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Don’t let ANA off the hook for that offensive ad

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A commercial for All Nippon Airlines, one of Japan’s flagship carriers, has been making headlines recently. Released last Saturday, the 30-second spot shows two Japanese men (one a comedian named Bakarhythm, but let’s call them A and B) standing by an airport observation-deck window, speaking English with Japanese subtitles.

Looking out at the jets, A says, “Haneda Airport has more international flights nowadays.” B replies, “Finally.” Their exchange goes on: “Next stop, Vancouver.” “Next stop, Hanoi.” “Exciting, isn’t it?” Then B says, rather oddly, “You want a hug?” When A only gives him a nonplussed look, B continues, “Such a Japanese reaction.” When A explains, “But I am Japanese,” B counters, “I see. Let’s change the image of Japanese people.” And A, smiling broadly, agrees. (Ad archived here.)

All right so far. Except that A is now wearing a strapped-on long nose and a big blond wig. Off they fly to their destinations.

This ad has occasioned considerable debate and media coverage. Many commenters in English-language online forums have called it “racist” (one even said “Debito bait”; I’m chuffed) and have made moves to take their business elsewhere. Others have said the advert isn’t racist, just lame. A few managed to find a deep pocket of latent irony, saying it’s actually poking fun at the Japanese people and their insular attitudes. Meanwhile, within Japanese-language forums, according to a Yahoo Japan poll, 82 percent of respondents see no problem with it.

It will probably come as no surprise to learn that JBC objects to this ad. If ANA had really wanted to “change the image of Japan,” it should have avoided racializing its product. Instead, it’s just business as usual.

Consider some other racist marketing strategies from not so long ago (visuals and reports archived here)

Last year, Toshiba marketed a bread-maker with an obnoxiously overexuberant Japanese girl speaking katakana Japanese, wearing a blond wig and a big nose. (Ad archived here.)

In 2010, Nagasaki Prefecture promoted its “foreign” buildings by showing Japanese tourists wearing — you guessed it — blond wigs and big noses. (Ad archived here.)

In 2005, Mandom sold men’s cosmetics with a Rasta-man motif, juxtaposing black people with a chimpanzee. (Ad archived here.)

Dare I mention the resurrection of the book “Little Black Sambo” in 2005 for children, which inspired a racist nursery-school song in Saitama about “black butts”? (See “Sambo racism row reignites over kids’ play,” by Matthew Chozick.)

And how about the Choya plum sake commercials in 2008, featuring three girls (two Caucasian, one Japanese), the latter sporting a big plastic nose and stick-on paper blue eyes? Although most of these ads were soon pulled after complaints, you can still go to Amazon Japan or Tokyu Hands and buy gaijin” stick-on blue eyes and nose (with the caption “Harō gaijin-san“) to sport at parties!

Har har. Can’t you see it’s all just a joke, imbued with a deep sense of irony subversively directed at Japanese people? Except that, as I’ve pointed out in JBCs passim, ironic humor is not one of Japan’s strong suits.

Moreover, remember when McDonald’s Japan was using a nerdy white guy to hawk newfangled burgers? JBC argued (“Meet Mr. James, gaijin clown,” Sept. 1, 2009) that stereotyping of this nature only works as humor if, among other things, it passes a “switch test” — i.e., if everyone is fair game for parody.

But in Japan it’s not fair game. Japanese society and its media are quick to take umbrage at being lampooned by the outside world, especially in a racialized manner. Put succinctly: “Our big-nose humor is OK, but your buck-teeth humor isn’t.”

Case in point: To commemorate the publication of “Little Black Sambo,” I drew up a parody called “Little Yellow Jap” to put the shoe on the other foot, I made the protagonist as stereotypically exaggerated as the ink-black golliwogs in the book: bright yellow skin, round glasses, buck teeth, and clad in a fundoshi loincloth. I pointed out on every page that this was a parody of Japan’s “Sambo,” and contextualized it with a full explanation in Japanese of why racialized books for children are bad.

Yet for years now in the Japanese version of Wikipedia’s entry on me, this parody is cited as an example of my “discrimination against Japanese.” Clearly turnabout is not considered fair play.

Or take the case of British TV show “QI” (See “Cultural insensitivity no laughing matter” by Philip Brasor). Producers were forced to apologize for a joke about a recently deceased Japanese man who, in 1945, experienced the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and was then unlucky enough to travel to Nagasaki in time to catch the second one. A panelist had dryly quipped, “He never got the train again, I tell you.”

That’s not funny — that’s insensitive! And insulting! And racist, according to the more unified online communities in Japan, backed up by protesting Japanese government officials, all of whom clearly understand irony. (For the record, I’m being ironic. Please laugh.)

Back to ANA. In tepid apology letters, ANA used a standard disclaimer: “We didn’t mean to offend anyone.” OK. And I’m sure many of your potential customers didn’t “mean” to be offended either. But many were. And if you have any pretensions to being an international company, you wouldn’t have found yourself on a sticky wicket like this in the first place.

To be fair, this campaign was probably cooked up not by ANA, but by one of Japan’s advertising behemoths (my guess is Dentsu, which has nearly a third of Japan’s market share). Anyone with an eye on the Japanese media knows how they make silly amounts of money on silly stereotypes (including the one that Japanese don’t hug), while reaffirming the binary between “Japan” and “the rest of the world.”

