Tsuruhashi district in Osaka, a region home to Koreans, and Shin-Okubo in Tokyo.
In May 2016, Japan passed the Hate Speech Act to curb racial discrimination. Even so, anti-Korean rhetoric is still rife, particularly after the escalation of a trade war between South Korea and Japan. As Seoul and Tokyo have been playing hardball with each other amid the trade spat, some extremists are stirring up anti-Korean sentiment yet again.
Extremists in Japan have been circulating more content that expresses hatred of Korea, playing down one of its brutal wartime crimes: They have mocked survivors of sex slaves who were coerced into forced sex by the Japanese imperialist military. Extremists have said these so-called “comfort women” were prostitutes who tried to make money from the sex industry.
DHC, a Japanese cosmetics brand, has taunted South Koreans’ boycott of Japanese products and ethnic Koreans in Japan, on its Internet channel DHC Television. Right-wing commentators on the channel have referred to Koreans as joshenjing, a pejorative term. Moreover, they distorted history by claiming that Korea had been incapable of creating a writing system, so Japan created the Hangul alphabet for them. Even after DHC Korea in Seoul apologized to South Korean customers for the slur, the company’s headquarters in Japan hasn’t admitted fault.
Newspapers are also spreading hatred of Koreans. Some media have published sensational articles that demonize Sough Korea, referring to the country as an “annoying neighbor.” Fretting over the rise of anti-Korean media, some Japanese civic groups have recently urged news outlets to maintain impartiality, adding that some hateful news reports risk abusing the human rights of ethnic Koreans.
Since the colonial era, racial discrimination has fed the hatred of Korea, and such sentiment still shows no sign of disappearing, particularly among right-wingers. Whatever their cause, anti-Korean sentiment in Japan just makes relationship between South Korea and Japan even worse.