Japan and the Alternative Right

20 04 18

Predating the Western movement, a section of the Japanese far right, the Netto Uyoku (internet right wing), has many similarities with the Alternative Right of the United States and Europe.

The Alternative Right has manifested across the United States and in European countries through similar trends: broadly privileged contingents (by some tentative estimates) of the population, reacting to perceived Western decline inflicted by “Cultural Marxists”, liberal “globalists” and, predominantly Muslim, non-Western and non-white migrants.

The Netto Uyoku is also believed to be largely privileged, and their political attitudes and actions have been, to a large extent, moulded by the internet. The loose grouping shares few ties to the establishment right, and decries the “politically correct” mainstream media’s positive coverage of ethnic minorities and immigrants.

Japanese culture has also influenced and inspired the Alternative Right, perhaps to a degree that no other non-Western nation has. Certain Japanese websites are literal precursors to online subcultures that have been vital in the formation of the Alternative Right, and certain tropes regarding Japan – from the country’s anime cartoons, to its ethnic homogeneity – have been deeply fetishized by elements of the Alternative Right. This makes for a unique relationship, and could enable potential collaboration between the Alternative Right and its Japanese equivalents.

Channels of Hate: The Alternative Right and the Netto Uyoku

As HOPE not hate has detailed, a highly formative component of the Alternative Right has been ‘Online Antagonistic Communities’. These are reactionary online communities built around various interests, but who all engage in exclusionary, antagonistic behaviour (be it through trolling, creating and spreading offensive symbolism or just espousing  hatred and contempt). In particular, the image forum 4chan.org, founded in October 2003, and its notorious “politically incorrect” subforum 4chan.org/pol/, founded in October 2011, has been hugely influential on the development of the Alternative Right’s hateful rhetoric, imagery, juvenile sense of mischief and online organisational tactics, such as coordinated harassment campaigns and media manipulation.

The creator of 4chan, Christopher Poole, consciously imitated a Japanese image forum referred to as the ‘Futaba Channel’, launched in 2001 and itself a spin-off of an earlier forum, ‘2channel’ (now 5ch.net). By copying the design of 2channel (users post anonymously and inactive posts are temporarily archived before deletion), Poole created a popular online environment which has helped radicalise many to the far right through encouraging the expression of ever more extreme views. Interestingly, this design gave rise to the same phenomenon on 2channel, with the emergence of the Netto Uyoku, who the journalist Furuya Tsunehira described in 2016 as:

“[…]a new breed of neo-nationalists who interact almost entirely within their own cyber community, shut off from the rest of society. Their most conspicuous characteristic may be their harshly anti-Korean views, but they also share a fierce animosity toward China, the mainstream media […], and the so-called “Tokyo Trial view of history,” with its acknowledgment of wrongs committed by Japan before and during the war.”

Despite obvious differences in the subjects of hate, and the Japanese far right’s greater focus on historical revisionism (though many on the hard alt-right engage in Holocaust denial, it is not central to the movement), the image painted by Tsunehira resonates with the reactionary outlook of the Alternative Right.

The Alternative Right, just like the Netto Uyoku, has gathered steam online, engaged in coordinated online hate, and now faces varying success organising offline. A catalysing moment for the Alternative Right was the 2014 ‘Gamergate’ scandal, a vitriolic harassment campaign triggered by the perceived encroachment of feminist values into gaming culture. Gamergate quickly evolved into a broader fightback against “political correctness” and the left, laying the foundations for an online, far-right reactionary culture fired-up to lash out at a perceived left-liberal hegemony. Despite its ability to effectively weaponise the internet, the Alternative Right has proved unable to organise professionally offline, especially in the wake of the death of anti-racist activist Heather Hayer in August 2017.

The Netto Uyoku has followed a similar path. Emerging in the early to mid-2000s, in the wake of events such as the 2002 FIFA World Cup (hosted in Japan and South Korea) which gave rise to greater anti-Korean sentiment, and the anti-Chinese, revisionist backlash against the publication of a historical comic concerning the Nanking Massacre, they have since engaged in online campaigns such as enjō, which Dr. Rumi Sakamoto of Auckland University describes as a “rush of critical or accusatory comments […] to a specific blog or [social networking site]” which targets “left/liberal opinions and sites”. The Netto Uyoku has been mainly active online, with less of a regular and well-organised offline presence, but with a particularly prominent exception: the ‘Association of Citizens against the Special Privileges of the Zainichi’, or the Zaitokukai (the Zainichi are Japanese residents who emigrated from, or are descendants of, colonial Koreans during Japanese rule).

Police form a barrier between Zaitokukai protesters and counter-protesters in Tokyo in 2013. Image by Satoko Kawasaki.

Established by Makoto Takata (AKA Makoto Sakurai), the Zaitokukai has expanded its initial anti-Zainichi Korean attitudes to encompass a broader anti-immigrant outlook (although the contemporary Japanese far right uses less overtly racialised rhetoric and so in many ways reflects the more culturally-concerned ‘alt-light’ wing of the Alternative Right, in contrast to the explicitly white nationalist alt-right). The group grew rapidly between 2007 and 2010 and, in contrast to the broader Netto Uyoku, regularly used street demonstrations. Whilst Takata’s focus since August 2016 has been his far-right Nihon Daiittō (Japan First) party, the Zaitokukai remains active and is distinctively similar to organised Alternative Right activism in a number of ways. Professor Naoto Higuchi of the University of Tokushima, Japan, wrote in April 2018 that, compared to the traditional Japanese far right, recent movements such as Zaitokukai have less dependence on “existing social groups such as religious organisations and associations of war veterans” and instead have “succeeded in mobilizing citizens unaffiliated with existing groups”, especially online.

