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Sunday, Feb. 24, 2008

MEDIA MIX

Rightwingers who scream the loudest allowed to win in Japan


Major media coverage of the legal standoff between the Japan Teachers Union (Nikkyoso) and the Grand Prince Hotel New Takanawa in Tokyo had little effect on the standoff itself, mainly because coverage didn't really take off until everything was over.

A long Asahi Shimbun article about the impasse appeared on Feb. 2, the day Nikkyoso's national conference was supposed to begin at the hotel, which was refusing the union permission to enter even though it had signed a contract to use its facilities last May.

The reason for the refusal was that be^te noire of all self-respecting establishments in Japan: Extreme rightwing organizations and their big, loud soundtrucks. Japan's teachers are the preferred nemeses of rightwingers these days now that Russians and Chinese are looking a little less red, and every year they park outside Nikkyoso's national conference blaring away at the union's perceived leftist designs on young minds. Usually, the plenary session of the conference is held at a large public facility, but this year there were none available in Tokyo, where the union had decided to hold it.

Back in May, Nikkyoso's event planner booked the Prince, but in October the hotel sent some employees to Oita, where last year's conference took place, and found out that 100 soundtrucks had shown up. A month later it canceled the contract, saying that the expected protest would inconvenience hotel guests and cause problems for neighbors.

Nikkyoso asked the Tokyo District Court for an injunction so that it could hold the conference on schedule. The court granted the injunction, as did the Tokyo High Court. Both times the hotel refused to abide by the decision. Since there is no legal mechanism in place for the court to enforce the injunction, the hotel can ignore it without being punished. According to the Asahi, this is the first time a major company (the hotel is owned by Seibu Holdings) has failed to comply with an injunction, which means the Prince's defiance could set a precedent.

It's difficult to determine how the case would have developed had the media started covering it back in November. As it is, the union had to cancel its plenary session — the first time it has ever done so — which means the rightwingers won. One unnamed rightwing representative quoted in the Asahi article said that it was because of his group's potential for annoyance that Nikkyoso was refused a venue for their meeting. In other words, whatever disagreements the group has with the union are less important than the fact that they can beat the teachers with just the threat of showing up.

For what it's worth, the backlash has been significant. All the major media have complained that the Prince's actions seriously undermine not only the rule of law, but the constitutional guarantee of freedom of assembly. The Japan Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) has announced it will no longer use Prince Hotels for its functions, and last week labor minister Yoichi Masuzoe said in the Diet that he will look into whether or not the Prince violated the Hotel Law.

Nevertheless, the "potential for annoyance" remains an effective weapon. The same Asahi page that carried the story about Nikkyoso also carried a brief report on a similar incident in the city of Tsukubamirai in Ibaraki Prefecture. On Jan. 20, a lecture on the Domestic Violence Prevention Law was scheduled to be held at one of the city's public halls. The main speaker would be Kazuko Hirakawa, who runs a support center for DV victims in Tokyo.

However, in December a group opposed to the DV Prevention Law kicked up a fuss on the Internet and asked its supporters to complain to Tsukubamirai about the lecture. As a result, the city received about 100 e-mails and phone calls protesting the nature of the event. On Jan. 16, three people demonstrated outside the city offices against the lecture and promised to show up again on Jan. 20. That's when the city decided to cancel the lecture, saying it was afraid the participants would be at risk if it went ahead.

The leader of the protest group, all-around rightwing agitator Shuhei Nishimura, has told the media that he was "surprised" at Tsukubamirai's actions, and, in fact, didn't intend for the lecture to be canceled. All he wanted was for the organizers to allow him and his followers the right to offer an opposing view. "It's wrong to spend tax money on a biased lecture," he told the Asahi.

Nishimura is opposed to the DV Prevention Law because he believes it undermines the integrity of Japanese families by encouraging divorce. The law was enacted nationally, but it is implemented locally. Tsukubamirai has no public window through which battered women can seek help. Hirakawa's lecture was a means of starting the process of creating one, but by canceling it the city appears to have lost the initiative. Regardless of Nishimura's real intentions, he has effectively kept DV issues out of Tsukubamirai's public realm, and there may be a domino effect. Shortly thereafter, neighboring Tsukuba canceled a public lecture about date rape even though there didn't seem to be any opposition to it.

In an opinion piece in the Asahi, sociologist Daizaburo Hashizume said that these incidents point to the atomization of Japanese society. People think of themselves as members of groups with delineated self-interests rather than as citizens. Hotel managers care only about their staff and customers and not the commonwealth. Even public employees place their positions above the interests of the people they serve. And when there is a clash between competing groups, the one with the strongest will — or noisiest tactics — wins. In such an environment, loudspeakers are like nuclear weapons: you don't have to use them to prevail.



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