- Posted April 28, 2008 by
Chinese turned Nagano into Chinatown during torch relay
NAGANO--Under an unprecedented heavy police security, the torch relay for the 2008 Beijing Olympics took place in Nagano, Japan, on April 26, Saturday, through the sea of more than 4,000 Chinese people mobilized to Nagano by Chinese authorities and via the Internet.
The city of Nagano, that hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics, became like a big Chinatown with thousands of red Chinese flags billowing almost everywhere along the route of the 18.7-kilometer torch relay.
The torch left Japan right after the Nagano relay for the next stop: Seoul, where the torch was relayed again through the sea of red Chinese flags on Sunday.
Nagano, a peaceful city northwest of Tokyo, centered by the 1400-year-old Zenkoji Temple, was packed and dominated by boisterous pro-Beijing activists. No wonder Zenkoji Temple declined to serve as the starting point of the relay earlier this month, from its religious concerns over China's crackdown in Tibet.
Many of those Chinese came by bus from places where they live in Japan, like the metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. They arrived early Saturday morning to start off their movements before the relay begins at 8:15 a.m. For instance, about 300 Chinese students from the University of Tokyo arrived at Nagano by bus at 4:30 a.m.
It has been reported that the Chinese authority of exchange students orchestrated many of those students to demonstrate their support for the Beijing Olympics at the Nagano relay.
Along the route, there were pro-Tibet activists hoisting Tibetan flags, but they were again a miserable minority here. Once they chanted ''Free Tibet! Shame on China!'' slogans, pro-Beijing activists mobbed them and silenced them by overwhelmingly shouting ''Jiayou (keep it up) China! Jiayou Beijing!''
I myself thought what would happen if I give a try of yelling the ''Free Tibet'' slogan amongst the sea of red activists. But I soon noticed that this was a bad idea. Immediately after I shouted ''Free Tibet,'' I was mobbed, jostled, bumped and elbowed by dozens of Chinese activists. Some of them even knocked my head from the back.
Even Japanese police treated the Chinese activists as if they are important, special guests. They were allowed free access to important areas of torch relay, such as the starting point, which was changed to a parking lot after Zenkoji Temple had declined, and the goal of the relay.
But those who were not hoisting the red Chinese flag had no chance of making access to those places, even including Nagano citizens!! Those who carried Tibetan flags were treated by police as troublemakers, and were ousted from those areas.
''This is not fair,'' three pro-Tibetan Japanese women, who were blocked before reaching the starting point, said. ''The Olympics must be equal for all citizens in the world. Why we have to be discriminated this way?''
There was also a Japanese activist who supports the independence of China's Xinjiang Uygur region. ''I'm with the pro-Tibetan movement,'' the man said. ''But I am surprised to see this Chinese power of mobilizing people. I'm very sad.''
Nagano citizens vented frustration to Chinese authorities that had mobilized all those pro-Beijing activists, Japanese police that overreacted to every move of innocent citizens, and to the fact that they couldn't see the torch--because about a hundred riot police officers ran together with the torchbearers to make walls that separated the torch and the viewers! What a silly event!! And I'm sad that the same thing repeated again in Seoul.
In the meantime, Chinese activists who observed the closing ceremony of the torch relay were happy that the Olympic flame safely reached the goal.
Many of them claimed that Tibet is part of China.
''I came to Nagano because I heard pro-Tibetan activists will come here,'' said a Chinese man from Kobe. ''Dalai Lama's regime is a slavery system. Dalai Lama is only afraid of losing his own power. Once they get independent from China, Tibetan people will lose their liberty.''
But the sea of Chinese people gathered at Nagano was mostly unpopular among Nagano citizens.
''Really? More than 4,000 Chinese came here to demonstrate their political stand? ,'' a Nagano citizen said. ''I say: Do this after the torch arrives at China. This is our country, our home town, so I don't like them acting like this.''
''We are embarrassed by all those activists that were mobilized by China to our home town,'' a woman running a soba noodle restaurant, located right on the relay route, said. ''They've gone too excessive.''
Another woman who runs a Japanese inn near the relay route said: ''I think it's wrong to hold the Olympics in China. The Olympic torch relay has to be a peaceful event, and it was so peaceful 10 years ago when the torch went through Nagano before the Nagano Olympics. Isn't that the Olympics' spirit? I am very sad to see this chaos and the hostile atmosphere of today.''
Again, for whom was this torch relay held? It was certainly not for the local citizens.
After the relay, Kalden Obara, 34, who heads the community of Tibetans living in Japan, delivered a statement at a rally in Nagano. It says: ''We Tibetans are not lodging protest around the world in opposition to the Beijing Olympics. We also hope the Olympics to be successful. What we have been seeking is our true autonomy, and we have been expressing this always since 1959 when China annexed Tibet by force. Since then, many innocent Tibetans were detained, brutally attacked and killed. We want China to respect our freedom and basic human rights, and free Tibetan political prisoners including the real Panchen Lama, through peaceful talks with Dalai Lama. We want China to restore its confidence in the international community and show the world a demeanor that China is worthy of hosting the Olympics.'' (Translation into English by Makoto Ushida.)
Zenkoji Temple, the original starting point of the relay, held instead a Buddhist prayer service Saturday morning to mourn for the souls of those deceased in China's crackdown last month on Tibetan protesters. The ceremony was held from 8:15 a.m.--the same time the relay's opening ceremony has begun.
Photo1,2 : Chinese activists chant pro-Beijing slogans.
Photo3 : Pro-Tibetan placards were immediately surrounded by the sea of Chinese flags.
Photo4 : Excited pro-Beijing activists face off Free-Tibet activists.
Photo5,6 : Look at this heavy police security! We could barely to see the torch.
Photo7 : Where's the torchbearer? On the left!
(MAKOTO USHIDA : a Japanese journalist based in Tokyo.)