Japanese U.N. diplomat’s shouts of ‘shut up’ to fellow delegates go viral, inflame


Japan’s human rights envoy to the United Nations faced calls to quit Wednesday over a video that showed him shouting at fellow diplomats to “shut up.”

YouTube footage of the incident at the U.N. torture committee in Geneva provoked a storm of criticism on the Internet, with demands that Ambassador Hideaki Ueda be recalled to Japan.

Blogging Japanese lawyer Shinichiro Koike, who said he was at the session, explained that a representative from Mauritius had criticized Japan’s justice system for not allowing defense lawyers to be present during interrogations of criminal suspects.

Ueda, who appears to be not entirely at ease in English, jumped to his country’s defense.

“Certainly Japan is not in the Middle Age(s),” he says on the video. “We are one of the most advanced countr(ies) in this field.”

Koike wrote that Ueda’s comment provoked giggling, which cannot be heard on the video.

“Don’t laugh! Why you are laughing? Shut up! Shut up!” the ambassador shouted.

“We are one of the most advanced countr(ies) in this field. That is our proud. Of course, there are still shortages, of course, shortcomings.

“Every country has shortages and shortcomings, but we are trying our best to improve our situation.”

Twitter user spad7u59sambaocnne said: “We should replace such an incompetent old man who is only causing harm.”

Minecraftor said: “It is a problem that tax money is being used to feed a diplomat who is audacious and arrogant, who is only feeding his ego, despite his impotence.”

The newspaper Tokyo Shimbun labeled it a “queer incident” in its report, and noted it came after a series of gaffes by high-profile politicians that have upset other countries.

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said last month Japan’s use of wartime sex slaves served a “necessary” role in keeping battle-stressed soldiers in line. His remarks set off a volley of criticism from areas under Japanese occupation in the 1930s and 1940s as well as from the United States.

Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose apologized to the Muslim world in April after saying Islamic countries have nothing in common but Allah and “fighting with each other.”

International pressure groups say Japan’s criminal justice system is weighted in favor of prosecutors and relies too heavily on confessions, many of which are extracted under duress.

Critics say the long detentions allowed despite the lack of charges being filed — around three weeks — and the style of questioning contribute to an artificially high conviction rate, of around 99 percent.

  • phu

    This was interesting enough without quoting Twitter users. Is that really what passes for journalism now? If you can’t cite a credible source, don’t cite one; at least then you’re just relaying information (which is helpful) instead of citing ridiculous anonymous internet commentary.

    If we wanted to read that, we’d go straight to Twitter and watch thousands of similar contents spewed from sources absolutely no self-respecting news agency would cite simply because it was about a current event.

    Please, writers, have some dignity… and please, editors, do your job.

    • johnny cassidy

      The incident itself is old news now. It was nearly a week old when the Tokyo Shimbun picked up on it in their June 5th morning edition. I guess the news hook here is that the video of the incident has gone viral on the Internet and netizens are talking about it. Even though the story has real world implications, it’s still grounded in Twitterville and the digital spaces beyond. I think that makes it AOK to quote the Twits (or whatever you call the inhabitants of Twitterville) under their unusual monikers. It’s like the person-on-the-street interview for the digital sphere.

    • WillA

      I agree with you, but I won’t hold my breath.

    • johnny cassidy

      While I don’t think it’s so bad to use Twitter to quote public opinion, I don’t think it (or blogs, etc.) should be the sole source to base any story on. The first comment on a related Japan Times letter to the editor (Medieval Standard of Décor) seems to imply that’s exactly what The Tokyo Shimbun did when it reported on Ueda last week. After interviewing Koike it looks like the paper didn’t go the extra step to check out his story and got some of the facts wrong. While Koike has since cleared up the minor misunderstanding, the factual error continues to spread like a disease that has now infected the pages of this paper (and I was the carrier).

    • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

      Well someone has to relay this kind of information to the still large number of people who don’t know how to follow it.

