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Hi Blog. Let’s sew this issue up:
LESSONS OF THE URAWA “JAPANESE ONLY” SOCCER STADIUM BANNER CASE OF MARCH 8, 2014
What happened this week (see my Japan Times column on it a few days ago) is probably the most dramatic and progressive thing to happen to NJ in Japan, particularly its Visible Minorities, since the Otaru Onsens Case came down with its District Court Decision in November 2002.
In this decision, a Japanese court ruled for only the second time (the first being the Ana Bortz Case back in October 1999) that “Japanese Only” signs and rules were racial discrimination (jinshu sabetsu).
It did not call it discrimination instead based on “ethnicity” (minzoku), “nationality” (kokuseki), outward appearance (gaiken), or some kind of “misunderstanding” (gokai), “ingrained cultural habit” or “necessary business practice” (shuukan no chigai, seikatsu shuukan, shakai tsuunen, shikatsu mondai etc.). All of these claims had merely been excuses made to ignore the elephant in the room — that more invidious racialized processes were involved.
But in the Urawa “Japanese Only” Soccer Stadium Banner Case, the word jinshu sabetsu reappeared in the terms of debate, and we may in fact have witnessed a watershed moment in Japan’s race relations history.
BACKGROUND ON WHY THIS MATTERS: The following is something I wanted to get into in my last column, but I lacked the space:
After studying this issue intensely since 1999, and doing a doctoral dissertation on it, I can say with confidence that using the abovementioned alternative language is the normal way the Japanese media and debate arenas obfuscate the issue — because jinshu sabetsu is what other countries do (most common examples of racial discrimination taught in Japanese education are the US under Segregation and South African Apartheid), NOT Japan. As I wrote in my column on Thursday, Japan sees itself as a “civilized country”; rightly so, but part of that is the conceit that real civilized countries don’t engage in “racial discrimination” (and since allegedly homogeneous Japan allegedly has no races but the “Japanese race“, and allegedly no real minorities to speak of, Japan cannot possibly engage in biologically-based “racial discrimination” like other heterogeneous societies do).
So admitting to actual racial discrimination within Japan’s borders would undermine Japan’s claim to be “civilized”, as far as Japan’s elites and national-narrative setters are concerned. Hence the determined resistance to ever calling something “racial discrimination”. Further proof: In my extensive research of the Otaru Onsens Case, where I read and archived hundreds of Japanese media pieces, only ONE article (a Hokkaido Shinbun editorial after the Sapporo High Court Decision in September 2004) called it “jinshu sabetsu” as AS A FACT OF THE CASE (i.e., NOT merely the opinion of an expert or an activist, which meant for journalistic balance the “opinion” had to be offset with the opinions of the excluder — who always denied they were being racial, like the rest of Japanese society). It’s systematic. We even have prominent social scientists (such as Harumi Befu) and major book titles on discrimination in Japan that steadfastly call it only “minzoku sabetsu“, such as this one:
where I had to fight to get my chapter within it properly entitled “jinshu sabetsu“:
No matter how conscientious the scholar of minority issues in Japan was, it was never a matter of jinshu.
Until now. That has changed with the Urawa “Japanese Only” Stadium Banners Case.
FINALLY CALLING A SPADE A SPADE
Get a load of what Murai Mitsuru, Chair of the J. League, said after some initial hemming and hawing:
“There are various ways of determining what constitutes discrimination. But what is important is not so much why discrimination occurs, but how the victim perceives it and in this case, the acts must be considered nothing short of discriminatory.
“Over the last several days through the media and on the Internet, these acts have had unexpected social repercussions both domestic and abroad, and it is clear that they have damaged the brand of not just the J-League but of the entire Japanese football community.
“With regards to Urawa Reds, they have had repeated trouble with their supporters in the past and the club have previously been sanctioned for racist behavior by their fans.”
“While these most recent acts were conducted by a small group of supporters, it is with utmost regret that Urawa Reds — who have been with the J-League since its founding year in 1993 and who ought to be an example for all of Japanese football — allowed an incident like this to happen.”
