Nike has sparked controversy in Japan over a new anti-racism advert, with critics saying the American company has misrepresented the country and has no place commenting on taboo social issues.
The new commercial shows three teenage girls - one ethnically Japanese, one half-Japanese half-Black, and one Korean - being bullied in school before finding confidence and friends through playing football.
The two-minute video, accompanied by the hashtag #YouCantStopUs, has been viewed more than 14 million times on Twitter and sparked a heated debate on social media in Japan.
While some praised it as “powerful”, many decried Nike’s decision to mix sport with racism, causing some to call for a boycott of the brand.
Racism has long been a sensitive issue in Japan’s widely homogenous society, in particular in relation to ethnic Koreans raised in Japan and biracial Japanese, often referred to as “hafu”.
“Is Japan really such a country full of discrimination? It feels like you’re creating a false impression of Japan,” commented one person on Twitter.
“Don’t involve racism in sports,” said another, with a third writing: “Nike is over.”
One Japanese woman described feeling “uncomfortable” watching the advert and said she would no longer buy Nike products for herself or her child.
— Nike Japan (@nikejapan) November 28, 2020
Nike Japan defended the video, saying in a statement: “We have long listened to minority voices, supported and spoke for causes that fit our values.
“We believe sports have the power to show what a better world looks like, to bring people together and encourage action in their respective communities.”
Tennis star Naomi Osaka, whose mother is Japanese and father is Haitian, also makes a cameo appearance.
The athlete has been a popular endorsement figure in Japan but she has also been the target of racism.
Last year she was depicted as white in an animation commercial for noodle brand Nissin, and a few months later a comedy act reportedly said she needed “bleach” for being “too sunburned”. They have since apologised.