Freed Japan hostage welcomed, jeered

TOKYO -- A Japanese journalist freed from Syria this week arrived home to overjoyed relatives and supporters, but also to vitriol from some who accuse him and other hostages of reckless behavior.

Jumpei Yasuda was kidnapped in Syria in 2015, and spent more than three years in conditions he described as “hell.”

He arrived back in Japan on Thursday night, greeted by his delighted wife and parents, who had brought him homemade Japanese food to celebrate.

But even before Yasuda set foot on Japanese soil, he was the target of angry criticism — mostly online — ranging from accusations of recklessness to claims that he was not even Japanese.

“He is disturbing society,” wrote one Twitter user. “He’s an anti-citizen,” charged another.

Perhaps anticipating the criticism, Yasuda’s only statement upon arrival, read to reporters by his wife Myu, was dominated by an apology.

“I apologise for causing such trouble and worry, but thanks to all of you, I was able to come home safely,” he said.

The anger directed at Yasuda — author of books on the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, whose reporting has appeared on Japanese television — is a far cry from the reception that journalism held hostage have received in other countries upon their release.

When four French journalists held by the Islamic State group in Syria were released, then-French president Francois Hollande met the men as they arrived home.

‘It’s your fault’

But in Japan, freed hostages have often met a mixed reception, with critics suggesting victims were responsible for getting themselves kidnapped.

“They are the victims, they haven’t broken the law, but they have to apologize. It’s strange, but it’s the mentality of a part of Japanese society,” said Toshiro Terada, a professor of philosophy at Sophia University in Tokyo.

“The person is accused of having harmed society.”

In one of the more shocking examples of the reaction, three Japanese men held hostage in Iraq and freed in 2004 arrived home to find people at the airport holding up banners reading “It’s your fault.”

Their kidnappers had threatened to burn them alive if Tokyo failed to withdraw non-combat troops stationed in southern Iraq.

But then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi refused the demands, and even declined to meet with the families of the hostages, a hardline position that was applauded in some quarters of Japanese society.        

The government itself, supported by right-wing media, described the men as “irresponsible youths” for having ignored warnings to avoid travel to Iraq, then an active war zone.

One of the men, Noriaki Imai, said recently he received letters saying “die” or calling him “stupid.”

“Online, the bashing lasted ten years,” he said.

Karyn Nishimura-Poupee