Nevertheless, ANA deserves its lumps, because its reps simply don’t know what they’re apologizing for. In fact, they clumsily reinforced the binary in their press releases, stating that complaints have “mostly come from foreign customers” (as opposed to real customers?) before finally pulling the ad on Tuesday.

Now consider this: Gerry Nacpil, supervisor of ANA’s Sky Web site, wrote in his apology, “The intention of this commercial was . . . to encourage Japanese to travel abroad more and become global citizens.”

So, “global citizens” equals white people? Now the ad is even more problematic.

Look, Japan, if you want to host international events (such as an Olympics), or to have increased contact with the outside world, you must be prepared to face increased international scrutiny of your attitudes according to global standards.

For one of Japan’s most international companies to reaffirm a narrative that Japanese must change their race to become more “global” is a horrible misstep. ANA showed a distinct disregard for their non-Japanese customers — those who are “Western,” yes, but especially the majority who are “Asian.”

There will be no change in marketing strategies until Japan’s business leaders (and feudal-era advertisers) see non-Japanese as a significant customer base they could lose due to inconsiderate behavior. Non-Japanese should vote with their feet and not encourage this with passive silence, or by second-guessing the true intentions behind racially grounded messages. Clearly the Japanese public, brought up on “big nose” and “black butt” humor, won’t pressure them to stop.

Don’t let ANA off the hook. This is a prime opportunity to act. Otherwise the idea that foreigners can be ridiculed for their racial traits (which also affects Japan’s multiethnic children) will become normalized, and tackling Japan’s racialized commodification will remain a perpetual game of “whack-a-mole,” with Japanese society looking ever more hypocritical and bigoted.

Just Be Cause usually appears on the first Thursday of the month but will be taking a break in February. Send comments to community@japantimes.co.jp.

  • Julian Garrett

    Come on guys. Really?

    It was on many the western news websites too, and we, as people who deal with a lot of really serious racism on a daily basis, I dont think too many took it too seriously.

    Reading the Sydney Morning Herald, most of the comments were along the lines they thought it was cute and funny, rather than in your face and offensive.

    For some real racism, try the middle east. Those guys all have a lot to apologise for.

  • john walker

    i agree that the history of discrimination in america makes the yellow face ad quite offensive. but lets look at what japan is doing to foreigners today. right now in japan having blonde hair and a big nose (looking foreign in general) increase
    police attention and limit job opportunities and housing options. if there were equal protection under the law for japanese and for big nosed blondes, i would see the ad as less offensive.

  • anoninjapan

    “..Japan does not have a history of legislating white labourers out of work,
    rounding up white civilians and sending them to internment camps, etc..”

    That’s
    because Japan imports dirt cheap labour, giving those from SE Asian
    countries a 2 year “work” visa and false hope of real work and real pay.
    Since they pay them peanuts and after 2 years ship them home. Walk past
    any Panasonic/Sharp etc factory at closing time…all the manual
    workers are non-Japanese, all paid peanuts.

    You know very little about your own country!

    But
    of course, rather than face up to the assertion being made, the Japanese
    way of addressing such issues is…yup..misdirection and blame others
    or use another country as their “answer”. Japan is never wrong and is
    never negative is it??….yawn!

  • Gordon Graham

    I agree. Mr.Debito’s Blackface reference is hardly fitting comparison when you consider that whites were never slaves to the Japanese. The black caricature can certainly be seen as demeaning and dehumanising while if we are completely honest the depiction for foreigners in Japan is one that stems from a position of inferiority and as such is a form of flattery. If anyone is upset it should be the Japanese for the implication that they are not good enough unless they become more Westernised.

  • thirdman

    I saw the ad and it’s clearly a tongue-in-cheek joke (making fun of (now rather outdated) Japanese’ narrow sense of what foreigners should look like). Maybe one of the major side-effects of living in Japan for the foreigners is losing a sense of humor.

  • Don Ho

    Lets not get carried away here, its not 125,000,000 Japanese people who scripted this ad, only a few boneheads. Its partly due to the island mentality i.e. living on a island with no borders, sometimes they realize there is no one else in this world hence, partly and mostly naivete abounds. Think about it.

  • ceej

    First, who is ‘us’? There is no homogenous ‘foreigner’ community in Japan. Second, it is not knee-jerk to say this was a racist ad. It was and it is better for everyone to say that directly. Do I think ANA intended it to be racist? No. Do I think people intend to be racist when they call me ‘Mr. Foreigner’? No. But it is still racism. Imagine if I shouted at a Japanese person across the street ‘Jap’ or ‘Asian san’ or whatever. Would they accept this? I think not. Yet this has happened to me with the ‘Mr. Foreigner’ thing many times. Do I accept this or tell them straight I don’t like it and it’s racist? The second option is better IMO.

  • Gordon Graham

    So the “blackface” comparison doesn’t apply as the implicit yearning in this ad is to become more like white people. It’s flattery not insult

  • http://www.jlist.com Peter Payne

    As there’s no Japanese equivalent of the “me so solly” Jerry Lewis style tradition of making fools of Japanese/Asians in the West, I’d say it a just a thing. There’s no cultural framework for us to be offended, unless we want to be.

  • Toolonggone

    In other words, some people have no clue about how the ad sends the message through the context that conveys hidden assumptions on Japanese people and race. Your uncalled accusation of foreigners for being “naturally racist” clearly indicates an absurdity of your argument.

  • Gordon Graham

    Then its fair to say ANA should do this and that and are this and that, but what you’re doing is the same as what you criticise…The Japanese are this the Japanese are that. You’re making assumptions about the entire race based on a few tasteless commercials…Ever been to a Halloween party in America?

