DEBITO.ORG
Arudou Debito/Dave Aldwinckle's Home Page

New ebooks by ARUDOU Debito

  • Book IN APPROPRIATE: A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan
  • TIME Magazine on McDonald’s “Mr James” Campaign

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on August 28th, 2009

    Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in JapansourstrawberriesavatarUPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

    Hi Blog.  The “Mr James” issue even made TIME Magazine a few days ago.  Starts off fine, then skates into the territory of Straw Men and Silly Arguments (“unclean”?  Even I said this argument was silly when asked about it over the phone).  The last paragraph (“The “cute and unthreatening” American who eagerly returns to Japan with his daughter and is driven by a hunger to eat the same burger he ate in his youth … is as much an affirmation of Japanese food by McDonald’s Japan as it is unbelievable and unrealistic as a narrative. That’s why it’s a commercial campaign.” Really?) I just don’t get, no matter how many times I read it, sorry.  If someone could reinterpret that paragraph for me, I would appreciate it.

    Anyway, thanks for covering the issue, Ms Masters.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

    ========================================

    Not Everyone Is Lovin’ Japan’s New McDonald’s Mascot
    By COCO MASTERS / TOKYO

    TIME Magazine, Monday, Aug. 24, 2009
    http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1918246,00.html

    Mr. James is lovin’ being back in Japan. The exuberantly geeky American mascot of McDonald’s Japan latest ad campaign oohs and aahs over fireworks. His smile beams from his cardboard cutouts outside McDonald’s establishments across the country.

    But a growing number of non-Japanese who live in Japan are decidedly not lovin’ Mr. James. In a country known for its small foreign-born population — only 1.5% of 127 million — and restrictive immigration and naturalization policies, the new envoy for McDonald’s Japan is creating a stir among non-Japanese residents.

    A doppelganger of Steve Carell’s 40-Year-Old Virgin with glasses, Mr. James is a character invented by Japanese advertising behemoth Dentsu and McDonald’s Japan for its new burger line — the “Nippon All Stars” — campaign. The purpose of the campaign, running Aug. 10 to Nov. 5, is to promote four burgers available only in Japan. On his blog, found on the McDonald’s Japan website, Mr. James describes himself as a 43-year-old Japanophile born in Ohio with a penchant for travel, who, when particularly excited, generously treats people he doesn’t even know. (That seems to be a plug for the $1,000 cash prizes for 1,000 people who submit photos of Mr. James or people imitating Mr. James.)

    But elsewhere, Mr. James, dressed in his buttoned-up red polo shirt, tie and khakis, is seen as playing to Japan’s xenophobic tendencies. Annoyed expats have described the character as “white, dorky” and speaking “mangled Japanese.” The chair of The Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens’ Association of Japan, Arudo Debito — a naturalized Japanese citizen born David Aldwinckle — has officially protested the Mr. James campaign with a letter to McDonald’s Corporation headquarters in Illinois. Soon after the ads started to roll out, somebody set up an “I hate Mr. James” Facebook group, which now has 67 members.

    Debito considers the characterization of “a clumsy sycophantic ‘nerd’” an embarrassment. “If this were in a different country, and we had a Japanese in a [summer kimono] and [wooden sandals] saying ‘Me like Mcflied lice, please eato,’ we’d have the same sort of anti-defamation league speaking out and saying this is disparaging to Asians or Japanese,” says Debito. He says the campaign’s portrayal of non-Japanese as “unquestioningly supportive and culturally ignorant” will only make life more difficult for foreigners in Japan.

    On his blog, Mr. James posts travel plans — to places, such as Kyushu, where he visits McDonald’s restaurants — and ruminates about his favorite burgers. He bungles his attempts at written Japanese, and mispronounces words with a staccato-like butchering of the language. One online video shows him talking to himself while practicing from a phrasebook, proclaiming “horenso” (spinach) with a gesture. Mr. James has appeared in two commercials since the campaign began, in which he also mistakes words, for instance, yelling “tamago” (egg) in Japanese instead of a similar sounding word “tamaya”, which is shouted during fireworks.

    McDonalds Japan spokesman Junichi Kawaminami says that there is no official response to criticism of the Mr. James campaign [UPDATE:  READ OFFICIAL RESPONSE HERE]. He does, however, explain the story of the character, which appears in the first commercial. “Mr. James’s daughter was determined to go to Japan and study and so he looked at maps and got excited to go with her,” says Kawaminami. “Once he found out that McDonald’s was offering the Tamago Double Mac, it became the deciding factor.” Why? It was on the McDonald’s Japan menu years ago and became Mr. James’s favorite when he was a student in Japan. That, says Kawaminami, is when Mr. James became a great fan of Japanese culture and food.

