NBA and Japan superstar Rui Hachimura opens up on being a shy mixed race kid who "was always hiding from people" and how basketball helped him love himself: "It's really good to be who I am. I'm unique"
It wasn't easy for Rui Hachimura growing up mixed race in a small town in Japan.
"When I was a kid I was always trying to hide from people you know, because I was kind of different from other people."
Japan's basketball megastar Rui Hachimura opened up on his experience growing up with his Japanese mother and African father to Michael Jordan's daughter Jasmine as part of the Airbnb Olympian & Paralympian Online Experiences called 'Culture and Style with Rui Hachimura.'
"It was really hard as a kid, I had a hard experience," he said from the NBA bubble in Disney World, "I think we were the only black family in the town."
Basketball helped him find his way and now Hachimura is using his platform to boost Black Lives Matter marches, proud to represent black kids, Japanese kids, and mixed kids everywhere.
"I think there’s only one race in this world" - Rui Hachimura
"As a mixed race kid growing up in Japan was very hard you know," says Hachimura, "especially, you know, Japan is one race."
Born in Toayama on Japan's west coast about five hours' drive from Tokyo to a Japanese mother and a Beninese father, a young Rui grew up feeling different.
"When I was a kid there wasn’t many, you know... Especially in my hometown, it’s small, in the countryside and I think we were the only black family in the town. It was really hard as a kid, I had a hard experience.
Rui found his way through sport.
"But I started playing basketball, I started playing sports and I was actually really good at it and I was more athletic than anybody else and I was good at everything you know, baseball, basketball, karate, soccer, track and field, I was always No.1 so that’s how people started respecting me more."
"And I started to think, you know, it’s really good to be who I am, unique, it’s really unique, I’m half black and I’m half Japanese.
"I've always been proud of who I am."
Japan's basketball sensation has found solidarity with his Washington Wizard teammates and posted the image above of himself with teammates demonstrating their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
"It’s actually great you know, Washington is the capital of the United States, there’s a lot of kinds of people here in DC, it’s so diverse and there’s a lot of cultures. Especially as a team they really care about social gestures and especially right now with Black Lives Matter, we’re already big on those kind of stuff."
When Jasmine Jordan asks him to talk about BLM, he says:
“It’s hard to talk about it for me. Being black and growing up in Japan, it’s really hard to talk about this stuff because I feel like this is more American side, it’s more history that I don’t even know so I don’t want to get deep into it."
"In this world it should be one race, there’s no five races or six races, I don’t think there are different races, I think it’s just one race. I feel like everyone should just get together.. It’s hard to talk about but I think there’s only one race in this world."
"Playing in the Olympics was one of my dreams you know," he says, "when I started playing basketball I wanted to be an NBA player and also I wanted to play in the Olympics."
"Around that time when I started playing basketball people started talking about the the Tokyo Olympics, Tokyo 2020, because playing the Olympics for Japan it’s very hard you know, I think the last time we qualified for the Olympics was a long time ago. So we finally qualified for the Olympics and I’m so excited about it, but it is what it is." - Rui Hachimura
"Right now there’s a lot of mixed kids like me, Osaka Naomi, she’s a tennis player, there’s a lot of mixed race kids right now in Japan and I think there’s going to be a lot of kids playing in the Olympics representing Japan so I was so excited to see those guys and play in the Olympics.
"I hope next year we still have a chance to play the Olympics so it’s gonna be big, I’m so excited, as you guys know, Tokyo is a really big city, it’s gonna be crazy, I’m just so excited about it, when.. if the Olympics happen."
So what does Rui, who only started playing basketball at 13, say to kids who are feeling what he felt when he was young?
"There’s a lot of mixed kids in Japan right now, especially in Tokyo and I know how they feel, when I was a kid I was always trying to hide from people you know, because I was kind of different from other people, so that’s why."
"I’m still like that but I was always shy and I realised how good it is to be a mixed kid, it’s really good to be black and Japanese. I started to play basketball and I started thinking I’m so unique, and I started liking myself more.
"For kids, you don’t have to play basketball but I want them to find one thing that they really focus on that they like and you know just go for it, that’s what I can say to those kids."
A trip to New York with the family as a kid inspired Hachimura's love of basketball and sneakers, and now he's had a dream opportunity.
Hachimura had the chance to design his own shoes and he came up with a way to showcase his mixed heritage.
His mother had a big influence on him choosing to play basketball, and even helped him design the logo which is a 'H' in a Samurai style.
The right shoe is designed with Japanese art motifs and cherry blossoms - Japan's most famous flower - and the left shoe is a bright and proud collage of African colours.
"It’s amazing that I get to design my own shoes and represent my country and my dad’s side, my dad’s from Benin in West Africa, I was always proud to be who I am, half black and half Japanese, that’s why I wanted to mix those two, my cultures in my shoes and represent myself."