  • Gordon Graham

    Only a matter of time before Nanjing entered the conversation about an airline commercial…Shall we now closely review the histories of, lets say, ummm, every nation?

  • Mateusz82

    What makes the cartoon strip incomplete, if anything, is that racism in the West is not tolerated. Making excuses for Japan’s anti-Western racism does not help, and people need to stop rationalizing it. Regardless of Japanese history (which did include the use of slave labor during the second world war), the fact is that whites in Japan are treated as second class. Japan currently denigrates whites, and it does so with the blessing of people (white and yellow) who say it’s not so bad.

    Also, we need to stop buying into the view that white people can not be Asian (including Japanese), that the two are mutual exclusive. As a white resident of China, I find it insulting that I will never be accepted considered Chinese, nor accepted, due to my skin color. If views like “White people are the only people who are really European, and the only people who belong in Europe” sound racist, then how is the view “Yellow people are not the only people who are Asian, or who belong in Asia” any more acceptable? Ethnic nationalism, such as shown in the mentioned ads, needs to be challenged.

    That’s why I find it especially grating when white people make excuses for this sort of thing. It makes it harder for those of us who ask for basic respect when people claim it’s no big deal.

  • Mateusz82

    How many people in England shout “Ni hao, foreigner!” at your wife, or assume that because she’s yellow, she’s “One of them”? If someone made the “slanty eye” gesture to her, would she laugh it off as a hilarious joke, or be offended?

    In fact, how many times is she even called “foreigner”? Do you introduce her as your “foreign wife”? I know for certain that in the US, referring to someone as “foreign” based on their ethnicity is not acceptable at all, yet those of us who live in Asia (both as citizens or as temporary residents) are expected to take the status of “One of them”.

    No one is “crying racism”. Debito is standing up for the dignity of a minority Asian group, a minority I belong to.

  • Mateusz82

    Yeah, if Caucasians started darkening their skin, then there’s something to talk about. Like, if they were to lay on the beach, after applying some manner of cream for the purpose of making their skin darker, more tan, if you will, then they’d have a point. If they made use of some sort of, let’s call it a “bed” for “tanning”, then they would have something.

  • Sam Gilman

    I think you’ve misunderstood what you were objecting to in the first place, but let’s put that to one side and look at something you’ve said that really gets to the heart of why some of the complaints by westerners about this advert – which, I apparently have to stress again, I do think is objectionable and involves bad racial stereotypes – are themselves objectionable and leave me and clearly also others feeling a touch queasy.

    If I may quote you:

    I think the whole of the EU confronts its history in a far far better light than Japan.

    You think so? You’ve invited several people to know their history better, so let’s see what you, given that apparently you know history very well, plainly think is a “far far better” way of confronting the crimes of a colonial history. Let’s look at the European colonial powers’ history of apology and acknowledgement for what they did. It’s a valuable exercise in exposing a common form of absent-minded apologism in Europe and the west. This is real apologism too, not the lazy label applied to anyone who does not share the racially charged dislike of Japan that is all too common amongst certain groups of ex-pats.

    The thing is, in engaging in this practice in this context, you end up validating one of the most common claims of the hard right in Japan. When they protest the west’s hypocrisy in criticising Japan, because of people like you they have a point. I wish people like you, who like to assume a moral superiority, would stop giving these extremists ammunition, as it strengthens them. Shall we read on?

    Remember what we’re looking at: not how bad were the histories (they all involve the deaths and persecution of millions), but how do countries address these darker aspects of those histories – and I hope there is no denying these darker aspects from anyone here on any side. We have Japan, which, as soon as diplomatic relations were restored with the countries it had brutalised, apologised and offered compensation, with a pledge never to go to war again, a pledge even reaffirmed by a very right-wing prime minister in Abe. His attempts to re-examine comfort women apologies were slapped down by media, politicians and society in general in 2007. I hope you are familiar with the material on this page; it’s depressing how many journalists are not. How about some leading members of the EU, which you think have done “far far better” than Japan since the end of the colonial era in confronting their past. I’ll try to keep my examples to within the last decade or so, just so we don’t have a pointless “yes but things are different now” dance.

    Let’s start with Britain, a country basking in the warm fuzzy glow of colonial amnesia. In 2013, the British Prime Minister visits Amritsar, the site of a notorious colonial massacre. He refuses to apologise, praises aspects of the British empire and describes the despoliation of India as a “net help” for the country, and dismisses the repatriation of cultural items ransacked from former colonial possessions as “returnism”. A leading newspaper subsequently publishes an article called “Yes, mistakes were made, but we must never stop being proud of the Empire”, and there is not a national or international scandal in the slightest because it’s quite a common thing to hear in certain circles in the UK, in public. You think this is an example of doing “far far better”. Curiously, this “we did more good than harm” line is similar to the line of the hard right in Japan about the Korean occupation, not the government itself which daren’t go there. In 2012 we also discover that the British destroyed documentation of colonial atrocities, again a parallel with Japan, and one that the government kept secret for forty years. Far far better?