    Some of the Mr. James criticism, however, seems a little thin. One comment on Facebook says that because Mr. James wears the same clothes everyday in August might suggest that foreigners are “unclean.” If we’re going to look at the clothing choices of fast food icons, it seems fair to point out that Ronald McDonald and Col. Sanders have been wearing their famous uniforms for half a century. There’s no doubt that the spectacle of the foreigner in Japan is an everyday occurrence in media. A foreigner’s response that he or she can use chopsticks or enjoys raw fish is met with smiles and amazement because — in some ways — affirmation of Japanese culture is stronger when it comes from outside, or is a non-Japanese perspective. But there is certainly no shortage of elegant, articulate Japanese-speaking foreigners in local media, from morning television programs to magazine advertisements for Japanese products.

    The “cute and unthreatening” American who eagerly returns to Japan with his daughter and is driven by a hunger to eat the same burger he ate in his youth — basically a double Big Mac with an egg on it — is as much an affirmation of Japanese food by McDonald’s Japan as it is unbelievable and unrealistic as a narrative. That’s why it’s a commercial campaign. To protest Mr. James as a stereotype of a minority population in Japan because the Ohio-native fails to speak or write Japanese fluently, dresses like a nerd and blogs about burgers only ends up underscoring the fact that there really aren’t a lot of foreigners who fit the bill running around Japan. For most foreigners in Japan who know no one like that — and who only see a burger mascot — it begs the question: Where’s the beef?

    ENDS

    14 Responses to “TIME Magazine on McDonald’s “Mr James” Campaign”

    1. AET Says:

      I don’t understand that last bit either. I think she fails to grasp that although perhaps none of us in Japan know someone like Mr. James, the general Japanese population will take his image as the standard foreigner. That’s why we’re protesting; there’s your beef.

    2. James N Says:

      What bubble does the writer of this article (Coco Masters) live in? Reeks of an apologist in MY OPINION. My name IS actually JAMES, and I’m going to avoid going there for a while.

      By the way Debito, Japan Today just referred to you as a non-Japanese – http://www.japantoday.com/category/picture-of-the-day/view/mr-james

      Some other comments about you on that page are out right false as well. Some blog posters are freaken idiots…..End of Rant

    3. AET Says:

      Looks like Nova wanted to hitch a ride on the Gaijin-stereotype train. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hw1q14QiGm4&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Ejapanprobe%2Ecom%2F&feature=player_embedded#t=14

    4. Frodis Says:

      Retroactively trying to make Mr. James into a tourist (as if that somehow makes it better) is treating us like we are stupid. If he was supposed to be a tourist, why not dress him like a tourist? I hate to get into the generalizing game and playing into stereotypes but Mr. James in no way seems dressed like a tourist. As much as I hate to admit it, he does seem to fit more into what I would imagine is the supposed stereotype of a NOVA teacher or an ALT of some sort. I have never seen, nor would I imagine, a tourist wearing a polo shirt and tie and moccasins. I won’t even get into the geeky otaku-yo greased hair.

    5. debito Says:

      BTW, the person who wrote the criticism about the “unclean” argument cited above replies on Facebook:

      http://www.facebook.com/wall.php?id=136293508102

      OK, maybe I went a bit OTT with my suggestion that the campaign might be implying that Westerners are unclean, but I wonder if the writer if the Time article read my post properly:

      Here’s my post:

      “Another issue I have with the blog is that he wears the same clothes every day (in mid-August). He’s being portrayed as a real person, rather than a pure, Ronald McDonald-like character, so what’s the reasoning there? Is it trying to imply that Westerners are unclean?”

      And from the Time article:

      “One comment on Facebook says that because Mr. James wears the same clothes everyday in August might suggest that foreigners are “unclean.” If we’re going to look at the clothing choices of fast food icons, it seems fair to point out that Ronald McDonald and Col. Sanders have been wearing their famous uniforms for half a century.”

      Just to clarify, unlike Ronald or Sanders he’s being presented as a real, living human being who’s travelling around Japan, so how about a fresh shirt sometimes?
      ENDS

    6. Tammy Says:

      I`ve been doing a lot of thinking about Mr James, and I think there are two points that define whether a minority is being misrepresented. These are balance and respect. It would not bother me so much if Mr James had an equally dorky Japanese friend, because then they would come across as two dorky but enthusiastic guys, rather than giving out the message “white people are incompetent dorks”. All cultures and nationalities have quirks and interesting differences, and I think these can legitimately be used for humour, provided that no race or culture is portrayed as being inherently better or worse than others. Balance is the key – being cool, nerdy, athletic, intelligent, witty, bumbling, whatever, are traits that don`t racially discriminate.

      The adverts fail the respect criterion because Mr James presents white people as something to laugh at, not laugh with or sympathise with. He isn`t very much different from Michael Rooney`s dreadful role in Breakfast at Tiffany`s – i.e., a gross, cruel and pointless caricature.

