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Japan: Nagano red for Olympic torch relay

Update: Video footage added below.

The Japanese leg of the Olympic torch relay came to an end on Saturday without serious incident, but many Japanese bloggers who attended the event were left with lasting — and often bitter — impressions. The story of a Tibetan exile living in Taiwan, who jumped at the runner and was taken down by police, sparked hundreds of posts on 2channel, as did the choice of police to block protesters holding Tibetan flags from entering the area around the finish line.

Clash of flags at the Olympic torch relay in Nagano. (from Mousan's Flickr page)

Many bloggers pointed out how Nagano, for one day, seemed to transform into China. Blogger shuyan writes:


My impression was that: “For this one day only, Nagano has transformed completely into China.”
The images confirmed on television and in pictures were at any rate that of a cavalcade of red national flags.
I suppose a lot of people, seeing the overbearing security, must have wondered: “Is this really Japan?”
This strange atmosphere had a feeling that was worlds apart from a peace festival.

In a post entitled “Nagano was red”, blogger Vasi (ヴァスィ) writes:


Roads steeped in a deep red.
Clashing Tibet supporters and Chinese people.
The running torchbearer, surrounded by many layers [of security].
The Nagano prefectural police, admitting only Chinese people to the finish line.
The weak and biased mass media. (This is nothing out of the ordinary…)

Olympic torch relay in Nagano. (from Mousan's Flickr page)

Many bloggers expressed frustration at the police presence. Blogger ae0800 writes about their own experience:


I passed the starting line around 6am, about two hours before the start of the relay, and at that time I was told by the police to put the message board I was holding into my bag. The pretext was that: “It is to protect you guys from trouble. If you can't follow [these rules], you can't continue past here.” Even though there were already many Chinese flags fluttering in the area around the starting line, and regardless of the fact that it was not “packed [with people]” at all and there was lots of space, Tibet supporters were not allowed to wave national flags or to carry boards, or to “remain there”. Some people who were walking with us raised their voices in protest, but they were met with very oppressive treatment and told that: “That is not something we should talk about here. No explanation or questions will be accepted.”

Olympic torch relay in Nagano. (from Mousan's Flickr page)

An article at OhmyNews cast suspicions, however, on the motivations of some of the pro-Tibet protesters. As writer Fujikura Yoshiro explains:


On the 26th, in the skirmish of “Tibet supporters” that happened before the start of the torch relay in Nagano City, I was covering the event at the site, and I felt a certain unnaturalness. The words and attitude of the “Tibet supporters” at the event were clearly different from the demonstration marches and speeches of Tibetan people that have been reported on in OhmyNews in the past.

The article goes on to explain that these “Tibet supporters” were actually Japanese “fake Tibet supporters” deliberately trying to cause problems:


The Tibet supporters who were at the starting line of the torch relay faced the Chinese people and yelled words of criticism in the strongest terms, things like “Go home!” and “End the bloodshed!”. The expression “Go home!” was the cause that triggered the skirmish at the event. However, at Tibetan demonstrations that have been covered in the past for OhmyNews, I never felt this level of aggressiveness. I never once had the impression at the other demonstrations that the protesters were just calling out “Free Tibet” to cause problems, or that they were motivated in their activity by criticism of China or by resentment.

The article concludes with these thoughts:


Even assuming their claims are different from those of the Tibetan groups, they are waving a Tibetan flag and chanting “Free Tibet”, so I guess that their intention is to support the Tibetan people. However, I really doubt that them being at this event is of any benefit to the Tibetans.


Instead, don't their actions and attitude just make it seem to the media and society that the trouble of “Fake Tibetans vs. Chinese” is the trouble of “Tibetans vs. Chinese”, in doing so dragging down the Tibetan people?


In the disturbance at the torch relay, it surprised me that the mobilization and leadership of Chinese people was so great that it made Nagano city look like Beijing, and I felt sympathy for the diligent and heartbreaking appeal of Tibetan groups. However at the same time, it also seemed to me that this was an event which displayed the ugliness of the “Fake Tibet”.