    In 2012, the French President, visiting Algeria, refuses to “repent or apologise” for French colonialism. The war itself led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands. French historians generally dispute Algerian estimates of 1.5 million, claiming it was 900,000 while the French government acknowledges only 350,000. Now, where have I heard such “oh, we didn’t kill that many” disputes before? Oh yes, Nanjing. But somehow, you think the French do it all “far, far better”. Into the bargain, Hollande said something vague about France temporarily “forgetting its universal values”. That’s the same France that ruled half of West Africa for well over a century. It took forty years for France even to admit the state-sanctioned massacre of Algerian protesters in Paris in 1961; the person who ordered the action – that is, the person given power by the French state to do so – was finally convicted in 1999 of being a Nazi Vichy collaborator. Not the grandson of one, an actual one. Again, there are strong parallels with crimes by Japan that the extreme right here want to gloss over. Only with France it’s a mainstream centre-left politician.

    Belgium still has not apologised for its general behaviour in the Congo,where they killed upwards of ten million people. To fair, Belgium did apologise, a whole forty years late, for involvement in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, plunging the region into forty years of first tyrannical and then violent and extremely bloody misery post-independence. Spain has not apologised for the utter destruction of the Americas or for its possession of Equatorial Guinea (independence: 1975) where it engaged in forced labour. How is this “far, far better”?

    Still, there’s the model country Germany. How did it do over its African possessions? It didn’t apologise for the 1904
    Herero massacre
    (100,000 dead) until 100 years later in 2004 (and after much resistance and concealment), and there hasn’t been an apology for German colonialism in east Africa at all, where they engaged in slavery even after the general abolition worldwide. Even its modern post-WWII record isn’t perfect.In a parallel with the extreme right’s nastiness over comfort women (“We’re not the only ones! Koreans also helped recruit them!!”), the German state won’t compensate Slovakian jews whose 57,000 relatives were transported to German extermination camps with the transport paid through confiscation of their property because it was a decision by the Nazi-client Slovak state at the time, not the German state.

    On the topic of timely apologies, we should have honourable mentions for the British almost-apologising for the Irish famine 140 years later (and, paralleling the ghastly and asinine remarks by the new head of NHK yesterday about comfort women, a leading BBC journalist describing the almost-apology as “moral vacuousness” – why apologise for something you yourself did not do), and to the Maoris 150 years later. Another telling case is that of the Dutch, who, fresh from the Nazi experience, massacred thousands of Indonesians in an attempt to retake the country after the Japanese had been defeated in 1945-7. They apologised for this almost immediately afterwards, if by “immediately afterwards” we actually mean September last year. You think this is far, far better? Seriously?

    As an EU citizen all this deeply pains me, but again and again, the state representatives of the leading members of the EU, and their media, particularly when confronting those dark parts of their past which didn’t involve killing other white people, whitewash it, ignore it, and occasionally glorify it. (There are lots of US examples too; for example here). I do not see how anyone coming from the EU can start lecturing others on how good Europeans are at coming to terms with what they have done to other peoples. By contrast, you, by declaring that this is all “far, far better”, are pretty much supporting the whitewashing of European colonial history.This is why, when people like you leap at the chance this ad has offered you to go on about Japan’s racism and unreconciled history as if you yourself are from some morally superior ethnos, I have to be honest, it kind of turns my stomach. I struggle to see the qualitative difference between your way of viewing history and that of the hardline nationalist groups here in Japan. You’re just on opposite sides, fuelled by contempt for each other’s country, throwing s**t at each other with the sole purpose of making yourself look – and feel – cleaner. No good comes from thinking like this. Nothing about it suggests you actually want to make the situation better, either in your country of origin or here.

    Of course, it’s possible that when you said that the EU dealt with its history “far, far better”, you were unaware of exactly what the leading countries of the EU have and have not said and done in examining their colonialism (and it would be big of you to admit you didn’t know). And that would be telling in itself – that we don’t actually teach ourselves our history, even though we like to pretend we’re so much better at that too.

  • Sam Gilman

    I think you’ve hit reply to the wrong person. I didn’t say anything about the joke depiction being a compliment.

  • Mateusz82

    Actually, no, it doesn’t. English speakers routinely use words from other languages informally (“Gracias” instead of “Thank you” or “Sayonara” instead of “Goodbye” are just some examples).

    Instead of traveling to Hypothetical Land, let’s stick to places that actually exist for now. She is not treated that way in the UK, because racism in the UK is not tolerated. In fact, the only people in the UK who would treat her the way Westerners are treated in Japan would be the British National Party. Basically, you are saying that the UK is less racist than Japan, but that’s alright.

    I’m not imposing US values upon you. When the “Japanese way” is of racism, then it is unacceptable. Ethnic nationalism is not acceptable, and racism should not be accepted as a “cultural practice”. Do you try to justify British colonization of India, or racism against Indians, as simply “the British way”?

    To answer that question, don’t extend it to being “one of them”, because racism doesn’t deserve to be tolerated. There are people in the American South who terrorize blacks and Jews. No one has to excuse that as simply “their culture”. Instead, the Ku Klux Klan is condemned as a hate group. Japanese racism (as well as Chinese racism) does not get a pass any more than the BNP, KKK, or any Neo-Nazi group, even though these groups can try to claim that racism is part of their culture. If someone from the BNP told your wife, “All slant-eyed Japs don’t belong in the UK. Britain is for the British.”, would you accept that it’s the culture of the BNP, or would you be offended? If you can understand why that is offensive and doesn’t deserve “tolerance”, then you can hopefully understand why racism from Japanese towards minorities in Japan doesn’t deserve tolerance.

  • Mateusz82

    Ah, I see. So it’s turning “natural” color. Their white skin is unnatural, and by tanning, they just are trying to look “natural”. That totally negates the fact that they hate their skin color.

