‘Hate speech’ in Japan as a daily-use word

Its explosive expansion throughout the country

Noboru Sakai, Tamagawa University [About | Email]

Volume 18, Issue 3 (Discussion paper 6 in 2018). First published in ejcjs on 16 December 2018.


This paper discusses from a sociolinguistic viewpoint how the technical term ‘hate speech’ has become a general daily term ‘ヘイトスピーチ’ (or shortened version ‘ヘイト’) in Japan, in order to evaluate the influential effect of the Internet in information expansion (i.e., this study does not talk about “hate speech” as a means of social movement). How the trend has developed is also considered through looking at how the term was used from 2013 to 2017. In 2013, because some famous people/organisations used the term ‘hate speech’ on Internet communication sites, readers of the sites reflexively responded emotionally, and they too extended the use of the word with respect to situations on famous Internet sites such as 2channnel. Moreover, leading Japanese mass communication companies, including NHK, broadcast this issue nationwide. The term then became a nation-wide trend throughout Japan, resulting in its nomination for the Word of the Year (Jiyukokuminsha, 2013). This case is a prominent example of how loan or foreign words become part of regional vocabulary.

Keywords: Hate speech, the Word of the Year, Internet BBS, Media, Katakana word.

Acknowledgements:I would like to extend my thanks to Emeritus Professor Nanette Gottlieb, the University of Queensland, for proofreading this work.

1. Introduction

‘Hate speech’, nowadays, sounds familiar to many Japanese as a Katakana word ‘ヘイトスピーチ’ or its abbreviated form ‘ヘイト’ (‘hate’, simply omitting the original second word ‘speech’; such shortening is quite common in Japanese new-word formations). This paper explores how such a professional term comes to be a natural part of a language set (it does not discuss the pros-and-cons of the concept of hate speech itself). Until just a few years ago, ‘hate speech’ was just a technical term used by specialists; ordinary people did not even have a sense of what it meant. To give an anecdote, the author participated in the ‘1st Discourse and Narrative Symposium: Stigma and Exclusion in (Cross-) Cultural Contexts’ held at the University of Queensland at the beginning of February 2013. For conference paper submissions, one of the keywords was ‘hate speech’, and I, a researcher of sociolinguistics who knows the concept and technical terms relating to social matters more than ordinary people do, but have not studied this one closely, met the term ‘hate speech’ for the first time. I still remember my surprise at learning that some experts focus on the field of ‘hate speech’, so speaking as a general citizen of Japan, it is quite certain that most Japanese had not heard anything about the term ‘hate speech’. Actually, ‘hate speech’ was rarely discussed among Japanese except by specialists in the fields of international communication or international law (based on Google Scholar, retrieved from the research results until 2012). At that time, ‘hate speech’ was just a technical term used by experts until early 2013. However, a dynamic movement surrounding this word then occurred. 

2. The term ‘hate speech’ in 2013 and after 

‘Hate speech’was a technical term in Japan, but one day a tweet which may have boosted the recognition of the word was posted by an NHK worker as follows:

Just spreading hate speech, Net Benkei who are proud of themselves as they contribute to society should go to Tohoku to volunteer once. I want to say, I do want to say so. (No. 1) (https://twitter.com/NHK_PR/status/303520587744161793)

This tweet was introduced on 2channel that day, with the title “【マスコミ】NHK「ヘイトスピーチするネット弁慶、東北でボランティアしろ」→「東北を叩く人に言っただけ(伝わる?)」と解説(【Mass communication】NHK「Hate speech by Net Benkei, Do volunteer in Tohoku!」→Explaining as 「Saying to only those who complain about Tohoku area(understand?)」)” and soon many comments followed: in 5 days, there were about 79000 comments on it, although several of them may have been posted by the same person. Examples are: 

★1: 2013/02/19(火) 03:23:33.61
★79:2013/02/23(土) 03:23:44.15

An increasing number of people then started to discuss the issue of how Internet BBS users talk about topics relating to “hate speech” as it includes both valuable and valueless information. For example:

【論説】「2ちゃんは在日韓国人へのヘイトスピーチ多いが、まとめサイトはネット右翼を煽る作りでもっと悪質」…ガジェ通・李記者(Lee, 2013)
【Article】「2channel contains a lot of hate speech about Zainichi Koreans, but Matome sites are worse in terms of their Net right wings」…Gajet Tsushin by Ri
I think 2channel has both good and bad information. Even though there is lots of hate speech, 2channel has developed its own culture, and cannot be denied.
>…However, the problem is “Matome sites” … most of which target the so called “Internet right wing”, then agitate these people through their technical features. 
… Matome sites only pick up comments filled with discrimination, which is decorated by colored large fonts. If some read these sites, they may think the attitudes shown in discrimination or hate speech about Zainichi Koreans are common in society.

