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'Japanese only' banner turns spotlight on racism

26 Comments

Japan's J-League is one of the safest and most welcoming soccer leagues but a furor over a "Japanese only" banner directed at foreign fans has caused deep embarrassment and highlighted questionable attitudes to race.

Urawa will host Shimizu S-Pulse behind closed doors on Sunday after the J-League hit the club with an unprecedented one-game supporter ban over the sign, written in English and hung over an entrance to the stands at a March 8 match.

Urawa president Keizo Fuchita said hardline fans at Japan's best-supported club hung the banner as a warning for foreign visitors to stay away from their "sacred ground" behind the goal at Saitama Stadium, a 2002 World Cup semifinal venue.

The incident is the latest cultural faux pas to make headlines in the largely homogeneous island nation, after complaints in January forced airline All Nippon Airways to change a TV commercial featuring a Japanese man in a blonde wig and long rubber nose pretending to be a Westerner.

In both cases, action was not taken until after the issue had become a hot topic on social media, with Urawa's stadium security allowing the banner to hang until after the game had finished.

Despite the J-League's tough sanction, one Urawa fan said those responsible may not even have meant to be offensive, but simply showed ignorance to racial sensitivities.

"I don't think the fans who put that banner up realized how seriously it would be taken," the supporter, who did not want to be named, told AFP.

"There are a lot of Urawa fans who just don't realize how seriously something like that is taken. If that happened in Europe, with a racist banner, it's normal that you would be punished. A lot of people in that supporters' group just think it's something that's cool."

Urawa, the former J-League and Asian champions with an average home gate of more than 37,000 last season, have been punished several times for fan misbehavior.

Fans brawled with rival supporters and then penned them inside the stadium in 2008, and the club was fined $50,000 in 2010 over racist abuse yelled at Vegalta Sendai's Brazilian and Korean players.

"We like to think of ourselves as being a little different from other clubs in the J-League," said the Urawa fan, at their league cup game against Kashiwa Reysol on Wednesday.

"We're known for making more noise and having a more passionate support than the rest, and I think this banner is a result of playing up to that image too much without thinking."

The club responded to last week's punishment by indefinitely barring banners and flags and warning all fans not to gather outside the stadium for Sunday's closed-doors match.

Urawa have also indefinitely locked out all members of the supporters' group responsible for the banner, and promised reform to stamp out crowd trouble in the future.

"The club recognizes that due to the occurrence of the severe instances of discriminatory behavior on top of several incidents of trouble caused by its supporters, it now faces a severe crisis in which it may lose its raison d'etre as a member of the J-League and as a sports club," an Urawa statement said.

Coming just weeks into the new season, after a blaze of positive publicity over Cerezo Osaka's signing of star Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan, J-League chiefs have been unimpressed by the damaging headlines.

"Given the media exposure over the Internet over the past few days, the global ramifications of this incident have stretched beyond our imagination," said J-League chairman Mitsuru Murai. "It's obvious that the image of the J-League and Japanese football as a whole has suffered."

Match-fixing suspicions, surrounding Sanfrecce Hiroshima's game against Kawasaki Frontale also on March 8 but unproven after an investigation, will not have helped the mood amongst the Japanese football hierarchy.

S-Pulse's manager, Afshin Ghotbi, experienced the J-League's ugly side in 2011 when a banner displayed by Jubilo Iwata fans urged him to "stop making nuclear weapons," in reference to his Iranian heritage.

The J-League deemed S-Pulse responsible given that they were hosting the match, fining them $20,000 while Jubilo got off with a written warning.

"The J-League at the time actually fined our club for our fans trying to remove the banner and scuffling with them," the Iranian-American said. "I was really shocked. I couldn't believe it.

"This time the new chairman has stood strong and made it clear that there is no tolerance for racist attitudes. The more that Japanese people talk openly about these things, the better it is for Japanese culture. These things can't be swept under the rug."

Englishman Barry Valder, an S-Pulse season ticket-holder, believes there is room for improvement despite his generally positive experiences in eight years watching the J-League.

"I'm just treated as one of the crowd," he said. "I've never felt any hostility toward me just because I'm a foreigner. With the Urawa incident, the big disappointment for me was that no one took the banner down until after the match. The Japanese mentality is that people don't want to get involved.

"There's a head-in-the-sand mentality and it's frustrating. I can't imagine a banner like that staying up for long in England," he said.

