Japan's ruling party under fire over links to far-right extremists By Justin McCurry Guardian
Japan's ruling party is under pressure to distance itself from the far right, after senior politicians were linked to groups that promote Nazi ideology and hate crimes towards the country's ethnic Korean community.
The calls for three members of prime minister Shinzo Abe's government to distance themselves from extremists come amid a campaign of death threats and intimidation targeting liberal academics, which observers say is a symptom of Japan's sharp turn to the right.
Eriko Yamatani, who as chairman of the national public safety commission is Japan's most senior police official, is the third senior Liberal Democratic party (LDP) politician to have been linked to ultra-rightwing groups, after a photograph surfaced of her with Shigeo Masuki, a senior member of the Zaitokukai group.
Yamatani, however, has refused to condemn Zaitokukai, whose members have labelled ethnic Korean residents of Japan "cockroaches" and called for them to be killed.
The 2009 photograph, which Yamatani claims she does not recall being taken, became public soon after two of her LDP colleagues acknowledged that they had been snapped with Kazunari Yamada, the leader of a Japanese neo-Nazi party, in 2011.
Sanae Takaichi, the internal affairs minister, and the LDP's policy head, Tomomi Inada, claimed they were unaware of Yamada's extremist views at the time.
When challenged to condemn Zaitokukai, Yamatani said it was not appropriate to comment on the policies of individual groups. "Japan has a long history of placing great value on the idea of harmony and respecting the rights of everyone," she said. Masuki, who has left Zaitokukai, told Reuters he had known Yamatani for more than a decade through their shared interest in education.
Zaitokukai calls for the end to welfare and other "privileges" afforded to about half a million non-naturalised members of Japan's ethnic Korean community, many of whom are the descendants of labourers brought over from the Korean peninsula to work in mines and factories before and during the second world war.
Rightwing activists have been emboldened by the Asahi Shimbun's recent admission that articles it ran in the 1980s and 90s on Japan's wartime use of sex slaves - so-called comfort women -were false. The liberal newspaper's articles were based on now-discredited testimony of Seiji Yoshida, a former soldier who claimed he had witnessed the abduction of women from the South Korean island of Jeju.
The Asahi's erroneous reporting prompted Abe and other senior politicians to accuse it of damaging Japan's international image, claiming that the foreign media had taken the inaccurate sex slave articles as the cue for their own coverage.
Former Asahi journalists who work in academia have become the target of a campaign of bomb and death threats by the far right designed to hound them out of their jobs.
Activists have posted online the names and photographs of the children of one former Asahi journalist, Takashi Uemura, denouncing them as the offspring of a "traitor" and urging them to kill themselves. Uemura had written articles on the sex slave issue for the Asahi 20 years ago.
"[The government's] lukewarm attitude towards hate crimes by the revisionist right is in itself a reason why we need to criticise the government's handling of this [intimidation] issue, even if it isn't directly orchestrating what is happening," said Koichi Nakano, a politics professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.
Hokusei Gakuen University in Sapporo, which employs Uemura as a part-time lecturer, has postponed a decision on whether to rehire him for the 2015 academic year. Another former Asahi reporter declined a position at a university in western Japan after receiving threatening letters.
"Abe and other leaders' outlook is encouraging the rightwing to conduct even harsher attacks on those who are critical of the history of the Japanese empire," said Jiro Yamaguchi, a professor at Hosei University in Tokyo.
Abe's recent cabinet reshuffle has raised fears that Japan is veering sharply to the right amid rising tensions over history and territorial claims with China and South Korea.
Yamatani, Takaichi and Inada are close allies of Abe and share his revisionist views of Japan's wartime history. They have questioned the consensus that Japan forced tens of thousands of mainly Korean and Chinese women to work in frontline brothels between the late 1920s and Japan's defeat in 1945.
Fifteen of the 19 members of Abe's cabinet belong to Nippon Kaigi, a group launched in 1997 to promote patriotic education and end Japan's "masochistic" view of its wartime campaigns on mainland Asia.
Abe played a prominent role in pressuring the education ministry to remove references to the comfort women from school textbooks.
Yamaguchi said the rightwing campaign had echoes of the 1930s, when militarists carried out purges of liberal academics. "If Hokusei [University] gives in to this pressure [to sack Uemura], that would mean academic freedom and freedom of speech is undermined, even under a democratic constitution," he said. "This is a watershed moment for Japanese society."