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Anti Immigrants Day in Japan Met By Counter Protests with Ties to Antifa

What happened when the far-right and anti-fascists collided last Sunday.

By 8 min read

Nationwide Anti-Immigrant protests held Oct. 14 by a far-right group in Japan were met by counter-protesters to “smash” hate speech.

The “Anti-Immigrants Day” protests — staged by the Japan First Party (JFP)  — had a relatively small turnout, were heavily policed and remained peaceful, according to witnesses. Held in 28 locations around the country, protests showed up in Tokyo and Osaka, as well as in lesser populated areas like Ibaraki, Kagoshima and Saga prefectures (to name a few).

Protests by the numbers

Across Japan from Hokkaido to Okinawa, the estimated total number of protesters was more than 450. Counter-protesters outnumbered them with more than 930 estimated people nationwide.

This data was posted on Twitter by a racism watchdog account that is associated with an anti-racism platform in Japan called the Counter Racist Action Collective (CRAC), which helped stage the counter protests. The numbers were estimated using news figures as well as sourcing from within the online counter-racism network.

Osaka had around 100 protesters and more than 100 counter-protesters. More than 130 Anti-Immigrant supporters marched in Ginza, Tokyo, and around 25 showed up in Yokohama. Masses of counter-protesters outnumbered them with more than 150 in Ginza and around 200 in Yokohama.

Counter-protesters outnumbered [protesters] with more than 930 estimated people nationwide. 

In Saga, a small prefecture in southern Japan, there were less than five JFP protesters and about the same amount of counter-protesters. One counter-protester in this video posted on Twitter holds a sign that reads “We cannot allow hate speech.”

The Twitter user praised him saying “The racists are trying hard to mock the counter-protesters but clearly it’s not working.” The user ended the post with a hashtag, reading “paying the greatest respect to the few people in smaller cities who stood up against racism.”

Who are the protesters?

Japan First Party has around 1,800 members and is not afraid to use hate speech against immigrants at its demonstrations. The far-right in Japan, in general, has an online presence proliferated by posters known as netouyo (internet right-wingers). It is estimated that in the early 2010s, these sentiments gained an offline presence with groups like the Zaitokukai, an ultra-nationalist organization in Japan, and eventually, Japan First Party.

In fact, JFP was founded in 2016 by a man called Makoto Sakurai, who is the former leader of Zaitokukai. The Japan First Party claims, among some of their more outrageous accusations, that increased immigration will also increase crime and taxes in Japan.

Vox journalist Johnny Harris interviewed Sakurai in an episode of Borders titled “Japan’s Rising Right-WIng Nationalism” last year.

Japan-based social anthropologist Tom Gill categorized Japan First Party as a “fairly isolated fringe element in Japanese politics” in a phone interview with GaijinPot.

“Even if they do manage to get over 100 people [at the Ginza protest] — I would still call that a small number,” said the UK-native who is a professor of social anthropology in the Faculty of International Studies at Meiji Gakuin University.

Who are the counter-protesters?

Much of the counter-protests against the JFP were mobilized online by CRAC, but who exactly the counter-protesters are is a loaded question. CRAC is sometimes associated with Japan’s Antifa, or Anti-Fascist, movement which has ties to other, lesser-known anti-racism groups in Japan. It’s most accurate to say CRAC put out a call to do counter protests and individuals both with ties to Antifa, CRAC — or not — turned up.

Photo:
A graphic to mobilize against the Japan First Party put out by the Counter Racist Action Collective of Japan (CRAC).

In light of the Oct. 14 protests, GaijinPot spoke with a Tokyoite connected to Japan’s Antifa movement who wished to remain anonymous. They said that organizations like CRAC are not politically charged but want to stop hate speech and counter racism.

“The main point of some Antifas [in Japan], especially CRAC, is not letting these racists go on the streets, literally hurting people,” the source said.

They added that those who associate with Antifa don’t really consider it a group with members but “an idea to connect people to fight against the fascism.”

It’s fair to say that the people who made up the Oct. 14 counter-protests likely fall into one of three categories…

Antifa, which is worldwide but has a large mobilization in the U.S., has been characterized by mainstream media as an underground left-leaning anti-racist ideology that can take on many forms. It’s fair to say that the people who made up the Oct. 14 counter-protests likely fall into one of three categories: those who identify with the Antifa movement in Japan; people who got the call from CRAC; plus other outliers with no ties to either of these groups.

