Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday criticized hate speech and said his government will do all it can to raise awareness of the problem.
Speaking during question and answer time before the House of Representatives Budget Committee, Abe said: "Hate speech diminishes not only the speaker and the target but also Japan itself," TBS reported.
Abe called hate speech "extremely discomforting, unpleasant and unfortunate." He said that laws alone cannot eradicate the practice and that it is important to strengthen public awareness.
A member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's coalition partner, the Komeito Party, also said in the Diet Monday that even if hate speech is directed toward one ethnic group, it is difficult to enact a law to define what is correct speech because it could lead to oppression.
Last month, 20 prefectural and local assemblies, among them Saitama, Osaka and Tottori, urged the Japanese government to make hate speech illegal. Last summer, a United Nations panel on racial discrimination strongly urged the Japanese government to make hate speech illegal.
However, Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa said that the government has no plans to introduce new legislation at this time, but will instead bolster existing laws to tackle the issue head on.
The renewed calls against hate speech come after the Osaka high court in December upheld a lower court ruling that hate speech by a Japanese group directed at a Korean school in Japan is unlawful.
The group, Zaitokukai, had appealed a ruling by the Kyoto district court in which it was ordered to pay 12 million yen in damages after its members yelled abuse outside a pro-Pyongyang Korean elementary school in Kyoto.
Members of Zaitokukai, which describes itself as a citizens’ assembly opposed to granting special rights to foreigners residing in Japan, stood outside the school on several occasions in 2009 and 2010, demanding that Korean schools be shut down and that the Korean children’s parents were spies, TBS reported. The group also posted video footage of the rallies online.
Osaka High Court Presiding Judge Hiroshi Mori said in his ruling that the rallies outside the school were clearly driven by racist ideals, and not at all in the interests of public.
He said the rallies, which disturbed classes and scared children, constitute racial discrimination defined under the United Nations’ convention on the elimination of racial discrimination, which Japan has ratified.
Officials from Zaitokukai, which boasts more than 10,000 members, say they were protesting the Kyoto school’s use of a nearby city-run park without permission. They say they are protesting alleged “special privileges” given to ethnic Koreans, and say Japan’s welfare system is abused by Korean residents.
Though attendance at such rallies has been limited to a few hundred people at most and they are far from becoming mainstream, similar demonstrations of nationalists targeting ethnic Koreans and other minorities have escalated over the past year in Tokyo and other cities, amid Japan’s chilly diplomatic relations with its Asian neighbors.
In 2013, in Tokyo’s Shin-Okubo district, dotted with Korean restaurants and shops popular among South Korean pop-culture fans, hundreds of Zaitokukai members and supporters called Koreans “cockroaches,” shouted “Kill Koreans” and threatened to “throw them into the sea.”
There are about 500,000 Koreans in Japan - the country’s largest ethnic minority group - and many are descendants of forced laborers shipped to Japan during its 1910-1945 colonial rule of Korea. They still face discrimination in education, marriage and jobs.© Japan Today/AP