Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his right leaning Liberal Democratic Party have been eagerly seeking a solution to Japan’s ageing and shrinking population. However, those leaders had to distance themselves from one of the country’s most prominent conservative voices last week, when her proposition set off a firestorm on social media and in the broader diplomatic community.
Ayako Sono, an 83-year-old education consultant to the government—and bestselling conservative political author—wrote in her regular column for the Sankei newspaper on Wednesday, Feb. 11 that Japan should relax its immigration policy to allow more foreigners in and thus boost the nation’s waning population. However, any left-leaning readers who might have been intrigued by the prelude to Sono’s seemingly progressive proposal were quickly dismayed by the ensuing sentences in her editorial.
Sono went on to praise South Africa’s infamous apartheid era as an inspiration, before adding: “Since I learned the situation in South Africa 20 to 30 years ago, I’ve come to believe whites, Asians and blacks should live separately … It is next to impossible to attain an understanding of foreigners by living alongside them.”
A recent Telegraph article about the column and its ensuing controversy also noted that Sono wrote “black Africans had ‘ruined’ areas previously reserved for whites in South Africa, and would do the same thing in Japan if allowed to live where they chose.” The Wall Street Journal described an “anecdote” in a later paragraph of Sono’s column “about an apartment building in Johannesburg, saying that an influx of black residents after the end of apartheid caused white residents to flee.”
The Telegraph went on to detail the backlash to Sono’s piece, both at home and abroad. South African officials, in particular, did not appreciate her statements about this chapter of the country’s past. Mohau Pheko, South Africa’s ambassador to Japan, described Sono’s column as a “shameful” piece that “tolerated and glorified apartheid.”
Domestic criticism has been even more fierce, and Telegraph noted that Abe’s government has distanced itself from Sono since the article’s publication, saying: “she had been an education adviser some time ago and had no current relations with government.” The Wall Street Journal confirmed this point, saying that Sono “stepped down from a panel advising Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on education in October 2013, according to a Cabinet Office official.” However, the The Sankei newspaper defended Sono as a prominent conservative voice, and said their publication of her controversial column was legitimate. The Japan Times quoted a statement from The Sankei that said: “This is a regular column of Ayako Sono … We carried it … as her own opinion. We believe it’s natural that various opinions exist.”
Far more fiery opinions about the column appeared on Twitter leading up to the weekend:
Kevin Aleman @KevinAleman Feb 12
Nazi sympathizer Ayako Sono close advisor to Japanese PM Shinzo Abe wants Apartheid in Japan
Ken Watanabe @ken_watanabe Feb 12
Shame on Sankei Shinbun walking away by publishing Ayako Sono’s shameful article suggesting racial segregation.
Sophie Knight @Kishakishi Feb 11
#AyakoSono seems to have never heard of a ghetto or have any knowledge, academic or personal, about social effects of segregation.
Matt Alt @Matt_Alt Feb 11
OTOH it’s nice to let idiots out themselves @Kishakishi Translation of Ayako Sono “yay for apartheid” piece by @Durf http://durf.tumblr.com/post/110772241382/yesterday-sono-ayako-contributed-an-opinion-piece …
(Matt Alt’s Tweet also included a link to a translation of Sono’s column, which can be read here.)
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