Nori Aoki has been one of the big reasons the Kansas City Royals have stayed at or near the top of the American League Central, along with the wild-card race, in the second half of the season. Aoki is batting .313 with a .381 on-base and .777 on-base plus slugging with nine stolen bases over 204 plate appearances in the second half. He’s batting .423 with a 1.011 OPS in September, and he just finished barbecuing the Chicago White Sox, going 11 for 13 to set a team record for hits in a three-game series.
Royals fans want to acknowledge and appreciate Aoki’s contribution, but some committed an international faux pas in doing so at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday night:
SungWoo is a Royals fan from Korea who recently transformed into a regional celebrity by visiting Kauffman Stadium for several games and bringing general goodwill from across the Pacific to his favorite team. And he makes a great point. While the iconography of the “rising sun” flag isn’t as widely known as the swastika, it’s still a major no-no to associate modern Japan in that way with what the country stood for during World War II.
The Rising Sun flag is known to symbolize Japan’s military, which attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 and occupied Korea from 1910-45.
So it follows that SungWoo would take the flag personally in a bad way. It also is not a time in history that many Japanese take pride in, either. Perhaps the fans who brought the disgraced flag to Kauffman thought Aoki would appreciate it in some sort of “beast mode” sense, using war as a metaphor for the pennant race. He apparently didn’t, according to one fan who saw him:
The fans with the flag probably meant well, but there’s not much difference between that and the racist “Horry Kow” T-shirts that bootleggers produced for Kosuke Fukudome when he played for the Cubs a few years back. Some of that merchandise included a rising sun motif. The Fukudome stuff intended to be supportive, believe it or not, but it simply was condescending and racist.
Being a fan is fun, but it can be a lot of work, and sometimes we’ve got to do a little more homework in order to get it right.