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Media Representations of African American Athletes in Cold War Japan

Yu Sasaki

Media Representations of African American Athletes in Cold War Japan addresses the cross-cultural dialogue between Black America and Japan that was enabled through sports during the Cold War era. This topic has hitherto received little scholarly attention in both American studies and sports studies. After World War II, Cold War tensions pulled African American athletes to the center stage and initiated their international mobility. They served as both athletic Cold Warriors and embodiments of a colorblind American democracy. This book focuses on sports in the Cold War era as a significant battlefield that operated as an ideologically and racially contested terrain. Yu Sasaki argues that one of the most crucial Cold War racial contacts occurred through sports in Asia, and particularly, in Japan. The mobility of African American athletes captured the attention of the Japanese media, which created unique narratives of sports and race in US-occupied Japan after World War II. Adopting an approach that integrates the archival and interpretive, Sasaki analyzes the ways in which sports, highlighted by the media, became a terrain where discourses of race, gender, and even disability were significantly modified. This book draws on both English and non-English language sources, including Japanese print media archives such as newspapers, magazines, posters, pamphlets, diaries, bulletins, and school textbooks.

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In 1933, James Weldon Johnson—an African American writer, civil rights activist, and lyricist of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” widely known as the “Black national anthem”—received a letter from Yasuichi Hikida, a Japanese man living in New York.1 In his letter, Hikida outlined his plan to translate “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” into Japanese and requested permission from Johnson to do so. As the letter shows, the aim was to welcome African American athletes to the 1940 Tokyo Summer Olympics, which was the first Olympic Games ever held in Asia, by singing the Japanese version of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.”2 However, because of the Second Sino-Japanese War, which broke out in 1937, the Japanese government formally decided in 1938 to give up the right to host the 1940 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Hikida’s dream did not materialize. His letter, however, demonstrates a part of the cross-cultural history between Japan and Black America.

In 1964, Japan finally hosted the Olympic Games, and this was one of the significant events that restored the image of Japan as a peace-loving country. On October 10, 1964, during the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics, a large flock of doves flew into the sky in Tokyo. This image of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, however, was disrupted as movements to boycott the Olympics emerged in Communist or pro-Communist Asian countries. For instance, the People’s Republic of China, Indonesia, and North Korea did not participate in the ←1 | 2→Olympics citing...

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