McDonald’s Japan CR Director Kawaminami Junichi responds to FRANCA

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Hi Blog.  NPO FRANCA received this morning a response from McDonald’s Japan Director of Corporate Relations, a Mr Kawaminami Junichi, regarding our protest letters in English and Japanese on the “Mr James” sales campaign.

I appreciate him taking time to respond, but he toes the line he narrated to various world media stressing the lack of intention to offend, again without discussing any of the possible ill-effects to NJ residents from stereotyping.

He also only answered in English, wish is a bit of a disappointment.  I presume he doesn’t want the discussion to expand to the Japanese debate arenas.  Letter follows below.

Meanwhile, I have devoted my next Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column to the “Mr James” phenomenon and what it might mean, with a historical context.  Out Tuesday, September 1, get a copy!  Arudou Debito in Sapporo



31 comments on “McDonald’s Japan CR Director Kawaminami Junichi responds to FRANCA

  • Kudos to everyone for keeping up with this. I noticed FRANCA made it into Time Magazine’s online version, which is, to me, a pretty big deal. Good job, everyone.

    — Yes. I’ll have that up tomorrow! Thanks.

  • Question: As I recall, an English letter was sent to the US, and a Japanese letter was sent to Japan. As a response from Japan (Shinjuku), I think a Japanese response would be more appropriate. (Depending on the circumstances, some may take offense at this.)

    “[…] I can only assure you that no offense was meant.”
    Did anyone ever suggest otherwise? Of course no offense was intended. He is missing the point. For ample reasons already given, many were and are offended. This letter does nothing to address those issues. We appear to be speaking past each other without real comprehension of the major issues.

  • Michael Weidner says:

    I like how he says more than once that the intention was “not to offend”, however he does not go as far as to say that a)he/McD’s was sorry for possibly offending, and b) that the concerns raised would be looked at.

    Basically, if reading between the lines, it says “Sorry your feelings were hurt. We didn’t want to hurt your feelings, but if they were, we take no responsibility”.

    Anyone who takes a University course in Communications can tell you that it is not the responsibility of the listener or audience to make sure that the messgae was conveyed correctly; it is up to the speaker to make sure that the message is correctly conveyed. While they may not have meant to portray stereotypes and perpetuate that foreign people cannot speak Japanese, they did. As the speaker, they should rectify their error and to date, they have not. Being a good corporate citizen, it is their duty to make sure that none of their customer base is alienated; not only because of sales, but because it is what should be done.

    I think this also speaks as a whole to the underlying prejudice still rampant here. If a large corporate body thinks that something like this will not offend, then obviously there’s something wrong with the bigger picture. I’m glad that FRANCA is working hard to make sure that this kinda thing isn’t gotten away with, but just them isn’t enough. Maybe this can be a rallying call for everyone to speak up about what goes on and how they’re treated. Especially since this is election season 😉

  • I presume he doesn’t want the discussion to expand to the Japanese debate arenas.

    Of course! McDonald’s has always been good with PR.

  • Very little surprising in this letter really.
    As Debito points out he goes to great lengths to point out that “no offence was meant” (which is fairly self-evident). I don’t think anybody here, or elsewhere, was accusing them of doing this on purpose!
    What is disappointing is that there is again no mention of doing anything to rectify the situation.
    The “I didn’t mean to” excuse (by itself and instead of a “sorry”) hasn’t worked for me since I stopped counting my age with my fingers. I sometimes wish it did though: I could be riding my bike and knock somebody down while I wasn’t looking where I was going, but I wouldn’t even need to apologise to them, I just need to explain that it’s okay because I wasn’t actually “aiming” for them. [That example may be exaggerated for dramatic effect, but I think the comparison still stands]
    I think what is wanted now is some form of apology and preferably some action to make amends.

    There is a way McDonald’s could pour oil on the waters while saving face (and money). What do people think about introducing a second gaijin into one or two of the CMs? A “friend” of Mr. James’ who lives in Japan and sometimes guides him around and speaks better Japanese. Also, someone could give Mr. James a first name – I vote for “Roger”, because Roger James was my English teacher in college. Any other ideas?

    On side (and more than slightly pedantic) note, the letter itself shows the kind of poor grammar that only a native speaker would make (especially one who has spent too much time studying “marketing” and not enough time studying “English”).

  • This response is business-spiel, a letter written in response to a complaint, but that mentions multiple times that it’s being written to address FRANCA’s concerns, in hopes that it may allay some of those concerns. Yawn.

    I would like to see two things happen: (1) In addition to ENG news sources like Time, a JPN news source should pick up this story (McD has Japanese media by the short and curlies, so that may be a tall order, no pun intended.) and (2) I would love someone to divulge what in the hell Dentsu was thinking when they conceived this ad. Kawaminami himself doesn’t really seem to fully understand what the hell the campaign is…

  • Odorikakeru,
    re: native speaker,
    I believe he’s a Japanese native. Replies in English to something spoken or written in Japanese is what most here do.
    Slightly off topic but it’s almost as when talking on the phone. Fine in Japanese until they ask for your name and they hear it’s not a Japanese sounding one.

