AOL News: J-League soccer ref speaks English to, then denigrates Japanese-German player, denies anything discriminatory. But then official protests from club!


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Hi Blog.  Read this article and then I’ll comment:


Japan Soccer League 2: Did referee Takayama use discriminatory language towards Avispa Fukuoka’s Sakai Noriyoshi? Outrage on the Internet.
AOL News, June 10, 2015, courtesy of MMT, article below, translation by Debito

In the June 6 J2 match between teams Avispa Fukuoka and Tokushima Vortis, it has come to light in a club statement that Referee Takayama Hiroyoshi used discriminatory language against Fukuoka player Sakai Noriyoshi.

Sakai Noriyoshi is the younger brother of Japan soccer representative Sakai Goutoku, who is half-Japanese, half-German. In the 35th minute of the second half during a foul, Referee Takayama asked in English “Are you OK?”, to which Sakai answered in Japanese, “Daijoubu desu”. Takayama then apparently said, “What the… you [using omae, a masculine, informal, often disparaging or belligerent way to say “you”], you can speak Japanese after all.” To which the bystanding players protested.

At that time Referee Takayama promised that he would apologize after the game, but no apologies were forthcoming. The club protested to the commissioner, but during investigations Takayama denied that there was any discriminatory statement made.

Although some on the Internet held the opinion that “This was a simple misunderstanding”, many more were critical of Takayama, saying “Even if a mistake had been made, the problem is this attitude afterwards of denying anything discriminatory was said at all”, “Above all else, this very discourse of ‘omigod you can speak Japanese’ is tantamount to an insult, isn’t it?”, “After 10 years of blowing whistles for the J-League, it’s incredible that [Takayama] wouldn’t know who Sakai is”.

Working as a J-League referee from 2002, Takayama is a veteran international ref. After this incident the J-League fans’ comments turned to criticisms of Takayama’s past mistaken calls. The club itself sees this incident as something serious, and Avispa Fukuoka plans to issue a statement on this to the J-League.


COMMENT:  Did you just see what I saw?

1) A ref basically dealt with a player in a racialized manner (assuming that a player who to him looked “foreign” had to be spoken to in a foreign language; English of course — what else do “foreigners” speak?).

2) The ref made a sarcastic statement of surprise about someone looking foreign speaking Japanese (a common microaggression).

3) Bystanding players made an issue of it.  (Amazing in itself, given how people who suffer from these types of microaggressions are usually told to grin and bear them.)

4) The ref broke his promise to apologize, in fact denied the fundamental fact of the case.

and… this is the most important bit:

5) The club stood by their player and made an issue of it too.  They’re not just sweeping this under the carpet and telling Sakai that he has to grow a pair and be less sensitive.  They are telling Takayama (and Sakai, and the authorities, and the public) that this is irresponsible and unprofessional behavior.

One more pleasant surprise was how the Internet reacted (or was reported to have reacted — often the reporters themselves buy into the microaggression and write a biased article misrepresenting the issue).  They saw the microaggression for what it is — a means to police someone’s identity into a disempowered place.  It also helped that the Takayama misjudged how his reflex to deny everything would only make the problem worse.  Great call.

As far as sees things, this is definite progress, and hopefully the arc being traced since the J-League punished the “Japanese Only” J-League exclusionism in March 2014.  Bravo to the players, the reporter, and the club for doing something about this. As FIFA themselves say, racism has no place in sports, and cracking down here even on a seemingly minor (but significant in terms of zero tolerance) incident makes for a rare positive precedent in Japan’s egregiously racialized sports leagues (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

Let’s see if Takayama actually grows a pair of his own and apologizes.  Perhaps if this issue leaks into the foreign-language media (this guy is an international ref, after all), he might.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito


Original Japanese:

AOLニュース 2015年6月10日 12時00分 (2015年6月11日 10時03分 更新)


酒井宣福は、日本代表・酒井高徳の弟で日本人とドイツ人のハーフだが、試合後半35分のファールの際に主審が「Are You OK?」英語で質問したところ日本語で「大丈夫です」と返した酒井に「なんだ、お前、日本語を話せるんだ」と応じ、居合わせた選手から抗議を受けていたという。





Similar Sports Nippon article:

日独ハーフのMF酒井に主審が差別的発言 J2福岡が意見書提出へ
スポニチ 2015年6月10日 06:30


問題のシーンは後半35分、接触プレーで倒れ込んだ福岡のMF酒井宣福(のりよし=22)に「Are you OK?」と英語で質問。「大丈夫です」と日本語で返されると「なんだ、お前、日本語を話せるんだ」と嘲笑しながら応じたという。やり取りを見ていたチームメートから「審判それはないでしょ」と突っ込まれると「後で謝る」と約束したが、謝罪はなかった。



21 comments on “AOL News: J-League soccer ref speaks English to, then denigrates Japanese-German player, denies anything discriminatory. But then official protests from club!

