I went to see the movie Lincoln today, which is finally playing here in Japan.
What a movie. Daniel Day-Lewis played President Lincoln like he was born to do so. He deserved his Oscar.
I've always thought Lincoln was interesting because he's one of the few politicians everyone agrees on. The great president who freed the slaves.
The movie made me wonder what Lincoln would think about racism in today's Japan, and specifically, about the anti-Korean demonstrations held by Japanese far-right groups like the Zaitokukai. (The Wikipedia article on the Zaitokukai is here. While it has no English pages, Zaitokukai's site is here; as of today, visitors can answer a poll on the top page that asks them which country they hate the most.)
I first went to see an anti-Korean demonstration in Shin-Okubo, a Korean neighborhood in Tokyo out of curiosity, if nothing else. I saw a hundred or so demonstrators carrying Japanese flags -- typical of far-right groups -- and signs that shouted grievances against the Koreans. And there were the rants at ear-splitting volume. Right in the heart of Tokyo's Koreatown.
I was troubled by what I saw. The Japanese have always treated its ethnic minorities badly, but I'd never seen overt public displays of racism like the Shin-Okubo demonstrations, and I've lived in Tokyo for over twenty years. Yes, there's a hot territorial dispute going on between Japan and South Korea right now and the new leader of North Korea is someone who would lob missiles at Tokyo if he had his way. But does that justify racial hate? (My answer: No.) Does anything justify racial hate? (My answer: No.)
I'll bet the men and women who marched in the demonstration would answer differently. Or would they?
I wonder what the Zaitokukai and their supporters think of Lincoln. When they see a Congressman say something like "Congress must never consider equal those God created unequal," do they see a bigot? Or, do they see a comrade speaking the truth? Or, do they place themselves in the slaves' position with the Koreans in the position of the Congressman? I do not know.
But I want to know; in fact, I want to know much more.
I keep an eye on the Zaitokukai because when I watch them march in front of me, I see normal people I see everywhere else and I can't watch them without seeing the rest of Japanese society. However disgusting these demonstrations are, I go to them because they are a reflection of the state of Japanese society as a whole.
Racism isn't exclusive to Japan, and ultimately, I want the answer to this question: How do we all live together in peace? It's a simple and complicated question that has boggled the best minds, including Lincoln's, for centuries, if not millenniums. We just got out of a century peppered with genocides and godawful wars; can't we do better in 21st?
An article about the Zaitokukai demonstrations as well as counter-demonstrators in The Asia-Pacific Journal is here.