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Anti-Korean Racism Blemishes Beauty Brand DHC

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Graphic created by a Japanese anti-racism activist

This is the second article in our monthly series “Racism in Corporate Japan,” funded through the generosity of our SNA Patrons.

SNA (Tokyo) — Among Japanese corporate leaders there are a handful who openly and proudly espouse racist views with little or no penalty from the government or business partners. One of the most prominent of these titans is Yoshiaki Yoshida, the chairman and chief executive officer of cosmetics and food supplements firm DHC.

There’s not really much ambiguity about Yoshida’s hatred of Koreans; there’s no need to read between the lines.

Yoshida’s latest controversy came in November 2020 when he wrote a message on DHC’s official webpage, including the following passage: “For some reason, the models hired for Suntory’s commercials are almost all Korean-Japanese. That’s why on the internet they’ve been called ‘chontory.’ From the celebrities we have hired, down to our very roots, we are a pure Japanese company.”

There was no hint of apology about his use of the highly discriminatory word chon, a crude Japanese-language slur toward Koreans. Indeed, the passage makes it clear that he sees his anti-Korean racism as being nothing to be ashamed of; it is his badge of honor showing his commitment to Japan and the Japanese nation.

It wasn’t until the following month, December, that the news media and a wider audience took notice of Yoshida’s internet message, and naturally there were protests and a brief boycott campaign on Twitter.

Even a figure such as opposition lawmaker Kanako Otsuji tweeted in response, “I will not buy DHC products when the top of the company makes such brazenly discriminatory remarks.”

Moreover, Mayor Shuya Suzuki of Namegata city, Ibaraki Prefecture, suggested last month that his municipality’s partnership with DHC could be put in jeopardy, telling reporters, “Personally I want him to stop engaging in strange statements and actions. If it gets worse in the future, we may have to remove our cooperation agreement.”

However, there has yet to be any official reaction, for example under Japan’s new hate speech laws, and Yoshida did not apologize. The discriminatory message is available on the DHC website to this day.

The Shingetsu News Agency reached out to DHC with an interview request on this controversy. The politely worded Japanese-language answer from the company’s public relations department was, “In regard to the content of the interview you requested, we have no particular response.”

We also contacted Suntory’s public relations department, which responded in English with a short but suggestive comment: “As a member of society, the Suntory Group has established a policy on human rights, and has a basic thinking in favor of recognizing the importance of respecting human rights. We’d like to avoid making comments related to contents uploaded on websites of other companies.”

But as bad as his November 2020 statements were, they arguably pale in comparison to a “Chairman’s Message” that Yoshida published in February 2016, which laid out his views even more explicitly.

“There are quite a few people who are not pure Japanese,” he complained, “We cannot escape the issue of who is genuine, false, or counterfeit when talking about the people living in Japan.”

He continued, “If they have become Japanese and are working hard for Japan, then there’s no problem. There are good people. The problem is those types who naturalize as Japanese and then say bad things about Japan, and then they go out and form their own groups. These can be called fake Japanese or pseudo-Japanese people.”

Crossing the line into paranoia, Yoshida became more specific about where these “pseudo-Japanese” could be found.

“They are particularly numerous in the political world (especially in the Democratic Party of Japan), in the mass media (especially the Asahi Shinbun, NHK, TBS), the legal professions (judges and lawyers, especially those from the University of Tokyo), the bureaucracy (almost all from the University of Tokyo), the entertainment world, and the sports world,” he wrote.

Explaining the stakes, he continued, “It doesn’t matter if the entertainment and sports worlds are filled with such people, because they have little influence. The problem is in politics, the bureaucracy, the media, and the legal profession, because this has a serious impact on the lives of the Japanese people.”

After complaining that “pure Japanese” businessmen like himself can now expect to lose 100% of their legal cases because so many of the plaintiffs and judges are among the counterfeits, he concluded, “We don’t need these pseudo-Japanese. They should go back to their own home countries.”

Whatever else can be said about Yoshida, he gives every indication that he truly believes that he is in a battle for the soul of Japan. He funds the online network DHC Television, which is arguably the largest Japanese rightwing news media service based on the internet.

The DHC Television YouTube channel currently boasts over 830,000 subscribers. It’s program Toranomon News is frequently hosted by prominent rightwing celebrities such as Naoki Hyakuta, Genki Fujii, and Kent Gilbert. In the past, the channel has even been able to book exclusive guest interviews up to the level of Shinzo Abe, while he was serving as the incumbent prime minister.

While the precise figures are not publicly available, it can be confidently surmised that Yoshida is an important financial sustainer for Japan’s far right media community, and it is a demonstrable fact that he provides them one of their primary media platforms.

Oddly, Yoshida chose South Korea as one of the markets for DHC’s international expansion. Not surprisingly, his promotion of anti-Korean racism in Japan has not benefitted the fortunes of DHC Korea.

DHC Korea was established in 2002 and has logged annual sales north of US$8 million, but it has recently seen some of its business partners defect, its brand representatives resign, and a boycott movement blossom as the South Korean news media paid more attention to the content of DHC Television programs and the statements of the company leader.

In Japan, however, reactions have not been so sharp. While anti-racism activists and some others have decried Yoshida’s statements on social media, and a mayor in Ibaraki says that he may cut DHC links “if it gets worse in the future,” there seem to have been few material consequences for the company.

Japan’s corporate world probably feels uncomfortable about Yoshida’s racist statements and his paranoid rightwing views, but so far they remain willing to do business with him.

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