  • Yes, a completely unsatisfactory response. If there was “never any intention to cause offence”, I can assume that there still is no intention to cause offence, which means that if the campaign is indeed causing offence, it must be pulled.

    When I saw the letter, my first reaction was that it was rude to respond in English, given that the complaint had been made in Japanese. The English response seemed to be another example of the message being conveyed through the campaign – that foreigners can’t handle Japanese.

    But the more I think about it, the more I feel that that’s our fault. The whole reaction to this campaign has been conducted in English (although myself and some others did send Japanese messages to McD’s). This blog is in English, the comments on it are in English, the Facebook group is in English, the wall posts on it are in English, and the story has been picked up by the English-language media. It is therefore hardly surprising that the response from McD’s Japan is also in English.

    This is not an attack on anyone (I’m as guilty as anybody), but I’ve started to realise that until the activities of FRANCA etc. are conducted in the language of this country, our views will continue to fall on deaf ears.

    — FRANCA sent the letter in Japanese. In my opinion, the answer should have come in Japanese. Again, that I believe is because McDonald’s Japan wants to keep the debate in English and not give the Japanese media something to play with.

  • If we try to interpret Mr.Junichi’s letter….ups sorry…..Kawaminami-san’s letter…[invective deleted]……it is a SLAP IN THE FACE.
    [invective deleted]
    Now on a more serious note, this letter is a barometer of the powerlessness within japanese society of the gaijin in general and of your organization, Debito in particular.[incomprehensible sentence deleted]

    And a very important question that the semi-automatic response of ‘Junichi Kawaminami’ [ditto] provoked.I’ll write it in capital letters, so do imagine that I’m shouting everyone, it is my exact intention…


    For which clarification we are all most appreciative, dear Mr. Kawaminami-san…

    — Er, tone it down?

    I approved this post because as the author points out, it is now clear that “James” is the character’s first name.

  • If the letter was sent only in Japanese (in Japan) it should have been answered in Japanese. If it was sent in Japanese and English (in Japan) then I can understand him answering in English.

    — It was sent in Japanese in Japan.

  • Well, it might be a good idea to put up a translation of the letter in the Japanese section of the blog, just to make sure the information is at least available somewhere in both languages. (Personally, getting a response in English when the original statement is in Japanese is one of my major pet peeves, regardless of the setting. But that’s another story…)

    — Volunteers welcome to translate. Sorry, getting ready for a three-week road trip starting Friday.

  • His reason for the character sounds like propagating a racial stereotype that already exists in the minds of most Japanese people. Whatever it their reason for the campaign it was insensitive and shows that they really don’t care if they offended anyone. It is no wonder McDonald’s is the epitome of greedy, exploitative corporations across the globe.

  • He might be one of those Japanese guys who can speak some English and whenever they get in contact with a foreigner in Japan who can speak Japanese their brain cannot but react with replying in English only.

  • Well that letter doesn’t say very much!

    Its a bit curmudgeonly to insist on a Japanese reply though. He’s surely aware that Debito is a native English speaker, he’s replying in part on behalf of the US McDonalds, and he also states that the letter is likely to become part of the existing online “debate”, predominately an English language debate at present.

  • And that’s part of the problem: this letter is an answer on behalf of the US McDonalds, which isn’t really the McDonalds in question. Until there is a response in Japanese, I would still consider the complaints made in Japanese to McDonalds Japan unanswered.

  • Sorry Debito, I never meant to be direspectful towards you or towards your great blog by using harsh language.I know it’s wrong and I know it’s counterproductive…So I actually thank you very much for not publishing some of the things that I said.I really admire the fact that despite the many difficult situations that you’ve been through, you always manage somehow to keep it cool…So in the future even if I get angry by an injustice as in this case, it won’t happen again, honest!
    At least now we proved that James is indeed his first name, and ‘Mr.’ is a joking and patronizing way to address a foreigner, rather than a formal address.
    You do an amazing job…Keep up the good fight!

  • This may be naïve, but why couldn’t the media pick up on this, despite being English? I’m fairly aware of how things can be “lost in translation”, but can’t the letter (from a prominent name brand) and a bit of FRANCA’s momentum be enough to break this more publicly? Or is this similar to Lucas’ “Jar-Jar Binks” and the NAACP?

    — I’ve sent this letter (Japanese version) to my J media lists, and got one bite from a J newspaper, which went nowhere. It’s not an issue they want to take up.

  • McD has Japanese media by the short and curlies

    Thanks Peter for teaching me a new phrase!

    Replying to this letter in English is PR 101, as is not apologizing. They know this will just die away if it’s being brought to their attention by foreigners and groups made up of foreigners.

    This guy says “James” fell in love with Japan and it’s food. So why is he eating at McDonalds?

  • Well we have succeeded in getting the attention of McDonald’s Japan corporate relations and Time magazine. I interpret this as progress. Small steps but very encouraging. Thank you Debito.
    Is there anything else we can do to get it picked up in the J media? Are there any PR professionals on this blog? What if we translated McDonalds’ reply into Japanese and sent that to your J media list — in addition to the original Franca letter?

