Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka on September 10 in New York.

Japan wants to be a homogeneous society. It is less so than proclaimed by the political and intellectual right and than a good part of the Japanese think. An advertising video of the American brand Nike, denouncing racial discrimination in the Archipelago, viewed more than 20 million times since it was broadcast on 1er December, arouses enthusiastic or outraged reactions on social networks by this “Attack on the dignity of Japan”.

Confronted since its opening abroad in the middle of the XIXe century of Western ethnocentrism, Japan is not unaware of the wounds due to racial discrimination – which it itself practiced in the 1930s with the ideology of the supremacy of the Japanese race which accompanied its colonial imperialism .

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Following the death of George Floyd in May in the United States, marches and demonstrations, admittedly small in scale, took place in major Japanese cities. But for many, racism is a problem in the United States and Europe but not in Japan. The situation is not so simple: discrimination against minorities, “visible” or not, as well as the ostracism of Métis Japanese are realities that the majority tend to ignore.

Riding the wave of fame of the young tennis champion, Naomi Osaka, who denounces racial injustices, Nike – one of her sponsors – has sought to embrace the evolution he believes to discern among young Japanese. “Naomi Osaka is the face of a changing Japan and that she calls to wake up to the problem of racial discrimination”, says Baye McNeil, an African-American professor and author living in Japan.

“Ignorance” and “mistrust” of foreigners

Discrimination in Japan is of several kinds. They can be creepy or open, such as hate speech against Koreans on social media. Nike’s video film, titled Continue to act, be yourself, the future does not wait, somewhat caricaturedly points to more devious forms of ostracism: young woman in Korean national costume stared at by a passer-by; adolescent girls harassed at school because of their origin… Made up of a succession of shocking images, the film loses its informative, even didactic, significance by over-homogenizing Japanese society. These discriminations certainly exist, but the phenomenon is more complex.

Naomi Osaka’s position is more measured. Born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father, but raised in the United States, the 23-year-old does not want to be a world-famous champion. She intends to put her celebrity at the service of a political message whose impact is undoubtedly stronger in Japan than in the United States where the mobilization is infinitely wider on this issue. Consecration of her popularity in the Archipelago, Naomi Osaka will become the heroine of a manga entitled Naomi without equal, which will be published at the end of December in the magazine for teenage girls Nakayoshi (400,000 copies).

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