Ever since their 1988 “Just Do It” ad, sports brand Nike has become known for producing commercials that spark a conversation and leave a lasting impression on viewers.
Last year saw the brand tackling the negative undertones in queries launched at tennis star Naomi Osaka — in spotlight this year as well for donning several masks inscribed with the names of victims lost to the widespread police brutality against Black communities in the U.S. The questions all touched upon her ethnicity.
And now they’re back to shatter perceptions around yet another taboo subject: the experience of young foreigners in Japan.
The new commercial titled “Ugokashitsuzukeru [Keep Moving]. Jibun wo [Yourself]. Shorai wo [The future]. The future isn’t waiting“ features stories based on “the real-life experience of athletes”, and showcases three soccer girls from different backgrounds — one being Japanese, the other Korean, and the third a mixed race, with a Black father and Japanese mother.
The narrative walks the viewer through their everyday circumstances and struggles, the misconceptions and alienation.
The two-minute clip delves into the act of being different and standing out in a society that lauds ‘blending in’ as a prerequisite.
The Japanese girl is bullied at school and struggles to meet her parents’ expectations: Academic excellence over athletic prowess takes solid ground here. “Am I good enough?” she questions.
On the other end, the Black-Japanese girl struggles to blend in. “Am I normal enough?” she wonders, tormented and ostracised for her appearance, her distinct hair and skin.
She’s seen watching a video of Osaka on her phone, and one of the comments that’s often directed at the tennis player, “So are you American or Japanese?” appears to hit home for her as well.
The Korean girl, a transfer student in Japan, meanwhile scrolls through her phone, disheartened over the “zainichi problem”, a “foreign resident in Japan” and often used to refer to Koreans. J
Japanese-Korean relations have historically been strained, hostility taking root every now and then, and the girl falls victim to it all, often stared at menacingly on the street for donning. “Maybe I should stand out a little less”, she resigns.
In the end, though, all three girls, break through their wall of insecurities and fears.
“Maybe I just have to deal with it…or maybe I don’t.”
The commercial brings to light the problem of bullying in Japan and Nike’s handling of the issue garnered as many supporters on social media feeling “heard” or “understood” as it did critics who detested the implication that Japan was a non-inclusive society.
The comments on the YouTube video itself are littered with perspectives that decry the advert as a form of “left-wing terror” despite the reality being one where parents can avail a bully insurance for their children in Japan.
A 2017 study by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology logged some 410,000 cases of reported bullying among elementary, middle, and high school students in an increase of roughly 90,000 reports compared to the previous year, highlighting a staggering issue that requires proper addressal by the country.