Italian TV SKY TG24 on Sapporo Yuki Matsuri… and racial discrimination in Japan


Hello Blog. Here’s a pleasant surprise… Pio d’Emilia of Italian channel SKY TG24 interviewed me last week regarding the Otaru Onsens Lawsuit, racial discrimination, and life in Japan as a naturalized Japanese citizen, with the 59th Sapporo Snow Festival as a backdrop. Broadcast nationwide in Italy on February 9, 2008.

Although the entire 8 1/2 (no connection to Fellini) minute broadcast is, naturally, entirely in Italian (I felt like Clint Eastwood in reverse, dubbed back under Sergio Leone’s direction), you can still get the flavor of the matsuri and an inkling of one perspective in Japan. They even got an associate of the Mayor of Sapporo, a Mr Nakata (whom I’ve known in Sapporo since 1987!), to say for the record that the issue of racial discrimination is a thing of the past and solved! Not likely.

It’s a fat file, but download it from

Enjoy! Transcript follows, translated by Emanuele Granatello. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


It took 3000 m3 of snow, 385 trucks and more than 3000 people to realize this huge snow sculpture dedicated to ancient Egypt`s splendours.

This year Yuki Matsuri, the “Snow Festival”, has been dedicated to culture and friendship with the African Continent, and this is the statue launching the festival.

We are in Sapporo, capital city of Hokkaido island, the northernmost Japanese region. In the past this place had been inhabited by Ainu, a people of caucasian origin, now almost extinct because of various vicissitudes and, above all, because of a still existing discrimination problem.

The Snow Festival involves all the city of Sapporo, from Odori Central Park, where the gigantic snow structures are realized, to Susukino mall, where the competition for the best ice sculpture is held, and Satorando, located at city doors, where sport and entertainment events are held.

This year, 59th edition, the greatest attractions are the White Labyrinth, and this free, open to everybody breathtaking kamikaze-style rubber dinghy slide.

The Festival was born in 1950, from the idea of some Sapporo boys who, accused by teachers and parents to not know how to use their time, began to make big snowmen throughout the city, the festival grew year by year until it became an international event that in 2008 will attract more than 2 million people, as many as Sapporo`s inhabitants.

The City of Sapporo is modern and organized to the point that, because of the huge amount of snow covering her for 6 months a year, Municipality and Citizens have made a quite original agreement: Municipality will keep roads clean, while citizens will plough the sidewalk. However this is not a binding agreement, nor fines are provided for, so the result is that every now and so sidewalks are ice covered, thus causing many accidents and forcing people to walk very carefully.

Obviously, the main characters of the Event are children. Not only Sapporo and Hokkaido`s schools come to the Festival, but also of many other schools scattered across the archipelago. Moreover, many families use one of the many extended holidays they get in this period, to go to see, maybe for the first time, snow. This kid, committed in her first reportage, comes from Shikoku island, more 1000 km from here.

It`s her first time on the snow.

“For what TV are you working for?”

“For my mom, we were coming together, but suddenly she had some problems at work.” “So?”

“So I came with granny, she`s got a camera, and we decided to do a nice reportage, so mom won`t miss a thing”.

In July in Hokkaido will be held the G8 summit, dedicated this time to global warming.

This is the huge statue that Sapporo`s boys, helped by army, have built for the summit. The Earth is hugged by children surrounded by animals and architectural symbols of participating nations. Tower of Pisa has been chosen for Italy.

The 8 heads of state will meet on the shores of Toya Lake, one hour by car from Sapporo, and if on a side there are big expectations for the advertisement the island will receive from the event, there are also many worries, says Hiroyuki Nakata, Sapporo`s vice-mayor.

Arudou Debito, 42, from California, [20] years ago after marrying a Japanese woman and settling in Sapporo, obtained Japanese citizenship. He teaches Information Science at Sapporo University

Since then he has been fighting a long and difficult battle against a society suspicious and sometimes cruel towards diversity, be it real or perceived.

“Arudou, could you tell us briefly the story that made you somehow famous?

“It`s quite simple. On a 1999 day I went with my family to onsen, Japanese-style spa. But the manager turned me away. < > he said.

The funny part is that even after showing him my Japanese passport he refused letting me enter. < > he told me. I did a very long lawsuit to be in the right, but he didn`t give up. Instead of letting me in after the verdict, he preferred to close the shop. [NB: This is inaccurate. This refers to another sento in Wakkanai. I think there might have been an edit here.]

About this incident Arudou also wrote a book, and he is always trying to change the mind of a people that has just begun to deal with the idea of multi ethnicity and with the fact that there could be white and black Japanese citizens as well.

While I was interviewing him, a group of kids approached us. Their teacher sent them hunting for foreigners signs.

“We are from Sapporo`s Elementary School, can we have your signature?”

“What do you need it for?”

“We have been told to gather foreigners`s signs”.

“Oh really? Do you know that I am not a foreigner? Yes, I am white, but I am a Japanese like you.”

“Can you sign anyway”?

Government officially denies the presence of ethnic minorities in Japan, but what`s the real situation? “So who I am? I also represent an ethnic minority. A white-skinned Japanese man. Japan must put up with multi ethnicity idea. They must put up with the fact there are now one million of naturalized foreigners and hundred of thousands people living here legally, with the right to not being inflicted any kind of discrimination. They are not guests, but citizens.

“For example when they search for a house?”

“Exactly, there are a lot of land agencies specifying they won`t accept pets or foreigners. Would you believe it? We are being considered like animals. In some cases discrimination is more specific. No Chinese, but no problem if you are American or European. Sure, in every country you have that kind of discrimination, but it happen offstage. Here everything is done in broad daylight, there is not any law that forbidding and sanctioning that kind of behaviour.”

“A binding question: why are you doing it? Why did you become a Japanese citizen defying the Empire and its laws?”

“Lots of people ask me that. It`s because I love this country. It is beautiful, amazing places, fantastic food. It`s just because I decided to live here that I want to contribute to make life easier”.

“Rolan Barthes” in his unsurpassed essay about Japan `Empire of Signs`, defined this country a labyrinth, but sure he didn`t mean to make any reference to foreigners, but to the Japanese people. According to the Japanese man Arudou Debito, what`s the recipe to decipher this labyrinth?”

“Trial and error. You take a road and find a wall, take another one and crash against another wall, until you learn to recognize walls and realize that they are not impossible to pass after all. It`s my recipe for life.”


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