Early into fall semester at the University of Missouri, a student wrote to the chancellor complaining about the logo for Sunshine Sushi, a restaurant in the Student Center.
The e-mail, entitled “Racism at Mizzou,” said that the logo closely resembled the Imperial Japanese flag used during World War II, and thus “has the same meaning as the Nazi’s Hakenkreuz [also known as the swastika], which was the symbol of the Nazi.” The student, whose name was redacted, added, “I wish to have this logo changed.”
The flag dates as far back as the 17th century and is still flown today by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. It’s also used commercially, adorning everything from touristy T-shirts to Japanese beer cans to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper company. Some Japanese sports fans have also adopted the symbol to root for their favorite teams. A black version of the logo emblazoned character Danny LaRusso’s headband in the classic 1984 American film The Karate Kid.
“The owners . . . have agreed to consider changing their logo if our students come up with something equal or better than their current logo,” wrote Jeff Zeilenga, the university’s assistant vice chancellor. He said they were “very willing to work with our students in good faith to find a better image” even though they “are under no obligation to change their registered logo of 15 years.”
The owners of Sunshine Sushi say they chose their original logo as a symbol of American freedom, not Japanese aggression.
Oo Min Aung, the sushi restaurant’s co-owner, was born in Myanmar and marched in pro-democracy protests before immigrating to the United States. He says that he chose a shining sun because he “wanted something that would symbolize the meaning of freedom, liberation.”
“I didn’t see any problems with my own logo,” Aung says. He says he met with students and tried to explain what the logo meant to him. But, he adds, “For people who came from Korea or China, I didn’t understand how much my old logo reminded them of their dark days with Japan. . . . [So I changed it] when I found out these people were not very happy with my logo — and they were students, too, and without them, I wouldn’t be here.”
Aung says his decision was motivated by his affection for Mizzou students, not fear that students or administration might retaliate if he refused to change the logo. “That kind of fear didn’t even cross my mind,” he says.
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Nonetheless, had he resisted, there may have been some sticks and carrots wielded, the e-mails suggest.
Noor Azizan-Gardner, the chief diversity officer at Mizzou, praised the response of Sunshine Sushi’s owners in an e-mail:
I think that this is an excellent example of empowering folks to make the right decisions at the local level. We need to make sure that this is tied to our performance appraisal and compensation process. Empowerment and accountability without this piece typically doesn’t lead to continuous positive change.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and the Steamboat Institute.