Korea Town in Tokyo seeks face-lift to lure back crowds

By YUKARI TAKAHASHI, 朝日新聞 Asahi Shimbun, October 17, 2014

Business operators are trying to bring back the hustle and bustle to Tokyo’s Korea Town, an area that has seen visitor numbers plummet amid menacing protests and deteriorating relations between Japan and South Korea.

Ethnic Koreans next month are set to establish their first shopkeepers’ association, which has been known for its Korean barbecue restaurants and stores selling photos of Korean celebrities.

Suggestions so far include price adjustments, coupons that can be used at all stores, and a K-pop contest that Japanese people can enter.

Eight ethnic Korean managers on Sept. 8 held a meeting at a Korean restaurant in the 1-chome neighborhood of Shinjuku Ward’s Okubo district to prepare for the establishment of the Shin-Okubo Korean shopkeepers’ association.

Oh Young-seok, the 62-year-old president of the venerable Korean restaurant Saikabo and chairman of the Korea Foods Network, a mutual aid group of Korean restaurant owners, called the meeting.

The participants included Lee Seung-min of the World Federation of Overseas Korean Traders Associations (World-OKTA) Tokyo branch, which held a Korean film festival in Shin-Okubo.

“Let’s partner with the local Japanese shopping area association,” Lee said.

In August, Taishikan, a restaurant designed like a Korean mansion, closed down. It opened in 2002, the year Japan and South Korea co-hosted soccer’s World Cup. Soccer fans gathered in the restaurant’s parking lot to cheer on the players of both countries’ teams.

In 2003, South Korean television drama “Winter Sonata” was shown in Japan, and the first Korean wave began.

The second Korean boom began in or around 2010 with a focus on K-pop.

But in August 2012, then South Korean President Lee Myung-bak set foot on Takeshima, islets known as Dokdo in Korea, drawing a sharp reaction from Tokyo.

The Park Geun-hye administration was inaugurated in 2013, and she has frequently criticized Japan for its actions before and during World War II.

Anti-Korea protests have since become a frequent occurrence in Shin-Okubo and elsewhere in Japan. The rallies, often using discriminatory and threatening slogans, have prompted calls for legislation against hate speech.

Customer numbers at Taishikan started dropping about two years ago.

“We were down to half as many customers compared to our best year, and have losses of several million yen a month,” said Hong Seong-yeop, the company’s president. “I want to remodel the restaurant into one that caters to young folks.”

Many people still visit Okubo-dori, as well as “Ikemen-dori” (Nice-looking guy avenue), which are lined with stores selling cosmetics and Korean idol merchandise. But shuttered shops are conspicuous on the back streets.

According to Chairman Oh, around 30 stores in the area are unoccupied, a number that is expected to increase.

The average number of passengers at JR Shin-Okubo Station gradually declined from its peak of around 42,400 in fiscal 2011 to 39,600 in fiscal 2013.

Yasushi Hatta, the 38-year-old Korean food columnist who wrote “Kankoku Ryori ni wa, Goyojin!” (Prepare yourself for Korean cuisine!), sees recent events as the “bursting of the Shin-Okubo bubble.”

He pointed out that when Tokyo Skytree opened in May 2012, before Japan-South Korea relations became strained, the number of tourists to Shin-Okubo was already dropping.

“The new stores were all similar, trying to attract tourists suddenly inspired by the Korean boom,” Hatta said. “The shops had less individuality and the neighborhood less appeal.”

Restaurant Ozakukyo has reset its prices. It used to only serve platters for two to three people, but it added a single serving dish to the menu. And with families in mind, the restaurant has set up a self-serve drink station with 20 types of Korean tea and added an all-you-can-eat option.

“We’ve made the order options more appealing to the many female shoppers in Shin-Okubo,” the 49-year-old Japanese manager said.

The shopkeepers’ association apparently wants to organize a makkori (Korean rice wine) festival and run events for making kimchi and jeon (a pancake-like dish).

“Our goal is for a Shin-Okubo with more alluring specialty shops and the opportunity to enjoy the food and culture without having to go to Korea,” Oh said.

Background: Summer 2014 wave of UN Interference and Korean bitching about "Hate Speech"

U.N. human rights panel urges Japan to silence hate speech

By ICHIRO MATSUO, 朝日新聞 Asahi Shimbun, July 25, 2014

GENEVA--The U.N. Human Rights Committee released a final report on July 24 that calls on the Japanese government to ban hate speech to prevent racism and confrontation from escalating in the country.

The report was compiled after the committee, consisting of experts on human rights issues, examined the nation’s human rights situation for the first time in six years.

In the written opinion, the committee expressed concern over the spread of hate-fueling, discrimination-promoting remarks made against ethnic Korean residents, Chinese and other ethnic minorities living in Japan.

The report cited a banner hoisted by Urawa Reds fans at a J.League soccer match at Saitama Stadium on March 8 that declared “Japanese Only,” and said such xenophobic demonstrations have become rampant in the nation.

Writer sues leader of anti-Korean group over hate speech against her

朝日新聞 Asahi Shimbun, August 19, 2014

OSAKA--An ethnic Korean freelance writer filed a lawsuit at the Osaka District Court on Aug. 18 against the leader of a prominent anti-Korean group for disparaging her in public with racist insults.

