In the U.S., His Site Has Been Linked to Massacres. In Japan, He's a Star.

Hiroyuki Nishimura has become a famous voice for disenchanted young Japanese. What he talks much less about is his ownership of the notorious website 4chan.

In the U.S., His Site Has Been Linked to Massacres. In Japan, He's a Star.

His social media following has grown to millions, with him voicing his opinions on Japan's failings. He has appeared on the catwalk of one of Japan's most prestigious fashion shows as well as in a government video encouraging people to be more careful with their finances. High school students voted him their top choice for prime minister in a nationwide poll.

Hiroyuki Nishimura, who is a popular Japanese celebrity entrepreneur, author, and commentator, has made himself a beloved figure among young Japanese people. His name is almost as common in Japan as Adam in America.

He has written more than two dozen books and hundreds upon hundreds of columns in magazines encouraging his readers to be more selfish and not care about others' opinions. He was initially known for his work in creating two of Japan's most popular websites. However, he has become a national antihero and raises a huge middle finger to mainstream society by expressing his contrarian views as openly as possible.

However, Mr. Nishimura is less interested in talking about his ownership of 4chan. This anonymous online message board is not for sale.

4chan, under his leadership has been one of the most dangerous places on the internet. Despite the fact that the site has been linked with mass shootings, conspiracy theories, and other ill-reputed activities, few Americans have heard of Mr. Nishimura. Even though 4chan is mentioned in almost every Mr. Nishimura's credential, very few Japanese people know anything about it.


This is partly because Mr. Nishimura speaks very little about his 4chan role in English or Japanese.

His openness about almost everything gives insight into his motivations for managing a site that has become a clearinghouse of some of the most harmful ideas on the internet, and its busiest boards chock full with misogyny and white supremacy.

Interviews with Mr. Nishimura have shown that he takes pride in his lack ethics and willingness push the limits of society. In Japan, where societal reproach and acute fear are often used to control people, Nishimura's near total invulnerability is a form of superpower. This has been a key factor in his success.

In a 2007 interview with Spa, a Japanese magazine, he stated that he thinks about his choices and the future, without regard to morals. Then he took action. "Normal people have morals so they would probably think thinking like mine is strange."

This outlook appears to have guided Mr. Nishimura's management of both 4chan and 2chan, its Japanese predecessor. According to court records, interviews, and dozens more of his writings, Mr. Nishimura (46) followed a 2chan playbook that appears to have been a model for its successor. He tried to do as little as possible to maintain control and rejected any requests to alter it.

He was always at the edge of the rules and despite the pressure from Japanese society, the courts, he refused any concessions, insisting that he wasn't doing anything illegal.

Interviewers repeatedly asked Mr. Nishimura about his responsibility for managing 2chan over the years. He said, despite his impressive output, that he enjoys playing the role of a lazy slacker and that it was boring or too difficult. He said that if people have a problem with the content of 2chan, they should contact Parliament to amend the law.

When pressed on the subject in 2001, he replied that he didn't feel responsible for the site's content and that only the most active users should set their own rules.

"I give you a space. But, I tell people that it is up to you to decide what you do with it."

'Bad Things'

When Mr. Nishimura purchased 4chan in 2015, he did something that he has never done before: He answered questions about the site's vision.

It was already a well-known corner on the internet. He said that if he could only make one change to the site, it would allow for more interesting things, even bad things, to occur there.

His wish was fulfilled. 4chan users have helped to radicalize mass shooters including the white supremacist who killed dozens last spring in Buffalo. A congressional committee was investigating Jan. 6 riots at Capitol and demanded Mr. Nishimura give information on individuals involved in the attack. The man who attacked Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband, in October, wrote that he was a regular poster on the site.

He has stated that he is simply fulfilling a need for sites where people can express their opinions. He insists that he has always complied with the law and has responded to all requests from authorities regarding suspected crimes in relation to posts.

2chan was where Mr. Nishimura started his career. It is a sprawling, chaotic, and most importantly, anonymous message board that he created as a student at University of Central Arkansas in 1999. It was already well-known by May 2000 when a user posted a mysterious message about a bus in southern Japan. He then hijacked the bus, stabbing three and killing one.

Japan was captivated by the episode. The site was quickly flooded with new users, and Mr. Nishimura soon became a household name, explaining his hobby to a country just beginning to embrace the internet.

