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From Soft Law to Legal Pluralism: Japan’s Response to Hate Speech in Interaction between International, National, and Local Regulations


Ayako Hatano, Oxford

The surge of hateful rallies in Japan since the early 2000s drew national and international criticism, prompting the UN human rights treaty bodies to recommend that the government take legal measures against hate speech. In response, Japan enacted its first anti-hate speech law in 2016. Despite criticisms of the law’s narrow definition of hate speech and lack of penalties, it has had some impact on the judiciary, police, and administrative organs. Notably, by devolving responsibility to local governments to develop their own strategies for addressing hate speech, the law stimulated stricter regulations in municipalities. Some municipalities’ anti-hate speech ordinances have wider protection and even more extensive enforcement mechanisms, including penalties, than the national level. This case demonstrates how a non-binding and cooperative soft law approach at the national level can encourage legalistic modes of governance at the municipal level, resulting in a legal pluralistic regulation of hate speech.