My SNA Column 40: Visible Minorities: “Hard to Root for Japan at Sports Events” (Nov 28, 2022), due to all the nasty and racialized attitudes towards our athletes, and the lack of fair play in general

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Hi Blog.  My latest SNA column was inspired by the World Cup.  Intro:
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Visible Minorities: Hard to Root for Japan at Sports Events
By Debito Arudou, Shingetsu News Agency, November 28, 2022

SNA (Tokyo) — First off, bravo the Japan team for its upset victory over Germany in their first match of the 2022 World Cup!

It was a game where the Samurai Blue showed world-class skill against a lackluster team, and didn’t let the nerves of playing a former world champion get the better of them. Of course, they did lose their next game against Costa Rica, but their achievement against Germany stands.

I want to devote this column to why it’s difficult for me to root for Japan teams in general. It’s not an issue of nationality (since I have that). It’s a matter of how Japan as a society approaches international sports; given the racialized obstacles towards “foreign” participants, a lack of fair play, the unrelenting pressure on our athletes, and media attitudes that oscillate between racial superiority and victimhood, we take all the fun out of it…

Thanks for reading!  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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16 comments on “My SNA Column 40: Visible Minorities: “Hard to Root for Japan at Sports Events” (Nov 28, 2022), due to all the nasty and racialized attitudes towards our athletes, and the lack of fair play in general

  • Hm interesting, I saw Japanese right wingers on Twitter celebrate how “anti-woke” their national team was, because they didn’t do a protest like Germany did, but I missed the part about them complaining that Germany’s hand over mouth gesture represents Japanese people wearing a face mask. Doesn’t get more ridiculous than that. Japanese right wingers always love to play the victim, even if completely imaginary. Good column with good points, as usual.

    Reply
  • David Markle says:

    I agree, but an exception seems to be Naomi Osaka. Why does she not even play tennis nowadays, and when she does seems to always crash under a blanket of psychological issues and nobody in Japan even bats an eye. Or ask how many Japanese she duped into buying cryptocurrency through that FTX scam-site by her endorsement?

    I suppose she makes much more money now by doing what she does and without the daily physical and mental grind of actually having to train and perform her sport, at least at a proficient level. Is it her Japanese (ness) that gives her a pass? I don’t get it.

    Reply
  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    Yes, everything you said. Particularly the attitude that size is everything in sports, or that the foreign teams have an unfair advantage because they don’t have to travel so far (Yes, I have actually heard that one), or that changes in rules are purely to make winning more difficult for Team Japan.

    Plus, if a Japanese athlete/team wins, the constant replays on TV for days on end, and more biographical information than their own mothers could stand.

    Also worth mentioning is the co-opting of successful foreign athletes *IF* the name and face are right – “Oh, she’s Japanese, actually”.

    It’s also telling when the Japanese team find themselves out of the running for the finals in the soccer, rugby, etc. world cups. Suddenly media coverage evaporates, and you would be lucky to hear who won in a casual conversation. (“We don’t talk about the World Cup”)

    You say it’s hard for you to support the Japanese teams. I have almost no interest in sports and find it practically impossible to support the Japanese teams – largely because the media coverage is obnoxious.

    — I expect it’s going to get even more so now that Japan upset Spain. I still say Bravo Japan! But…

    Reply
  • – “Oh, she’s Japanese, actually”. Is the most boorish and insufferable social phenomenon that makes life in Japan tiresome to the point of wanting to leave. Plus all the J pop in your face. It is on a par with the ridiculous “Korea is #1” social phenomenon, but I digress.
    Memorable anecdotes: “Terminator 2 was a Japanese film”. Person who spoke it got offended when I wasn’t that interested or impressed. Ego not massaged.
    “Matsuda Seiko had a number one in America” Me: “Huh?” Wannabe hip apologist: “Guess again, dude. #1 in the (some obscure chart I cannot even remember, the Jeff Waiter chart maybe?)

    I am sure other contributors here (Jim?) can recall a few classic mind-numbing ones?

    This way of thinking, i.e. claiming anyone with a vaguely Japanese connection, is also dangerous because it recalls the Nihau incident, i.e. its saying that anyone with a Japanese name is “really” a Japanese.
    -Historian Gordon Prange notes that “the rapidity with which the three resident Japanese went over to the pilot’s cause” troubled the Hawaiians and added: “The more pessimistic among them cited the Niʻihau incident as proof that no one could trust any Japanese, even if an American citizen, not to go over to Japan if it appeared expedient.”[18] Novelist William Hallstead argues that the Niʻihau incident influenced decisions leading to the Japanese American internment on the continental United States. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niihau_incident

    Reply
  • Jim Di Griz says:

    On the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, this news drops;
    https://japantoday.com/category/national/japanese-fighter-jets-land-in-philippines-for-1st-time-since-wwii

    Just like Abe’s ‘731 jet’ photo, you have to wonder if these things are done on purpose to either wind up the neighbors, or give right wingers in Japan a hot-flush (or maybe both?). But you have to wonder about the strength of conviction that see’s plausible deniability strategies employed when they are called out on it, unless….

    …policy makers are genuinely totally ignorant of any of these subtexts (in which case, those so-called ‘erai-hito’ sure didn’t learn much at their elite schools, did they?).

