Photo/Illutration An arson site in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture, on May 22 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

A serial arson case that occurred last year poses the weighty question of how we can build a genuinely inclusive society by eliminating malicious discrimination based on race or ethnicity.

The Kyoto District Court on Aug. 30 handed down a four-year prison sentence to Shogo Arimoto, 23, for setting a vacant house on fire exactly one year ago in an ethnic Korean community in the Utoro district of Uji, Kyoto Prefecture.

Arimoto was also charged with setting fire to a property belonging to the Aichi prefectural chapter of an ethnic Korean organization, as well as to a Korean school in Nagoya’s Nakamura Ward, in July 2021.

As if to justify his crimes, he made repeated statements in court to the effect that he harbored "animosity toward ethnic Koreans" and that "many people" share his discriminatory feelings that are the motivation behind hate crimes.

Presiding Judge Keisuke Masuda noted in his ruling that the defendant's motive was "self-righteous, self-centered and merited no further consideration by the court" and "could never by condoned in a democratic society."

The judge went along with the prosecutors' demand for a four-year prison sentence--an appropriately harsh sentence.

The enactment of the Hate Speech Act in 2016 seeks to outlaw and eliminate hate speech. But after six years, the road still remains long and arduous.

In fact, some people have taken advantage of--or have abused, to be exact--the principle of freedom of speech called for on the internet and during election campaigns, and inflamed others to spew hate and contribute to divisiveness.

And that's not only in Japan. Hate speech has become a grave issue around the world.

To stop this trend at all costs and focus on peace and human rights, a group of local residents and civic activists joined forces and opened "Utoro Heiwa Kinenkan" (Utoro Peace Memorial Museum) in April.

During World War II, Korean laborers were brought to the Utoro district for the construction of an airfield. After Japan's defeat, they were left there to continue living in the direst of conditions.

After some twists and turns, including litigation by a corporation that acquired the land to evict the Korean residents, the founders of the Utoro Peace Memorial Museum finally could purchase the land in the 21st century with the support of the South Korean government and Japanese as well South Korean citizens' groups.

This led to a project to improve the neighborhood's living conditions, undertaken by the central and local governments of Japan.

On display at the museum are relics, panels and images that tell of Utoro's somber history and the commitment made by South Koreans and Japanese who supported the community. The museum also has a space where visitors can freely exchange opinions and learn.

Akiko Tagawa, the museum's first director, has been supporting Utoro for three decades ever since she learned of the reality of discrimination and the circumstances under which the residents were living at the time, including the absence of city water service.

The words that Tagawa lives by are those of a local woman who told her, "People can't understand each other unless they meet each other."

Arimoto reportedly committed arson to block the opening of the museum, believing a false rumor he saw on the internet that the Koreans were living on illegally occupied land.

A typical pattern of action, common to many perpetrators of hate crimes, is to believe hearsay without bothering to verify it for themselves.

What do we need to do to respect and converse with one another and deepen our own understanding, and to reinforce the foundations of an inclusive society? We should keep heeding messages from Utoro.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 31