Japan Times: Celebrating Japan’s multiethnic Rio 2016 Olympians: Meet the athletes challenging traditional views of what it is to be Japanese


Books, eBooks, and more from Dr. ARUDOU, Debito (click on icon):
Guidebookcover.jpgjapaneseonlyebookcovertextHandbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)sourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumbFodorsJapan2014cover
UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
DEBITO.ORG PODCASTS on iTunes, subscribe free
“LIKE” US on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/debitoorg
If you like what you read and discuss on Debito.org, please consider helping us stop hackers and defray maintenance costs with a little donation via my webhoster:
Donate towards my web hosting bill!
All donations go towards website costs only. Thanks for your support!

Hi Blog. Great article from The Japan Times talking about how multiethnic Japan (including immigrants and Visible Minorities) is presenting a strong showing at the Rio Olympics. Timely and informative, and too early to note caveats (except that we’ve had multiethnic Japanese Olympians face large hurdles in the past; let’s hope the numbers of them this time have reached a tipping point). Have a look. Here’s the intro.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito


Celebrating Japan’s multicultural Olympians
Meet the athletes flying the flag and challenging traditional views of what it is to be Japanese

Japan and Brazil’s ties go back to the early 20th century, when the first Japanese immigrants arrived as farmers in the South American country. Brazil is home to the largest Japanese community outside Japan — 1.5 million of the country’s 205 million people identify themselves as Japanese-Brazilian, including a handful of members of the Brazilian Olympic team.

But although the host countries of the current and next Summer Olympics share cultural bonds, compared to Brazil, where nearly half of people consider themselves mixed-race, multiculturalism remains elusive in Japan, where ethnic homogeneity is often held up as something to be proud of.

Though Japan is home to the second-largest Brazilian community outside of Brazil, only 2 percent of the country’s population was born overseas. Compared to most other developed countries, immigration to Japan is negligible. However, despite having to deal with an aging, shrinking population, the majority of Japanese seem to prefer it this way. In a recent Yomiuri Shimbun poll, only 37 percent said they felt that more non-Japanese should be accepted to fill the gaps in the country’s labor market.

Japan is home to 2.2 million foreign residents, and like it or not, a growing number of them are marrying Japanese citizens. The number of international marriages increased tenfold between 1965 and 2007, with registered new multiracial couples peaking at 40,272. Due to tighter immigration rules, the number has since dropped considerably, but marriages between Japanese and foreign nationals still make up roughly 1 in 30 unions — and around 1 in 10 in Tokyo.

However, no matter how common international marriages are today, Japanese society still sets the children of these couples apart. They may have grown up as Japanese citizens or be fluent at the language, but many complain of feeling excluded or discriminated against because of their backgrounds. These individuals’ struggles in dealing with their classification as hāfu (half) have been recounted numerous times in the media, particularly by bicultural figures in the public eye.

Some of these children, however, grow up to be Olympians — flying the flag for Japan and challenging the conventional definition of what it means to be Japanese. At the Rio Olympics, more than any before, multicultural Japanese athletes have been a notable presence in the stadiums. Here are profiles of some of these athletes — those who have given their all in Rio for Team Japan, broken the glass ceiling and possibly even opened up minds in their homeland.

Rest of the article at:


Do you like what you read on Debito.org?  Want to help keep the archive active and support Debito.org’s activities?  We are celebrating Debito.org’s 20th Anniversary in 2016, so please consider donating a little something.  More details here.

6 comments on “Japan Times: Celebrating Japan’s multiethnic Rio 2016 Olympians: Meet the athletes challenging traditional views of what it is to be Japanese

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    I noticed how the TV commentary had to “explain” the faces and names – Asuka Cambridge was not allowed to be just that, he was always “Asuka Cambridge with a Jamaican father…”, or that naturalized citizens always had to have the fact that they are naturalized spelled out each and every time.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    A very good article!

    Usually, every time there is an international sporting event, an article appears in the J-press like clock-work to explain to us that all of the ‘haafu’ and naturalized J-athletes are ‘proof’ that Japan is becoming more ‘accepting of NJ’ – despite the fact that they’ve at it for over 30 years, and still have only a handful of ‘the accepted’ to show for it!

