Nike under fire in Japan over anti-racism advert

Danielle Demetriou
·2-min read
Biracial tennis star Naomi Osaka makes a cameo in the video - HANNAH MCKAY /REUTERS 
Biracial tennis star Naomi Osaka makes a cameo in the video - HANNAH MCKAY /REUTERS

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 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.