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Japanese TV Debate on Anti-Korean Hate Speech Turns Nasty

Screenshot of confrontation between Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and  Zaitokukai leader Makoto Sakurai, via YouTube user 2020 Tokyo.

Screenshot of confrontation between Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and Zaitokukai leader Makoto Sakurai, via YouTube user 2020 Tokyo.

A shouting match between the controversial mayor of Osaka and the leader of a Japanese “uyoku dantai” far-right group generated a firestorm of social media commentary earlier in October.

The controversy erupted after Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto agreed to allow his meeting with Makoto Sakurai to be recorded for broadcast. Sakurai leads the Zaitokukai, an ultra-right-wing group that has repeatedly engaged in what in many Western countries would be regarded as hate speech. 

The Zaitokukai's target? Ethnic Koreans residing in Japan. Osaka, Japan's second city, is home to many permanent ethnic Korean residents of Japan, and Osaka mayor Hashimoto had come to refute many of the Zaitokukai’s crazy and inflammatory claims about them.

The meeting between Hashimoto and Sakurai went off the tracks after only 10 minutes when both men started shouting at each other.

Hashimoto vs. Hateful Slimeball makes the TBS national news.

The consensus seems to be that Sakurai provoked the shouting match by refusing to use respectful language when addressing the Osaka mayor.

However, Hashimoto was quick to give as good as got from Sakurai, addressing his debate opponent in the most impolite way possible:

Hashimoto: Well, an asshole like you…

Sakurai: Hey, don't call me an asshole.

Hashimoto: Oh, just shut up, you asshole.

@tohohodan: No matter how many times I hear it, I always burst out laughing! w(ノシ^ω^)ノシ☆

One of the most upvoted comments accompanying the YouTube video is disdainful of Sakurai:

何で民族を一括りにして罵倒するのかの理由が「日本人がひとくくりにされて罵倒されたからやり返してるだけ」とか、高校生かチンピラかヤクザかなんかか?在特会は暴力団かなんかですか?消えろよ桜井もろとも。ていうかこの世から去れよクズが。

Sakurai says that he's not singling out Koreans for abuse but is instead “paying them back for all of the abuse Japan has been subjected to by Koreans.” Is he trying to act like a high school bully or a mafia thug? The Zaitokukai sure seems like an organized crime outfit. Go away, Sakurai and company. I hope the world will soon be rid of your human trash.

Another YouTube commenter says:

こうゆうネットに感化されて、間違った歴史認識をしたり、人間的に欠落してる人たちを正すのも我々日本人の役目。本当に日本が好きで、日本人なら、絶対橋下さん派になるはず。こうゆうやつら踏み外してる日本。

It's our role as Japanese citizens to correct the lies and distorted history that are being spread by the Zaitokukai members, who seem to lack any humanity whatsoever. If you really love Japan and you are Japanese you will do whatever it takes to stand with Hashimoto. The Zaitokukai are truly trampling on Japan.

It's a little unusual for Hashimoto to come across as the the good guy. As one commenter on Twitter noted:

For once Hashimoto comes across looking like an adult, LOL

Originally a lawyer and television personality, Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto has been a polarizing figure in Japanese politics since 2008, when he became governor of Osaka Prefecture. Besides taking on teacher unions during his time as governor, Hashimoto went on to help found a populist political party that is roughly equivalent to the Tea Party in the United States, or UKIP in Britain.

Along the way Hashimoto has made controversial statements about comfort women, calling the thousands of World War II sex slaves kept by the Japanese imperial military “necessary.” He has also waded into international disputes.

His downfall was set in motion when Hashimoto stepped down as governor of Osaka Prefecture to successfully campaign to become mayor of the Osaka City. The unusual downward move was all in hope of merging the various cities of Osaka Prefecture into one large metropolitan region. This masterplan was rejected by Osaka Prefecture voters, and Hashimoto has receded from the national spotlight.

Hashimoto is still considered to be a wild card by Japanese standards. Sakurai's parting shot at Hashimoto was “Go back to Tobita Shinchi.” Tobita Shinchi is a red-light district in Osaka, and Sakurai's insult is a reference to Hashimoto's stint providing legal counsel to brothels in the district, and the perception that Hashimoto has a laissez-faire attitude towards prostitution, forcible or not.

Besides his controversial approach to politics, Hashimoto's notoriety also comes from his family background. It's generally recognized that Hashimoto has roots in Japan's dowa community, a caste of “untouchables” concentrated in the Osaka region. It's notable that someone with Hashimoto's alleged background has risen so far in life. 

Traditionally, many dowa communities were established in western Japan in and around Osaka. Ethnic Koreans who, like the dowa, have also traditionally been discriminated against in Japan also often reside in dowa neighbourhoods.

Prior to the confrontation between Hashimoto and Sakurai, the Zaitokukai was fined and ordered to stop harassing staff and students at a Korean school in nearby Kyoto Prefecture. 

The Zaitokukai is not a fringe group, but in some ways acts as a proxy for prominent national politicians. Several members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet have been forced to deny their far-right links after photographs surfaced of them posing with far-right figures, including the Zaitokukai.

Other members of Prime Minister Abe's cabinet have been photographed with Nazi leaders, and there has been a rising awareness in Japan about the issue of hate speech.

While ultra-right “uyoku” groups and their sound trucks equipped with loudspeakers blasting their messages have long been a fixture of Japanese cities, social media combined with thorny relations between Japan and its neighbors have allowed these groups to become more prominent in recent years.

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  • Matt

    Translating おまえ as “asshole” is very arguably an instance of over-translation. That is, it’s incorrect. Other alternatives (considering the context) are “jerk” and “scumbag.”

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  • Nevin Thompson

    Hi Matt, thanks for the comment. I tend to agree with you (ie, I was kind of worried that my translation was over the top), but, then again, the challenge of course was how to translate “omae”. As you know, there is no English word besides “you”, so I think the need to provide context and tone gives the translator more freedom in this case.

    And there are other examples:

    Take “kisama”, which is hard to translate as well, and is usually translated as “you bastard” or “you son of a bitch”. Not a direct translation either.