    7. HH Says:

      The recently invented back-story is that Mr. James is traveling with his daughter. So, where is she? Does she attend the Mr. James appearances, too?

    8. Tourist Says:

      @Frodis, #4

      “If he was supposed to be a tourist, why not dress him like a tourist?”

      And how do tourists dress, Frodis?

      “I hate to get into the generalizing game and playing into stereotypes.”

      Oh?

      “Mr. James in no way seems dressed like a tourist.”

      You mean he isn’t wearing the sandals, white socks, bermuda, Hawaiian t-shirt, sunglasses and baseball cap that all tourists wear?

    9. Ioannis Says:

      He doesn’t fail ‘to speak or write Japanese fluently’…rather his blog is written by a ghostwriter whose style literally makes fun of foreigners.Also I’d like to remind Ms Masters that he doesn’t write ‘about burgers’…He gazes at the statue of Shimizuno Jirocho, a knight-errant from the Bakumatsu and Meiji periods and shouts in his usual womanish manner :’I adore (those Japanese) manly father-like figures’…..patronizing???….Oh you bet!!I’d just add – A very patronizing way to address foreigners.

      By the way guys, there are some ‘refreshing’ news from our own Mr. James (why ‘ours’ you’d ask…well like it or not he apparently represents the whole foreign community in Japan, remember…)
      He is embarking on yet more sightseeing and here is his schedule:

      Tomorrow 29 august – Ushiku Daibutsu, Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture
      The day after tomorrow 30 august – Daibutsu, Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture
      The very near future – Osaka

      I personally can’t wait his coming to the ‘tamarandesu’ city of Osaka.And so are about 5 of my friends(we accept other enthusiasts as well).After all we want to welcome him to the city we call home.We won’t be wearing ‘Anonimous masks’ and won’t be shouting slogans.Just shake his hand and have a nice and friendly word with him(if he isn’t busy signing authographs)I’ll have ‘debito.org’ written on a postcard (perhaps one that states that racial discrimination is a crime) and I’ll try to give it to him, so hopefully he visits the blog and joins the debate with us.I was just wandering whether anybody else would be ready to greet him at the two other locations?

    10. yuki Says:

      はじめまして、このサイトはたまに見てましたが、このマクドナルドはひどいですね・・・・
      これはマズイ、とこのキャンペーンを見て思いました。

      話は横道にそれますが、外国人(特にイタリア系)を差別していると考えられるマンガを見つけましたがどう思いますか。
      http://hetalia.com/top.htm
      イタリアの民族性をカリカチュアしたもので、キャラクター自身は普通の描かれ方ですがタイトルが「ヘタリア」(ヘタレ+イタリア)と悪意を感じさせるタイトルです。
      ほかの国も、カリカチュアされている点があり、差別の可能性もあります。(もしかしたら、エスニック・ジョークを当方が過大に捉えてるだけかもしれませんが)

    11. Yonatan Says:

      “Once he found out that McDonald’s was offering the Tamago Double Mac, it became the deciding factor.” Why? It was on the McDonald’s Japan menu years ago and became Mr. James’s favorite when he was a student in Japan.”

      Let me see if I understand this correctly… The character studied abroad in Japan before, but still manages to mangle the language this badly? Things wouldn’t be so bad if he truly was a fresh-off-the-boat tourist, but by adding the previous visit bit, they give the impression that they are milking the old “no gaijin can ever learn Japanese” (because it’s too hard for them, they’re too stupid to ever comprehend it, or both…)

      It would have been better to just leave that out. Even if they weren’t trying to feed into any prejudices and stereotypes, the combination of bad traits in Mr. James doesn’t help otherwise. People take what they see on television very seriously in this country, even if it is intended only for entertainment… As someone living far away from “gaijin paradise” Tokyo in rural Kyushu, I don’t need anymore problems caused from stupid cultural misconceptions.

    12. Jean Patrick Says:

      I really expected much more from the agency Dentsu but it seems the guys there are really clueless. Money for Nothing…and their chics for free.

    13. kakkowarui gaijin Says:

      Being a non-PC country is part of what makes Japan so great.

      I think we’re barking up the wrong tree here. There is a difference between “politically incorrect” and “racism”. This is politically incorrect. This is not racist. Japan is sometimes racist and debito.org is great at finding racism and dealing with it. This commercial, however, is a fight not worth fighting.

      Not to brag but as a JLPT nikyuu I get sick and tired of dealing with foreigners, even JET/Eikawa veterans who can’t speak any Japanese. This commercial is complimentary to them. Big time.

    14. Covertghost Says:

      You can respond how we respond to stereotypical campaigns in America.

      Boycott them or protest his public appearances (get a group together and just stand outside the McDonald’s he’s visiting with signs showing your discontent).

    Leave a Reply