Wizards' Rui Hachimura is the NBA rookie with the biggest following
December 28, 2019 10:01 PM   Subscribe

I can confirm that he's been on TV a lot in Japan this year. He gets a lot of minutes, so plenty of highlights but the Wizards are still struggling as a team. Nice to see basketball and the NBA getting a boost here though. I think he's still just the 2nd Japanese player to make it to the NBA; the first was Tabuse in the early 00s.
posted by p3t3 at 10:34 PM on December 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

According to the article, there is one other - Yuta Watanabe - playing for the Grizzlies right now but he seems to be on a two-way contract with their development team so not nearly as high profile.

I was surprised that a mixed race man was getting so much positive attention in Japan - I had always heard the Japanese were pretty biased against mixed race people - but the article says that's changing fast as a result of other successful athletes.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:14 AM on December 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

I like Rui's game -- wishing he weren't cloistered on the Wizards. I don't think I've watched more than a minute of Wizards basketball all season. (this, from an NBA junkie)

Previously, to give a stark contrast on mixed-race athlete in Japan.
posted by Theophrastus Johnson at 6:05 AM on December 29, 2019

I was surprised that a mixed race man was getting so much positive attention in Japan - I had always heard the Japanese were pretty biased against mixed race people - but the article says that's changing fast as a result of other successful athletes.

It is almost as if an entire country of 120 million people contains people with heterogeneous values and perspectives, some of which are progressive and pushing the country towards positive change on social issues!

To be more blunt, I think you should dig deeper into your biases here. I've noticed a big difference in language when white progressives/liberals talk about racism in America versus racism in non-white countries. When they talk about racism in America, sure, they're apologetic and they acknowledge the issue, but they'll always leave room for the potential of change: activists and politicians are working on this, it's not all of us - urban centers are much more progressive, we will get better with the current of time. But when they talk about racism in Asian countries, there seems to be an implicit assumption that Asian culture is fixed, everyone is homogeneously stuck by tradition, that no one can think critically about these issues and advocate for change without the intervention of white progressives.

So I ask you: why are white people given the opportunity to improve and re-invent themselves, and yet this is not offered to non-white people? There is a not-subtle line between this implicit attitude, and the discussions we've had on food authenticity previously, or how native people are erased by portraying them as historical artifacts, rather than living, evolving people. In other words: the attitude that drives your surprise here is actually a pretty major tool of racism.

And it is for the same reason that I find the discussion here to be offensively bland. I think there's plenty of room for critique of racist attitudes towards mixed people in Japan. But your post just goes "no, Japan is biased", and the previous post just dredges up a previous counter-incident. That is not critique - that is just negation. Hachimura is someone who believes in the potential for change, and is actively working hard to drive change. To simply say, "no, this is the way Japan is" to someone who is working that tirelessly is offensive. Critique if you must, but critique in a way that doesn't minimize the capacity of non-Western countries to evolve, because otherwise you are not honoring the efforts of Hachimura and other mixed-race people pushing towards this vision.
posted by Conspire at 9:21 AM on December 29, 2019 [23 favorites]

Yeah... The mixed-race experience in Japan (as in many other countries) is complex, beautiful, frustrating. It definitely has its own unique flavor, but it's not nearly as simple as "they are universally hated," especially when it comes to a star athlete like Hachimura (the first article talks about how passionate Japanese people are for their overseas athletes and how badly they want them to make it). I don't follow sports much so I'm going to have to talk about this through the lens of Terrace House (I'M NOT OBSESSED YOU'RE OBSESSED), but there are SO MANY mixed-race cast members, including two half-black ones, and the commentators just fawn over them and call them cool and handsome and ikemen. Of course that's a kind of controlled environment, but... I dunno, there's a lot to unpack, and Conspire is right about how we talk about racism in Asian countries vs Western.

Here's an interesting link that I didn't get to use in another recent post.
posted by sunset in snow country at 9:47 AM on December 29, 2019 [7 favorites]

Sorry and thank you for taking the time to make your post, Conspire.

I thought I was trying to acknowledge that things in Japan were changing for the better rather than critiquing the country, but I see your point about how being surprised by that capacity for change is, in itself, an example of bias on my part. As I started reading the article, I thought about what I (thought I) knew about Japan and bias against mixed-race people, and then when I got to the part that addressed that issue, I was like "Oh, that's great! Things are getting better, then!" and sort of adjusted my mental model of what I think about Japan but didn't really dig any deeper into how I developed that bias in the first place or what it meant that I had it wrong and why.