    Glad this article throws out the self-approving rose-tinted specs, and tells it like it is.

  • Onceagaijin,alwaysagaijin says:

    To be fair to NHK, one thing that I noticed made me feel a little bit better a few days ago. I sort of ignore the Olympics as just another circus but find it difficult not to get dragged into it a little, there are compelling stories there both good and bad.
    What I noticed was when Cambridge was running with the other guy. I didn’t spot earlier coverage, and I haven’t been watching the Olympics on the commercial channels, which seem to be stuck in the 1950s or at least the 1970s.
    I dread watching Japanese TV on any issues regarding “gaijin” or “haafu” because if I’ve had a bad day it will just depress me. But when the two Japanese guys entered for the 100 meters ran, NHK was utterly fair to Cambridge- they just treated him like another Japanese competitor. I closed my eyes and listened to his interview and it was just the breathless enthusiasm of a young utterly Japanese man doing his best and enjoying himself. Then I opened my eyes again and looked at him.

    So I was in the kitchen washing up with my Japanese father-in-law and said, you know, if Cambridge does get faster, the media is liable to make a fuss and he’ll get a fan club because he is so good looking. He reminds me of the British racing driver – I forget his name. My FiL turned round and said to me, “but he doesn’t have a Japanese body, that’s why is so fast. I’m sorry to say that.”
    I turned round and said to my FiL, “I know what you mean, but what IS a “Japanese body?” He looked at me, and then, well, he NEARLY got it.

    Now I love my Japanese FiL deeply. He has always gone into bat for me instantly when we’ve faced trouble or othering from other Japanese. He’s always made it clear to immigration officials (when we’ve come back from abroad) and petty officials and the nosy that I am his son-in-law, his successor and uchi in the family. Given his age and authority, then, wham, bam thank you dad, that’s that. At least others, no matter what they really think, will then absolutely toe the tatemae line.

    I thought to myself, well, this is a hell of a lot better than last time’s yellowwashing of the Japanese rugby team. I don’t expect much of the Japanese rugby establishment especially when it’s tied to an unashamedly racist Jiminto Yakuza moron like Mori, who seems almost conscientiously proud of his racism.

    But then this morning watching the wrestling with out daughter, there it came out again. A Japanese commentator saying how well one of the wrestlers were doing considering they had to battle against the more powerful “gaijin” physique. It very nearly made me spit out my mouthful of breakfast. I actually shouted at the television screen, “You fucking moron. How dare you say that. That’s why they have WEIGHT CATEGORIES.”

    There on camera you have the casual physiological racism – the conceit that Japanese are “different” and all the crud that goes with it. The Japanese bodies are different, we are weaker, so we have to use our waza and our Yamato damashi, etc. etc. (and all the dreary cliches, pseudoscience, and quasi-mysticism all wrapped into it) to defeat the “gaijin.” This whole separation of Japanese and others. It really made me pause.

    The poison of this childish discriminatory thinking, the us and them, the inferiority-superiority complex. I don’t live in hope that one day we will wake up in a world where IT DOESN’T MATTER. Certainly I have no hope for Japan.

    My (Japanese) wife turned around and said to me, wryly, “and those wrestlers aren’t the beautiful cute girls you came to Japan for, are they?” We laughed.
    Fuck it, I thought, I’ll just get on with my day.

  • Just as a point of interest, is it actually the case that all of these representatives have Japanese nationality? I’m pretty sure it used to be the case that rugby players could qualify to play via residence without being nationals (not just in Japan, but generally around the world). “challenging the conventional definition of what it means to be Japanese” doesn’t really apply to people who are not Japanese…obviously many of those listed are dual or Japanese nationals though.

  • Should the medals won by mixed Japanese athletes in Rio be excluded from the medal count?

    With the recent crowning of Miss Japan, who is of a mixed ethnic background, there are the expected cries of not Japanese enough. The fact that she was chosen by the judges without holding a gun to their heads, shows that not all Japanese are obsessed with “pure” (good or bad) blood.

    Should these athletes continue to represent Japan? There are many more, but only those in the spotlight are mentioned.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>