    Also, if you don’t think that there are white folks out there with dreadlocks, then you need to get out more, or at least learn to do an Internet image search.

    If you want to talk about self-hatred and shame, just look at the comments here, how many whites are just taking the racist jabs, because the have been expected to shut up and take it. Hell, they’re even telling other whites to not be offended, because they don’t deserve to be offended. An ad that had white people dress up in yellow face would get protests and people fired, because yellow people have the self-respect to stand up for themselves, while white people welcome the abuse. When people won’t stand up for themselves, and demand that others of their group also sit down and take it, that is self-hatred.

  • Mateusz82

    So “tan” would be “natural”, and they’re just going from unnatural to normal?

    Also, there are whites who do wear dreadlocks. They often are mocked as wannabes, however, if they wore blackface makeup, they’d be condemned as racist. There’s a difference.

  • Mateusz82

    It doesn’t imply that, since English speakers routinely use non-English words (“Gracias”, Sayonara”, “Gesundheit”, etc.).

    That was my point. Instead of venturing to Hypothetical Land, let’s stick to the UK, where racism is not tolerated (unlike in Japan). Only the British National Party accepts racist views on the level of in Japan or China.

    No, I’m not imposing US values. Racism is unacceptable for me, and I don’t see why I should accept it.

    The Ku Klux Klan harrasses blacks and Jews, especially in the rural American south. Should they be allowed to burn crosses on the lawns of blacks, because it’s part of the Klan’s culture, and you don’t want to impose values on them? If members of the BNP made “slanty-eye” gestures, to mock your wife, or told her that “Britain is for the British, and she should go back to Japan”, would you feel offended, or just accept that this is part of the culture of the BNP. Should discrimination against Indians today, or British colonization of India ini the past, be accepted as part of British culture?

    If your wife was in the US during the second world war, she would likely have been put in an internment camp for her ethnicity. Now, the US has since made apologies, however, do you honestly think that America should, instead of apologizing, just told the Japanese that it was “part of American culture, and foreigners need to accept it”?

    Racist xenophobia is not something that should be tolerated, and it doesn’t matter who is the one practicing it. It’s wrong in the West, and it’s wrong in the East.

  • Gordon Graham

    Sorry, “prejudiced”…Is that better?

  • Gordon Graham

    except in this case it’s envy and flattery through imitation…not racial hatred. Unless you think the ad says “There are now more international flights out of Haneda, damn white people!”

  • JapanDad

    “do you really think it does more harm to let this kind of advert go”

    You don’t have kids, nor have you worked with them, in Japan, have you? Yes, 100%, a thousand times yes, it is FAR WORSE to let this commercial go than to look a little silly protesting it. “It’s a shame about your stepson” – no, that’s the entire point. The prejudice I face in Japan is not limited to me – it PERMEATES my life – my wife, my kids, everyone connected to me gets asked CONSTANTLY rude questions – things like, “Why don’t you speak English, since you spend so much time with foreigners?”

    The mere fact that you feel comfortable denigrating and infantilizing our protests demonstrates just how necessary those protests are. The fact that you feel comfortable dismissing a CHILD being pressured (maybe bullied, I don’t know yet) by his peers due to the race of his step-dad shows that you really don’t have much sympathy, and without sympathy – trust me – you can’t really overcome prejudice.

  • JapanDad

    Oh, and I never said we have bigger fish to fry. YOU might have bigger fish to fry. OTHER foreigners in Japan may have bigger fish to fry. But as I’ve pointed out, the prejudice that I personally face affects my entire family. My family’s safety and happiness is my main priority, so, no, I personally do not have bigger fish to fry.

    Now, you may not be married, or have kids – you may not even WANT kids. But I do. And they get pressured (bullied?) for having a white step-dad. THAT is my biggest concern.

    And it seems to me that the people who think this advertisement is ok don’t have a lot of sympathy for people actually living and raising families in Japan. Try to see things from our perspective and you might have a sense of WHY we don’t like this kind of commercial.

  • Sam Gilman

    Given that I clearly stated that one group’s racism does not excuse another group’s racism, and given that I have made no defence of the ANA advert (which I have said clearly is an objectionable racial portrayal), I think the problem is that you are not a very careful reader.

    I could be wrong, of course. It could be something more sinister. After all, to describe the ANA advert as an example of racial hatred suggests a paranoia that borders on quite profound prejudice about Japanese. It’s quite clearly not hateful. It’s stupid, offensive, unhelpful, whatever you like, but hateful? You think an international airline looking to expand is run by those who hate white people? In what universe does that make sense?

  • anoninjapan

    You missed it because you’re too busy trying to defend the indefensible and their actions. The classic Japanese misdirection which has nothing to do with the question at hand. Just misdirect and ignore the very large elephant in the room, neh?

    If you wish to be ignorant of what racism is and factual events at the hands of the Japan which it ignores/denies to the point of absurdity, fine that is your prerogative. Just don’t assume everyone is a gullable and myopic as you are….

  • JapanDad

    Oh, ok, I understand now. You don’t know what systematic racism means. You think that because there is no open bigotry in the commercial that it is not racist.

    Ok, well, look: the issue isn’t the long nose, and no, that’s not what “hurts” me (but thank you for being patronizing). Here, try Googling “racist dogwhistle” and you might understand why this commercial is a problem.

