Going viral on Saturday was news of a banner up at a sports meet on March 8, 2014, that said “Japanese Only” (the Urawa Reds soccer team in Saitama Stadium, which according to Wikipedia has some of the best-attended games in Japan). Here it is:
According to media outlets like Al Jazeera, “the sign could be considered racist”, Kyodo: “seen as racist”, or Mainichi: “could be construed as racist”. (Oh, well, how else could it be considered, seen, or construed then? That only the Japanese language is spoken here?). Urawa Stadium management just called it “discriminatory” (sabetsu teki) and promised to investigate. Fortunately it was removed with some solid condemnations. But no media outlet is bothering to do more than blurb articles on it, barely scratching the surface of the issue.
And that issue they should scratch up is this: Since at least 1999, as Debito.org has covered more than any other media on the planet, Japan has had public language of exclusion (specifically, “Japanese Only” signs spreading around Japan) that have justified a narrative that says it’s perfectly all right to allow places to say “no” to foreigners”, particularly those as determined on sight. It’s also perfectly legal, since the GOJ refuses to pass any laws against racial discrimination, despite promises to the contrary it made back in 1995 when signing the UN CERD.
This much you all know if you’ve been reading this space over the decades. But it bears repeating, over and over again if necessary. Because this sort of thing is not a one-off. It is based upon a mindset that “foreigners” can be treated as subordinate to Japanese in any circumstances, including in this case the allegedly level playing field of sports, and it is so unquestioned and hegemonic that it has become embedded — to the point where it gets dismissed as one of Japan’s “cultural quirks”, and the language of the original Otaru Onsens “Japanese Only” sign has become standardized language for the exclusionary.
But the problem is also in the enforcement of anti-racism measures. You think any official international sports body governing soccer (which has zero tolerance for racism and is often very quick to act on it) will investigate this any further? Or that the Olympic Committee before Tokyo 2020 is going to raise any public eyebrows about Japan’s lackadaisical attitude towards racism in its sports? For example, its outright racism and handicapping/excluding/bashing foreigners (even naturalized “foreigners”) in Sumo, baseball, hockey, rugby, figure skating, the Kokutai, or in the Ekiden Sports Races, which deliberately and overtly handicaps or outright excludes NJ from participation?
I’m not going to bet my lunch on it, as scrutiny and responsibility-taking (as in, finding out who put that banner up and why — speculation abounds) could happen. But it probably won’t. Because people can’t even say clearly and definitively that what just happened in Urawa was “racism” (and Al Jazeera, the Asahi, or the Mainichi didn’t even see fit to publish a photo of the banner, so readers could feel the full force and context of it). And that we’re going to see ever more expressions of it in our xenophobic youth (which was a huge political force in Tokyo’s last gubernatorial election) as Japan continues its rightward swing into bigotry.