It’s the speech I would want to give. He cited a record both past and present to give the issue context. He said that stopping racist behavior was integral to the sport and its participants. And he acknowledged that it was the victims, not the perpetrators, who must be listened to. Well done.
Then he issued the stiffest punishment ever in Japanese soccer history, where Urawa would have to play its next match to an empty stadium (their games are some of the best attended in Japan), which really hurts their bottom line. Better yet, it ensures that Urawa fans will now police each other, lest they all be excluded again. After all, even stadium management let the sign stay up for the entire game:
Courtesy of the Asahi Shinbun. Note the staff member guarding the full gate, behind Urawa’s goal posts. Note also the Rising Sun flags.
It also looks like those racist fans will also be banned indefinitely from Urawa games, and stadium staff may too be punished. Bravo.
More important, look how this issue was reported in Japanese (Mainichi Shinbun):
with jinshu sabetsu included AS A FACT OF THE CASE.
And then look how the issue spread, with the Yokohama Marinos on March 12 putting up an anti-discrimination banner of their own:
And Huffpost Japan depicting jinshu sabetsu AGAIN as a fact of the case:
横浜マのサポーターがハーフタイムに「Ｓｈｏｗ Ｒａｃｉｓｍ ｔｈｅ Ｒｅｄ Ｃａｒｄ」（人種差別にレッドカードを）
The incentives are now very clear. Discriminate, and punishment will be public, swift, meaningful, and effective. And others will not rally to your defense — in fact, may even join in in decrying you in public. Excellent measures that all encourage zero tolerance of jinshu sabetsu.
However, keep in mind that this outcome was far from certain. Remember that initially, as in last Sunday and Monday, this issue was only reported in blurbs in the Japanese and some English-language media (without photos of the banner), with mincing and weasel words about whether or not this was in fact discrimination, and ludicrous attempts to explain it all away (e.g., Urawa investigators reporting that the bannerers didn’t INTEND to racially discriminate; oh, that’s okay then!) as some kind of performance art or fan over-exuberance. At this point, this issue was going the way it always does in these “Japanese Only” cases — as some kind of Japanese cultural practice. In other words, it was about to be covered up all over again.
Except for one thing. It went viral overseas.
As Murai himself said, “these acts have had unexpected social repercussions both domestic and abroad, and it is clear that they have damaged the brand of not just the J-League but of the entire Japanese football community“. In other words, now Japan’s reputation as a civilized member of the world’s sports community (especially in this age of an impending Olympics) was at stake. Probably FIFA was watching too, and it had only two months ago punished another Asian country (China/Hong Kong) for “racial discrimination” towards towards Filipino fans. In this political climate, it would be far more embarrassing for Japan to be in the same boat as China being punished from abroad. So he took decisive action.
This is not to diminish Murai’s impressive move. Bravo, man. You called it what it is, and dealt with it accordingly.
But I believe it would not have happened without exposure to the outside world: Gaiatsu (outside pressure).
After all these years studying this issue, I now firmly believe that appealing to moral character issues isn’t the way to deal with racism in Japan.
After all, check out this baby-talk discussion of this issue in Japan’s most prominent newspaper column, Tensei Jingo, of March 13, 2014:
Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward is starting a project called “A shopping district with people who understand and speak a little English.” I like the part that says “a little.” Shinagawa will be the venue for some of the events during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The ward came up with the idea as a way to welcome athletes and visitors from abroad.
Why “a little”? Few Japanese can confidently say they can speak English. Many more think they can perhaps speak “a little” English. According to Kiyoshi Terashima, the ward official in charge of the project, it is aimed at encouraging such people to positively try and communicate in English. The ward will ask foreigners to visit the stores so that attendants there can learn how to take orders and receive payments using English.
Writer Saiichi Maruya (1925-2012) vividly depicted the trend of 50 years ago when Tokyo hosted the Summer Olympics for the first time. Just because we are having the Olympics, “there is no need to stir up an atmosphere that all 100 million Japanese must turn into interpreters,” he wrote. The quote appears in “1964-Nen no Tokyo Orinpikku” (1964 Tokyo Olympics), compiled by Masami Ishii. I wonder if we can be a little more relaxed when Tokyo hosts the Olympics for the second time.