© (c) 2014 AFP

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

26 Comments
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Imagine this in Major League Baseball. We had the whites only signs. Those signs were taken down over 50 years ago.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Good, I'm glad they have been punished, they fully deserve it.

Just read some of the comments in this article - there are too many excuses from people around Japanese football; supporters and officials alike.

What you NEED to hear them say is 'This is completely unacceptable.' But you don't. You get excuses.

Japan needs a little slap around the head in regards to it's racism, and leading up to a World Cup, it's a very good time to do it in the footballing circles and media.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

I have supported Urawa Reds and have been to their Saitama stadium to watch their games. It pains me, as a foreigner, that the club did nothing until the end of the match. Are these so-called fans and the club officials living in the 1970s? The Urawa keychain, towel and baseball cap I bought will be thrown away or burnt. Yokohama F Marinos for me now.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

What you NEED to hear them say is 'This is completely unacceptable.' But you don't. You get excuses.

On the contrary, the JFL response was very clear that it was completely unacceptable, and there were no excuses. They banned the people who put up the banner indefinitely, fined the team a large amount of money, and are forcing them to play a game with no audience, which on top of being embarrassing is also a large financial hit to the team.

I don't see how they could have been any more decisive in saying that the behavior was unacceptable. Give credit where credit is due.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Racism and bias are very prevalent in Japanese society. They usually don't vocalize it in the same way as in many Western countries but their personal actions speak pretty loudly all day every day.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Strangerland

I'm referring to comments from Urawa supporters and officials in the article. Very poor.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Japan is like the kindergarten kids of the world trying to play "grown up."

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Urawa’s stadium security allowing the banner to hang until after the game had finished

Not true, neil. Do some freakin journalism work. They repeatedly asked for it to be taken down, but the guys who put it up gave excuses such as "well, it's in the middle of the game so we're busy and it's difficult to take down." Finally, the banner was taken down forcefully by the stadium security.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Name and shame the fans I say. Let them answer to their racist comments. Im sure when the worlds media comes banging on their doors, they will realize the impact of their actions soon enough.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Welcome to the real world, Japan.

Even if they were blindly copying what they saw at Lazio or Millwall or wherever, racism is not cool and they deserve everything they get. Zero tolerance for racism, and sport is a good place to start because of the international pressure. Now let's see this awareness spread to Japanese society as a whole. I've heard otherwise nice people doubt ex-PM Naoto Kan's integrity, saying things like "His ancestry is Korean", and I've heard of landlords refusing to rent to people of Korean ancestry. Awareness will educate ignorance, and for those who don't get it after that - zero tolerance.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I think the "Japanese only" was directed towards Koreans and Chinese; part of the ongoing rift between the two. Its more nationalism than racism. As for me, I never go to those matches anyhow.

-9 ( +2 / -11 )

Hate. I will tell you some things I hate. One is the misuse of words. If the point was to keep foreign visitors away, that is called xenophobia, not racism. I have to admit its sometimes hard to tell with these nationalists though. Japanese is not a race. But that won't stop Japanese nationalists from thinking it is. In this case, I find the banner no more offensive than if it said "Canadians only".

and the club was fined $50,000 in 2010 over racist abuse yelled at Vegalta Sendai’s Brazilian and Korean players.

I also hate not being told exactly what was said. Given that the word racism has already been misused, I am going to assume it has been misused again. I am not the blindly trusting sort.

Also, I hate nationalism, xenophobia and racism too. I also hate people who love to cause trouble for others. They need a new hobby. And perhaps also a broken nose.

-8 ( +0 / -8 )

There are a lot of Urawa fans who just don’t realize how seriously something like that is taken. If that happened in Europe, with a racist banner, it’s normal that you would be punished. A lot of people in that supporters’ group just think it’s something that’s cool.”

How could they not understand what they were saying or how it would be taken? I am not sure what is meant by "cool" here. Is this the best that an apologist can come up with?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Urawa fans have probably seen too many Eastern European football matches, where black players are sometimes greeted with ape noises. Very mature.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

If they wanted "Japanese only", then maybe they shouldn't be supporting a sport that was invented overseas. Maybe they should be supporting sumo or something.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

On the contrary, the JFL response was very clear that it was completely unacceptable, and there were no excuses.