With a dedicated website and more than 14,000 Twitter followers on its main account, the CRAC platform, that’s background was covered extensively by Aljazeera (one of the few English sources to recently cover the subject), mobilizes through street action, speech, photography, art, music and beyond.

Prior to the Oct. 14 protests, a “hate alert” on CRAC’s website instructed people to “smash JFP nationwide.” That included online information (both in English and Japanese) about where each counter-protest was to be held, plus allocated hashtags and downloadable signs related to protests in each city.

Their signs can be easily recognized in photos of the Anti-Immigrants Day protests, like the one that reads “Ichikawa Against Racism” from the above Twitter photo taken in Chiba Prefecture. CRAC’s last instruction for the counter-protesters via its website was: “Now let’s party and support your local Antifa.” Clearly, they’re interconnected.

What the Anti-Immigrants Day protests were like for one foreigner

Not everyone takes a side, though, such as Amitabha Chakrabarti, 32, who witnessed the Oct. 14 protests.

Chakrabarti, an American living and working in Japan, had read about the protests, was in the area and decided to walk by. He said the scene was jarring with megaphones blaring and police blockades.

He described his encounter at Tokiwa Park in Tokyo as “the longest 30 seconds” of his four years in Japan.

Here is his account of what he experienced that day (edited for clarity and length):

“I was stopped by a cop. He tried to mumble something to me in English, but I responded in Japanese and he asked ‘Where are you going,’ so I think that might be what he attempted to ask in English.

Knowing if I said ‘I want to go to Tokiwa Park,’ he wouldn’t let me go any further, I saw a building in the distance and pointed at it. He asked me to tell him the name, and I said ‘Nanjara Biru.’

He shrugged and said [in Japanese], ‘Okay, I’ll let you go, but please only go straight.’

I asked him, ‘Why?’

He replied, ‘There is an event here that is for Japanese citizens only. Please refrain from entering.’ I said, ‘Sounds nice! I’m so jealous,’ with a laugh. He smirked and apologized.

Considering that he didn’t ask for my [foreign resident] card or ask me [a lot] of questions about why I am here — as that is my usual crisis with Japanese cops — I’ve reason to believe that he was looking out for my general safety. Besides, if he really had a problem with me, wouldn’t he have let me mambo on into the protest and do something to arrest me?

Everyone was staring at me — the sole gaikokujin (foreigner) crazy enough to walk by this charade of hate.

Anyway, I began to cross the intersection in a brisk walk, not wanting to draw any more attention. There were two rows of cops lining the intersection, and everyone was staring at me — the sole gaikokujin (foreigner) crazy enough to walk by this charade of hate.

As I walked by, [I] saw a sea of Imperial flags. People of all ages stood silently, holding and pointing flags toward some central figure in the park. It was silent at the moment, and though I slowed my pace, I couldn’t gather enough from the garbled Japanese to understand what was being said.

Like many political campaigns in this country, they used a megaphone to spread as much garbled noise as possible…

After I finished crossing, I [saw] a very tall, burly figure wearing a spray-painted anarchy symbol on a handkerchief on his face. He seemed actually like a reasonable person, but I was a little too shell-shocked by the recent visual and proceeded to leave the scene.”

He said the protests were not what he had expected to see in Japan.

“I’m getting married next month and am hoping to build a life in Japan,” he said. “Although, if more of what I saw on Sunday takes place, who knows…”

Related Hashtag General Meaning For/Against JFP
#nopasaran1014 Spanish for “They Shall Not Pass” and 10/14 was the protest date Against
#日本第一党 Japan First Party Neutral
#ヘイト行動情報 Info on hate activities Against
#反移民デー Anti-immigrants Day Neutral
##1014銀座ヘイトデモを許すな Don’t allow hate demonstrations (bolded part changes with each location) Against
#おまえの地元をクソ野郎から守れ Protect your neighborhood from this f***ing guy Against
#1014日本第一党をアレする全国一斉行動   #1014 the day Japan First Party will be doing that across the country Against

Ally Homma contributed to this article.

If you have information about the anti-facist movement in Japan, or a news tip, please contact content@gplusmedia.com.

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