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Hi Blog. As promised in a previous blog entry, I would be giving my opinion on a recent advertisement from Nike Japan that got a lot of attention. We’ve already debated the ad itself on Debito.org here. Thanks for your feedback. Now here’s my take, as part of my latest Shingetsu News Agency column. Enjoy. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
Visible Minorities: Nike Japan Does Some Good
Shingetsu News Agency, DEC 21, 2020 by DEBITO ARUDOU in COLUMN
SNA (Tokyo) — Nike’s television advertisement depicting a multiethnic Japan stands out as a bright spot to close out the dreadful year of 2020.
Entitled “We Will Continue Moving: Myself and the Future,” the two-minute ad depicts a series of diverse Asian youths pensive about their lives in Japan.
Some are running about and kicking soccer balls while musing about their identity and their abilities. A voiceover has them wondering if they’re “normal,” or living up to expectations. One girl, shown in closeup in a school uniform, is clearly a Japanese with African roots. Another boy, after eating a Korean meal with his family, looks up the Zainichi issue late at night on his cellphone. Tennis champ Naomi Osaka’s photo makes a fleeting appearance, with a question about whether she’s American or Japanese. A girl finds Japan’s culture of cuteness doesn’t resonate with her, and wishes she could just ignore it all. Another girl gets glares for going out in public in her Korean school uniform. After more cuts to kids practicing their sports skills, scenes follow of school crowds staring and group-bullying minorities. One lad, drawn attention to by the teacher in class as a new transfer student, feels pressure to be liked by everyone. Another isolated kid feels pressure to tolerate her ostracisation, and then the African-Japanese girl reappears, trying to ignore the other kids who are making a fuss about her kinky hair in a school bathroom. As the music swells, these kids then seek solace in sports, becoming appreciated by their peers for their talents as star athletes—to the point where one girl tapes “KIM” over her Japanese name on the back of her jersey.
The takeaway message in a final montage of voices is the treatment they’re getting is not something they should have to tolerate. They shouldn’t have to wait for a world where they can live “as is,” without concealing themselves.
Now, before I say why this advertisement is important, let’s acknowledge some caveats. One is that this is from Nike Japan, and like all corporations their motivation is to make money. It is a stunt to attract attention and sell products.
Moreover, Nike taking a high road with social justice issues is a bit ironic, given their history of child labor and sweatshops. Above all, human rights and business do not always mix well, and businesspeople are essentially opportunists. So let’s first not delude ourselves to think Nike is primarily motivated by altruism.
The other point worth mentioning is the attention that the ad got: 11 million views so far on YouTube. Naturally, internet trolls, xenophobes, and haters got triggered. Unfortunately, even responsible media (such as the AFP and BBC) gave them oxygen by reporting their overblown calls for a boycott, then fumbled the issue by getting soundbites from unqualified “experts” with no real training in Japan’s history of civil rights, social movements, or race relations issues. These rubes missed the mark by denouncing Nike Japan as a “foreign brand,” or dismissing these kids as “outside voices.”
This is worse than just lazy journalist hackery. This fumble was a missed opportunity to highlight issues that have long been ignored in Japan’s media—the existence of a growing number of visible minorities. So let’s make up for that in this column by acknowledging that Nike Japan’s ad was a big step in the right direction.
First, let’s recap how big 2020 was for minorities in Japan sports:
Rest of the article at http://shingetsunewsagency.com/2020/12/21/visible-minorities-nike-japan-does-some-good/
Read it before it goes behind a paywall on Friday.
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7 comments on “My SNA Visible Minorities 17: NIKE JAPAN Advertisement on Japan’s Visible Minorities does some good (Dec 21, 2020)”
That was really good.
Great article, as usual! However, I don’t share the optimism. The fact that Nike decided to create this ad definitely indicates that there might be change happening in Japanese society, albeit slowly, and I trust your view is based on years of experience of covering this type of issue. I also concede that this kind of ad may have been unthinkable 20 years ago.
Nevertheless, I must say that I found the backlash utterly depressing. For some reason, I always thought netto uyo were a relatively small group of trolls, but the amount of dislikes and hate comments that poured down within days of the video’s upload shows that views that would be considered extremist elsewhere are mainstream here in Japan. Perhaps it was naive to think otherwise given how many times I’ve found myself in conversations in which racism and anti-racism were held as two equal sides of a debate (Journalists reporting racist trolling as a ‘debate’ in the case of this ad didn’t help either.) People getting angry or offended at the mere mention of discrimination or ignorantly trying to convince me that “there is no racism in Japan” as though I, as a minority, shouldn’t be the one to know.
This year’s events were the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, and I’m working on leaving for good. From what I’ve seen online, I’m not the only one.
Another excellent article, Dr. Arudou. Looking forward to your top ten of 2020 article.
As usual, another great column. According to Nikkei, the boycott failed, because netto uyo trolls aren‘t usually buying Nike products anyway. Who would have thought? I wonder if that McGuiness guy still thinks that this advertisment was an own goal. People tend to forget that a global brand like Nike knows what its doing. They knew that the ad would cause backlash, but that it wouldn‘t hurt their profits in the end. I‘m pretty sure that Nike Japan employed some experts in market research before airing this ad. That being said, I also agree with MT, the number of racist comments is just depressing, but not surprising for anyone that lived a few years in Japan.
Niklas, ol’ McGinnes doesn’t strike me as the type of buffoon who does a significant deal of all that “thinking” business in the first place. Who wants to bet all e-mails he receives are addressed to “スティーブ”? I think he should take his own advice and butt out entirely.
I was completely unaware of this issue. Thanks for writing about it.
Your article prompted me to do some searching on the web. One article about the boycott against NIKE mentioned a boycott of DHS, a Japanese cosmetics company. That led me to the following article:
The article says that the president, Yoshida, had used the slur “Chon” (equivalent of the N word for Koreans) on the company web page (!) and then, more recently, boasted that his company only uses “pure Japanese” entertainers.
Fair critique of Nike Japan’s ad and its role in raising public awareness of racism. It’s really a sad state that Japanese establishments couldn’t do anything but wait until a giant, global corporation intervened into their sphere. I’m glad you pointed out Nike’s caveats to your readers whose interests are primarily focused on Japan issues. Not surprisingly, addressing counterpoints against the vast majority of opinion could be risky for being called out for contrarian or heretic — the very reason why left journalists like Green Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, and Aaron Matte have been countlessly attacked by many liberal/central media pundits as Russian asset for challenging the questionable tactics of resistance journalism against Trump since 2016 Election. Nike is a representative of Corporate America, and they are one of those machines capitalizing on virtually everything that looks cool, by integrating youth rebellion and counter-culture into their avdertisemnt to create a monopolistic capitalistic consumerism. A book author Thomas Frank said it best in his book “Conquest of Cool” : “[c]ommercial fantasies of rebellion, liberation, and outright ‘revolution’ against the stultifying demands of mass society are commonplace almost to the point of invisibility in advertising, movies, and television programming.”
Perhaps, we don’t have to worry about the impact of heavy consumerism in Japan that much, but it’s a good reminder to stay vigilant against corporations as we have seen some of those that made a blatant contempt in the past.