Russian shop “Aka no Hiroba” (“Red Square”) opened in Tokyo in February last year, and since then, they’ve been introducing locals to popular Russian delicacies and products, including a selection of Vladimir Putin T-shirts and chocolates.
Back then, nobody blinked an eye at these goods, especially as Putin calendars have been a bit of a joke gift here for a number of years, even outselling Japanese celebrity calendars at one major retail chain.
However, nobody’s joking now, after Putin put everyone’s lives in peril with his decision to invade Ukraine last week. With the world on edge, and anti-Russian sentiment swelling around the globe, some people are now taking their anger out on ordinary Russians, even those who are proponents for peace.
That’s what happened in Tokyo recently at Aka no Hiroba. Although they sell Russian goods, the store, which is the bricks-and-mortar branch of import food company Victoria Foods Market, has been clear about their wish for peace in the region.
The tweet above, posted the day after the invasion, reads:
“We will offer flowers every day until the end of the battle, in the hopes that Russia and Ukraine will regain peace as soon as possible.”
Single, long-stemmed flowers like the ones seen above are often placed at memorial ceremonies for the deceased in Japan, so the makeshift stand they’ve set up acts as a way to pay respects to those who have lost their lives during the conflict.
▼ Customers have been adding their own flowers as offerings as well.
Despite the peace offering, the store discovered they’d been the target of vandalism on the night of Feb 28, when a signboard outside the store had been broken in two.
The tweet above reads:
“Thank you for your continued patronage.
We’d like to talk about a sad event that occurred at our shop. Our store signboard was broken and destroyed on the evening of 28 February.
Is it because we deal with Russian food? Is it because of the store name…
Actually, our store representative is Ukrainian, the staff is also Ukrainian, Uzbek, Japanese.
Within our staff, five are single mothers working to support their families.
No matter what country we are from, there is no connection between the shop and politics.
We work with a desire to act as a bridge between Japan and Ukraine, Russia and other countries.
It is our sincere hope that peace will come to both countries and they will form a better relationship.
And we hope that smiles will return to the people of our homelands.”
While the damage might appear minor, respect for others and their belongings, no matter how large or small, is paramount in Japan. The news quickly went viral, eliciting comments like:
“This makes me feel awful. I’m so sorry this happened to you.”
“This is a hurtful hate crime.”
“This is no good…what’s bad is Putin, not the Russians.”
“The hate should be directed at Putin and his entourage, who have begun an unreasonable war, not Russians or Russia.”
“There is no sin in the delicious food of Russia. The bad thing is this meaningless war.”
In among all the words of encouragement for the store, a signboard shop called Plus Marks in Sagamihara City stepped up with the offer to supply Aka no Hiroba with a new signboard for free. Although the Russian store declined the free offer, insisting to pay instead, the signboard makers refused to accept any payment, saying they hoped the board would act as a symbol of the new bonds formed between the store and the people who support it.
The deluge of good wishes and support from the community has been a welcome salve for the sad event, and it suggests that the store owner’s apology for remarks made to a television station about the invasion have been well received by the public.
According to the television report, owner Victoria Miyabe, who was born in Donetsk, was quoted as saying:
“Yesterday, I heard my relatives who live there say, ‘With the Ukrainian army gone, it was the quietest night in eight years.'”
“Most residents of Donetsk welcome Russia.”
▼ Miyabe’s quotes appeared alongside a photo of her in the TV report.
Miyabe responded to the report with this tweet on February 26, two days before the damage to the store signboard occurred.
The tweet above reads:
“Regarding my remarks to the TV station.
First of all, I deeply apologise for making everyone misunderstand and feel uncomfortable with the very unpleasant remarks.
That remark was conveying to the TV station what I had heard from my relatives living in Donetsk, but without being able to accurately convey my feelings in my poor Japanese, I made everyone who is hurting over the current situation in Ukraine feel uncomfortable and I sincerely apologize.
Both Ukraine and Russia are my beloved hometowns, and we also carry a large number of Ukrainian products.
I sincerely hope that peace will come soon and everyone’s smiles will return as soon as possible.”
The store’s currently pinned tweet includes the following statement, which reinforces the owner’s wish for peace in the region:
“I am from Donetsk, Ukraine, and from the former Soviet Union. Ukraine and Russia are my beloved hometowns and I hope peace will come as soon as possible.”
While it’s unclear what prompted the damage to the store’s signboard, the people of Japan are hoping there’ll be no more animosity towards Russians in Tokyo. Because the wounds from the animosity towards Asians over the coronavirus pandemic are still taking their time to heal.
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