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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 2016, the media all over the world reported Muhammad Ali’s death. Japan was no exception. The Japanese media carried several articles to release the news of Ali’s death.1 Even after his death, the Japanese media still remembers Ali as a hero from Black America. In 2003, Hachiro Tahara, a former commissioner of the Japan Amateur Boxing Federation and a folklorist, published Muhammad Ali’s biography. In his book, Tahara describes the United States as a nation of “a plural society” with “the reflecting dynamism,” which has reflected on “various things all around the world since its nation-building era to the present in the 21st century.” After acknowledging the immense influence of the United States on countries throughout the world including Japan, Tahara portrays the 1960s and the 1970s in the United States as the period with the most upheaval, including seismic events such as the civil rights movement, the assassination of U.S. president John F. Kennedy, and the widespread increase of youth culture. Tahara cites Muhammad Ali as a notable person of the 1960s and the 1970s from the United States: “a person who had the most presence among them was Muhammad Ali, later reputed to be the strongest boxer in boxing history.”2

The figure of Ali, including his strength and Blackness, exerted influence on many multiracial athletes fathered by Black GIs and born in occupied Japan, with darker skin as mix-raced children.3 For instance, Cassius Naito, a Japanese professional boxer, demonstrates the strong impact...

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