ON Japanese television last year, anchorman Tetsuya Chikushi said that a violent drug war might turn New York City into a ``slaughterhouse.'' The analogy was deeply cutting to some Japanese. The next day, the butchers union of Tokyo confronted the television star and asked him to confess to discrimination.
He was also ``invited'' to go through a special training, where he was told about bigotry against Japan's burakumin (village people), descendants of social outcasts once relegated to low-class occupations as handlers of meat and leather.
The training is part of a tactic, known as kyudan, or denunciation campaign, designed by the Buraku Liberation League (BLL). The group targets anyone who violates its criteria for proper depiction of the burakumin.
But one result of the thousands of kyudan over the 68 years of BLL's existence has been a virtual silence in the Japanese news media about the burakumin. Media corporations fear the BLL's harassment, which in decades past has sometimes resulted in violence. ``Kyudan did tend to become very emotional,'' admits Tamio Yamanaka, the BLL's kyudan organizer.
Mr. Chikushi, however, took his denunciation to heart, even taking BLL's cause to the airwaves. He told viewers about his year-long training, and rebroadcast his original comment in order to criticize it.
Journalists were also encouraged to break their silence by an unusual debate in October between Tatsukuni Komori, the BLL secretary general, and Karel van Wolferen, whose book, ``The Enigma of Japanese Power,'' came out this summer in Japanese.
``The average Japanese has heard more about discrimination against blacks and other minorities in the United States than about discrimination against Japan's many kinds of minorities,'' Mr. van Wolferen said. He blamed the BLL and the press itself, which ``tends to see itself as a maintainer of social order and peace.''
Chikushi's experience with kyudan has given him sympathy to other forms of discrimination. Unlike most Japanese media, his program recently highlighted the continuing protests in the US over a slur against American blacks by Japan's justice minister in September. ``If I had not been involved in the burakumin issue,'' he said, ``I don't know if I could ever become so sensitive about this.''