Out of Japan: Racists cast a shadow on the Rising Sun

TOKYO - The impromptu Iranian bazaar in a park in central Tokyo is under threat, as was mentioned in this column two weeks ago. But the threat is now coming from a particularly nasty group of neo-Nazis, who unashamedly use swastikas and racist language to get their message across.

The embers of wartime fascism recently rekindled in Germany also seem to smoulder on in small pockets of Japan. And the government is slow to stamp them out.

The bazaar in question is a gathering of thousands of Iranian labourers in Yoyogi Park that takes place every weekend. They barbecue kebabs and sell each other videotapes of Iranian films, newspapers from Tehran and cheap clothes. It functions as a social club for these men who are far from home, working without visas and trying to save some money for their families in Iran.

The Japanese government knows they are here - it even calculates the number of illegal foreign workers month by month - but up to recently has tolerated them as a source of cheap manual labour.

According to the latest statistics from the Immigration Bureau of the Justice Ministry, there are 293,000 foreigners illegally in Japan. And because they have no working visas, neither the government nor their employees has to pay for their medical insurance. Very convenient.

But now the Iranians are under attack. Although they are spread through Tokyo and the surrounding suburbs, the gathering at Yoyogi Park has become something of a touchstone for the Iranian presence because it is so visible and concentrated. Whenever television crews want to get footage for a story on the 'foreigner problem' they send their cameras down to the park.

'Recover Yoyogi Park for the Japanese', 'Drive out foreigners staying illegally in Japan', 'Protect our environment' read posters, which have a large swastika in the centre. They have been put up in the past two weeks by an organisation that calls itself 'The League of State Socialists', saying it is inspired by the thought of Adolf Hitler.

'People coming from various countries are causing confusion in Japan, where culture and tradition have been treasured,' a leader of the league was quoted as saying in a Japanese paper. 'Public safety is precarious in the United States because different races with different religions live there.'

This is a familiar refrain, even with mainstream Japanese politicians, who frequently point to Japan's homogeneity as the reason for its low crime rate and high economic growth rate.

In addition to the swastika poster campaign, a number of 'sound trucks', vehicles with powerful loudspeakers, have been cruising around Tokyo in the past few weeks calling for foreigners without visas to be expelled. A law was passed last year limiting the sound levels of these trucks but the police, who have long-standing if informal links with many of these right-wing groups, have been slow to crack down on the decibel dreadnoughts.

What is most distressing, however, is the lack of any government reaction. Just as the German government was slow to take action against the neo- Nazis, giving rise to suspicions that the prejudices expressed by the fanatics were shared in part by more moderate members of society, so too in Japan the government seems happy to allow the racist rhetoric to continue unhindered.

Last week, the Labour Minister, Masakuni Murakami, effectively supported the neo- Nazi campaign. He said the government could not ignore these foreigners, 'first of all Iranians', who overstay their visas, because if they did not find a job they might start committing crimes.

This, really, is the crux of the matter: unemployment. While Japan's economy was booming, it was suffering from a labour shortage, and could soak up tens of thousands of Iranians as well as South-east Asians to do the jobs Japanese no longer care for. But now the unemployment figures are starting to creep up as the recession bites, and there are fears the Iranians could be taking jobs away from Japanese.

Extremist groups have frequently been used to 'shape public opinion' when the government does not want to get its hands dirty. The Iranians are starting to get worried.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own