  • Jim di Griz says:

    Racism in Japanese sports, what with the Olympics coming and all. Who’d have thought it? (cue fake gasp of surprise).

    Yep, the ref failed totally, but let’s not forget that Sakai was with his ‘uchi’ of Japanese colleagues, who are in a position to protest since thier ‘undeniable Japaneseness’ trumps the refs one man racism show.
    Let’s see how quickly any of those other players are willing to jump in and protect my ‘haafu’ kids from racism. Yeah, I thought so, my kids are ‘soto’ so they don’t care.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Agree with Jim, yes its a step in the right direction but its still only because Sakai has “real” Japanese guarantors to stand up for him, so us old timers might cynically conclude that its not unlike the “you rightists are bringing dishonor on Japan” argument.

    I.e. it is still about self interest (Japan’s image), not an appeal to universal human rights.

    Ok, so Kono, Murayama and anti rightist demonstrators might be doing this as a tactic, i.e. shame the rightists into silence by using their own misguided “love of Japan” against them, but the fact that they have to shows how little space they have in this so called “democracy”.

    Ditto soccer players on the pitch. Its all about winning, and anything they can use against the ref to their advantage is going to be used.

    Ethics in Japan exist in self contained islands. E.g. Progressive local government policies (e.g. Kawasaki city) only apply within the bubble of local government employment-private industry thus often ignore rules or even laws and follow their own.

    In Japan there is often no universal “right” or “wrong”, just a power struggle. Usually between competing ministries or corporations. There are no “goodies” or “baddies”, they have intrinsically similar goals. Appeal to universal values is arguably a western trait, which is why any western philanthropism is often taken for a ride or seen as a weakness in Asia-sources for J apologists-Hofstede Centre, various cultural guidebooks).

    Thus, although the J League is anxious to be seen as a shining example of anti racism, it remains, as with any progressive company or local government, an oasis with little or no power outside it’s own societal domain.

    I (and no doubt J apologists) would like to think this might lead to more progressive thinking amongst the fans, but again, this is naive- racist attitudes are formed from a lifetime of prejudices, often inherited or handed down, so even if, say, they like a non Japanese soccer player, that doesnt mean they will go out and embrace every Tom, Dick and Johnny Foreigner on the street.

    So no Jim, they wont stand up for your kids because it is not their domain and your kids are not famous.

    Also, never underestimate the FAME/Brand name snob factor in image conscious Japan. It will trump racism, but only if you are famous. As Debito said, “we will claim them if they are famous” and the same goes for the famous NJs or those of mixed descent, who are treated as honored guests.
    (Thus missing the point yet again of acceptance or being treated just like everyone else).

  • FaithnoMore says:

    I think this little morality play gets to the nub of it.
    Thanks Debito for using empirical evidence.
    It’s a killer really, isn’t it.

    Hey, he’s really good with that ball. (Sambos are athletic, right!?)
    Hey, he can speak Japanese! (Gaijin! Wow, what do you know?!)

    Nihongo muzukashi, ne?

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Based on what I saw in the video report on YouTube, a referee smiling at the player on the pitch makes it look like the incident nothing more than a minor mishap. It’s debatable how people will see the message from the context of racism or micro-aggression. I don’t expect contrarians to say this is ‘racism’ or ‘micro-aggression,’ but clearly this is a red flag. Seeing an internationally-recognized referee who gives a cynical laugh for betraying his expectation on one’s behavior based on culture of origin, race, or ethnicity is none other than ‘insult’ to professional athlete. Takayama should be called out for his cultural ignorance and denial of his reaction that is utterly disrespectful to professional athlete.

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    Turning up the cynicism a notch or two, it could well be that Sakai’s teammates see him as “Japanese” (especially if they claim him as one of their own)
    To be called something other than Japanese is considered discriminatory – how many times does one have to hear complaints by Japanese travellers that the people in the country of destination “thought I was Chinese!”

    Look at the Japanese language reporting: THEY feel free to use the “haafu” word, further legitimising it.