Meanwhile, a 40-year-old truck driver, blogging at Kurukichi no hitorigoto, was fed up with both sides:


Honestly, the only thing I saw was a gathering of Chinese students in Japan and Tibet supporters messing around and making a disturbance.
Even though both the Chinese students and the Tibet supporters knew what kind of thing would happen if they came, they go to the spot anyway and quarrel with each other, so if anybody is injured, they don't deserve any help.


It seems that before the start of the relay, there were some Chinese students who quarreled with right-wingers. Even if these right-wingers were wrong though, I think the students knew what they were getting into going to this kind of place and creating a disturbance.
Also, these Tibet supporters throwing things and trespassing, all I see here is people trying to create trouble.


Even if they had various things to say, I just don't feel that what either party did was a good thing.
Honestly, more so than the relay itself, the Buddhist memorial service at Zenkoji mourning victims of the Tibet uprising seemed to have a feeling of calm.

Finally, blogger OTO tried to move beyond the dispute and hoped for a resolution of the conflict:


Seems like there were a few problems at the Beijing Olympic torch relay. But it was in Japan, so it was okay. I wish that the problems of China and Tibet could be solved by the two countries. I wish that the torch relay could be for all people.

Video footage of Nagano torch relay from Channel Sakura. (via [ja])


  • subjectivelistener

    I believe the reason Japan was selected as one of stops for torch relay is due to the wish that China wants to show their friendly attitude towards Japan, which was disliked by quite a number of Chinese by historical reasons.

    However, it has been changed since the systematic disturbance along the torch relay. If China ever anticipated this kind of situation, they would have not selected Japan as a stop.

    It is a typical case that goodwill goes to drain. China should learn the lessons from now on.

    There is one thing that surprised me, that is when Chinese tried to pull up the force together, the neighbor countries like Japan and Korea were so nervous. In the future, Chinese government should be more sensitive to this kind of Fear and Nervousness.

    Clearly it is a wrong decision to torch relay in Japan and Korea. Instead, it should be stopped in country like Cambodia, Laos, Singapore etc.

    Very sad about our Asians.

  • ur chinese friend

    Thanks for the informative post. I pulled up yahoo news last week and read that one of the Tibetans was arrested in Japan for attacking and kicking the Chinese protesters, so Fujikura Yoshiro’s article’s made good sense to me.

  • peacefuldream

    Matt Y,
    I think so too. Lack of dialogue results in nothing other than mistrust. Anyway, Ai is cute. She will beat out Chinese athletes in summer… don’t you think so? :-)

    Concerning to Yasukuni, the situation is much worse. Yasukuni Shrine ignored request from Taiwanese bereaved families who, for the sake of the victims’ honor, demanded to delete the name of their relatives from shrine’s List of Divinities. Yasukuni defines Divinities as deceased solders who “fought for The Emperor”. Whatever bereaved families felt, the shrine collected the name of solders secretly without any permission.
    Anyway, this entry is NOT FOR YASUKUNI PROBLEM, so I will stop talking about it now.

    Thank you for anchoring URL. I saw your photos. It makes me so sad. Nobody can close one’s eyes on what has been going on in Tibet.

    Peace On Tibetan Monks In Jail.
    Give Peace A Chance for Tibet.

  • ur chinese friend

    BTW, in the first picture, is that a Blue Turkish flag?!

  • Wei

    That’s the “Eastern Tukistan” flag…they are the people who wants xinjiang to be independent.

  • ypokuda

    ur chinese friend:

    No, but it’s East Turkistan’s flag.

    Mind you! If you raise it in China, you will be arrested and sentenced to imprisonment immediately.

    It is thus quite natural we do not know what it is and what it is all about. That way, we’re going to disregard our neighbors.

    I just wish you and we be aware of aptness to do a bad thing.

  • ur chinese friend

    Thanks for responses. I will admit that I am completely clueless when it comes to Xinjiang independence issue. I do not believe there are many articles on this topic, from both Western and Chinese media. It appears that the Tibet independent movement has overshadowed many other Chinese rights issues especially in Western media.

