Sunday 28 June 2020

Black Lives Matter in Japan too: Police, Foreigners, and the Japanese Media

As the slogan "Black Lives Matter" reverberates across the globe, Japan too has seen a number of marches, including 3,500 in Tokyo on June 14th (BritishProf pictured left). Like earlier marches in Tokyo and Osaka, the march had a local slant: discrimination against non-white foreigners in Japan. In Tokyo, marches have finished up at Shibuya where on May 22nd two officers pulled a Kurdish man from his car and knelt on him in a manner reminiscent of George Floyd's death three days later (various videos here). However, aside from a short piece in the Mainichi Newspaper, none of the mainstream Japanese media have touched this domestic story while at the same time reporting heavily on the BLM movement in the US and Europe (the implication being that racism is a foreign problem).
Instagram Posts in the lead up to the Tokyo June 14th March (© blmtokyojp)

A kōban or police box in Shibuya
The failure to make local connections while reporting on incidents abroad illustrates just how taboo the topic is for the Japanese media. As John G. Russell has written, those who attempt to highlight the existence of racism and discrimination in Japan often come in for heavy criticism, especially from the right, despite racial profiling and indiscriminate police questionning of non-white foreigners being widely reported in the foreign community. Another example is the coverage of the #MeToo movement abroad while largely ignoring sexual harassment and assault in Japan. A prime example is the way journalist Shiori Ito, one of the few women who has spoken out about her sexual assault, has been almost totally ignored in the mainstream media - and vilified on social media (see here for a simple overview of her case in Japanese and English).
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Japan may ostensibly be a democracy but the powder-puff feel-good fluffiness of the Japanese media has led to it being referred to as masu-gomi (mass garbage) in a play on the Japanese word for mass media (mass-komi). The coverage of the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, which the New York Times described as a meltdown early on in contrast to the Japanese media which largely parroted the government line that it was not, is the most well known example of the toothlessness of the Japanese media. This case was highlighted by the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression in a 2017 report which noted increasing government pressure on the media (and increasing self-censorship aka Chomsky's propaganda model). Reporters without Borders ranked Japan at 66 in 2020 in its Press Freedom Index, a massive drop from 11 in 2010. For Japanese readers, Why is the Mass Media called Mass Garbage? (マスコミはなぜマスゴミと呼ばれるのか) by Kazuo Hizumi is an eye-opening read. In sum, it is quite ironic that the only political party to have shown any interest in bringing Japanese special interests to light is the Communist Party, coincidentally the only voice that also promotes the idea that black (minority) lives matter in Japan, too.