In a 2002 interview with Flash, he stated that "We don't live within a utopia." "Something was bound for happen."


It grew quickly. It grew into a hub of eccentric, free-spirited internet culture. It was one of few places in Japan that allowed people to freely voice their opinions.

2chan became a household name in 2004 with the publication of "Train Man," a compilation of posts on the board that showed how users helped a lonely nerd to find the woman of his dreams. It became a bestseller, a blockbuster movie, and a hit TV series. 2chan became Japan's most popular website.

Most users discuss hobbies and gripe about work. Others threaten murder, post bomb threats, and incite reckless conspiracy theories. Far-right users posted a flood of posts that denied Japan's war crimes. This led to an increase in anti-Korean hatred.

While Mr. Nishimura made a handsome profit from the site, earning up to $100,000 per month, he was also adept at avoiding its costs. He was sued over 2chan posts more than 100 times by his own account. He refused to pay $1 million in court judgements, pointing out the absence of criminal penalties.

"If I was to be executed for not paying my debts, I would." After a 2007 court hearing, he said that nothing would happen to him if he didn't pay.

Eichiro Fukami, a long-term collaborator with Mr. Nishimura in 2chan-related projects, said that Mr. Nishimura considered dodging lawsuits, like all other things related to 2chan, 'just another game'. After Mr. Nishimura accused him of embezzlement, Mr. Fukami sued Mr. Nishimura.

He said that Mr. Nishimura spent hours devising ways to get around laws and regulations. 2chan's servers were located in the United States and are therefore not subject to Japanese law. Mr. Nishimura had considered making the site a religious organization in order to get a tax exemption. Mr. Fukami stated that.

He said, "He was always moving on the edge of the rules," he continued.

As 2chan's reputation grew, Mr. Nishimura tried to distance himself. He suddenly declared that he had sold 2chan and cut all his connections in early 2009. He wrote a book called "The Reason I Throw Away 2chan."

This story was not to last. The police thought that Mr. Nishimura's sale of 2chan was a scheme to conceal his ownership. This was revealed in a court proceeding. His lawyers later confirmed that Mr. Nishimura was secretly still running the site in a separate legal proceeding.


'No Problems'

2013 saw Mr. Nishimura lose control of 2chan due to a dispute between Jim Watkins and Jim Nishimura, a friend of many who became the owner of 8chan which is a less controlled version of 4chan. One blow and Mr. Nishimura lost both his income and his influence.

Two years later, Mr. Nishimura purchased 4chan from Christopher Poole in America. It was the home of early internet memes such as Rickroll and LOLcats. It also had a dark side. Gamergate was born, which was a harassment campaign that targeted women working in the video games industry and threatened them with rape and death.

In 2014, Mr. Poole was tired and ready to find a new job. Mr. Nishimura was open to the idea.

In his anti-productivity manifesto, 'One Percent effort,' Mr. Nishimura stated that he bought 4chan to get out of Japan's shrinking market. He said anonymous message boards were well-known as places where "problems easily occur", meaning that companies were afraid of touching them.

Although there was a lot of demand for these sites, there was very little competition. He wrote, "The site would make money even though I did nothing."

The site's operations today are nearly completely opaque. Like Mr. Poole's, Mr. Nishimura rarely answers questions about 4chan. Its ownership is kept secret behind a corporate veil and is managed anonymously by moderators who are bound to keep it quiet under nondisclosure agreements. According to The New York Times documents and other sources, Mr. Nishimura purchased 4chan using funding from three Japanese partners. The unspecified amount was not disclosed.

4chan was mentioned in a New York State Attorney General report about the Buffalo massacre. It noted that 4chan 'operates outside the efforts of other online platforms to rein In hate speech and graphic material that contributes to white supremacist violence.

The gunman posted a manifesto to 4chan stating that he was radicalized by white supremacist conspiracies he first encountered in New Zealand. He claimed that his attack was inspired by a 4chan video of the Christchurch massacre, New Zealand, in 2019.

According to the report of the attorney general, 4chan was slow to remove such content from other sites.

That seems to be a problem for Mr. Nishimura.

He wrote, "Since I've run 4chan, we have never been taken to trial," on Twitter. However, he did not mention that unlike Japan, U.S. law protects websites against liability for user posts.

He added that logically, 4chan had been meeting its obligations and there were no problems.