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Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012
Shukan Asahi tenders apology to Hashimoto
By JUN HONGO
The publisher of the Shukan Asahi weekly magazine has issued a formal apology to Toru Hashimoto, admitting an article that detailed the Osaka mayor's "burakumin" outcast lineage and likened him to Adolf Hitler contained "inappropriate descriptions."
The article, published Tuesday, also stated that Hashimoto's late father, Yukimine, was a descendant of the burakumin class of outcasts, belonged to a yakuza crime syndicate, frequently gambled and was "half insane" from an addiction to stimulants.
"We deeply apologize for causing trouble," the publisher, Asahi Shimbun Publications Inc., said in a statement Thursday. The company conceded the article "contained multiple descriptions that were inappropriate" — though it did not say they were necessarily incorrect, including one that identified the Dowa district where burakumin lived.
Identifying a community of burakumin, who were classed as outcasts in feudal times, has long been considered taboo among media outlets because of the heavy discrimination their descendants still face.
As a result, the article's content was "unpleasant (for) Hashimoto and many other people," Asahi Shimbun Publications concluded.
Noted journalist Shinichi Sano, the article's lead author, argued that investigating Hashimoto's family background was necessary to understand the personality of the populist mayor, who as head of a new national political party is now considered a strong candidate to become a possible prime minister after the next general election.
Using often scurrilous terms, Sano also harshly criticized Hashimoto as a populist politician who only cares about grabbing the attention of TV audiences, and compared his alleged dictatorial style of leadership to Hitler's. Hashimoto's populism is "reminiscent of Hitler" in that it seeks to exploit the public's frustrations about the political establishment and major political parties to gain popularity, Sano argued.
But it is unclear whether the apology by Asahi Shimbun Publications was intended to cover these allegations. A spokesman at Shukan Asahi told The Japan Times that the magazine plans to publish another official apology in its next issue.
Since the article's publication, Hashimoto has refused to speak with reporters from the magazine and the Asahi Shimbun, which owns a 100 percent stake in Asahi Shimbun Publications, to protest its content.
On Friday, Hashimoto said through his twitter account that he is prepared to accept the weekly's apology, although he still doubts whether it is "sincere." At a news conference later in the day, the mayor said he will have to examine the content of the apology in full to determine the true intentions behind it.
On the descriptions of Hashimoto's father, the article, which was coauthored by two Shukan Asahi reporters, quoted a distant relative of the mayor whose identity was not revealed.
Hashimoto said that while he doesn't mind having his own history exposed by the media, he warned that the weekly had gone too far and its article was filled with bias based on his bloodline.
"It contains harmful opinions based on lineage, and it could even lead to ethnic cleansing," Hashimoto told reporters Thursday, refusing to tolerate such views because of their impact on his family and children.
The descendants of burakumin have long argued that identifying specific areas they populated would help to worsen already widespread discrimination against them. In one case, many companies that had reportedly purchased a copy of a book listing "dowa" areas subsequently refused to hire people from those communities. Concerning his refusal to speak with Asahi Shimbun and Shukan Asahi reporters, Hashimoto accused the two publications of tolerating discrimination based on lineage. A reporter from the Asahi Shimbun said Thursday that though the newspaper owns Asahi Shimbun Publications, it was not involved at any stage of the editorial process. But Hashimoto dismissed such reasoning, saying there is no justifiable basis for the parent company to attempt to distance itself from the story.
Many analysts consider Hashimoto a potentially key player in the next Lower House election since his newly founded Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) could field up to 300 candidates nationwide to take on the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party.
The eloquent but at times uncompromising Hashimoto, who served as Osaka governor before being elected mayor, rapidly gained popularity through his administrative reforms of the Osaka prefectural and municipal governments, including salary cuts and bans on tattoos for public workers.