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Japan: Nagano red for Olympic torch relay

Categories: East Asia, China, Japan, Freedom of Speech, Governance, Human Rights, International Relations, Media & Journalism, Politics, Protest, Sport

Update: Video footage added below.

The Japanese leg of the Olympic torch relay came to an end on Saturday [1] 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 [2], as did the choice of police to block protesters holding Tibetan flags [3] from entering the area around the finish line.

Clash of flags at the Olympic torch relay in Nagano. (from Mousan's Flickr page [4])

Many bloggers pointed out how Nagano, for one day, seemed to transform into China. Blogger shuyan [5] 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 [6]:


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 [7])

Many bloggers expressed frustration at the police presence. Blogger ae0800 writes about their own experience [8]:


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 [9])

An article at OhmyNews [10] 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 [11]:


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 [12] 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 i-morley.com [13] [ja])