    Reply
  • Loverilakkuma says:

    I’m jaded with sportswashing nonsense touted by JFA president Kozo Tajima, who reprimanded people for addressing human rights issues in Qatar to spoil the joy of entertainment. He followed the footsteps of a dementing old fart Yoshiro Mori, wokelympic minister Seiko Hashimoto, IOC czar Thomas Bach, and the FIFA president Gianni Infantino. And then, there are a bunch of Japanese mainstream media who circulate the stories of Team Japan and its tale of model minority(“post-cleanup scene”) while overshadowing the reality of authoritarianism— banning players and supporters from sending ‘political’ message. It flies in the face of reality where supporters from many countries root for Palestinians and taunt an Israeli reporter.

    Personally, I’m more excited to see Morocco advancing to the semi-final by beating Portugal than Japan routing two European favorites. They are the first Arab nation to make it to the Final Four. Seeing Moroccan fans celebrating victory in Qatar, Paris, and Israel (Gaza district) is really priceless. They showed a Palestinian flag before and after the game. Unlike a bunch of ignorant Japanese pundits spreading sports woke propaganda days in and days out, those who courageously speak for the rights of Palestinians have a better understanding of what’s at stake in this unconventional FIFA World Cup soccer games.

    Reply
  • I remember back in 2014 when Japan lost their first match to Ivory Coast and everyone was saying “It’s not fair, Japanese legs are too short to compete.” Even co-workers were repeating this (I taught in a public junior high school). Later that summer, the Japanese all-star baseball team won an exhibition game to the American all-star team in Tokyo. Few months after that, another coworker was addressing the students at the opening ceremony and telling the students “We won because we are cleaner and have a superior culture and that’s why you need to do a good job cleaning the school!”

    I proceeded to phone in my work the next few months and to this day feel no regret for doing so.

    Reply
    • This is an open question to all here, but is it actually possible to live life in Japan and ignore or blank these lame stereotypical comments to the point where people will stop saying them?

      Although I have a observed a sub-trend where certain types actually try out these conversational tropes deliberately on non Japanese, kind of like doing their bit to “spread the J-Word of Cultural Uniqueness”(?)

      Or perhaps such comments are a test. If you agree, you get to be an outside member of the group, the token House Gaijin, kind of who is “OK, as likes Japanese culture/doesn’t like Korean/Chinese culture etc”?

      Just asking.

      Reply
  • The irony of Japan’s run is that they still get eliminated at the round of 16; the same as their shameful cowardly risk averse performance four years ago to go through by losing 0-1 and not trying to score an equalizer.

    This is an interesting cultural case study I have been using in classes internationally (haha) as I put it to students that as the other game that was going on simultaneously could have equally easily gone against Japan on goal difference (or was it the pathetic “least number of yellow cards”?) , that indeed the less risk averse thing was to actually grow a pair and try to equalize. You know, like, score a goal?
    The only people who do not agree with this are all Japanese. And several of them work in banking/investment, so there you have the microcosm of the undynamic, risk averse Japanese financial markets.

    Reply
  • It’s interesting that this is kanji of the year right now. Many people have said it’s because of the war in Ukraine- to which I replied, well, why didn’t they choose this kanji at anytime during the 20 year war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan?
    Then the same people say it’s because the war in Ukraine is causing such inflationary problems for Japan, in which case I ask why they didn’t choose a kanji that relates to weak yen or high cost of living?
    It’s very interesting to me that last week Kishida proposed a tax hike cover increased defense spending and his own party put the dampers on it. This week he’s proposed using the Tohoku Reconstruction Tax to pay for increased defense spending.
    He’s desperate to spend money on the military. Need to ramp up the fear. Handy choice of kanji.
    Incidentally, while Kishida is talking about the threat to Taiwan as justification for more defense spending, the US is pulling back from Japan.
    The Marines are due to relocate to Guam within two years.
    The US Air Force will no longer permanently base fighters at Kadena because they expect the Chinese to nuke it if there’s a war over Taiwan.
    And the US Air Force is building a new base for B-52s and B-21 Raiders (named after the Doolittle raids on Japan!) in Australia to counter-strike China.
    Looks like US doctrine is that Japan can’t be protected if Taiwan is to be defended.

    Reply
  • Well how’s that for timing? Seems that SNA’s Michael Penn is on the same train of thought as I;
    https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2022/12/15/an-epitaph-for-kishidas-new-capitalism/

    As for ‘kanji of the year’, it wouldn’t be the first time (this year even!) that organized religion worked hand-in-glove with J-politicians would it?
    And if you’re going to say something like ‘ah, but peace loving buddhists wouldn’t promote militarization’, then think again. D. T. Suzuki, the Buddhist priest who popularized zen to the hippies at Big Sur in the 60’s spent WWII patriotically writing screeds encouraging the youth of Japan to join the military and unburden themselves of the guilt of the responsibility for the suffering they committed on the non-Japanese of territories occupied by the empire (read; ‘they aren’t Japanese= not ‘real people’ = no need to feel any guilt for treating them criminally).
    Surprisingly, this kind of stuff never got translated into English after the war.

    Reply
  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    @JDG,
    Actually I was relieved that 戦 was the kanji of the year (with the caveat that North Korean missile tests are an act of intimidation, not war) because it was something with substance and not just being about “us”. (A third win in the World Cup would not doubt have caused 蹴 or something worse to be the kanji of the year.)

    I wish the world media would have paid attention to the fans of other nations who also helped clean up the stadiums.

    I also had a giggle at the rising sun flags being confiscated from supporters at the matches in Qatar because they are not national flags.

    Reply
  • This is one of the most important things you have ever written;
    ‘Doing anything not considered by the omnipresent and ever-alienating Japanese media as “The Japanese Way” means that any compromises can easily be construed as an identity sacrifice, a denial of one’s “Japaneseness.”’

    — Thanks. Repost this under the article when I put it up in a few minutes.

    Reply

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