This mirrors the Alternative Right’s capitalisation of the recent wave of populism and anti-elite attitudes more broadly, which has seen them reject mainstream political groups, religious institutions and the media, appealing instead to disparate individuals communing online. For the Zaitokukai, Prof. Higuchi even claims that they have relied “solely on the Internet to recruit core activists as well as rank-and-file members”. Mirroring the Alternative Right’s symbiotic relationship with 4chan.org/pol/, he argues the likes of 2channel allowed “nativist discourse” to be “used in abandon” in Japan’s online world in the early 2000s and that this “virtual free space” resulted in the creation of groups such as the Zaitokukai.

Fetishising Japan

Anime cartoons using far-right imagery are frequently spread in online Alternative Right circles

A common theme in the Alternative Right is the deep fetishisation of Japanese culture. They frequently vault an idealised vision of Japanese society, with many in the alt-right especially seeing it as a model for their desired white ethno-states in Europe and the US. A post on the misogynist alt-right blog, Return of Kings, from August 2017 details “3 Ways Japan is Naturally Alt-Right”, listing its low refugee intake, its low crime-rates (which the author notes the Alternative Right put down to Japanese cultural and ethnic homogeneity), and its brand of nationalism, which involves Japanese politicians “maintaining a public face of supporting globalist regimes, while inwardly pushing forward national agendas”. Such tropes, common in the Alternative Right, are devoid of nuance. Japan’s low-crime rates, for example, are due to a complex set of factors including a greater focus on rehabilitation in prison and its sexual violence laws, rather than necessarily because they have fewer migrants and ethnic minorities, as the Alternative Right are prone to claim.

Teen Sheng’s nuanced analysis in Plan A magazine also explains how the Alternative Right’s attraction towards Japan goes deeper than merely using it to justify ethno-states. Sheng notes that the Alternative Right wish “to harvest […] as [alt-right figurehead Richard] Spencer put it, the “rich conception” of Japanese identity that they believe imbues Japanese life with the kind of ethnic meaning and social connection that is denied […] especially [to] modern white Americans”.

A felt affinity for Japan on the Alternative Right can be seen especially in the broader fetishisation of Asian women by many in the movement. Writing for The New York Times in January 2018, Audrea Lim listed the many high-profile Alternative Right figures who, despite their Western chauvinism or racial nationalism, had had partners who were Asian or of Asian descent. Indeed, the same contributor to Right of Kings aforementioned also detailed in February 2018 “3 Things American Girls Can Learn From Japanese Women”, and denigrated American women for falling short of the conservative gender standards which they believe Japanese women exemplify.

Prospects for Collaboration

Sheng puts the Alternative Right’s “strange embrace” of Asia, and Japan in particular, down to the movement’s perception that “with its deep traditions preserved by a social and political conservatism, [Japan] should serve as the template for an ideal American state”. But how reciprocal is this embrace and what are its prospects?

Aside from the above nods to Japanese culture, there is currently a dearth of evidence of concrete interaction between the Alternative Right and the contemporary Japanese far right. In part, this is due to the language barrier between the two, but also given their differing interests guided by their historical and geopolitical contexts (note, for example, that Japan’s far right are not in a position to capitalise on rising levels of immigration). Indeed, Jared Taylor, of the key alt-right organisation American Renaissance, who was born in Japan and resided there until he was sixteen, argued in his 1983 book Shadows of the Rising Sun: A Critical View of the Japanese Miracle that Japan was not an appropriate model for America to emulate because of the nations’ vastly different histories (though, speaking to Splinter News in January 2018, Taylor still praised the “good culture[s]” of east Asia).

However, a degree of ideological affinity has led to some attempts to establish links. Lana Lokteff of the leading alt-right media platform Red Ice Creations interviewed Japanese right-wing vlogger Yoko Mada in July 2017, agreeing that “nationalists across the globe” have “to work together” to stop their common ‘globalist’ enemy. Acting as a potential bridge in the alternative alt-right media is the Canadian-born vlogger ‘Black Pigeon Speaks’, who now resides in Japan and who through a joint video discussion in February 2018 exposed Mada as well as the Japanese vlogger, ‘Nobita’, to the audiences of his and fellow US-born and Japan-based YouTuber, ‘Renegade of Funk’.

Japanese right-wing vlogger Yoko Mada pictured with Steve Bannon at J-CPAC 2017

December 2017 saw the first Japanese Conservative Political Action Conference (J-CPAC) in Tokyo, a spin-off event of the largest US conservative activists conference, ‘CPAC’. The event featured Steve Bannon, former head of central alt-light platform Breitbart News Network and former Chief Strategist to Trump, as a speaker. In his speech, Bannon praised the ultra-nationalist Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzō Abe, and declared that “Japan has every opportunity to seize its destiny, to re-establish its national identity (and) in true partnership with the United States, reverse what the elites have allowed to happen”.

Within Europe, the clearest indication of interaction comes from HOPE not hate evidence that the London Forum – a key platform for alt-right speakers within the UK – had attempted to bring over members of Sakurai’s Japan First party to speak at an event in October 2017.

The future of the relationship between the Japanese far right and the Alternative Right is hard to predict. Given their differing surface-level interests they ostensibly would have little to gain by increased cooperation, especially offline. Yet, the reciprocity of their relationship could come down to a joint trading of visions; Japan continuing to be an idealised ethno-state that motivates the Alternative Right, and the latter providing a tried-and-tested identitarian ideology for the former’s dissident right to shape their anti-migrant and minority messages around. Even though the Netto Uyoku and Alternative Right emerged quite independently on forums over a decade ago, perhaps now they will begin – just as the latter did when it bridged the Atlantic – to coalesce across the Pacific.


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