Today we spoke to Vincent Fichot about his protest outside Sendagaya Station. The Frenchman is on a hunger strike in a bid to regain access to his two children. He has been fighting against Japan’s antiquated custody laws for three years. With his requests falling on deaf ears, he decided to take a more extreme, yet calculated approach. The former Nomura banker is hoping to prompt Emmanuel Macron into action. The French president is due in Tokyo in a week’s time for the opening ceremony of the Olympics.
Away from Sendagaya Station, it’s been a week full of apologies. Last Sunday Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu said sorry for its segregated “Japanese Only” and “Foreigners Only” elevator signs. It was then IOC president Thomas Bach’s turn after he referred to the Japanese public as “Chinese.” Not to be outdone, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was next to bow his head in contrition. On Wednesday, he was forced to apologize for his administration’s directive to drinks’ wholesalers to stop supplying liquor to bars and restaurants.
Outside of Japan, ESPN’s Stephen A Smith said sorry for insensitive remarks about baseball star Shohei Ohtani. He had suggested that it was bad for the sport that its number one player needed an interpreter. The two-way superstar probably isn’t that bothered as he continues to make history. On Tuesday, he became the first baseball player to start as a hitter and pitcher in an MLB All-Star game. In more negative news, Covid-19 cases continue to rise. On Thursday, Tokyo reported its highest numbers since January. In Hiroshima, meanwhile, the High Court ruled in favor of 84 people exposed to “black rain” following the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945.
French Father Feeling “Fine” on Day Seven of Hunger Strike
Sitting on a yoga mat outside Sendagaya Station, Vincent Fichot looks pretty well all things considered. The Frenchman is now on day seven of his hunger strike. “Surprisingly, I’m feeling fine,” he tells us. “That said, I have been dreaming of risotto and foie gras. I’ve also had some cramp in my thighs and calves, but that was to be expected because of dehydration.” Fichot began the strike last Saturday as he says he had exhausted all other avenues in trying to regain access to his six-year-old son and four-year-old daughter. He hasn’t seen them since August 10, 2018, when he returned home to him to find his wife and kids gone. Although he continues to pay child support, he has not been able to contact them. Japan doesn’t recognize joint custody for the children of divorced or separated couples.
Fichot believes his health could seriously deteriorate by the time French President Emmanuel Macron arrives in Tokyo on July 23. “The police have spoken to me four times,” he says. “They saw the French ‘Yellow Jacket’ protesters and are worried that things could get violent. They also mentioned about Macron being slapped last month. I told them, I’m here alone and doing this peacefully. By the time the president comes, I don’t even know if I’ll have the power to stand up. Another concern for them is nationalists causing trouble because I’m criticizing Japanese laws. There’s been nothing like that so far. The support’s been amazing, especially from the French community who’ve given me drinks and ice packs. I’ve had people come to speak to me from Osaka and Niigata. Too many people are in the same boat, including mothers. This isn’t a gender issue. It’s about an unjust law.”
IOC President Confuses “Japanese” with “Chinese”
Thomas Bach made his first public appearance in Tokyo on Tuesday. With the majority of the population reportedly against the Olympics, this was an opportunity for the IOC chief to build some bridges. Unfortunately, he proceeded to make things worse with an embarrassing gaffe. “Our common target is a safe and secure games for everybody; for the athletes, for all the delegations, and most importantly also for the Chinese people — Japanese people,” he said. The former Olympic fencer quickly realized his mistake, but it was too late. While the interpreter chose to ignore the slip, news outlets didn’t. On Thursday, he allegedly asked Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to consider allowing fans in venues for the Olympics if the coronavirus situation improves.
Bach is today in Hiroshima despite an online petition opposing the visit. It garnered more than 75,000 signatures. There was a celebration in the prefecture the day before his arrival. This was due to the High Court’s decision to rule in favor of 84 plaintiffs who were exposed to “black rain” caused by the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945 despite the fact that they were outside an area currently recognized by the government. They are now eligible for state health care benefits.
Japanese Government Drops Controversial Liquor Request
The government has withdrawn a request asking wholesalers to stop supplying bars and restaurants that have continued to serve alcohol in areas that are under the Covid-19 state of emergency. The retraction came after fierce backlash from liquor dealers, opposition parties and even those within the ruling coalition. “I offer my apologies for causing trouble to many people,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Wednesday morning.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, the state minister in charge of revitalization, was the man who suggested the plan. Like Suga, he also said sorry for “causing confusion and anxiety.” Last week he stated that financial institutions could apply pressure on establishments that heed the government’s request to temporarily close by withholding loans. Anger at those comments and his more recent request have led to growing calls for Nishimura to resign.
ESPN Analyst Apologizes for Insensitive Remarks about Shohei Ohtani
While it’s been quite the season for Shohei Ohtani, it would appear that not everyone is happy to see him doing so well. On Monday ESPN analyst Stephen A Smith outrageously claimed that the Japanese man was “harming the game to some degree,” due to the fact that he used an interpreter. Following an adverse reaction on social media, Smith tried to clarify his comments. “I’m talking about the marketability and the promotion of the sport,” he said. But there was still no apology.
With the backlash getting louder, Smith sent a tweet to try and undo some of the damage. “Let me apologize right now,” began the post. “As I’m watching things unfold, let me say that I never intended to offend any community, particularly the Asian community — and especially Shohei Ohtani, himself. As an African American, keenly aware of the damage stereotyping has done to so many in this country, it should’ve elevated my sensitivities even more. Based on my words, I failed in that regard and it’s on me, and me alone. Ohtani is one of the brightest stars in all of sports.”
Ohtani Makes History in MLB All-Star Game
Smith is certainly right in that regard. Ohtani is undoubtedly one of the most exciting stars in sport today. On Tuesday, all eyes were on the Iwate Prefecture-native as he became the first baseball player to start as a hitter and pitcher in an MLB All-Star game. After batting leadoff, he then took the mound as the starting pitcher. He gave up no hits and no walks. His fastball topped out at 100.2 mph. Playing for the American League, Ohtani’s side defeated the National League 5-2.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. shared the limelight with the Los Angeles Angels player as he was named MVP. The Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter struck the 200th home run in All-Star game history. He also became the youngest to hit a homer at the Midsummer Classic since Johnny Bench in 1969. The Canadian-Dominican player sat out the Home Run Derby on Monday. Ohtani, however, did make an appearance. The first Japanese man to feature at the event, he lost to Washington Nationals youngster Juan Soto in Round One. It was an epic contest that needed two tiebreakers. New York Mets’ Pete Alonso took home the title for the second year in-a-row.
Tokyo Hotel Sorry for Segregated Elevator Signs
Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu in downtown Tokyo removed signs that read “Japanese Only” and “Foreigners Only” following online criticism. The signs, which went up last Friday, were slammed by netizens with one Twitter using tweeting “Apartheid has been revived in Japan.” They were put up in response to instructions from the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee to separate lines for those associated with the Games from those for general guests. “We tried to make it easy to understand but ended up causing misunderstanding. We apologize for that,” said an official from the hotel.
Efforts are being made to make the Olympics and Paralympic Games as safe as possible. However, with just a week to go until the opening ceremony, pressure is mounting despite Bach’s assurances. “Risk for the other residents of the Olympic village and risk for the Japanese people is zero,” he said this week. It would appear that the public don’t share his confidence, particularly with cases continuing to rise. On Thursday, Tokyo reported 1,308 new Covid-19 infections, the highest number since January. A petition calling for the cancelation of the Olympics currently has more than 450,000 signatures.
Feature image courtesy of Vincent Fichot