Sani Brown: The 2015 IAAF Rising Star Award Recipient (No, he doesn’t look Japanese.)

Sani Brown IAAF Junior Worlds
Abdul Hakim Sani Brown. Photo by Kaz Magatsuka

As the Japan Times reported on November 27, Abdul Hakim Sani Brown became the first Japanese to win the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) Rising Star Award.

That’s right – a Japanese named Sani Brown. The son of a father from Ghana and a mother from Japan, Brown is a 16-year sprinter who was the fastest in the 100 and 200 meter races at the IAAF World Junior Championship in Cali, Colombia this past July. Not only that, his 20.34 seconds in the 200 broke the championship record previously held by Usain Bolt!

Watch Brown, who was favored a few days after winning the 100 meters, break Bolt’s Junior Championship record in convincing fashion.

Japan is easily one of the most homogeneous societies in the world, with well over 98% of the 126 million citizens of Japanese ethnicity. Those of mixed race have had mixed receptions in Japan. So-called “Hāfu” (a Japanese word that intimates that half of your parents are Japanese) are becoming more and more accepted in society as celebrity mixed race Japanese fill the air waves and print space.

Sani Brown 2
Sani Brown is a one of  growing number of biracial Japanese athletes. Photo from KYODO.

Star pitcher for the Texas Rangers, Yu Darvish, has an Iranian father. Popular television personality, Becky, has a British father. And the father of current Miss Universe Japan, Ariana Miayamoto, is African-American. With international marriages in Japan increasing five-fold since 1965, it’s no surprise that the children of these couples would rise in number, and continuously challenge what it means to be a Japanese.

As Miyamoto expressed in this New York Times interview, she is up for the challenge. My guess is that Sani Brown is as well.

“Even today, I am usually seen not as a Japanese but as a foreigner. At restaurants, people give me an English menu and praise me for being able to eat with chopsticks,” said Ms. Miyamoto, who spoke in her native Japanese and is an accomplished calligrapher of Japanese-Chinese characters. “I want to challenge the definition of being Japanese.”