People | 20 QUESTIONS

Hiroki Ogasawara: Looking for a truly multicultural Japan

by John L. Tran

Contributing Writer

Name: Hiroki Ogasawara
Age: Half a century
Nationality: Japanese
Occupation: Sociology professor
Likes: Surprise, snow, midnight munchies
Dislikes: Discipline, common sense, watermelon


1. What do you do? I teach sociology and cultural studies at Kobe University.

2. You also co-authored “We Don’t Need the Tokyo Olympics.” What’s wrong with it? It’s a social disaster and happens at the expense of what else needs to be done in other areas of society. Also, sport no longer needs the Olympics to be relevant.

3. So you’re not a fan of the preparations for 2020? It’s disgusting. Violent gentrification, forcible removal of local residents and profit-making for global economic elites by stealing public funds collected through tax.

4. But you still love sports? Yes. But sport must say goodbye to the Olympics.

5. You are a soccer fan, which players are you watching now? I’m a lifelong Celtic supporter so, Timothy Weah. He’s the son of ex-super striker and current Liberian President George Weah. Also Andres Iniesta playing for Vissel Kobe.

6. Should we study sport more? Yes, sport is under-researched as an academic subject, and because it exemplifies the experience of using one’s senses, it’s an essential aspect of material culture.

7. You studied in Japan and in the U.K., how different were those experiences? In education, self-interest is the key. Students are supposed to be pursuing their own needs. They can demand whatever they want from education. It’s a reflection of their expectations and desire. Japanese students are less demanding, which means that the system is not designed to make space for what they need. Or perhaps we teachers are too domesticated for them to have any expectations.

8. Have university students changed over the years? They have, of course. Students now see university education as a part of career development and for making “networks” for the future. Clever maybe, but not so intellectual or creative. They quickly compromise themselves for what the job market demands. Stupid.

9. Are Japanese students getting better at English? They are … if you support the government’s idea of producing a “global human resource”; that is, office workers who speak business English and know how to use Excel.

10. What do you think is behind that? I think Keidanren (the Japan Business Federation) sees culture as something that has to be reserved for an exclusive elite. It doesn’t want the majority of company employees to have time and space for “useless” pursuits, because culture is all about respecting “useless” activity.

11. Your doctorate was on soccer and tribalism. Is that relevant to populism today? There is not necessarily any correspondence between the tribalism I came across in football fans and today’s populism. Politicians have a stake in populism. Urban tribes in fact set up territories where people refuse to be hijacked by parliamentary politics.

12. You’ve lived in London and Kyoto. How do they compare? London is better by far. Not because Kyoto is inflated by tourists but because in London you are exposed to raw diversity, not cosmetic multiculturalism. In Kyoto, talk of symbiosis and cross-culture is quite superficial. It’s just marketing.

13. So London is more tolerant? You can be indifferent to others while having mutual, unexpressed and quiet respect.

14. Do you think Brexit resonates with Japan’s identity as an island nation? No, Brexit is more about not being willing to accept the loss of empire. Japan’s postwar history is more about self-pity that, in my view, is more difficult to overcome successfully.

15. Is Japan becoming more cosmopolitan? Absolutely not. Why do Japanese tourists avoid visiting Kyoto if that’s the case? Too many non-Japanese and they don’t like it! I’m worried about the backlash when too much property and tourist sites are bought and run by foreign owners and investors. You never know when exclusive ethnic absolutism will erupt.

16. What should everyone read? “Master Keaton,” a marvellous manga by Naoki Urasawa, Hokusei Katsushika and Takashi Nagasaki, from which I learned how to behave when I moved to Britain.

17. What book still inspires you? C.L.R. James’ “Letters from London,” which James wrote when he left Trinidad to meet London intellectuals in the 1930s. It’s full of honest and insightful observations about his experiences. It’s a constant reminder of basic principles to me.

18. Where do you go for your news? My barber.

19. Is virtual reality eventually going to trump material culture? They’re not mutually exclusive. Paradoxically, a human presence is necessary to appreciate virtual experiences created by machines.

20. What would you tell a student that just told you they used Wikipedia as a source? Wash your face with miso soup and then make a better one than you’ve just tasted on your own face.

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