While race relations in the United States seem to be tenser than ever, Japan is coming to a crossroads with accepting mixed race Japanese and immigrants into their mostly homogenous society. Japan is a welcoming country to foreigners, especially if you are a temporary visitor. The subtle prejudices only become visible to a foreigner once you have lived here for a while and experienced the day to day difficulties you face as an outsider when you actually try to become part of the society. Any foreigner in Japan who has been turned away from renting an apartment simply because they’re not Japanese, knows that experience.
An American filmmaker, Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, from Texas, depicts this struggle to be accepted as a dark skinned black man in Japan in his award winning short film Born With It(生まれつき). Osei-Kuffour lived in Japan for six years, encountering numerous instances of prejudice and discrimination. The film follows a black elementary school child in Japan experiencing the cruelty of racism and harsh words spoken unfiltered in the world of children, who have not learned the impact of what they are doing or saying, or how to accept difference.
Osei-Kuffour notes “I wanted to tell the story from a kid’s point-of-view because I think its powerful to see someone’s innocence broken for the first time. This is ultimately a story about prejudice and it’s also disarming to see a child unaware of the scars of the adult world. Like most forms of discrimination, the most difficult moments I had in Japan are hard to convey convincingly. Most of the issues I encountered seemed to revolve around me, as a foreigner, not being perceived as an equal, normal human being. There always seemed to be the sense that since I was not Japanese, I would be unable to comprehend Japanese ideas or values, represent my given company in a meeting or share a space with other Japanese people.
Those moments seem small on paper but they begin to get under your skin when you’re trying to assimilate to the culture. I had — and still have — a strong desire to have a film career in Japan. So I’ve always wanted to live and work and get the same chances as my Japanese friends that were same age. But despite a strong command of the language, it became very clear to me that no matter how fluent I became, I had to either be famous outside of Japan or Japanese to really get the chances that I sought out in all Japanese environments. This is not the case for everyone but it is for most. ”
The seventeen minute film has resonated with many people in and outside of Japan, and garnered praise including The Best Film & Social Impact Award at the NBC-Universal Short Film Festival and Honorable Mention for Best Short Film at Toronto International Film Festival (Kids Section) and many more festivals.
“Born With It” will be airing on PBS KQED as part of the show “FILM SCHOOL SHORTS” in San Francisco 10/13 11pm.
“Damn those wily hateful Koreans for actually understanding their own language—and why are they watching our TV?!!”–
One would imagine those were the thoughts going through the minds of Fuji Television executives after getting caught ‘mishandling’ the subtitles in interviews done with Korean citizens that made it appear as if the individuals hated Japan.
On June 29th, Fuji Television officially apologised for their June 5th broadcast of 「池上影 緊急スペシャル!」(Akira Ikegami Emergency Special). Akira Ikegami is a well respected journalist who worked for NHK from 1973 to 2005, during that period when it was a public broadcaster and not a corrupt mouthpiece for the Abe administration. He served as the host of the network’s news program for children. He now works freelance. In his Emergency Special, ordinary Korean citizens were interviewed as to their views on Japan. The subtitles shown on television were radically different from what the people were actually saying on screen.
A Korean woman was presented by Fuji as saying about Japan, “I hate (Japan). Didn’t they make Korea suffer?”
Her actual words were about why she likes Korea, “There is much culture here. This seems why many foreigners visit.”
Another scene had a Korean man reportedly saying the equivalent of the US racist cliche, “Some of my best friends are black.” In the scene shown, the man is subtitled as saying, “There are some good Japanese people but I hate the country.”
He actually says onscreen, “Japan doesn’t reflect solemnly on past history. That part of Japan, well…..”. According to Fuji Television, in unaired other parts of the interviews, the people said exactly what was shown in the subtitles.
Note: We at Japan Subculture Research Center apologise in advance for any possible mistranslation of the Fuji apology over their mistranslations/editing mistakes. Our contributors include Koreans, Jews, Japanese, Half-Japanese, A Quarter Chinese, and Women. All the types of people that would normally be segregated in the ideal apartheid world tacitly sanctioned by the Fuji-Sankei group. With few ethnically pure Japanese on staff, we regret if our attempts to translate the apology into English fail to meet the high professional standards of Fuji Television. お詫びします。
Updated: This article was originally posted on February 28th, 2015. In the end, Fuji Television backed down and there was no minstrel show.