      Don’t worry. In 10 more years more of those people will be dead, and traditional media oriented outlets will have little incentive to write these kinds of articles. Both groups will have either adapted or died off by then.

    • disqus_4NsfhsQIBv

      Agreed. But this is also the same generation who thinks Wikipedia is a credible source, so what do you expect? Very sad.

  • Joseph Dilenschneider

    Watch and listen to the video carefully.

    If indeed it was Ueda who made the entire remark [as I may now be incorrect in writing that his counterpart said the “Middle Age(s)” portion of Ueda’s comment], again, it is when Hideaki Ueda immediately picks up with, “We are…”; and then pauses, which brings on laughter because ‘we are’ seemingly refutes what he has just said about being “…not in the Middle Age(s).”, before continuing on with “…one of the most advanced countr(ies) in this field.” The other diplomats are laughing at Ueda’s pace-of-English-syntax-pause after “We are…”. Finally, Ueda, unfortunately, becomes frustrated at the laughter (unawares of his English syntax timing error) and regrettably says, “Don’t laugh! Why you are laughing? Shut up! Shut up!”. Yes, that is not diplomatic behavior.

    If anything, Hideaki Ueda needs to work on his English fluency of expression, not take laughter at his English (not Japan’s policies) so personally, and the media needs to take a day off before it goes after another Japanese politician. People make mistakes; the media amplifies them for its own market share of sensationalism

    Get it right.

    Joseph Dilenschneider

    associate professor

    Graduate School of Commerce and Management

    Hitotsubashi University

  • http://www.mangrovemission.com/ Tokyo_Ben

    A man with such an obvious lack of international experience (not to mention his junior high level English ability) should not be allowed to represent a country like Japan at the UN. This guy should never have left Japan.

  • Carmen Sterba

    This is regrettable. I’m well aware (during my life in Japan) that the government officials in the Meiji Era (when Japan was emerging from feudalism) were often fluent in one or another foreign language. For example, Ito Hirobumi, Inoue Kaoru, Mori Arinori all studied in London College University. The first two were a part of the Choshu Five, whose 150th anniversary is being celebrated this summer. People in Education, such as Mori, Fukuzawa Yukichi, Niijima Jo and Tsuda Ume, who founded colleges were all cosmopolitan leaders in Meiji with outstanding English and represented Japan in various international conferences. Exam-centered education does not value good communication. Speech classes and Debate clubs are still few and far between. Generally speaking, Japanese women do a better job at international conferences than men because their social skills and language skills are often more advanced.

  • Scott Durand

    Not shall we say very ‘diplomatic’. I bet he wouldn’t make a great junior high school teacher so how could he be a diplomat representing Japan at the UN.

  • DMatsu

    I would hardly describe that as “shouting”. *eyeroll* I remember hearing about government meetings that erupted in fistfights. This is not worth getting your panties in a twist over.

  • WillA

    Actually, I can’t tell who is speaking in the video. Is it the ‘diplomat’ in the middle of the screen, with just the top of his head visible?

  • mtb812

    I see nothing wrong with the outburst. Such a lack of respect by the other diplomats deserves being told to shut up. Hopefully they will think twice before arrogantly laughing at a colleague in the future. I would be proud to have Ambassador Ueda as my representative. He speaks his mind and defends what he believes in. Staying silent changes nothing.

  • Christopher Frey

    While this video does make somewhat clear that Mr. Ueda is not completely fluent in English, and that perhaps Japan should send a representative who is better able to express the country’s views and policies, I think the language issue is beside the point. I do not think that the giggling had anything to do with his language abilities.

    What i see happening here are other representatives recognizing the gap between the how the Japanese government wants to be seen by the rest of the world, and what it is actually doing or allowing to happen. Most of us who read this paper have had some experience living in Japan, and know that the everyday experience for most Japanese, and foreigners, is good. We also know that if one gets caught in the legal system, or sent to prison, the conditions are quite harsh and most Westerners have expectations of better protection of people accused of crimes. What Mr. Ueda’s outburst shows is that gap between official Japan’s perception of itself and the perception of others. My guess is that Mr. Ueda has probably rarely challenged any of his bosses, and is not used to being challenged, and thus reacted in this undiplomatic way.

