Russians in Japan distressed by abuse

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Aka-no-hiroba owner Victoria Miyabe talks about products at her store in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, on March 7.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russians living in Japan, Russian restaurants and stores selling Russian goods have become targets of abuse.

Victoria Miyabe operates Aka-no-hiroba, a shop in Tokyo’s Ginza district that sells foods from Russia, Ukraine and other regions that were part of the Soviet Union.

Victoria, 48, was born in southeastern Ukraine.

One of her sisters lives in Russia and another lives in the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which has been attacked by Russian forces. Text messages Victoria sent her sister in Mariupol have remained unread since early on March 3.

Victoria opened Aka-no-hiroba, which translates as “red square,” about one year ago, fueled by a desire to become a bridge between Japan and both Ukraine and Russia.

However, since the invasion, she has received abusive phone calls from people asking if she supports Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I just want to share and convey the cultures of each country,” Victoria said. “I don’t want disputes to emerge here in Japan.”

Victoria said she has also received support from customers.

On March 6, a Russian restaurant in Tokyo was notified by a regular customer that a since-deleted post on Twitter included the restaurant’s name with a photo of what appeared to be the dead body of a Ukrainian soldier. Some of the restaurant’s employees are Russian.

“My staff are also devastated by the invasion,” said the restaurant’s Japanese manager. “We all feel the same way and want the fighting to quickly end.”

Abusive messages have also been posted in Japanese in the comments of videos uploaded by Russian Youtuber Nastya, who came to Japan in 2017. “Go back to Russia” and “Russia should halt its activities” were among some of the messages she has received.

In her videos, Nastya showcases Japanese tourist attractions and shares historical tidbits in Japanese. “I upload videos to entertain viewers, so [the messages] made me very sad,” she said.

Nastya said she has also received encouraging messages of support. She plans to continue making videos and use the money she earns to support an international exchange site and help support Ukrainian refugees.

“Abuse hurts people’s feelings and could lead to further hatred,” Nastya said. “The current situation makes my heart ache. I think it’s important for everybody to think calmly about what needs to be done to bring about peace.”