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Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013
Xenophobia finds fertile soil in web anonymity
By AYAKO MIE
As diplomatic strains with China and South Korea worsen over territorial disputes, more and more Japanese are using the relative anonymity of cyberspace to vent their political spleens online.
Enter "Net uyoku," the people who freely post their ultranationalistic, xenophobic bluster online. Here is a closer look at these people:
Who are the Net uyoku?
They're people who post ultranationalistic and xenophobic rants — especially against Chinese and ethnic Koreans — on the Net.
Nihon University professor Mitsuru Fukuda said outbursts of anti-Chinese and anti-Korean rhetoric became pronounced after September 2002, when North Korea officially admitted to then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi what Japan had long suspected — that its agents had kidnapped Japanese nationals in the past.
Before the admission by the late Kim Jong Il, the abduction issue hadn't gotten much public attention, and it was considered a political taboo to link the suspected abductions to Korean residents of Japan.
But after Koizumi's two trips to the North, even the general public grew angrier toward the North and toward Korean residents of Japan, especially on 2channel, the notorious messaging board.
As for South Korea, negative sentiment was muted at the time because South Korean culture, especially TV dramas, was enjoying a boom in Japan, led by NHK's popular "Fuyu no Sonata" ("Winter Sonata"). Private broadcasters offered similar fare in the hunt for higher ratings.
As the boom faded, however, anti-Korean sentiment grew online, especially after Japanese actor Sosuke Takaoka, in a July 2011 message on his Twitter account, slammed Fuji Television Network for excessively airing South Korean dramas. Criticism swelled.
More recently, China's encroachments on the Senkaku Islands and departing South Korean President Lee Myung Bak's visit to the South Korean-held but Japan-claimed Takeshima islets have sparked huge outcries.
Who are the xenophobes?
The Net uyoku appear to be outwardly pedestrian and unaffiliated with the traditional rightwing groups known for their blaring sound trucks spewing nationalistic slogans and other bombast.
While the rightwingers often count yakuza among their ranks, the apparent xenophobes on the Net might be ordinary Japanese — businessmen, housewives and students who only fan the nationalist fires online.
Critics contend the online hate-speakers are among the ranks of the socially vulnerable, those who can only speak out against people who are in an even weaker position, particularly foreigners.
"For some people who cannot boast hailing from prominent universities or blue-chip companies, they uphold their patriotic passions as a way to portray themselves as superior to others," said Fukuda.
What is Zaitokukai?
While Net uyoku appear to be largely pedestrian, the far-right group Zainichi Tokken wo Yurusanai Shimin no Kai (Zaitokukai) explicitly states it is bent on eliminating the presence of foreigners in Japan, especially "zainichi" permanent residents of South Korean or North Korean descent.
Zaitokukai has more than 12,500 members, according to its website. It posts propaganda on the Internet and holds regular protests on the streets against giving zainichi the right to vote in local-level elections or benefits from the national pension system, which they pay into.
Do the Net uyoku represent mainstream society?
No. They represent only a fraction of the people. Although studies are scarce, experts agree a key trait is that they are generally heavy Internet users.
Osaka University associate professor Daisuke Tsuji said Net uyoku are probably even a minority among Net addicts. According to a study he conducted in 2008, only 1.3 percent, or 13 people out of 998 heavy Internet users, appeared to fall into that category.
Those 13 apparently shared a common lack of friendly feelings toward South Korea and China, support revising the Constitution's war-renouncing Article 9 to effectively return the right of belligerence to Japan, and want prime ministers to visit Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which honors the nation's war dead, as well as Class-A war criminals. They also advocate an education system more indoctrinated toward patriotism, including requiring the singing of the "Kimigayo" national anthem and the flying of the Hinomaru national flag at schools, and have expressed these views on the Internet.
In a 2012 survey by Fukuda of Nihon University, more than 90 percent of 354 frequent Net users said they are alarmed by Japan's sovereignty disputes with China and South Korea, yet only 10 percent said they would take such visible actions as joining public protests. While it may be misleading to brand the respondents as Net uyoku only by the responses to that question, Fukuda noted that those who are active on the Internet are incapable of leaving the virtual world to engage in real-life action.
Net uyoku also tend to be extremely critical of liberal "mass-comi" (mass communications), calling them "masu-gomi" (mass garbage), he said.
"The Net uyoku do not think their views are rightwing," he said. "They feel they are legitimate, as Japanese nationals.
"Their action reflects a backlash against the mainstream media, which they say have failed to report on political taboos."
What impact do the Net uyoku have on society?
Although the Cabinet Office in its annual survey released in November found that more than 80 percent of Japanese people harbored unfriendly feelings toward China, the highest since the survey started in 1978, experts agree the Net uyoku trend is exaggerated.
Tsuji of Osaka University said playing up their influence, if any, could give the false impression that what's discussed on the Internet is actually the general opinion of the Japanese public.
Although people do increasingly rely on the Internet, the 2012 government white paper on information and communications technology said that most people still find television to be their preferred source of information.
An election debate in early December on the daring video site Nico Nico Douga was reportedly held at the suggestion of Shinzo Abe, who favors campaigning online instead of on TV. He went on to repeat as prime minister, amid widespread discontent with the Democratic Party of Japan.
The DPJ's then-Secretary General Jun Azumi criticized Abe's proposal and said Net uyoku often alter such videos by directly overlaying their comments on them.
"Politicians could be misled to believe the public opinion on the Web reflects the majority and shift more to the right," said Tsuji. "People with less interest in politics could also be led in that direction as a result."
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