‘Japanese Only’ banner at game stirs controversy

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‘Japanese Only’ banner at game stirs controversy

Right-wing nationalism in Japan has not only swept the political arena but also loomed as a powerful force in the world of sports. During Saturday’s match between the Urawa Red Diamonds and Sagan Tosu of the Japanese Football League (J-League), the country’s Rising Sun flag was flown by Urawa fans in Saitama Stadium, along with a sign that read “Japanese Only,” written in English, at the entrance of the stadium.

The Rising Sun flag is considered equivalent to the Nazi flag in many parts of Asia because it conjures images of Japan’s notorious imperialist past.

There was speculation on social media that the sign could have been targeting Korean-Japanese player Tadanari Lee, who joined Urawa in January.

Born in Japan in 1985, Lee tried to pursue his career in Korea in his early days. His performance won him a spot on the U-17 Korean national football team in 2004, but he later decided to leave the country after running into a “glass ceiling” in Korean football.

The Tokyo-born athlete played for the Japanese national football team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics after acquiring Japanese citizenship the year before. He then rose to fame after scoring a goal in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup final, helping Japan to win.

However, some of Urawa’s fans still find him “disqualified” as a true Urawa because he is “fake Japanese.” Some far-right groups in Japan have gone further, claiming that “Korean descendants should never qualify to represent Japanese football.”

Urawa fans are famous for their “passionate” support of the club; some staunch followers have a history of crossing the boundary between sports and politics over the years.

In last year’s AFC Champions League match with the Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Urawa fans provoked Hyundai’s fans with the Rising Sun flag.

Urawa defender Tomoaki Makino showed his regret over the sign on his Twitter account. “It is frustrating to see this kind of action to Urawa’s player; we are all running under the name of Urawa Red Diamonds. If such a thing happens again, players and fans cannot share the same goal. Then our team can’t expect good results from any of the games,” said the 26-year-old defender, posting a photo of the “Japanese Only” placard from the match.

The Urawa Red Diamonds responded by posting a statement on their official website on Sunday with an apology for the incident that occurred during the recent match.

BY SONG JI-HOON [helena725@joongang.co.kr]

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