  • It doesn’t matter whether or not he INTENDED to cause offence; the fact that he HAS caused widespread offence is sufficient reason to pull the campaign. Or counterbalance it with a bucktoothed Mr. Moto “Me raikee flied lice” advert…

  • Google Blogs Alert for: link:

    Eurasian Sensation: “Mr James” gets gaijin in a tizzy
    By Eurasian Sensation
    There’s an interesting debate going on about racial stereotyping in advertising right now; interesting because it is a reversal of the usual paradigm. McDonalds have a new mascot in Japan, named Mr James. He’s a nerdy tourist who loves …

    Eurasian Sensation –

    Well, At Least it’s Not Pot-Headed, Child Molesting Foreign …
    By WangKon936

    Meet Mr. James, McDonald’s newest mascot in Japan: Per the blog The Escapist: Baka gaijin! McDonald’s in Japan is having a little fun with.

    The Marmot’s Hole –

  • “I’ve sent this letter (Japanese version) to my J media lists, and got one bite from a J newspaper, which went nowhere. It’s not an issue they want to take up.”

    That’s a shame, but not a surprise, considering how they tiptoed the coverage of “Supersize Me” some years ago.



  • Junichi’s letter was well worded. Let this be a learning experience for all of us.

    Summary of what we learned;
    -He replied to a letter in Japanese (from a Japanese citizen) with a letter in English. He can be more vague in English, and this will make it harder for the Japanese media to run with it.
    -He called the character “James”, so we know that this is a first name.
    -He did not apologize, only tried to explain – w/o actually explaining. In Japanese, this makes sense. If you want me to explain, I can – just let me know.
    -Note that he cites the “wide variety of opinions in feedback forums” as to whether this is offensive (he is addressing the forums, NOT your letter) …so if Japanese people were not offended, then the majority of people have no problem with this campaign….

    Japan mostly does not have a concept of minority rights… [slew spurious and incorrect claims and overgeneralizations deleted]

    The similarities between 1950’s U.S. treatment of minorities and modern day Japan are really quite striking. Still, the GOJ is doing everything possible to slow down the influx of foreigners into Japan, and the inevitable elevation in status that some will achieve. In 1970’s U.S. offices, many white men dreaded having a black boss/supervisor. Companies knew this, and largely blacks were not promoted to supervisory positions. Do any of you know a racial minority kacho, bucho or senmu in a Japanese company managing Japanese men? Even today, most Japanese men find being supervised by a ‘foreigner’ to be demeaning. Most successful foreigners in Japan are succeeding ourside the corporate mainstream (Academia, Foreign language related fields, ethnic restaurants – you get the idea. When the growing number of mixed-race children start getting jobs at sony, panasonic & mitsubishi, and interacting with ‘average’ Japanese people on a daily basis, THEN I believe we will start to see change.

    Back to McDonalds: The marketing department at McD Japan is monitoring various sites, analyzing comments to its new campaign. W/O acknowledging FRANCA or other sources, they will adjust the campaign slightly to address some of the more offensive parts (writing only in katakana will change to incorporate more hiragana, maybe some kanji) while allowing the campaign to run its course. Also, they will NEVER apologize or admit wrong.

    End: The current missteps by McD’s are growing pains, evidence that Japan has a long way to go in improving its understaning & treatment of its minorities. I expect this kind of thing to continue, and only get mainstream (Japanese) attention when non-ethnic-Japanese populations reach more than 10% of the total population. I do not want to discourage the protestors, I just hope you all understand we have a LONG way to go still, but like the biblical moses, do we really have choice in the path we take?

    Keep up the good work Mr. Arudou!

  • Debito-san: Maybe you should remain to Mr. River-South that you are Japanese. It is extremely insulting that he replies to you in English. River-South cannot go beyond the “Gaijin” stereotype. As a Japanese association, FRANCA should demand a reply in Japanese.

  • I agree with Lepanto that as a Japanese association FRANCA should demand a reply in Japanese.

    By the way, Lepanto, I would like to become a paying customer of your lawyer friend. Can you please tell me his name and number? 🙂

  • I found the article below very interesting and am posting it here for archival purposes. McDs vacilates between cultural insensitivity (towards white nerds, ala Mr. James) and hypersensitivity (towards muslims as per the article below). In both instances they get it wrong and no one is happy. The big difference is that McDs did not capitulate on Mr. James.

    Pig toy is back on the menu
    Figure to be added to zodiac set after public – including Muslims – derided its removal
    By Leow Si Wan, Straits Times Jan 22, 2010
    BOWING to demands from the public, fast-food giant McDonald’s has decided to add a pig toy to its latest promotion after leaving it out initially.

    The figure was to have been part of a 12-character Doraemon set depicting the animals of the Chinese zodiac calendar, but the chain replaced it with a Cupid toy when the promotion began a month ago.

    It said at the time that it had done so in order ‘to be sensitive to the Muslim customers’.

    But the move was derided by many Singaporeans, including Muslims, who felt it to be unnecessary.

    Chinese Singaporeans complained that the pig is part of the zodiac, and that leaving it out makes little sense.

    Many said they had wanted to buy the whole collection, but had decided against it, as the set would not be complete without the porcine toy.

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