Warm smiles are considered good manners in welcoming guests. By contrast, I found the following development quite alarming: On March 8, a banner with the English words “Japanese Only” was put up at the entrance to a stand at Saitama Stadium during a soccer game.
Posting such a xenophobic message is utterly thoughtless to say the least. This is not the first time. In the past, an onsen bathhouse in Otaru, Hokkaido, put up a sign that said “no foreigners” and refused the entry of some people, including a U.S.-born naturalized Japanese man. The Sapporo District Court in 2002 ruled that the action was “racial discrimination” and ordered the bathhouse to pay damages to the plaintiffs for pain and suffering.
Hate speech against foreigners is another example. Hostility is becoming increasingly prevalent and Japanese society is losing its gentleness. Are we a society that denies and shuts its doors to people or one that welcomes and receives them? Which one is more comfortable to live in? Let us learn to be more tolerant toward each other; for starters, if only by just a little.
That’s the entire article. Asahi Shinbun, thanks for the mention of me, but what a twee piece of shit! It devotes half of the column space to irrelevant windup, then gives some necessary background, and summarily ends up with a grade-school-level “nakayoshi shimashou” (let’s all be nice to one another, shall we?) conclusion. The theme starts off with “a little” and ends up thinking “little” about the issue at hand. They just don’t get it. There’s no moral imperative here.
Contrast that to Murai’s very thoughtful consideration above of how the victims of discrimination feel, how racists must not be given any moral credibility or leniency from punishment, and how anti-racism measures are not merely an honor system of tolerance towards each other. Correctamundo! One must not be tolerant of intolerance. But after all this, even Japan’s most prominent leftish daily newspaper just resorts to the boilerplate — there is neither comprehension or explanation of how discrimination actually works!
When will we get beyond this dumbing down of the issue? When we actually have people being brave enough to call it “racial discrimination” and take a stand against it. As Murai did. And as other people, with their banners and comments on the media and other places, are doing. Finally.
CONCLUSION: IT AIN’T OVER UNTIL WE GET A LAW CRIMINALIZING THIS BEHAVIOR
I do not want to get people’s hopes up for this progress to be sustainable (after all, we haven’t seen the full force of a potential rightist backlash against Murai yet, and the Internet xenophobes are predictably saying that too much power has been given up to the Gaijin). We are still years if not decades away from an anti-RACIAL-discrimination law with enforceable criminal penalties (after all, it’s been nearly twenty years now since Japan’s signed the UN CERD treaty against racial discrimination, and any attempt to pass one has wound up with it being repealed due to pressure from alarmists and xenophobes!).
But at least one thing is clear — the typical hemmers and hawers (who initially criticized my claim that this is yet another example of racial discrimination) are not going to be able to claim any “cultural misunderstanding” anymore in this case. Because Urawa eventually went so far as to investigate and make public what mindset was behind the banner-hoisters:
Japan Times: “The supporters viewed the area behind the goal as their sacred ground, and they didn’t want anyone else coming in,” Urawa president Keizo Fuchita said Thursday as he explained how the banner came to be displayed in the stadium.
“If foreigners came in they wouldn’t be able to control them, and they didn’t like that.”
Wow, a fine cocktail of racism, mysticism, and power, all shaken not stirred, spray-painted into this banner. Which goes to show: In just about all its permutations, “Japanese Only” is a racialized discourse behind a xenophobic social movement in Japan. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck… And if and only if people in authority will allow the quack to be properly heard and the quacker LABELED as a duck, then we’ll get some progress.
But chances are it won’t be, unless that quack is also heard outside of Japan. After waiting more then ten years for somebody to call the “Japanese Only” trope a matter of jinshu sabetsu again, finally this week the fact that jinshu sabetsu exists in Japan has been transmitted nationwide, with real potential to alter the national discourse on discrimination towards Visible Minorities. But it wouldn’t have happened unless it had leaked outside of Japan’s media.
Conclusion: Gaiatsu is basically the only way to make progress against racial discrimination in Japan. Remember that, and gear your advocacy accordingly. ARUDOU, Debito