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Hi Blog. One important item that Debito.org has been negligent in celebrating is the victories of the Japan “Brave Blossoms” multiethnic rugby team. They did very well, finishing ninth in the world rankings, even unexpectedly beating South Africa in a match, and part of that was claimed as being due to their multiethnic mix.
An interesting think-piece (that says much of what Debito.org has been saying for decades, and it’s nice to see that others share that view in print) came out in the Japan Times last October. I’ll excerpt bits below that are pertinent to the rugby issue. Bear in mind, however, that rugby in Japan has been decried as being TOO foreign in the past, and seen as a reason why Japan was losing (which was why the team was afterwards ethnically cleansed (see Embedded Racism p. 156), albeit clearly temporarily). Then, once Japan wins, those very same characteristics are claimed as the reason why. It would be nice if someday people would just keep analysis on the level of the talents of individual players, but that’s pretty far off (what with the beating of nationalistic drums every Olympics).
Anyway, Debito.org (belatedly) congratulates the Brave Blossoms on a job well done, and wishes them well in the future. Sport can have a positive effect too on social tolerance. As long as your teams wins, of course. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito
Imagining a Japan that thinks beyond blood and binary distinctions
BY J.J. O’DONOGHUE AND GAVAN PATRICK GRAY
The Japan Times, OCT 28, 2015 (excerpt)
The recent heroics of Japan’s team in the Rugby World Cup — three wins in the group stage, including the historic nail-biting victory over South Africa — pave the way for two potentially positive outcomes: a bright future for rugby on these islands, and, just maybe, a template to discuss identity and belonging in Japan.
It was obvious to anyone watching the Brave Blossoms’ games that of the 31 players included in Japan’s squad, some of the players did not appear — how should we put it? — typically Japanese. In fact, 11 players were born outside Japan — the same number, incidentally, as for the Welsh and Scottish teams. Under current rugby union rules, a player can be considered for selection for the national team if, amongst other considerations, they have lived in the country for three consecutive years.
But in 2015, how do we define “typically Japanese”? Do we do so through blood, race and ethnicity? Or would we not be better off opening up the field, and, much like the vaunted rugby squad, considering new ideas, while relegating outdated terms and modes of thinking to the sin bin?
Consider Kotaro Matsushima, one of Japan’s try scorers, born in South Africa to a Japanese mother and Zimbabwean father. He later attended Toin Gakuen High School in Yokohama. Matsushima, as well as being a big talent for Japan, is also what is known as a hāfu, a word stemming from the English word “half.” Generally “hāfu” is a benign term, used to signify someone who is half-Japanese and half something else — in the case of our children, half-Irish. It’s also, we would argue, an unfortunate term. […]
Of course there are problems to be overcome; tensions between groups, especially when stoked by self-serving political or media figures, need to be carefully handled, but most of these issues stem from native reactions to foreign arrivals rather than any inherent problem in the latter group.
In Japan, the native role in such problems has been highlighted eloquently by Haruko Arimura, the former minister for women’s empowerment. While arguing the government position that more female workers, rather than immigrants, is the better road to take, Arimura claimed that Japan’s negative treatment of immigrants could create the kind of resentment against Japan that might lead one of them to decide to become an Islamic State suicide bomber.
Setting aside the inherent xenophobia in this comment and the clear fact that her government’s security policy has vastly greater potential as a precursor to terrorist activity, Arimura offers a clear example of an expectation among Japanese people that attempts to assimilate immigrants into Japanese culture would create irreconcilable tensions.
This represents a fundamental failure to recognize that truly multicultural societies do not demand assimilation, the very idea of which would rob immigrants of the vibrancy and freshness that makes them so vital to Japan’s ability to reshape itself in coming decades. Instead, such communities recognize that a person’s place in society, including their identity as a citizen, should be tied to more important factors than the degree to which they conform to such superficial elements as the appearance of the majority.
So, in the afterglow of the national team’s success in England, let’s consider Japan’s rugby team — a truly talented mix — as something we should embrace as a concept and a model of what Japan has the potential to become.
Full article at
6 comments on “JT on Japan’s Brave Blossoms rugby team: “Imagining a Japan that thinks beyond blood and binary distinctions””
Maybe the team members of NJ origins would do well to have a cute pose that the media can latch on to and the other 123 million people in this country copy. I remember that one program essentially had to spell out that a certain player was a naturalized citizen.
@ Andrew In Saitama #1
Yes, during the event the J-media was desperate for a way of not having to focus on the fact that Japan’s most successful World Cup rugby team had 11 foreign born players, but that the team captain was foreign born, and then, like a wave of pixie dust and marketing magic, Goromaru copies former England player Jonny Wilkinson’s special pose, and saves J-media and J-society in one fell swoop!
The media are free to focus on Goromaru and his cute little plagiarized pose til the cows come home (he was even sent to show Abe how to do it) meanwhile the NJ born captain of Japan’s most successful rugby team ever is forgotten because his existence and success challenges all the social myths of J-society.
Little kids in Japan do that pose all the time right before they giggle and poke you in the butt.
Japan played extremely well, but without the contribution of Japan’s overseas born players, there is no way the Brave Blossoms would have achieved the results they did.
Some good stories in there though, Kosei Ono moving to NZ at a very young age, learning his rugby there and moving back to Japan as an adult. Michael Leitch, Luke Thompson and others naturalised citizens playing for their adopted country with the highest possible level of commitment. Kotaro Matsushima already mentioned, but he was outstanding as well.
Some real lessons in there for Japan as a whole.
Just as a follow-up to my previous comment: While almost everyone in Japan can tell you who Goromaru is, ask people which team won the rugby World Cup and see how many blank stares you get. Japan’s “fans” of minor sports magically appear when Japan is doing well and then disappear when Japan is out of the running. Only the Yamato pretty boys are remembered.
@ Andrew In Saitama #5
Those are what are known as fair weather fans