Last autumn, South Korean actress Kim Tae Hee, 32, starred in her first Japanese drama, a light romantic comedy on Fuji TV and affiliates, titled “Boku to Star no 99 Nichi.” Kim played opposite Japanese leading man Hidetoshi Nishijima.
Kim was subsequently recruited to appear in TV commercials for Osaka-based Rohto Pharmaceuticals, in which she endorses a skin lotion called Yukigokochi.
But then, according to the English-language website for South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper, “A right-wing nationalist group visited Rohto Pharmaceutical on March 2 to protest against its hiring of Kim… The group took issue with Kim and her brother, actor Lee Wan, being named in 2005 as advocates of Korea’s territorial sovereignty over the Dokdo islets claimed by Japan as Takeshima. Rohto had planned a press conference unveiling the new line featuring Kim on Feb. 21 but canceled the event due to safety concerns.”
That group, reports Friday (June 1), was the “Zainichi Tokken wo Yurusanai Shimin no Kai” (group opposed to special rights for zainichi Koreans) or Zaitokukai for short.
On May 10, Osaka prefectural police arrested Zaitokukai leader Hitoshi Nishimura, 43, along with Yasuhiko Aramaki, 37, and two others on charges of intimidation at the March 2 event.
Five days later, the Zaitokukai’s website posted an appeal for contributions to “The Group to Support the Patriotic Warriors.” “Don’t use public airways to run commercials with anti-Japanese Koreans!” its message entreated.
But Friday notes that the Japanese subtitles on the video posted on Zaitokukai’s site, in which Kim is alleged to have made anti-Japanese remarks, appear spurious, and it has yet to be confirmed whether she actually made such remarks.
Unlike other political groups, the Zaitokukai does not utilize sound trucks, but has harnessed digital media. From a membership estimated to be around 500 at the time of its founding by Makoto Sakurai in January 2007, the group has grown rapidly, with current membership claimed to be around 12,000—making it one of Japan’s largest activist organizations.
In December 2009, Zaitokukai members confronted staff of a school affiliated with a North Korean residents’ group in Kyoto’s Minami Ward over the right of the students to utilize Kanjinbashi Koen, a public park across the street from the school. The following year, Nishimura, Aramaki and two other heads of the group were arrested and charged with several offenses, including vandalism and defamation.
“From speaking to individual Zaitokukai members, I get the impression that many of them are grown-up, ‘ordinary people,’” says Koichi Yasuda, author of a book published last month about the Zaitokukai titled “Netto to Aikoku” (The Internet and Patriotism, Kodansha). “Because the group’s messages tend to be straightforward and simplistic, I suppose they have a visceral appeal.”
Yasuda supposes group members engage in extreme and sometimes illegal activities to attract attention.
“Broadcasting videos of demonstrations and street campaigning via the Internet has served to help the organization grow,” he tells the magazine. “The people watching the videos on their screens react with empathy, and this in turn encourages the organizers to engage in increasingly extreme behavior. If we were in a time in which video streaming on the web didn’t exist, I dare say the Zaitokukai’s activities would be more subdued.”
After an earlier run in with the law, a female sympathizer in Osaka raised 10 million yen, which she presented to chairman Sakurai for his defense. But Sakurai is alleged to have neither notified her how the funds were put to use, nor did he issue a receipt.
“I suppose that not many of the members possess the fundamental literacy of citizenship, which requires that income and expenditures be transparent. They’re an inexperienced outfit, more like a club than a real political organization,” is Yasuda’s explanation.
What is surprising, writes Friday, is that an organization made up of such “weak and inexperienced members” can generate such large contributions, which suggests several tens of thousands of people may be viewing its activities on the Internet.
“As its troubles keep occurring in succession, the Zaitokukai itself may decline,” says Yasuda. “But as long as there’s no change in the fundamentals of the society that creates them, similar organizations will keep springing up.”