  • Oneworld

    1 May 2008

    Toelung Dechen (Ch: Duilongdeqing) County, Lhasa Municipality-Evidences being destroyed by the Chinese army

    The Chinese armed forces in their attempt to wipe out any kind of evidence related to the recent protests in Tibet are burning all the dead bodies of people who have been killed since the March 14 protest in Tibet.

    On 28th March, around 83 corpses were burnt altogether in an electrical crematorium, which was built by the Chinese government a few years back in the Dhongkar Yabdha shang town in Toelung Dechen county under Lhasa Municipality.

    Moreover, some eyewitness accounts confirmed that at around10.30 pm (Lhasa local time) on March 17, dead bodies of several were seen in two army trucks near a petrol pump located towards the west of Lhasa [this petrol pump has been one of the most restricted sites since the protests began in Tibet]

    Due to a heavy traffic jam around this petrol pump, a few Tibetans reported having seen blood discharges from the two trucks that were carrying dead bodies. In addition to this, there are more reports of dead bodies being transported to Toelung Dechen County in army trucks.

    On the evening of March 15, an eyewitness source confirmed seeing dead bodies being carried in a truck towards Toelung County.

    Many Tibetans who have been injured since the starts of the protests in Tibet continue to die in Peoples Hospital with no immediate medical care.

    Moreover, one monk who was arrested from Drepung Monastery on 12th April also died in prison. But there are no further details explaining his death. Two more women are also reported dead immediately after their release from a prison in Lhasa.

    Following is the list of four new names* we can confirm for people who have been killed since the March protests in Tibet.

    Lobsang Tenzin 24 years, Gongkar County
    Gyaltsen Yarphel 43 years Gaden Monastery
    Ngawang Sherab Migmar 24, Gaden Monastery

    Both of them are brothers and died around the March 14 protest in Tibet. No further details are available.

    * In addition to the already released 61 total names and details of Tibetans killed during the recent demonstrations, here we are releasing 3 more names (with details) from the current death toll list which stands well over 140.

    Lhakpa Tsering (his name already reported on the death toll list) was killed after a gun shot to his forehead by the Chinese Armed Forces on March 14 at Lugug Street. He was a resident within the premises of gate number 11 (external boundary) ; gate no 1 (internal boundary) in Lugug Street. He is survived by his 2 year old child. He worked as a tourist taxi driver in Lhasa. Although his family did receive his dead body, but the local security forces took the body with them claiming that they needed to investigate the body at the Peoples Procuratorate. His body was later burnt in Toelung County. His family was just given a bag containing some ashes with his name written on it.

  • FloraQ

    I wasn’t there, but if it is true that Chinese won’t let others to rise different voice or “remain there”, I’m sure those protesting Chinese students were doing it inappropriately. Whatever your politic view is, you got to let others to speak and locate freely. I’m a Chinese and I feel uncomfortable about those brothers and sisters behave.
    Similar thing happened in Korean, when some Krean people were impolite and burnt up Chinese national flag, some over-emotional Chinese students got invoked and made a chaos, I feel sorry about that, too. Poor angry kids.

    On the other hand, people got to calm down, and do something about their blind hateness to China! Normally these people tend to be gentle, or even soft. Only this time, some foreigners really crossed the line, I mean, burning flags? What’s that all about…..
    I believe Chinese are forced to bring all those red flags to the torch, or else something like torch-attack in Paris might happen again. Who knows what those violant “Tiibet youth congree” people would do next?
    Athough, I do think maybe it’s better that they bring many Olympic flags, rather than red Chinese national flag. This should be about the great games, and less about politic.

  • FloraQ

    I understand that many foriegners feel uncomfortable with all these red flags and Chinese widely spreaded angriness. After all, communist China is not totally accepted in the rest of the world, and China does face a lot of internal problems, like democracy and free speech. I figure many of you guys still think that Chinese still see chairman Mao as a god, which is totally not the true situation.

    We may have many problems awaiting to be solved, and our people may have many flaws, but after all, I look forward to your understanding and respect to my people. It sucks when somebody don’t even know me, and just assume me as a “brainwashed idiot” just because my Chinese identity. That is racial discrimination.

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