  • Gordon Graham

    ad hominem drivel is your response…I’m disapointed

  • Sam Gilman

    I think we both know that was something of a cowardly response from you. You could have written “sorry, I was unaware that European nations had failed to apologise so many of their colonial crimes and I was mistaken to say what I did”. You could have just dropped out of the conversation to have a think about what you had thought was true but actually wasn’t. Instead, when confronted with a list of the unrepented or barely repented killings of millions of Africans, Asians and native Americans that you had, I hope inadvertently, suggested represented a “far far better” approach to viewing one’s history, you decide instead it’s just really, really important for your ego to have a comeback and so, sod all those dead people, you try to change the subject. I’m not sure how well that reflects on you and your values.

    Anyway, let’s look at your complaint that Japan’s defence budget is the fifth biggest in the world. I don’t know how good you are at maths, but it’s pretty common knowledge that Japan has the third largest economy. Fifth, I hope you’ll agree, is lower than third. That suggests that Japan may be spending less per capita on defence than many other industrialised nations. Shall we check the wikipedia page on that? . What rank are they there, in 2009? Oh look, they’re twenty-sixth.

    Who might be above them? Funnily enough, it includes all but one of the countries I listed above who have had terrible trouble apologising for killings of people other than each other’s citizens: The UK, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and, of course the US. All, in your words, “far, far better” at coming to terms with their militaristic past.. Well done peace-loving Spain for spending 1% per head less than Japan in 2009, on a per capita economy at the time that was 15% smaller.

    It’s worth pointing out that none of these other person-for-person higher spending defence countries have two militaristic undemocratic nuclear powers with openly aggressive intentions towards them on their doorstep. One of these nuclear powers is the second biggest defence spender in the world. Less per capita spend despite the clearly greater threat? What’s the problem here?

    Or we could look at defence spending as a proportion of GDP (after all, richer countries will spend more; per GDP indicates priority better), which we get by clicking on the GDP % column here for the 2012 figures and starting to count.

    I may have miscounted by one or two, but there I make Japan one hundred and fifteenth. Spain apparently cut back in those years and remains below Japan, but all the rest of those countries, as well as their inability to confront what they did in the past, even now spend more of what they own on their military than Japan.

    Yet there’s something especially offensive about Japan’s defence spending for you.

    Add this to your studied indifference as to whether or not European nations have ever actually properly apologised for the deaths of millions of Africans, Asians and native Americans in their colonies, and a rather unpleasant picture seems to emerge of you and your feelings about groups of people different to you.

    You are, of course, welcome at any time to take back any of your claims.

  • ceej

    I agree people differ and if you’re ok with silly adverts like this and people shouting ‘gaijin san ‘ at you then that’s your choice. I wonder if you would laugh at an advert in the UK (or wlesehere) which used a similar portrayal of someone Japanese? I wonder if people in Japan would find it funny? I can’t see it somehow. And yet, we are asked to accept this advert, negative use of the word ‘gaijin’ etc etc etc as ‘cultural differences’, or ‘culturally dubious’. There are lots of fantastic aspects of Japan and Japanese culture but this kind of thing is not one of them and I think it’s more helpful to describe it as racist than to try and apologise for it or explain it away.

  • Sam Gilman

    I can hardly be avoiding or misdirecting away from the NHK head’s comments, since I mentioned them before you did. I called them ghastly and asinine. You also need to check the meaning of ad hominem. (Hint: I have no idea who you are.)

    Let’s look at what’s happened here. You make a claim that European nations have handled their past better than Japan. I show you quite clearly, with links showing facts, figures and dates, that this statement is horribly false. You don’t even acknowledge a bit of it. It genuinely looks like you don’t think the slaughter of Africans is worth apologising for, and certainly not if it gets in the way of having a good old go at those damned Japanese.

    Then you claim that Japan is an indefensibly large military spender. I show you with links that for a country of its size and wealth, Japan spends relatively less than other industrialised nations, despite having openly hostile, nuclear-armed neighbours – and that your model European nations spend more.

    Now you’re trying to dispute what I say by complaining I linked to Wikipedia, and that I should choose the SIPRI database instead. Only, if you’d actually looked at the Wikipedia page, you’d have found that all the numbers there are directly from the SIPRI database, including that top five list. In other words, you were not actually interested if my numbers were correct or not. You didn’t even check them.

    You also make a couple of statistical claims that are comically wrong. You say that Japan is increasing its annual military budget by 260 billion dollars (“does not include…”). The thing is, the BBC news story you linked to shows you that Japanese defence spending was 59.4 billion dollars in 2013. You are suggesting that Japan is increasing its defence budget by 440% next year! You actually believed that! Look, that 260-and-some billion dollars is all planned defence spending, and for the next five years. The latest draft foresees an annual increase next year of 440 million dollars, or around 0.8%. It means the recruitment of an extra 287 personnel. Still, you were only out by about a factor of 600.

    However, my favourite one is that you think Japan ranks 309th in the world for defence spending per GDP. anoninjapan, sweetheart, there are only 206 countries in the whole wide world. Go and look at the chart again. It’s a mess.

    From all this, it’s clear that it doesn’t seem to matter to you what the truth is, even to the point where you’ll make claims that are patently absurd or impossible. You’re certainly very keen to claim that everyone who disagrees with you is ill-informed, but when you are confronted with evidence that directly contradicts what you believe (and shows your own lack of knowledge), you carry on regardless, even if you end up defending the indefensible or believing the impossible, just so long as you can make yourself and your ethnicity feel morally superior to those damned conniving Japanese.

