Anyone out there who despairs about the amount of religion, language and caste related bigotry we see in India should despair less. This super piece from Pallavi Aiyer explains how an ultra-conservative country like Japan – where people have told pollsters that they would prefer to work with robots rather than work with foreigners – is learning to embrace other cultures. The catalyst for this change appears to be sport: “…sport is challenging the idea that a Japanese identity must be ethnically determined, allowing for new and more inclusive definitions of “Japaneseness”. The most visible case in point are the Brave Blossoms, Japan’s squad at the ongoing Rugby World Cup tournament that the country is hosting. The team made it to the quarterfinals against the odds. Legions of fans, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, could be seen literally leaping with noisy joy every time a team member scored a try.”
Now comes the interesting part: “The catch is that about half of the Japanese rugby team is either ethnically non-Japanese or biracial. A picture of the Brave Blossoms is almost like an ad for the United Colours of Benetton, suggestive of the kind of rainbow nation Japan has never been and seemed determined not to become. The 31-strong team includes 16 players originally from foreign countries, including Tonga, Samoa, New Zealand, Korea and South Africa. The captain, who is the face of Japanese rugby, is Michael Leitch, a player of mixed New Zealand and Fijian heritage, who has lived in Japan since he was 15.”
And this surge in diversity in Japan is not just restricted to rugby: “Beyond rugby, the mixed race Haitian-Japanese tennis star, Naomi Osaka (who has renounced her U.S. citizenship and now plays as Japanese), has been embraced. And a number of Japan’s top athletes at next year’s Olympic Games will not be of “pure” ethnicity. Sprinter Asuka Cambridge, for example, has a Jamaican father. Ace basketball player Rui Hachimura, the first Japanese to make the NBA draft, is half Beninese.”
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