  • Ron NJ

    They need to fix the Inose quote – as I recall, he stated that they have something like Allah, fighting with each other, and classes (class-based societies, I presume) in common.

  • Rockne O’Bannon

    Yeah. Two things. I don’t fault the guy for his “fluency” at all. He certainly went off script to say things like ‘medieval’ and ‘shortcomings’, which I challenge any reader here to say in Japanese just off the top of their head. It is trolling to say that the guy is incompetent based on his language ability. If you think it is easy to talk in front of an international body of professionals in your second language, go try it sometime. And if you have no such opportunity, then you are jealous, right? The guy can’t win.

    Secondly, people want to know who is speaking. It is hard to tell from the video. Tell you what: Who is laughing? Somebody from a country with four or five times Japan’s rate of violent crime. Or a country where you can’t put your phone down for two seconds without somebody taking it. Or a country that warehouses a large segment of its population in penitentiaries or creates a revolving door system for its criminals. Or a country having more people on death row than Japan has convicted murderers.

    Japan has plenty of problems, and trolls are going to troll, but in the real world, Japan has proven for decades that, warts and all, its criminal justice system serves convicts well, and serves society well. So… to all you critics… well… SHUT UP!

  • Carmen Sterba

    I agree with Christopher Frey. There is a “gap between official Japan’s perception of itself and the perception of others.” Ueda may have been chosen for his job according to his status in the Japanese foreign service without consideration of his communication skills in international forums. Expectations are often different from culture to culture. In Japan (1) harmony is ideally stressed with each person taking their turn without interruption, (2) sentence structure is indirect; whereas Chinese and most European languages are direct, and (3) education focuses on writing skills and listening skills, rather than oral communication skills. However, the challenge of these differences need to be taught for international communication, especially in the world of diplomacy.

  • hbarca

    Your use of quotes of Twitter handles in this story makes me wonder about the quality of your journalism in general. You should be embarrassed for using these inane, anonymous quotes.

  • http://ameblo.jp/cluttered-talk/ Michiko

    Japanese highest bureaucrat people, who’re much priviledged, are often spoiled all through in their lives and become arrogant in consequence of this.
    Usually, everyone who had concerned with them would be very tolerate while theye’re getting a good mark on their school time exams, requiring no errand, condemning nothing.
    Current another one of Fukkosho who has been condemned for his inappropiate postings on Twitter, he might be the same, they had been always good at school, not so good after they started managing real matters, then only thing they should have learned to survive in actual work is, to be flattering onto anyone obviously powerful than themselves, to be arrogant when someone seems not to be able to concern with their vital fates, or careers, that’s what Japanese education and bureaucrat system have ever been making, but few exceptions.

  • gnirol

    He got what he deserved: giggles. The field the current govt is apparently not among the most advanced in is diplomatic appointments. I can’t fault Amb. Ueda for not having his English up to snuff. How many American diplomats appointed for political purposes speak Japanese? I fault him for not knowing his English is not up to snuff or being too proud, in a way that makes an observer want to giggle, to admit it and ask for an interpreter. A real diplomat knows how to get angry without appearing out of control. That is the whole point of diplomatic language vs. dinner table rants. Mr. Ueda is either unaware of that or this govt is trying to replace logical debate with bluster, a la right wing politicians in many other countries.

  • bwprager123

    It’s appalling that people want to claim the laughter was provoked by the imperfection of his English expression. The laughter was produced by the hollowness of Ueda’s defense of Japan’s human rights practices. The 99% conviction rate and streams of testimony, UN reports, sanctioned child abductions, & violations of basic human rights in courts, interrogations, prisons etc etc etc, all known to the attendees at this conference, make this bureaucrat’s performance and defensiveness a laughingstock. Japan does not have a decent human rights record; and the idiot’s claim is as empty as sewer drain on a sunny day.