The Observers

Video of Japanese policeman shines a light on anti-Black racism in Japan

Alonzo Omotegawa filmed an incident in Tokyo on January 27 when he was stopped by a policeman simply due to his dreadlocks.
Alonzo Omotegawa filmed an incident in Tokyo on January 27 when he was stopped by a policeman simply due to his dreadlocks. © Observers

When two police officers stopped and searched a young Black man of Japanese descent in a train station in Tokyo on January 27, he decided to film them. One officer admits that the search was prompted by the man's hairstyle. Alonzo Omotegawa says his video, which has been circulated widely on Twitter, shines a light on the “nice racism” that characterises Japanese society.

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Omotegawa spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers about the polite form of racism that he experiences in Japan, as well as media representations of Black people in the country.

In June 2020, Japan’s public broadcaster NHK broadcast a cartoon about the Black Lives Matter protests that took place in the United States after George Floyd was killed by a police officer. The cartoon portrayed protestors as muscled rioters and looters, who were setting cars on fire and denouncing economic inequality. The cartoon made no mention of how Floyd was killed by an officer who knelt on his neck.

According to Omotegawa, representations of Black people like these in Japan only serve to "insinuate more fear into Black people."

The persistent racism experienced by some minorities in Japan has been getting some much-needed attention in the Japanese media over the past few months. Nike Japan has launched a commercial highlighting the daily discrimination and bullying faced by minorities in Japan and 23-year-old tennis champion Naomi Osaka has spoken out about the Black Lives Matter movement.