    I’m not arguing for anyone’s moral superiority. As I said before, that’s a game for people like yourself and those men in black buses who drive around making a noise. If they were doing the same thing you are here but in reverse, I’d be poking fun at them, too. You are as bad as each other. You are mirror images of each other. Just full of hate and nowhere to go. Except round the roundabout in the centre of town. Round and round and round.

  • Sam Gilman

    I’m glad you raise the case of Miki Dezaki, because it illustrates the point I’ve made a few times already. The kind of racism he talks about is not racism or prejudice against westerners, but against Koreans, Ainu (in Hokkaido), Okinawans, or Burakumin (a kind of untouchable caste of ethnic Japanese from a while back). It’s these kinds of topics that set off the ultra-right wing, not the “oppression” of white people. There’s something about the ultra nationalists that makes them want to emulate the glories of European empire.

    The real racism here is – as in most countries – much more specific than general. I’ll give you an example. A few years back there was a proposal to give foreign permanent residents the right to vote in municipal elections. The ultra-right were up in arms about this, but not because foreigners *in general* would get to vote. I got an ultra-right/religious cult pamphlet through my door that stated (I paraphrase/translate from memory) “some people say this is a good thing, and that in Europe it is standard practice. Of course, if it were only a case of allowing permanent residents from Denmark or Finland to vote, this would be a good thing as they are from civilised countries. However, allowing citizens of North Korea, who are here in far greater numbers, to vote would lead to the undermining of the Japanese state”.

    I entirely support Miki Dezaki in his battle with the ultra-rightists. They are a horrible bunch and a serious problem in Japan is how they are allowed to intimidate way beyond their numbers (which are much smaller than one might think). Questions have been raised over his methodology – that some of the examples of racist language he discusses with students are archaic, or that he uses certain phrases about racial discrimination that misdirect students to think of racism in terms of the US civil rights struggle (with no parallel issue in Japan) – but, as I think lots of people on many sides of the “is Japan racist” argument also feel, anyone who annoys the ultra-rightists in the way he did is a good person.

  • Mateusz82

    That was part of it, that he was teaching about racism in a class that was ESL (I would be curious what classes the students had would have covered racism in Japan, if any, but that’s another issue).

    Can you show that it’s about his “arrogance”, rather than talking about an issue that Japanese would rather not discuss? Also, I’m well aware of that… though it shouldn’t matter (though it is significant to mention that to Americans, he is an American, not “foreigner”. This is in contrast to Japanese who consider people “foreigner” based on their ethnicity).

  • Sam Gilman

    It is not I that thinks Japan ranks 309th on the GDP, but the facts do. See, facts have a simple way of explaining the truth, unlike your misdirected opines.

    Seriously, there are only 206 countries in the world. I’m not joking.

    “..This entry gives spending on defense programs for the most recent year available as a percent of gross domestic product (GDP); the GDP is calculated on an exchange rate basis, i.e., not in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP). For countries with no military forces, this figure can include expenditures on public security and police..”

    Therefore some counties have more than one entry,

    You’ve just quoted some fairly basic economic terms that it turns out you don’t understand. It doesn’t explain why there are three different numbers. It explains one single number: how GDP in different currencies are converted to dollars, something which is actually irrelevant to the number in the tables, which is a percentage derivable without the need for currency conversion. The three different numbers have a far simpler origin.They are for 2010, 2011 and 2012.

    So Japan as # 309 out of a total of 401, where most countries have 2 or some with 3 entries….Japan has 1 entry. Well we know how Japan likes to “cook the books”, just ask Michael Woodford.

    Priceless. Did you look at #313 and #314? Also Japan. It has three entries. There’s no special trick been pulled. You can’t even work the search function in your browser. As for the deliriously paranoid notion that Japan cooked the books to get only one entry (for what advantage?), you’re asking us to believe that Japanese agents infiltrated the CIA with the mission of deleting an entry in a poorly formatted table containing information that is in the public domain. Do you check under the bed every night for any lurking Japanese spies?

    therefore (sic) some counties have more than one entry, like that grand military power house South Sudan, ranked #1 and oh look, #2. Such a large military power house…I see why its number 1 now too, amazing!

    Don’t you read the news? That would be South Sudan that recently was born from a very bloody conflict with its neighbour Sudan, and which is on the verge of a civil war right now. So it’s a country that puts a high priority on defence spending. Did you seriously not hear about the conflict? I know it involves the tedious (for you) subject of dead Africans, but it was quite a big story.

    Oh, and that quote about the 232 billion not being additional to current levels, and being the total spending for the next five years – well done. That’s what I explained to you already.

    Tell me: a lot of native English speakers in Japan work in education. Do you?

  • Sam Gilman

    Go back and check. I haven’t introduced any comparison. I mention the behaviour of other countries only if certain other people mention that behaviour first and in order to show themselves and their countries as better, or better “now”.

    They’re using this as an opportunity to feel superior, often deploying age-old European colonial tropes: we are blessed with being more enlightened, we are more civilised, we are less ignorant, we are more free (while sweeping all the bad stuff under the carpet). They actually need Japan, this “other” to be seriously racist to feel better about themselves.

    The thing is, the people doing this, as you can see from anoninjapan’s writings, typically end up being quite racist (“we all know how the Japanese love to cook the books” etc.). The same goes for that cartoon strip that Debito drew, which still leaves me with my head shaking.

