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Hi Blog. Going viral on Saturday (I’ve been away from my computer this weekend, sorry to be blogging late) was news of a banner up at a sports meet on March 8, 2014, that said “Japanese Only” (the Urawa Reds soccer team in Saitama Stadium, which according to Wikipedia has some of the best-attended games in Japan). Here it is:
(Photo courtesy http://i.imgur.com/0O2JJO8.jpg, from BS)
According to media outlets like Al Jazeera, “the sign could be considered racist”, Kyodo: “seen as racist”, or Mainichi: “could be construed as racist”. (Oh, well, how else could it be considered, seen, or construed then? That only the Japanese language is spoken here?). Urawa Stadium management just called it “discriminatory” (sabetsu teki) and promised to investigate. Fortunately it was removed with some solid condemnations. But no media outlet is bothering to do more than blurb articles on it, barely scratching the surface of the issue.
And that issue they should scratch up is this: Since at least 1999, as Debito.org has covered more than any other media on the planet, Japan has had public language of exclusion (specifically, “Japanese Only” signs spreading around Japan) that have justified a narrative that says it’s perfectly all right to allow places to say “no” to foreigners”, particularly those as determined on sight. It’s also perfectly legal, since the GOJ refuses to pass any laws against racial discrimination, despite promises to the contrary it made back in 1995 when signing the UN CERD.
This much you all know if you’ve been reading this space over the decades. But it bears repeating, over and over again if necessary. Because this sort of thing is not a one-off. It is based upon a mindset that “foreigners” can be treated as subordinate to Japanese in any circumstances, including in this case the allegedly level playing field of sports, and it is so unquestioned and hegemonic that it has become embedded — to the point where it gets dismissed as one of Japan’s “cultural quirks”, and the language of the original Otaru Onsens “Japanese Only” sign has become standardized language for the exclusionary.
But the problem is also in the enforcement of anti-racism measures. You think any official international sports body governing soccer (which has zero tolerance for racism and is often very quick to act on it) will investigate this any further? Or that the Olympic Committee before Tokyo 2020 is going to raise any public eyebrows about Japan’s lackadaisical attitude towards racism in its sports? For example, its outright racism and handicapping/excluding/bashing foreigners (even naturalized “foreigners”) in Sumo, baseball, hockey, rugby, figure skating, the Kokutai, or in the Ekiden Sports Races, which deliberately and overtly handicaps or outright excludes NJ from participation?
I’m not going to bet my lunch on it, as scrutiny and responsibility-taking (as in, finding out who put that banner up and why — speculation abounds) could happen. But it probably won’t. Because people can’t even say clearly and definitively that what just happened in Urawa was “racism” (and Al Jazeera, the Asahi, or the Mainichi didn’t even see fit to publish a photo of the banner, so readers could feel the full force and context of it). And that we’re going to see ever more expressions of it in our xenophobic youth (which was a huge political force in Tokyo’s last gubernatorial election) as Japan continues its rightward swing into bigotry. ARUDOU Debito
「ＪＡＰＡＮＥＳＥ ＯＮＬＹ」 Ｊ１で差別横断幕か
Japanese club remove banner
The Urawa Red Diamonds remove a banner from their home stadium over fears the sign could be considered racist.
Al Jazeera from AP and AFP, 09 Mar 2014 08:49
PHOTO CAPTION: Urawa did not have a single foreigner in their squad for Saturday’s match against Sagan Tosu [AFP]
The Urawa Reds club, who play in Japan’s J-League Division 1, have removed a banner from their home stadium over fears the sign could be considered racist.
Most teams in the J-League have foreign players on their roster but Urawa did not have a single foreigner in its squad for Saturday’s match, despite having a Serbian coach in Mihailo Petrovic.
A photograph of the ‘Japanese Only’ banner went viral on Saturday with it believed to be aimed at foreign tourists.
A statement on the team’s official website read: “As far as the club is concerned, racist language or behaviour is totally inexcusable.”
It was not known who put the sign up but the team said they are “working to establish the facts of the incident.”
After losing the match 1-0 Urawa Reds defender Tomoaki Makino said, “This is what should not be done as our players play for Urawa with pride”.
He continued “If we can’t be united, we can’t win”.
SOCCER / J. LEAGUE
Reds remove banner seen as racist
KYODO/Japan Times MAR 9, 2014
Urawa Reds said they removed a banner that could be construed as racist from an entrance gate to spectator seats at a J. League match Saturday between Reds and Sagan Tosu.
The banner in question had the words “Japanese Only” written on and club staff asked for it to be taken down. The person that put up the banner has not been identified, according to Urawa.
A statement on Reds’ official website said: “We are working to establish the facts of this incident.”
“As far as this club is concerned, racist language or behavior is totally inexcusable. Urawa Reds abide by the six tenets of the Sports For Peace program, including a ban on racist conduct”
Opinion was divided among Reds supporters over whether the banner was racist.
One man, a 36-year-old company employee said, “It’s terrible. Inexcusable,” while another, a 50-year-old salaryman said, “I think the meaning behind it is for Japanese to pump up the J. League.”
Mainichi Daily News adds:
Urawa did not have a single foreign player in their squad for Saturday’s match.
A 28-year-old female company employee said, “I think it was just tongue-in-cheek because the club is not being bolstering the team with foreign players.”
March 09, 2014(Mainichi Japan)
読売新聞 2014年3月9日00時51分 スポーツ報知
More elaborate discussion in Japanese at
UPDATE: I did a Japan Times column on this issue shortly afterwards. Read it at: http://www.debito.org/?p=12162