Japanese Cosmetics Firm Slanders Koreans in Attack on Rival

Japanese Cosmetics Firm Slanders Koreans in Attack on Rival

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Picture: sasaki106 / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Japanese cosmetics firm DHC's attack was directed at rival Suntory - a company long detested by Japan's right-wing racists.

When Nike Japan ran its ad featuring a multi-ethnic Japanese cast, it drew a powerful backlash from Japan’s hard right-wing. Many of them maintained – ridiculously – that there is no racial discrimination in Japan. One even went so far as to claim that there can be no racism in Japan because…Japanese people are polytheists. And no, I’m not making that up.

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Lol. https://t.co/Sv1A5wiFih

Of course, the truth is that a certain element of Japanese society has practiced racial discrimination for years. As we’ve discussed before, Koreans living in Japan, or Zainichi Koreans, are a prime and recurring target of right-wing hate. And a new incident centering on cosmetics manufacturer DHC emphasizes just how often – and blatantly – Japanese Koreans are attacked.

“A Pure Japanese Company”

As I mentioned yesterday on Twitter, Yoshida Yoshiaki, the Chairman of DHC, tripped off the controversy with a letter posted on the company’s web site. The letter references an ad from Japanese powerhouse Suntory, which competes against DHC with its Wellness brand. Describing Suntory’s advertising, Chairman Yoshida said:


The talent Suntory uses in its commercials seems to be mostly Koreans for some reason. I guess that’s why they’re ridiculed on the Internet as C***tory. DHC is a pure Japanese company – and that starts with our talent.

(Note: I’ve censored a term that’s considered a racial slur against Koreans in Japanese. See this thread by Hyunsu Yim for a fuller discussion.)

There seems to be some discrepancy around how this remark has been reported. For example, both Buzzfeed and author Furuya Tsunehira, a noted expert on Japan’s right-wing, report the final line as the following:


That would change the meaning of Yoshida’s statement to be “DHC consists purely of Japanese people, starting with its talent.” That’s likely a factually incorrect statement, given that DHC has offices around the world, including in the US and…um, South Korea. It’s unclear to me whether this is a transcription error (Yoshida’s post is an image, not text) or if the statement was updated after the fact. Either way, it remains a deeply offensive statement – and doesn’t change the use of the racial slur one bit.

DHC faced immediate blowback on Japanese Twitter. The trending hashtag #差別企業DHCの商品は買いません (Don’t buy discriminatory company DHC’s products) sprang up as people vowed to ditch the company’s products. One user noted that DHC’s declaration is ironic coming from a company whose innerwear line is manufactured in China:


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Nikeの反差別CMに「強制労働の可能性のある中国で生産しているのに反差別を謳うとは言語道断、ウイグルの実態にも反論しろ」と非難が集まっていたのですが、DHCのインナーも中国製です。私はイデオロギーの二極化を求めてない。中国依存に始まる国際的不平等を是正したい。https://t.co/lGPtuahfkZ pic.twitter.com/XLl0PkSjVm

Other commentators noted how ironic it was that the right-wing – which just weeks ago was crowing about how totally not racist Japan was – were now openly reveling in a clearly racist and discriminatory statement from a Japanese company. Author Ototake Hirotada noted: “Behold the aggressiveness of DHC, which in response to people saying ‘there’s no racism in Japan!’ in response to the Nike ad, leans in to show them the sad truth – ‘Look, there’s a racist, right here!'”

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NIKEのCMに対して「日本に差別なんてない!」と怒り狂ってた人々に「ほら、こうして差別主義者はいるよ、と身をもって残念な事実を知らしめていくDHCのアグレッシブさよ。 pic.twitter.com/RhrNZ5GVIE

Huffington Post Japan contacted DHC after the controversy broke to get their reaction to the outcry. A DHC spokesperson told the outlet that they “don’t have anything particular to say” about the fervor. In other words, they’re standing firmly behind their discriminatory stance.

HuffPo also contacted Suntory for comment. While refusing to discuss its rival outright, Suntory said that, “we recognize the importance of respecting the human dignity of each person as an individual member of society.”

Why The Japanese Right Wing Hates Suntory

Japanese right-wing hatred of Suntory is based in booze. (Picture: Suntory Kyougetsu official Web site)

But why did DHC pick on Suntory in particular? Did Suntory’s Chairman insult Yoshida’s mother or something?

It turns out that there’s a history here. Right-wing watcher Furuya Tsunehira (who I’ve referred to extensively before regarding his brilliant piece on right-wing LDP politician Sugita Mio) says that right-wing fury at Suntory goes back to 2011. Until then, the company had already been the target of conspiracy theories that it employed mostly Korean workers dating back to around 2002, which Furuya describes as a “hate boom” period in Japan.

The Japanese right-wing went after Suntory again in 2017 for the "crime" of hiring actress Mizuhara Kiko, a Korean half, as a spokesperson for one of its products. Click To Tweet

But in 2011, Suntory released Kyougetsu (鏡月), its take on Korean shochu. In its description of how it chose the name of the product, Suntory said that it’s named after a lake that neighbors the “East Sea (The Sea of Japan)”. The statement used the Korean expression for the Sea of Japan, 東海 (toukai), first, instead of leading with its official Japanese name (日本海; nihonkai). While the body of water is generally known internationally as the Sea of Japan, many bodies, such as the International Hydrographic Association, also recognize the use of East Sea on maps.

So…what’s the big deal, you might say? If you said that, then – congratulations! You’re not a Japanese nationalist. Because, for them, it was a huge deal. Nationalists accused Suntory of “lacking a love of country” by emphasizing the Korean name and called for a boycott of its products.

In fact, it was such a huge deal that they’re still angry about it. In fact, the right-wing response to DHC’s statement has been two-fold: (1) affirm that DHC is totally correct in saying it’s a Japanese company because this is Japan, dammit; and (2) bring up the Suntory “Toukai” incident as a reason why they’re boycotting Suntory products.

A representative tweet from the “I support DHC” contingent referencing the “Suntory Toukai Incident”.

Suntory actually caved to the neto-uyo (Japanese slang for online right-wingers) at the time and formally apologized. As you can see, their apology fell on deaf ears. The right-wing went after Suntory again in 2017 for the “crime” of hiring actress Mizuhara Kiko, whose mother is half-Korean, as a spokesperson for one of its products. Right-wingers slammed Mizuhara – an American raised in Texas – as a “fake Japanese” and demanded the company use someone who was “pure Japanese”.

As Furuya notes, Suntory is far from the only Japanese company to use Korean, Korean mixed, and Zainichi Korean talent. They picked on Mizuhara because Suntory had already been on their shit list for years.

In short, DHC’s attack didn’t come out of nowhere. It was a deliberate attempt by Yoshida Yoshiaki and the rest of the company to revive a long-standing hatred of their business rival.

For my part, you won’t find me calling for a boycott of Suntory. You can pry my Strong Zero and my Hibiki out of my cold, dead hands. It will be a cold day in hell, however, before my family ever buys DHC products again. And, judging by the online backlash, a lot of other people will be right there with me.

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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