    Pointing out how in some ways Japan could be seen as superior or better is simply an attempt to puncture this colonial confidence. When I have engaged with Japanese nationalists, I have done the same thing in reverse. They have similar delusions about the West.

    So it’s not tu quoque. It’s two wrongs don’t make a right. That, and people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

    I do find it interesting how so many apparently liberal westerners living in Asia, when you scratch them, start saying really rather suspect things about the locals. You have to admit, your saying that too many whites are full of self-hatred, and that they need to start standing up for themselves, and that they take on too much guilt – it’s not dissimilar to what you’d hear in a BNP or EDL discussion. And it’s very, very similar to what ultra-nationalists say in Japan about the Japanese.

    Mirroring bad people doesn’t make you good.

  • Sam Gilman

    What he did was with the blessing of the school. He wasn’t an English teacher going rogue.

  • PouncingAnt

    I can understand that. It is easy to fall into a specific mindset that you’re used to dealing with a specific issue with.

    I get your point with the sympathy. My concern is that by making complaint, while everyone will come to understand we don’t like racism, they’re not necessarily going to understand why. Maybe there is a better way of making our position more understandable? Of course, I’m not psychologist, but I feel us foreigners have further distanced ourselves by our harsh criticism.

    Certainly a possibility. I’m interested to bring that up with my wife now, as evidently this isn’t a location thing, like I was beginning to think.

    Yeah, I love it here. I’ve not done the 88 temples (I can only really manage ~10k steps a day at the moment (lol), and I don’t have the free time), but would love to.

  • Gordon Graham

    I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, Matty, but this is an opinion page. And it’s my opinion (along with many Japanese) that Mr.Dezaki displayed arrogance in that he:
    A) Took it upon himself to teach a Social Science lesson entirely in Japanese when he had no qualifications to do so (qualification being a teacher’s license issued by the State that certifies someone to teach in the classroom of a public or private school…I’m not sure about the education system in China but in Japan you need a license to qualify as a teacher. Mr.Dezaki was merely employed as a ALT, essentially a native speaker of a foreign language meant to model pronunciation, clarify idioms etc. but not run lessons as they are not certified to do so.
    B)Refused to take down a video of a “lecture” he posted on Youtube entitled “Racism in Japan”, even when his employer implored him to do so as it was causing great trouble for the school that was paying him to model pronunciation, his Western sense of an individuals principals trumping that of the Japanese sense of “Wa”, maintaining social harmony within the group, team, family, community and yes, workplace. (Curious aside…funny how his lecture to the students he was supposed to be teaching English conversation was entirely in Japanese, yet his Youtube posting which opens with “Racism in Japan” scrawled across the Japanese flag, is translated and presented in English with commentary on how his Japanese students are ignorant)
    C) Was being hypocritical as he, himself was guilty of that which he condemned (hypocrisy being a clear symptom of arrogance). Unless you don’t consider donning a wig and mocking the female population of a particular nation racist? That is perhaps there is an issue of semantics?

  • ceej

    Did I suggest that? I don’t think I did. Racism exists everywhere but this discussion is about Japan.The ANA advert is an example of racism, even if that was not the intention. I have argued that negative use of the word ‘gaijin’ is another.

  • Gordon Graham

    “the practice of claiming to have higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case”…exactly. Thank You

  • Gordon Graham

    Wow! Greek, Latin and Hebrew! I’m impressed! Did you do that all by your lonesome or did you need to spend a small fortune at a University where they teach you how to think?

  • Sam Gilman

    No, it’s really nothing like that at all. I don’t think Debito is an apologist for anything or anyone, except perhaps himself.

  • Sam Gilman

    Let me re-phrase your argument for you:
    “Just because Hitler thought the Jews were out to destroy Aryan civilisation, that does not logically mean that it’s wrong to believe that the Jews are out to destroy Aryan civilistion.”
    Of course, it was not essential to National socialism that there was a Jewish conspiracy against the Aryans….
    But fair enough, you don’t think that worrying about white self-hatred and the white race learning to stand up for itself has any connection at all to extreme right wing racist groups. I believe you. I don’t hate myself as it happens, and personally, my ethnicity has nothing to do with my sense of self-worth. I hope you don’t find that concept too upsetting.
    I don’t think it’s shameful that you take your opinions from Debito. I think it’s a shame, although given your views thus far expressed on ethnic and other identities, it’s perhaps not at all surprising you have gravitated towards him. In other attempts to twist words, you should also know I am not suffering from depression, but thank you for implying I am suffering from psychological ill-health, and that it is an imputation worth deploying in an argument to diminish the other person.
    You manage to be right about one thing – the true problem with the advert is the fusing of Japanese ethnicity with Japanese identity. But it’s a stopped clock thing. The anecdotal experience of foreign-born people who have naturalised suggests that natural-born Japanese, when faced with the fact of citizenship, are quick to accept that the people are Japanese; even pleased that someone has decided to naturalise. It appears not to be a very strong prejudice, just an unhelpful presumption. As a parent of mixed race children I could really do without this kind of thing bothering my kids as they grow up.
    Anyway, you clearly have your fixed opinions about “yellow people”, so I don’t see any point in continuing this discussion.

  • Gordon Graham

    Thanks, I appreciate the tip. Perhaps I should also invest a hundred grand in a liberal arts education so I can impress people with a handful of Greek and Latin phrases.

  • I the king

    I watched the ad and tried to be offended but couldn’t. Sorry.