    Sorry, I’m with Jim and Baudrillard on this one. The one thing that makes it significant is that it happened in the world of sport, the only area which many of this country’s citizens have any real interest in.

    — Points all taken. Keep them coming. My point is that I’d rather have this sort of thing happen than not. Having people publicly coming to your assistance with a degree of empathy, even if it will probably will not be universally applied to all multiethnic Japanese, is a step in the right direction, no? Even if it is, as you said, a “claim us if we’re famous” phenomenon, this is more of the type of narrative I’d rather have normalized. Good precedent, no?

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    #Andrew in Saitama

    >”To be called something other than Japanese is considered discriminatory

    Well, it depends on the case. You can’t simply blame one for failing to identify nationality accurately. I remember one young Japanese lady spoke to me in English–even though I am a native speaker of Japanese(!)– when I was at a ticket booth of Narita Airport station. Also on a different day, I had one male Japanese passenger spoke to me–again, in English–“Are you going to the airport?.” And, one hot summer day in Otaru city. A local light rail driver saying “no, no” with his hand motion when I was trying to put 320 yen into currency box for the ride. He took currencies out of my hand (with a sense of frustration in his breath) and put them into an appropriate fare box. Oh well. Thanks. But hey don’t blame me for being looked ‘foreign’ to you Mr. driver. Welcome to the international town in Hokkaido.

    I don’t take offense for this kind of response, personally. The only exception is that I would be stopped suddenly by a local police in “Please show your passport or new resident card” moment for their practice of English.

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    I agree that the responce was a step in the right direction. I’m just not holding my breath that there will be more steps to follow.

    @ Loverilakkuma #7,
    Of course I was generalizing. But consider this: how many times have you seen the (100% Yamato) clown on TV or in the classroom saying “I’m Chinese / Cambodian / Thai / etc” when they have been caught making a silly mistake?

    — First point taken. Re second point: Not quite sure I follow.

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    Sorry Debito.

    I was commenting on the strange phenonema of class clowns etc. of falling back onto the “I did something stupid, that’s because I’m _________________(insert nationality here)”as a form of self-depreciating humor.
    However, if an outsider was to genuinely mistake them for someone of that very same nationality, they would probably be insulted, and later may even claim racism.
    Sorry for any thread drift.

    — Thanks. Your class clowns didn’t behave like ours.

  • They only stuck out for him because he was half white (German). If he was half non-white, it would have been a different story probably.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Miki, I agree, and @Andrew,saddest class clown I ever saw was the Chinese guy in the class-it was at a tough “Gaigo Gakuin Kokusai gakko” in seedy Kawasaki, and at first he was a great student, often the only one to answer.

    That was the problem. In an attempt to “fit in” and curry favor with the dropout hoodlums who hung out at the back of the room, he stopped answering questions or volunteering, even saying in Japanese, “Wakaranai” even though he quite clearly did. And when he said that, the deadbeat students clapped him on the back.

    This is one of the many bizarre memories I have about Japan-it seemed like such a juvenile cliche, and so fake at the time, I thought I was watching a 1960s social high school drama like “To Sir with Love”, acted out before my eyes.

    I wouldnt go along with it, so I just called them out on it like it was, in Japanese, stone facedly, “you DO understand, you are just trying to fit in with the class clowns. You do not have to sink to this level. You came to Japan to achieve a qualification-so do the work.” This unfortunately led to repercussions later, as it turned out that even the deadbeats were regarded as “customers”, but I digress.

    To bring this back on track, I think if the NJ is a member of THE TEAM, they will stick up for him versus the THE REF or THE TEACHER, if it benefits their agenda. And as long as he acts like they do.

    I doubt an individualistic non team player would get the same treatment-because, in Japan, you usually need Japanese people to back you up and save your skin. Japanese society has improved only in that a Japanese acting (famous) “half” can be claimed as a Japanese (if Japanese acting, in a team) by the more progressive elements, who may come into conflict with the older more reactionary elements who just go by the foreign face they see. A classic example of this being

    Just a sec. TV Host calls someone a “gaijin”? So are we take it that “gaijin” is indeed an insult? Funny, as we have been told time and time again that it is not racist, but Debito has contended that it is on par with the “N” word.

    And if you are a complete NJ, you probably will not get “claimed” like a “half Japanese” does. The best you can hope for is “honored guest” and maintain a few strategic, powerful J friends, should anything “unfortunate” happen. Ideally, in the Abegeist, NJs would be escorted at all times by a Japanese, a bit like in North Korea, to avoid any “cultural misunderstandings”.

