Japanese American Olympian Racially Harassed While Training in Orange

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Bryan Ke
·3 min read
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Sakura Kokumai, a Japanese American Olympic athlete, was verbally harassed while training at a park in Orange, CA.

The incident happened in Grijalva Park on April 1 when Kokumai, 28, was training for her upcoming karate competition at the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games in July, according to KTLA. Soon after, an unidentified man approached her and started hurling racial slurs at the athlete.

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“He was basically just yelling stuff like, ‘Don’t talk behind my back. Why are you looking at my car?'” Kokumai told KTLA. “So things like that that made me notice it could be something a little bit, I don’t know, off. So I let it be.”

In the videos she posted on Instagram, Kokumai can be seen laughing as the man continues his threats. However, she said deep down she was scared of the encounter.

“I’ll f**k you up — I’ll f**k your husband up or boyfriend or whoever you’re talking to on the phone," the man said in one of the videos.

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“Nobody likes to be yelled at by a complete stranger,” Kokumai told NBC Los Angeles. “When somebody is just yelling at you that aggressively you do get your guard up a little bit — you do get worried.”

In another video she posted, Kokumai heard the man say something about “Chinese” and “sashimi.”

“The only two words I picked up were 'Chinese' and 'sashimi' which have no connection at all," the athlete said.

Anti-Asian hate crimes are on the rise recently, and Kokumai said she was aware of what is happening on the streets, but she did not expect it would also happen to her at a familiar place.

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“I was aware about the anti-Asian hate that was going on. You see it almost every day on the news,” she said. “But I didn’t think it would happen to me at a park I usually go to train.”

Even though a woman came to her after the verbal tirade, Kokumai said other bystanders were just watching the encounter.

“One lady did come up towards the end, asking if I was OK,” she said. “But until then, as he was walking up, yelling, there were people but they kind of kept to themselves the entire time. I thought, what if this was my grandma or my mom? That scares me.”

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Raising awareness of the growing violence against Asian Americans is one of the reasons why Kokumai decided to put her experience on social media.

“I do know the responsibility of having the platform and being an athlete representing the U.S., so I really thought it’s important to raise awareness,” she said. “This is happening. This is real.”

The athlete did not report the incident to the police and "is still processing what happened."

Featured Image via KTLA (left), @sakurakokumaikarate (right)

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