By Baye McNeil
Fuji Television has set off a controversy in Japan when it was announced on 2/11 that their popular music program Music Fair would feature the pop group Rats & Star singing alongside the uber-popular idols Momoiro Clover Z in blackface. (Blackface is the makeup used by a nonblack performer playing a black role. The role played is typically comedic or musical and is generally considered offensive to modern sensibilities.)
The announcement was made on February 11th along with a photo of the two groups taken behind the scenes. That photo, of the two groups posing together in blackface, white gloves and costumes, gained attention when tweeted by several journalists, going viral. While some supporters of these Japanese musicians have labeled this scheduled show innocuous or done in honor of black musicians, the internet for the most part, does not share this sentiment.
It’s been called everything bad, ranging from poor judgment and a questionable style choice, to flagrantly racist and a mockery of black history and culture. A petition has since been started to urge Fuji-TV not to air the program, scheduled to be broadcast on March 7th at 6pm on the program Music Fair. Though in the days since this controversy began, Momoiro Clover Z has canceled a film screening and press conference with the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ) scheduled for February 23rd — reportedly for fear of being questioned about this situation. Fuji-TV has yet to release a statement or respond to the petition, which has thus far garnered over 2000 signatures and comments from Japanese and non-Japanese alike.
It is important to place apartheid in its correct context in order to avoid any country… glorifying it as a policy consideration.
All South Africans were racially classified into one of three categories: white, black (African) or colored (of mixed descent), and Asian. Classification into these categories was based on color of a person’s skin, appearance, social acceptance, and descent. Non-compliance…was dealt with harshly. These laws gave the apartheid regime the leeway to torture and detain blacks arbitrarily, it forced blacks to work under the most humiliating conditions earning meager wages…
Surely the respected columnist and writer is not suggesting such treacherous and archaic laws for nursing care immigration to Japan? Why would Japan, a respected member of the United Nations, and a bidder for the United Nations Security Council non-permanent seat for 2016 even consider such laws?
Obviously, the Sankei Shimbun column is clearly deplorable. It is worth mentioning because Sankei Shimbun is part of the Fuji-Sankei group. For more on the Fuji Television story, please watch the following video by the blogger known as Hiko Saemon. His explanation is below the video.
“I know that when the racism flag comes up from the local foreign community, a lot of Japanese people flip into defensive mode saying “don’t bring YOUR racist history and hangups and impose them on Japan” and “you are unfairly and incorrectly assuming malicious intent when there is none, this is YOUR misunderstanding”. My drive with the video was to say “people flagging this are not accusing anyone of being racist, or attacking Japan. Point here is that as people who love Japan and care about Japan’s image, we don’t want Fuji TV to go harming Japan’s image by airing a show with this sort of content. And even accepting the idea that this band STILL doesn’t know this kind of blackface act does hurt the feelings of many people – well, now they know, and it really isn’t necessary in this day and age. I want people to know about why this is an issue, and help send a message that can reach Fuji TV by adding their voices to the petition.”
The petition urging Fuji-TV not to air the blackface minstrel show can be signed here↓
*Editor’s note: It may be worth mentioning that Mr. Nobutaka Shikanai, the supposed founder of Fuji Sankei group, in his own memoirs gleefully discusses his role in procuring women to sexually service Japanese soldiers during WWII. Many of these women who were treated in ways that would classify them as human trafficking victims in modern times, were called “comfort women.” The editorials and articles in Sankei Shimbun (Newspaper) have implied that the comfort women did not exist or if they did, they were all happy hookers. The Sankei Shimbun has yet to address the implications of the testimony of their own founder.
Today at JSRC, we came across this newsletter, run by a member of the Zaitokukai (that Ms. Yamatani can’t remember meeting), to which she seems to have contributed materials. *
In a section of the newsletter, called, Yamatani Eriko’s Report From The Diet, Her right wing supporter explains in witty prose that women in Japan should have their right to divorce taken away from them as part of promoting gender equality. And of course, let’s do something about those tax dollars stolen by capricious single mothers. It’s as if to say, “once you’re married, a woman should have no rights.”
Not only is this newsletter one more link to Yamatani and the racist she says that she doesn’t know, it makes us think she isn’t a person who will really want to ensure the police crack down on domestic violence or stalkers—if she really agrees with this guy. Who she doesn’t remember.
You can download the full PDF of the newsletter here, which also has a nice picture of her with the Zaitokukai right wing racist she claims not to know.
*We were unable to get a comment from Ms. Yamatani on the contents of this essay at present.