These discussions heated up day by day, and particularly when a demonstration for Korean exclusion happened in Shin-Okubo on March 30, in an article entitled “東京・新大久保の韓国人排斥デモに見るヘイトスピーチと言論の進歩[Seen in an anti-Korean demonstration at Shin-Okubo, Tokyo: Advancement of freedom of speech and hate speech] (Furihata, 2013). Two months later, in addition to private mass communication broadcasts, NHK, the national broadcaster, reported a discussion in the Diet about hate speech on May 7, and finally NHK broadcast a feature video on hate speech entitled “ヘイトスピーチ” 日韓友好の街で何が・・・”[‘Hate speech’: what happens in a Japan-Korea friendly city] on May 31.

After the NHK broadcast, several mass communication companies spoke about hate speech. On September 28, one major broadcasting company, TBS, ran a program critically discussing hate speech, and this stimulated Internet discussion. Throughout the year, hate speech was a trend in human rights issues all over Japan; then finally, hate speech was selected as the best trend word in 2013. The award body explained the word as:

国籍や宗教、性的指向や障害などをおとしめ、憎悪、暴力を掻き立てる「憎悪表現」を指す。2013年の日本、反韓デモを繰り広げる団体、それに対する反ヘイトスピーチ団体など、社会問題化している。アメリカではヘイトスピーチを禁じる目的をもったスピーチコードといわれる規則が大学や放送事業者の間で広まっている。が、規制については「表現の自由」との関連で慎重意見が少なくない。(Jiyukokuminsha, 2013)
Hate speech means an expression of hatred which devalues nationality, religion, and disabilities and agitates for hate and violence. In 2013, anti-Korean organisations and anti-hate organisations became a social problem. In the U.S, speech codes that forbid hate speech are widespread in university and broadcasting companies. However in Japan, there are still a large number of conservative opinions against legislation in connection with freedom of speech.

As this discussion shows, ‘hate speech’ as a Katakana Japanese word has been discussed as an important topic since 2013 (Google Scholar, retrieved research results 2013-2016). Looking at Wikipedia for trends in searching the reference among the general public, ヘイトスピーチgives 116 references for the article, 106 of them published since March 2013. Amazon Japan sells 156 titles in relation to the keyword ヘイトスピーチ, but only one was published before 2013 (both accessed September 26, 2016). These numbers show how ヘイトスピーチhas gained attention exponentially in Japan and seems already to have entered the lexicon of Japanese people as a general-use word. In present-day Japan, English words are often introduced phonetically instead of through translation into Japanese, but most of them remain unintelligible for many people; only a limited number of professional persons understand their usages. However, hate speech is a notable case of nativising a foreign and technical term as a shared language scheme, and it is an important source for discussing English in Japan or elsewhere. 

3. Conclusion

This paper discusses how the technical term, ‘hate speech’, became a daily general-use vocabulary item in Japan. The discussion shows that media had a great impact and the term spread rapidly as a trend in discussion, which could have existed previously. This is an example of how a social movement and information propagation coherently interacted and shows how the general opinion of public or daily vocabulary takes root as a part of people’s life.


Furihata, Manabu. 2013. 東京・新大久保の韓国人排斥デモに見る:ヘイトスピーチと言論の進歩[Seen in an anti-Korean demonstration at Shin-Okubo, Tokyo: Advancement of freedom of speech and hate speech] from http://diamond.jp/articles/-/33794

Jiyukokuminsha. 2013. 2013年ユーキャン新語流行語大賞. [Trends in the year 2013]. http://singo.jiyu.co.jp/

Lee,Sinhae. 2013. 差別はネットの娯楽なのか(11)―Bong_Lee「ネット右翼、ネオンくんってどんな人なんだろう?『死ね、殺す』という言葉を安易に使う人たち」[Discrimination as an entertainment of the Internet?(11): Who is internet right wing or Mr neon? Those who use “die and kill” easily. From http://getnews.jp/archives/292264

Wikipedia. n.d. ヘイトスピーチ. [Hate speech]. http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/% E3%83%98%E3%82%A4%E3%83%88%E3%82%B9%E3%83%94%E3%83%BC%E3%83%81

Websites referred to:

Amazon JP: https://www.amazon.co.jp/

Google scholar: https://scholar.google.co.jp/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/

2channnel: http://2ch.sc/

About the Author

Noboru Sakai is an adjunct lecturer at the Center for English as a Lingua Franca, Tamagawa University, Japan. He holds a PhD (Language studies) from the University of Queensland, an MA (Applied Linguistics) from the University of Queensland, and BS (Information systems) from Soka University, Japan. His research interest is communication in society from a holistic view, including its related multidisciplinary research fields. In particular, he studies computer mediated communication (particularly among young people) based on sociolinguistic perspectives. He also researches in applied linguistics, emphasising computer assisted language learning and Japanese translation.

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