by Philip Patrick
Monday, 2
May 2022
Dispatch
07:00

Japan shows how to avoid Russophobia

The Government has distinguished between the Putin regime and its people
by Philip Patrick
Credit: Getty

Tokyo

Ever since the invasion of Ukraine, there has effectively been a policy of ‘nyet zero’ tolerance in the UK: that the invasion is an act of unprecedented evil which justifies any sanction against the Russia and Belorussian nations. Anyone daring to object, however mildly, is a ‘Putin apologist’ who cares not about the horrors being inflicted on the people of Ukraine.

Meanwhile in Japan, the atmosphere is very different — here there is a conscious emphasis by the authorities on avoiding Russophobia. Just a fortnight ago, in an extraordinary intervention, Japan’s Foreign Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi reprimanded the entire nation over human rights abuses against Russian nationals living in Japan:

I would like to reiterate a call on the public not to ostracise or defame Russians just because they are Russians
- Yoshimasa Hayashi

What made this statement so striking is that the incidents that provoked Hayashi’s ire were few in number and relatively mild. In late February an inn (one inn) in Shiga prefecture said it would stop accepting Russian guests; Ebisu station (one station out of 881 in Tokyo) removed Russian signage from its platforms; and ‘Red Square’ a Russian shop in Tokyo, whose merchandise had included such novelties as Vladimir Putin T-shirts and chocolates (very dark, very bitter) had its signboard knocked over and broken.

That’s it.

Hayashi’s statement felt like a teacher who notices a few members of a generally well-behaved class starting to get silly and puts his foot down before things get out of hand. And it appears to be working: Ebisu station put back the Russian signage and issued an apology, and Red Square was deluged with messages of goodwill and offers to pay for the damage. The owners declined the offers, but then couldn’t get the firm they employed to fix the sign to accept payment.

Cynics might suggest that Hayashi’s statement was aimed at Moscow, with a view to the long-term relationship with Russia, and energy, sovereignty, and security concerns. But this doesn’t really square with the actions of Fumio Kishida’s government. To date, Japan has frozen the assets of Putin subordinates, businesses, and banks, expelled Russian diplomats, announced $300 million in humanitarian aid and, in a rare move, begun to take in evacuees.

Military equipment (bullet proof vests and helmets) has been sent to the war zone, no small matter given the strictures of Japan’s pacifist constitution. And just in case anyone was in any doubt where the government’s sympathies lay, the municipal offices in Shinjuku were lit up in the blue and yellow of Ukraine.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, at least, seemed satisfied with all that: he addressed the Japanese parliament and praised Japan for being the first Asian country to apply significant pressure on Putin’s regime. 

And that specific wording marks the difference with the UK. All of Japan’s actions to date have been targeted specifically at the Putin regime, not the Russian nation as a whole. There has been no talk of sporting or cultural boycotts or of an en masse eviction of Japan’s 9000 strong Russian ex-pat community. 

Sumo wrestling has had several Russian competitors in the recent past, but no one is calling for a future ban. Cultural events with Russian/Ukrainian associations are going ahead as planned: the Tokyo Philharmonic will perform excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake next month with the Russian Mikhail Pletnev guest conducting — no political declaration required; and Ukrainian born Prokofiev’s Cinderella will be performed this week without any politicisation.

Japan is displaying a grown up, sensible, humane approach to a highly emotive and difficult issue. Perhaps the UK and US could learn from their example.

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Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
3 months ago

The Japanese are a strange bunch, but bravo to them for being intelligent with regard to this, unfortunately, I very much doubt ‘we’ will learn lessons from how the grown-ups behave.
Just as an aside, I thought the national colours of Ukraine were blue and yellow ? Maybe the author is a bit confused and still languishing in the Russian debacle during the Winter war from Soviet days ?

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
3 months ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

?
“the municipal offices in Shinjuku were lit up in the blue and yellow of Ukraine”

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
3 months ago

…given the BS on most of the MSM about what is going on, and the hysterical response of the UK in particular, Japan’s NHK is actually providing the most measured reporting of events that I’ve seen so far.

Terry M
Terry M
3 months ago

We should consider how we would feel if we were traveling in a foreign country when our country did something awful. Would we want to be blamed for the government’s actions? Of course not. We should behave the same. “Do unto others…”

Dominic A
Dominic A
3 months ago

Surely the UK and others have banned some cultural and athletic Russians as a means to getting to the Putin regime, not out of ‘Russophobia’. The notion of Russophobia altogether seems to be a bit of Kremlin spin – 50 years out of date, as usual. The truth is closer to the opposite – Western Europe has belated learned that they trusted Russia too much (the leadership, not the individual people – obs), We trusted Russia enough to supply our energy needs, and buy up housing, football teams, companies, and political parties, and had minimal objections when they killed people on our soil. I have read almost nothing in the UK or US media suggestive of general Russophobia – the closest it got was a rather mild article saying that whilst it’s understandable why Russian people are cowed by the regime, they could be doing more to push for good leadership. Rather, like the embargoes on SA during the Apartheid era, the hope is that such measures bring effective pressure on the regime, at an acceptable cost (no violence, just loss of earnings). It is understood that Black South Africans, anti-apartheid whites, and regular Russians will end up paying a price – and that is regretted.

lisa.babyford.irwin5
lisa.babyford.irwin5
3 months ago

Sounds like cancel culture hasn’t come to Japan. Anecdotally, the cultural / sports boycotts and so on seem to be helping the rally round the flag effect in Russia.

The response that western governments and media have taken to Russians is interesting. There has been a big emphasis on avoiding Islamophobia in society in the aftermath of terrorist attacks. Perhaps because Russians are Europeans there hasn’t been the same caution taken?

Last edited 3 months ago by lisa.babyford.irwin5
Russ W
Russ W
3 months ago

Maybe

Russ W
Russ W
3 months ago

The best way to fight Identity Politics is to not participate in it.

David Harris
David Harris
3 months ago

But no mention of what the 9000 Russian expats in Japan are saying or doing. Do they send send money and food to Ukraine? Do they defend Putin or attack him? That would have been a good thing to investigate.

Jacob Mason
Jacob Mason
3 months ago
Reply to  David Harris

Digging into the affairs of a large number of legal residents due to their national origin or ethnicity is complicated. I am not saying it shouldn’t happen, just that it can easily be taken too far (like putting American citizens in internment camps during WWII because of their Japanese ethnicity).

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 months ago
Reply to  Jacob Mason

The UK interned thousands of Germans in WWII, including Jewish refugees from Germany. Quite right, since we were actually at war. The Japanese seem to have got it right; the faux-bellicosity of Truss etc is not helping the situation.

Last edited 3 months ago by Andrew D