Lee Shinne is suing Zaitokukai and its leader, Makoto Sakurai, for 5.5 million yen ($53,600) for calling her things like a "Korean hag" during street demonstrations in Kobe from January 2013 to July 2014, and for posting remarks such as "lawless Koreans" on Twitter.

Sakurai, 41, is the chairman of Zaitokukai, short for Zainichi Tokken wo Yurusanai Shimin no Kai (Group of citizens that do not tolerate privileges for ethnic Korean residents in Japan).

"She should take a good look herself at what she said," Sakurai said. "We plan to countersue her for groundless articles she wrote online."

According to Lee's attorney, it marked the first case in Japan of an individual seeking compensation for hate speech.

Lee, 43, who lives in Higashi-Osaka, Osaka Prefecture, is also suing the operator of a blog for 22 million yen for compiling hateful online posts telling her to "go back to the Korean Peninsula."

At an Aug. 18 news conference, Lee expressed how she was in psychological torment from the continuous remarks made in the streets and online that have attacked her ethnicity.

"I feel as if my heart is being vandalized," she said. "I've been unable to sleep at night."

The conflict first arose in early 2013 following Lee's online criticism of Zaitokukai after she covered the group's demonstration in Shin-Okubo district in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo's "Korea Town," where the demonstrators shouted "Koreans go home!" and "Kill them!"

Lee has since become a target of verbal abuse from Sakurai and others. She said she receives up to hundreds of hateful remarks from strangers on her Twitter and Facebook accounts every day.

"I have become too scared to walk by myself in public," she said.

(This article was compiled from reports by Ko Ota and Hajimu Takeda.)

U.N. committee calls on Tokyo to introduce anti-discrimination law to counter hate speech

By ICHIRO MATSUO, 朝日新聞 Asahi Shimbun, August 22, 2014

GENEVA--A U.N. panel on racial discrimination has compiled a draft recommendation calling on Japan to introduce comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation to contain hate speech against ethnic Koreans in the country.

The draft was produced after the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination held a meeting here on Aug. 20-21 to discuss racial issues in Japan. The committee is expected to soon present its concluding remarks based on the draft recommendation.

At the opening of the meeting, a Japanese government representative said Tokyo needs to carefully consider freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the Japanese Constitution, if it is to establish a new anti-discrimination law covering a wide range of issues.

Before the meeting officially got under way, many of the U.N. committee members watched a video that showed Japanese right-wing group members and others shouting such threats as “Come out and I’ll kill you” at ethnic Koreans on streets in Japan.

Some committee members pointed out that taking countermeasures against such verbal abuse would likely not conflict with the protection of freedom of expression.

They also criticized the way police in the video stood passively by as the people yelled insults and curses, saying that it seemed as if the police officers were accompanying them.

Yoshifu Arita, a Democratic Party of Japan Upper House member who sat in on the committee session, said Japan lags behind other advanced countries in the protection of human rights.

“For other nations, Japan’s sense of human rights probably appears to be going against (the times),” he said.

Arita said he will make efforts to introduce a basic law on the elimination of racial discrimination as early as possible to counter hate speech.

Korean residents in Japan address U.N. panel for law to ban hate speech

By IZUMI SAKURAI, 朝日新聞 Asahi Shimbun, August 25, 2014

A group that represents ethnic Koreans living in Japan called on the government Aug. 25 to enact legislation to outlaw hate speech and other forms of discrimination targeting Koreans and other foreign residents.

Lee Keun-chool, who heads a human rights panel at the Korean Residents Union in Japan, commonly known as Mindan, said at a news conference in Tokyo, “If we fail to speak up now, it would amount to accepting offenders’ xenophobic opinions.”

He was referring to growing instances of anti-Korean demonstrations and hate speech marches in Tokyo and other cities since around 2012.

Lee said representatives of the Mindan human rights panel traveled to Geneva last week to urge the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to put pressure on the Japanese government to take legal action.

The delegation reported that public rallies staged by xenophobic groups blaring “Kill Koreans” and other racial insults had been held in areas with sizable Korean communities, such as Shin-Okubo in Tokyo and Tsuruhashi in Osaka.

The U.N. committee held sessions Aug. 20-21 to gain a better grasp of the situation concerning racial discrimination in Japan.

It compiled a draft proposal calling on the Japanese government to enact a comprehensive law banning discrimination to address the problem of hate speech.

The committee is expected to release its final view soon.

Lee, 60, said at the news conference that street protests spewing hate speech against Koreans mirrored the situation after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, when a large number of Koreans were massacred.

“After the quake, a flurry of rumors became rampant (that Koreans had been poisoning water wells), leading to the slaughter of Korean residents by Japanese citizens and military personnel,” he said.

“The tyranny of hate speech in recent years reminds us of that incident and we are terrified. We should not let history repeat itself.”

Japan in 1995 signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which had been adopted by the U.N. General Assembly 30 years earlier.

The convention requires signatories to establish legislation to criminalize racial discrimination, including hate speech.

But the government has held off enforcing the hate speech provision on grounds that the spread and instigation of racial discrimination is not so prevalent as to require legislation to control it.

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