Multicultural Olympic team shows growing pains of diversity in Japan

TOKYO, Aug.6 (Reuters) – The Tokyo Olympics were supposed to showcase Japan’s growing ethnic diversity, but the Games have also brought a national debate into the international spotlight on whether the country can be in the spotlight. both multicultural and Japanese.

Japan’s team is the largest on record and most diverse, comprising nearly three dozen athletes of mixed descent and reflecting gradual but profound change in a country that is still largely homogeneous.

Among them, gold medalist in judo Aaron Wolf, who has an American father; basketball player Rui Hachimura, who carried the national flag during the opening ceremony and has a Beninese father; and tennis superstar Naomi Osaka, who lit the Olympic cauldron and has a Haitian father.

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The selection of multicultural athletes to represent Japan at such times – unthinkable decades ago – comes as organizers made “diversity and inclusion” an Olympic theme. But like many countries, Japan still has a long way to go.

“What became clear at these Olympics was that the government wanted to use half-breeds to show that Japan has become a global country,” said Lawrence Yoshitaka Shimoji of Ritsumeikan University, who wrote a book on the mestizos.

“On the other hand, the government has taken no action to combat discrimination,” he said, adding that there was no legal protection for Métis people against harassment or discrimination. at hiring.

Shimoji pointed to the negative comments on social media after Osaka lit the cauldron, where some said the honor should have gone to a “pure” Japanese.

There is a record 2.9 million foreigners living in Japan, or 2% of the population. According to official statistics, around 2% of babies born each year have a non-Japanese parent.


Basketball sisters Evelyn and Stephanie Mawuli, who were born and raised in Japan to Ghanaian parents, were bullied as children.

Evelyn, the older of the two, recently told Gendai Business magazine that she struggled at times but eventually learned to forgive and found support in basketball.

“In the future, the number of half-Japanese children and children born in Japan with different roots will increase,” she told the magazine. “I want these kids to see me. Even if they have a hard time, they can make a difference on their own.”

Evelyn recently told reporters that she has a “Japanese heart”, giving her the confidence to represent the country.

Hachimura, an NBA Washington Wizards forward, has spoken of the racist messages he and his younger brother Allen are receiving.

In May, young Hachimura, a professional basketball player in Japan, retweeted one of these messages, saying: “Some people say that racial discrimination does not exist in Japan. ‘interested in the question. “

Elder Hachimura replied, “This kind of thing happens almost every day.”

There are signs of action against abuse. A publishing house fired an employee for posting a personal racist tweet about Osaka after it was eliminated from the Olympics.


Osaka, who took a close look at whether she was more Japanese or American, used her platform to raise awareness about Black Lives Matter and anti-Asian racism.

Gold medalist Wolf said his background helped him.

“I can do Japanese-style judo and I can also do more powerful judo like foreigners. I think that was a plus in many ways,” said the 25-year-old, who broke down in tears when ‘he won his ordeal.

Ren Hayakawa, a naturalized Japanese Olympic archer born and raised in South Korea, said that unlike her older sister who represented Japan in archery in Beijing, she has never been discriminated against.

“At first when I was competing against the South Koreans I felt really lost and under pressure. But every time that happened my coach would tell me ‘You are doing well. And you are Japanese.'”

Additional reporting by Ju-min Park, Mari Saito, Linda Sieg and Rocky Swift; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Jane Wardell

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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