I'll try to be more thoughtful in the future.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:52 AM on December 29, 2019 [10 favorites]

I'm so struck by your introspective, graceful response, jacquilynne -- thank you.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:15 AM on December 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I saw Hachimura and a few glimpses of Watanabe at summer league. There were a lot of Japanese tourists who popped in just to check out Rui, and he'd already had a cup noodle endorsement. I don't think Watanabe actually played, but summer league stuff runs together after a few days.

The year before there was a Chinese player who had a series of interviews and a couple media crew following a game he didn't play a minute in.

Also Miss Japan was half Japanese a few years back IIRC.

It is really not surprising if you see the coverage Japanese baseball players get in the MLB, there are tons of shows and manga about sports, and the NBA has been pushing into Asia heavily the last few years.

Hell, at summer league we kept getting West African uber drivers who could only talk about Tacko Fall, even though one guy didn't seem to know much other than "ball goes there". They just enjoyed seeing a dude from their neck of the woods have success in the environment.

I, too haven't caught much wizards this season, but Rui is a promising player on a lousy team and getting significant minutes while having an already established international fanbase on the premiere stage for basketball? That all just kinda makes sense.
posted by lkc at 12:51 PM on December 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Wiz aren't really that lousy, they just play a very one sided game right now. When everyone besides John Wall was healthy they were on an impressive scoring bender and Hachimura was an important contributor to that. They scored 158 points in a loss to the Rockets this year which sums up both how good at O and bad at D they can be.
posted by mattamatic at 5:31 PM on December 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

As somebody who doesn't follow NBA or Terrace House, I had no idea who Hachimura was until two of my students each started writing about him the same week in a course on globalization. If I take what a couple of Japanese college sophomores have to say he is: an awesome player, just so cool (as sunset commented above), mixed-race, Japanese (they were clear to say that), and a person who made them a little bit aware of Benin because by their own admission they and most Japanese people have little to no knowledge about west African countries. (Neither do I, to be fair.) One student clearly latched onto how charismatic Hachimura is. The other plays basketball pretty seriously and she likes him first and foremost as an athlete. They both think he is changing the attitudes of Japanese people.

On the other hand a few days ago I was trapped in a car with a 60 something Japanese man who managed to pack as many racist and white supremacist commonplaces into a short drive as you could possibly imagine. I was driving and didn't really want to get into it with the "racist uncle" on speed, but finally had to just tell him he was wrong, Mexicans are not bad people, and Trump is a liar and a bigot. This didn't really shut him up.

As conspire wrote, it's complicated. The relationships and ideas are complex and changing in as many ways as there are individuals. Cliche, I know. Land of contrasts.

There is a kind of surface level engagement with race I see in teaching young Japanese people for twenty years. And, that is to be expected. For many of them their ideas and experiences are mediated by entertainment because they often do not have that much direct experience with people of different backgrounds. None of that is any different from how I was brought up and educated in rural or suburban New England.

But even that is changing. Japan is getting more diverse. The students I teach are getting more international experience (and not just in the usual very white suspects, US, UK, Aus NZ etc.) We send a lot of students for study and internships in Vietnam and Malaysia and these young people are building strong connections with peers in those places against the grain of some common Japanese racism against people from other Asian countries. It's good to see and is different from twenty or even ten years ago. It feels like there is just slightly more and better understanding than there used to be.

But, back to Hachimura. He's taking up a place in the imaginations of young Japanese people. And, it isn't just him. Maybe it's just my perception or confirmation bias, but he's coming along right after Naomi Osaka. Kiko Mizuhara is literally everywhere. Ariana Miyamoto as Miss Japan. Darvish in baseball. Any one of these stars would be a one off interest story. But, mixed-race Japanese people keep taking (making) their places in Japanese society more rapidly and more prominently. For the 19-20 year olds in my classes, is this becoming ever so slightly more the norm and less the exception?

I don't want to be unreasonably optimistic. The old guy in my car will keep spouting to anyone who will listen. And, one freshman did a presentation about how foreigners (read, Chinese) were responsible for a crime wave with absolutely no data whatsoever. Wonder where she picked that up?

Enough ramble. The more you examine, the messier it gets. Or, I like sunset's "complex, beautiful, frustrating". But Hachimura and his role(s) in Japan will be important to watch for a long time to come. Thanks, jj's.mama. I was going to say I will keep an eye out for him, but he's going to be hard to miss. Can't wait to see how his messaging in that UNITE video evolves.
posted by Gotanda at 10:21 PM on December 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

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