    Because there are few or no universal laws to guarantee individual rights, and so nothing has changed. You the NJ still need a Japanese hoshounin, you still need to work for a Japanese company, to back you up and vouch for you, against other Japanese who “do not know you” and so might feel “fuan” and report you on a snitch site.

  • Baudrillard says:

    To follow up my previous comment and encapsulate the idea, “collectivist cultures such as Japan, Fiji and African countries, where group belonging is valued highly”.(Dorling Kindersley 2011).

    “A member of a tribe of cannibals accepts cannibalism as altogether fitting and proper.” “They will pretend or even convince themselves that they agree with the majority.” (Solomon Asch).

    In the face of this, and with a lack of laws or safeguards protecting the individual, what recourse does a solitary NJ, who is not “claimed” as Japanese by other Japanese, have?

  • Baudrillard says:

    Dr Debito said it better than me in 2009 ” I anticipate that there will be a similar “tipping point” where people realize that racial admixtures are still Japanese. “Conditional Japanese” (as in “half”, “quarter”, “double”, “mix”) have been in the lexicon for quite some time. I think the qualifiers will fade as the numbers increase. Accepting naturalized “non-blood Japanese” will take longer. However, without laws against racial discrimination, one’s face will still not save many “people of mixture” from capricious or ignorant treatment as apparent NJ.”

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ Baudrillard #12

    Of course ‘gaijin’ is a pejorative (regardless of historical usage and meaning sophistry);
    Japanese calls a ‘haafu’ celebrity Japanese ‘gaijin’, that person gets all indignant and offended, expects an apology.
    Japanese calls you a ‘gaijin’, yeah, so?
    Double-standard in action.

  • Soccer club files complaint, courtesy of MMT:

    スポニチアネックス 6月19日(金)7時1分配信




  • Sankei reports the ref apologies. In character, the Sankei misrepresents the issue. Courtesy of MMT

    「暴言」は誤解 チェアマンが福岡に回答、主審は謝意
    産経新聞 2015.6.23 19:50



  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Jim, note the toothless, “consulatory” J approach (whereas in e.g. UK the twitterer would be arrested)-The Reds said Monday that the team had arranged to meet with the anonymous Twitter user on Sunday but that the person failed to show up and refused to take all phone calls afterward.”

    So to escape censure, you can just opt out of turning up and change your phone number. Yes, that sounds like Life In Tokyo. Ignore until the problem/mendokusai hito goes away (from the perspective of the offender in this case).

    The article you cited also concludes that the Urawa Reds have (as a solution) banned fans from hanging banners in the stadium.

    Why not just ban racist fans? I think we know why not.

  • baudrillard says:

    Compare to but a sample of racist tweets being prosecuted in other countries, one being arrested just 15 years old:

    I feel some of these cases did not warrant an arrest (the 15 year old for instance, and his target, Rio Ferdinand had in the past tweeted racist things himself, including calling another black player a “Choc Ice” but I digress), and in Japan, as we see, they usually do not. Surely there is a happy medium, but Japan is far too easy on racist tweets.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ Baudrillard #18

    Absolutely! It’d be a pretty empty stadium!

    Hobspawm & Ranger; The Invention of Tradition, has an excellent chapter on the role of soccer in Britain as a tool for the authorities to socialize violence; that is to say, tribalism centered on soccer clubs/teams facilitated a controlled time, place and manner for violence that in turn removed it from the streets at a time when authorities were prohibiting the carrying of swords, clubs and knives by the public (and I would also say that since this is the expressed function of soccer, hooliganism such as seen this week at Euro 16 in France will never be eliminated from soccer by design; it is in the authorities interests to socialize the violence into the soccer club rather than allowing it to express itself in socio-political groups and movements).

    I would suggest that on of the reasons why soccer fails to become a big money sport in Japan (as it is in Europe), is that the function of soccer club in-group tribalism doesn’t occur in Japan since the Japanese already see themselves overwhelmingly and more strongly as belonging to a clearly (if inaccurately) described tribe called ‘we Japanese’.

  • Baudrillard says:

    “Conciliatory” approach to racist tweets is what I mean to type, although it also seems like counselling (“lets all sit down and discuss your racist tweet together”).
    Defined as “intended or likely to placate or pacify”

    Why placate or pacify J racists when other G7 countries even arrest 15 year olds?

    Definitely a wimpish, kid gloves approach.


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