Wrong. What first came out was that if this was "deemed" discrimination, something would be done about it. It was after that comment that the JFL realized how this was blowing up abroad that they came their their senses and said it was out of order. Add in that it was left up and this isn't the first time these fans have had issues with discrionation... You can be an apologist but can you at least get the facts right?

http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201403100075

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

If they were yelling racist abuse at other matches, then it was not an innocent "just a cool thing" and "couldn't imagine it would be taken seriously", it was intimidation and exclusion and racist.

End of discussion.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I had a few interesting and encouraging conversations at work about this. Quite a few of my coworkers asked me my feelings on this knowing I'm a football fan who sometimes goes to J-league games. Many agreed with the point made above that this was primarily directed at Koreans ( I'm not wholly convinced they were trying to make a white Englishman feel better ), others were shocked this could happen in Japan and the fluent English-speaking, well-travelled types dismissed this lot as the ignorant, insular rubbish of the country. I was encouraged that this incident was reported in the media and at least got some people talking about it. The football follower in the article mentioned burying heads in the sand on this issue in Japan and for me this is undeniable, but the fact that this was widely reported in the Japanese media may have at least opened a few eyes.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I hate to say it but I think the ONLY reason why the J media covered it was because the foreign media did. This blew up on Facebook the day the banner was up - I saw the picture less than two hours after the match finished. Needless to say, it was shared all over the place and Debito and foreign media knew about it Saturday evening. It didn't get ANY J news coverage on TV (or none that I saw at least) until the J-League said it would look into it - days later. The first I saw of it was on Wednesday. Damage control by that time as I had already seen it on CNN.

I'm glad the fans were punished - feel sorry for the good fans who had no idea about this and who are disgusted by it but the J-League dragged their heels and didn't handle this well at all.

Tamarama said it very well when he/she said **Just read some of the comments in this article - there are too many excuses from people around Japanese football; supporters and officials alike.

What you NEED to hear them say is 'This is completely unacceptable.' But you don't. You get excuses.

Japan needs a little slap around the head in regards to it's racism, and leading up to a World Cup, it's a very good time to do it in the footballing circles and media.**

Was anyone here for the 2002 WC? The cries of hooligans and how foreigners were going to come and smash the place up still sits fresh in my mind. 2020 isn't that far away so Japan needs to sort it out as Facebook and Twitter has made the world a much smaller place.

2 ( +7 / -5 )

J-league champion, Japan's most supported club, ignorant fans, racial discrimination, and repeated offenses. All the key words for 'FIFA, hey look at this' were mentioned in this article. At the end of the day the J-league is business, it really doesn't care about it's fans personal attitudes towards others. What it does care about is attracting the best talent possible at the most advantageous compensation allowed. Having to pay premiums to compensate fan behavior is bad for business, and you can't have your star franchise supporting or tolerating xenophobia while trying to attract international coaches, players, and support staff.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Look how they're making excuses saying this is not racism. You can tell reading this article, they cared more about the image of Japan abroad than anything else. If they had "No Koreans" sign out there, nobody would have even noticed or cared, nor made any news and it would have been business as usual...lol.. Only because it was discriminatory against all foreigners did this bring any attention from the world media.

Not true, neil. Do some freakin journalism work. They repeatedly asked for it to be taken down, but the guys who put it up gave excuses such as "well, it's in the middle of the game so we're busy and it's difficult to take down." Finally, the banner was taken down forcefully by the stadium security.

This is completely false, all the reports I read, including the Japan Times said they didn't take it down until the game was over - probably because the fans went home and took the banner with them.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Racism has been a growing problem in the world and it has very long history. The real truth of the matter is that it is still evident everywhere. Racism can be a combination of one race believing they are superior to another. In the end Racism and Discrimination exist everywhere. It is only the degree that changes. The ignorant and those of low intellectual ability are unable to suppress their animal instinct to be suspicious of anyone who is different.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

"With the Urawa incident, the big disappointment for me was that no one took the banner down until after the match."

Honestly this line of the article says it all. The Japanese that didn't take the sign down didn't do so for a reason... Racism and xenophobia in Japan are a lot more common than most locals here would care to admit.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

This banner appeared in the Asian Champions League game, at Suwon South Korea, between Urawa Reds and Suwon Blue Wings. This banner was a counter banner to what the Urawa Reds supporters had done last year, hanging a Japanese only banner at their stadium.

http://soccersokuhou.blogspot.ca/2015/02/acl_27.html

Not only Suwon won in the manners department, they also won the game.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

"Japanese only"

That would really suck.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Hotmail - We all know you dislike Japan but dragging up articles from last year to further degrade Japan is jabbing a little low, don't you think?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

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