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).

    • 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

    • coligny

      When you have to be so tortuous to cover for a diplomat making a clown of himself… You are just making things worse… and boarding the failboat…

    • Loren Fykes

      Joseph, I agree with you assessment on why the laughter happened. I also agree that the media may make a big deal out of things, but it certainly isn’t right for a high-ranking diplomat to use such rude language with fellow colleagues. Are you suggesting that someone with that level of English shouldn’t be required to know how to say, “Please, be quiet. Please let me speak.” His behavior reflects his attitude, which is defensive and arrogant. Perhaps he should stick to Japanese when speaking or get a new job.

    • DGFtC

      If anything, that logic sounds like a stretch.

      There are a whole slew of 
things I love about Japan, but its politicians very rarely make that list. The fact of the matter is that Ueda’s outburst when confronted with an unfortunate truth about Japan that he would rather not accept or even address is nothing if not a relatively commonplace occurence. The blatant truth that he, like many others, chooses to stoically deny is, by my judgment and I’m sure many others’, what amounts to, at the very least, a laughable offence, especially when considered in context to what conference this was and what position he holds.


Furthermore, there is very little if any history of the U.N. being so juvenile as to be amused by something so relatively trivial as a poor command of a language. There is, however, precedent for them to laugh at such absurd remarks as Ueda made concerning Japan’s “standing” as “a leader” in “this field”. That’s not to say he shouldn’t be laughed at for holding such a high office in such a prestigious organisation while understanding so little of how to effectively and succinctly communicate. 

      If I could wish for one thing and have it come true, it would be for politicians here (and worldwide for that matter, but I live here) to accept that problems exist, and face them head on with coolheaded logic. Unfortunately, as has been demonstrated for many years, and most recently again by very high ranking Japanese government officials, that seems like a long, long way off.

  • 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.

    • Michael Craig

      He doesn’t deserve to resign. The UN should just fire his @$$!!

      • jazz350

        He is not a UN employee but an Ambassador representing Japan, so he cannot be fired!

      • lem

        He does not work for the UN, but rather for the Japanese government. He is the head of a Japanese delegation to a UN body and is speaking to fellow delegates. His English ability is fine.

      • NiseiShonagon

        It’s his apparently total lack of manners, respect for his colleagues or dignity that’s the problem here.

    • coligny

      It’s was the best and brightest they got…

      • Fortunately that’s not true. Japan has great people and even good politicians. I think one of the biggest problems Japan has is that the right people don’t get promoted. Those who play dirty get ahead, and the “nice guys” finish last. It’s a system/culture problem more than anything.

      • Harmel Guram

        It’s pretty much the same everywhere else in the world. The people with the least real-life experience live at the top of the pyramid in the clouds.

  • 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.

    • rob taylor197

      well said mate. How rude…

  • 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.

    • coligny

      Your point was ? because the problem of this situation is not really the “shouting” part… but the lack of restrain and knowledge of a diplomat. Truly rising to comical/parodic levels…

    • disqus_pkrRDJU42M

      Most “political discussions” are little more than glorified schoolroom brawls. The problem here wasn’t how he spoke, but what he said.

      The whole point to diplomacy is to persuade other people to agree to your way of thinking. Telling someone to “shut up” (even if they should have been quiet at the time) is insulting (by implying the other person is subordinate) and will more likely make enemies and lose friends.

      Ideally, Ueda-san will apologise to the person he was talking to and to the entire committee for his comments, and then retire to Japan (assuming he doesn’t get fired for worsening Japan’s already internationally considered weak position on human rights). If he doesn’t, the government should fire him and apologise instead.

      Unfortunately, Ueda-san is Japan’s representative and considering Japan’s general attitude towards its resident non-Japanese population, I think he excelled in that role.

  • 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?

    • DNALeri


  • 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.

    • DGFtC

      Convincing yourself that untruths are in fact reality, and then espousing them to the public and gov’t officials, however, makes things much worse.

      • Rockne O’Bannon

        No. MTB is right. The guy did his job. Giggling like a nebbish when other people are speaking is not making a point. Ueda found other people violating decorum and he called them on it… while violating decorum on his own.
        Remember when people used to criticize Japan for not saying NO enough? There is no pleasing everyone obviously, so you might as well do what is right. Ueda did that.

  • 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.

    • Rockne O’Bannon

      What “we” know of the legal system is that bad actors from other countries have run-ins with the law. That is no surprise. No gun play and car chases, but there it is.

      What “we” also know is that you can’t push the Japanese system around with pressure from a congressman or magistrate from one’s native country, so every once in a while, some entitled person finds out that they have no get out of jail free card in Japan. They get very vocal about that. “We” also know that “hard time” in Japan is not cable TV and snicker bars. I like that.

      Although I would not call Japan’s system “modern”, I don’t see that as a criticism. In a world full of countries handing out probation for murder, or death, or country-club like conditions for incarceration, in a world with countries giving out death or 20 year sentences for marijuana infractions, in a world offering death or dismemberment for petty theft, I happen to think that Japan’s justice system hits a nice sweet spot. I like it.

      I have yet to see anyone, especially a foreigner, convicted of a crime when they did not deserve it. I look around and see a stable society that has maintained control through two decades of recession, where other countries have just fallen apart to acrimony. Ueda ‘stands his ground’ and defends what should be defended.

      • Christopher Frey

        I’m skeptical that Japan’s legal system, with its otherworldly 99% conviction rate, does not imprison innocent people. Second, detaining someone for three weeks without the right of legal counsel has earned the ire of many legal experts, inside and outside of Japan. I have no problem with the asceticism of Japanese prison, nor frankly, with Japan toasting its own orderly society. I have certainly enjoyed that part of living here. The main point is that Japan’s representative to the world was anything but diplomatic in this case. He could have conducted himself in a way that didn’t raise eyebrows about the veracity of his presentation.

      • Mark

        “I have yet to see anyone, especially a foreigner, convicted of a crime when they did not deserve it.”

        How about his high profile case:

        Foreigner was imprisoned for 15 years, even though the prosecutors knew his innocence.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • Ron NJ

      Plenty of American diplomats in Japan speak Japanese – remember that dashing redheaded fellow who got fired for speaking poorly about Okinawans? His Japanese was just fine, and in fact good enough that he was able to participate in that Sunday morning show where they debate major policy points that have been brought up over the week. I can also personally attest that at least the one vice consul in Tokyo I have spoken to has quite good Japanese as well.
      It’s also a matter of policy that staffers of the Japan desk at the State department are functional in Japanese, so really no matter how you cut it, your point on that specific issue is lost, not only due to the fact that the working languages at the UN do not include Japanese but rather English and French, and as such it is expected that representatives to the UN be functional in one of the two, and also because what American diplomats may or may not do is not at all the issue here, see: the appeal to hypocrisy logical fallacy at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tu_quoque or the appropriately titled “Whataboutism” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whataboutism – both of which address this portion of your post quite appropriately.

  • 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.