In 1980, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the UN that minority groups do not exist in Japan.
In 2013, a Japanese online community is on a desperate mission to
prevent one minority from becoming widespread – the minority who speak
up about racism in Japan.
American teacher Mikine Dezaki was able to see for himself that it isn’t
a commonly discussed subject. During his time as an English teacher in
Itoman City, Okinawa, he asked his students if they thought there was
racism and discrimination in Japan.
“In every class, only 2 or 3 students out of 40 raised their hands,” he said in his now infamous YouTube video: Racism in Japan.
The majority of his students were convinced that discrimination is a
problem exclusive to the United States. Dezaki was able to capture their
attention by explaining how minority groups such as the burakumin and
even Okinawans themselves face discrimination in Japan, despite being
full citizens of the country and in some cases, ethnically
indistinguishable from other Japanese.
“I do know that they got a different perspective on racism and
discrimination that they have never gotten before,” Dezaki said to One
Way Japan last week. “A lot of them have gone out of their way to
contact me to let me know that they support me and to tell me that my
lesson helped open their minds.”
This supportive attitude has not been shared by a hyper-nationalist
community of Japanese web users known as the ‘netouyo’ – a short form
for the Japanese words meaning ‘Internet’ and ‘right wing.’ After Dezaki
uploaded a YouTube video describing his lesson, furious netouyo posted
abusive comments, including some death threats.
Then they went one step further, finding and sharing his personal
information so they could launch a campaign of phone calls and emails to
the board of education in Okinawa, Dezaki’s former employer. The
netouyo are demanding that Dezaki’s video be removed from YouTube,
because it is anti-Japanese.
It is now over a month since the video was first uploaded, and Dezaki
told us that the netouyo are still on his back. “I recently saw a blog
site where they were looking for my parents’ phone number and address to
call them,” he said.
Dezaki added that the board of education are still getting calls, but
they are starting to ignore them more and more. The demands of
responding to endless complaints had been raising stress levels for
Dezaki’s former co-workers during an already busy year-end school term,
something he feels bad about.
“It was really hard to hear my co-workers, who I consider friends also,
telling me to take the video down,” he recalled. “It just didn’t make
sense to me that they loved my actual lesson in the classroom, but
wanted me to take down the video.”
Dezaki’s lesson content will have reminded those Okinawans of the
historical discrimination and exploitation that the older generations
faced, including the use of civilians as human shields by mainland Japanese during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.
The callous attitude of the Imperial Army towards Okinawan civilians
became a 21st century battle in 2007 when controversy erupted over the
Ministry of Education’s removal of details relating to civilian abuse
from Japanese history textbooks. Now Okinawa’s public officials are
fighting another battle with Japan’s nationalists – who are alleging
that Dezaki’s video is full of mistakes.
The netouyo are able to air their views freely on 2channel, a popular
Japanese message board that does not require its users to register in
order to post. As a result, nationalist and xenophobic material is often
shared under the cloak of anonymity. For example, this post
branded permanent Korean residents of Japan as “despicable and cowardly
traitors” who abandoned their country and entered Japan under false
“Medamasensei’s act is very evil and he is a real racist,” read one
comment on Dezaki’s video, referring to him by his YouTube screen name.
“Maybe he is an anti-Japan Korean American. Please don’t be deceived by
In fact, Japan is Dezaki’s ancestral homeland. One of the examples he
used to identify racism in Japan was the term ‘bakachon kamera,’ which
combines the Japanese word for ‘stupid’ with ‘chon,’ a derogatory term
This type of camera is supposedly so straightforward that even a Korean could figure out how to use it.
“A lot of my students knew the term, but didn’t know it referred to
Koreans,” Dezaki recalled. “So I made it a point to tell them that they
could be saying this racist word around resident Koreans and
unknowingly hurt them.”
According to Dezaki, the term is still used to some extent in everyday
conversations because this misunderstanding persists. However, when he
mentioned the phrase in his video, many viewers commented that they had
never heard it before. Mike Guest, a professor of English at the
University of Miyazaki, has cast further doubt on the prevalence of
‘bakachon kamera’ in modern Japanese.
“I asked four Japanese about the alleged slur it contained,” he said in a column on ELT News.
“Two had never heard the word. Two others laughed at the word and
described it as an outdated hick phrase used by old people who were
none-too-smart about using cameras, hence the term.”
The origin of the phrase however, does not mend the reaction it gets
from the Koreans themselves. For them, it is simply insulting and
demeaning, and thus it is no longer used in professional broadcasting.
Nonetheless, other phrases with derogatory effects remain in use by
public figures that attract large audiences. Long-time Tokyo governor
Shintaro Ishihara has commonly referred to China as Shina ??, the name
that was given to the country during the Japanese occupation in World
This phrase is also commonly used on Channel Sakura, a television and
Internet broadcaster that frequently presents right-wing and nationalist
views on various subjects. Click below to watch conservative political
analyst Gemki Fujii speak out against foreign residents obtaining voting
rights in local Japanese elections. This video amassed over 8,000 views
within a month of being uploaded, despite being presented in English.
Its Japanese subtitles use the term Shinajin ??? to describe Chinese.
Fujii’s suspicion over the intentions of Korean and Chinese residents
does not merely represent the right-wing branch of Japanese society
only. The National Police Agency (NPA) publishes reports that
specifically address crimes committed by foreigners. The most recent one,
published last week, acknowledged that incidents of crime committed by
visiting foreigners have declined from a high of 47,865 incidents in
2005 to 15,368 in 2012. But after noting this 68% decrease, the NPA
immediately warned of the risk of international criminal organisations
Korean and Chinese people were involved in 53% of the crimes recorded.
These statistics can act as a support system for media outlets that are
anxious to report on foreigners’ behaviour while in Japan.
“There is definitely a media bias against foreigners,” said Dezaki. “If a
foreigner commits a crime, it is major news, which makes it seem like
foreigners are always causing trouble. If a Japanese man commits the
same crime, it is news, but not given the same kind of coverage.”
As long as Dezaki’s video remains online, he is achieving a victory
against selective media coverage. However, as long as the netouyo are
able to post anonymously, their voices will continue to be heard without
interruption. The place of the netouyo in Japanese media debate and the
reality of Japanese attitudes towards the burakumin minority will be
examined in more depth in Part Two of this series on discrimination in