BY RYUSEI TAKAHASHI AND ERIC JOHNSTON
TOKYO/OSAKA – Protesters took to the streets of Tokyo and Osaka over the weekend to speak out against racial prejudice and the violent treatment by police of foreign residents in Japan and minorities in the United States.
In Osaka on Sunday, a peace march sponsored by the Kansai chapter of Black Lives Matter drew nearly 1,000 people, according to local media reports.
The Osaka march took place during a weekend of protests and demonstrations in the United States and around the world to commemorate George Floyd’s death and condemn police brutality against minority groups.
“A lot of friends in the U.S., and their families, are participating in the Washington, D.C., protests. Their power to come together gave those of us in Japan the power to come together as well,” said Alyse Sugahara, a 33-year-old African American woman speaking to local media following the demonstration. “This march drew not only local African Americans, but whites and Asians as well as a large number of Japanese, which was quite inspiring.”
“The movement is called Black Lives Matter. But once black people are lifted up, everyone is lifted up,” said Fernando Andre Echavarria, 35, a graphic designer originally from the Dominican Republic, who called for a peaceful, heartfelt conversation on racism, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. “Whenever you are the minority, in any place in this world, you will get singled out and picked on. But it does not have to be that way.”
In Tokyo, two demonstrations were held in front of and near Shibuya Station on Saturday. In one, a march against police brutality made its way through the streets of the famed shopping district. With signs in hand and chanting in unison, more than 500 demonstrators denounced the treatment of a Kurdish man who was reportedly shoved to the ground by a group of Tokyo police officers on May 22.
In a video filmed by his friend, police could be seen shoving the man to the ground after he declined to give them permission to search his car. One officer can later be seen kicking his leg and then, while the man is crouching on the ground, wrapping his arm around his neck.
According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, however, the Kurdish man overtook a patrol car while driving on a road. He declined to present his driver’s license and began to drive off, at which point police stopped the car and removed him from the vehicle. Traffic was passing by so the police had the man kneel to avoid an accident and sent him home with a warning, the statement said.
The incident sparked an initial protest in Shibuya on May 30 in which one person was arrested. The alleged abuse of the Kurdish man and the murder of George Floyd have become a rallying cry for a number of protests against police brutality in Japan.
“I want people to know that racism in Japan is everyone’s problem,” said Hana Kurokawa, 22, on Saturday.
At the same time on Saturday, a rally in support of Black Lives Matter took place near the statue of Hachiko in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis two weeks ago after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while two other officers were holding him face down.
The incident involving the Kurdish man occurred just three days before Floyd’s death triggered worldwide protests.
“We all know what’s happening in the U.S.,” said Nami Nanami, 28. “The same thing is happening in Japan but nobody is talking about it.”
Kazuo Russell, 26, from Albany, New York, said many people in Japan are “worried about their peers and coworkers judging them so they voice their opinion from behind a computer screen.”
“And they (the Japanese media) don’t like to focus on hard topics,” he said.
Protesters said racial discrimination and the treatment of foreign people in Japan are topics often avoided by the media and in public discourse. But the alleged roughing up of the Kurdish man, as well as the death of Floyd, may offer residents a chance to reconcile how foreign residents and people of color are treated in the country, they added.