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
  • DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER SEPT 8, 2009

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on September 15th, 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

    (This newsletter comes out a week late because I had trouble sending stuff to my mailing lists while on the road.  Sorry.  Now back home, out it goes.  Debito in Sapporo)

    Hi All.  It’s been more than a month since my last Newsletter (I’m down in Nagoya on business, typing from my hotel room), so a lot has built up.  Here is one thread you might find interesting:

    DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER SEPT 8, 2009

    SPECIAL ON McDONALDS JAPAN’S BURGER-PROMOTING CHARACTER “MR JAMES”

    Table of Contents:

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

    Intro to the issue:

    1)  McDonalds Japan’s new creepy “Mr James” burger campaign, featuring katakana-speaking gaijin

    2)  Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column Sept 1 2009 on why “Mr James” is a problem

    Protest begins:

    3)  NPO FRANCA protest letter to McDonald’s USA HQ re “Mr James”

    4)  NPO FRANCA’s downloadable protest letter in Japanese

    5)  “I Hate ‘Mr James’ Facebook page created (not by me), now at 232 members

    Reactions:

    6)  South China Morning Post on “Mr James” , quotes FRANCA

    7)  San Francisco Chronicle on McDonald’s Japan “Mr James” campaign, and similar ethnically-insensitive sales campaigns overseas

    8 ) TIME Magazine on “Mr James”, misses point

    9)  McDonald’s Japan CR Director Kawaminami Junichi responds to FRANCA, no apologies or retractions

    Repercussions:

    10) McDonald’s Japan “Mr James”: Reports of improvements

    11) Sports drink uses katakana- and KANJI speaking alien:

    Contrast with McDonald’s “Mr James” katakana-only character

    12) Quick follow-up letter to McDonald’s USA “Contact us” website re “Mr James”:

    Compare to Subway Sandwiches’ J-speaking NJ shills

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

    By Arudou Debito, Nagoya, Japan (debito@debito.org, www.debito.org)

    Freely Forwardable

    ////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    Intro to the issue:

    1)  McDonalds Japan’s new creepy “Mr James” burger campaign, featuring katakana-speaking gaijin

    Here’s a campaign by one of the world’s largest multinational corporations, McDonald’s, promoting stereotypes in a way quite untoward in this day and age (and no doubt would raise hackles with anti-defamation leagues if McD’s tried it in, say, its country of origin).

    The new NIPPON ALL STARS campaign (which seems to have kicked off a few days ago, on August 10, with its Tamago Double Mac), features a bespectacled, somewhat nerdy, gaijin speaking in broken katakana (i.e. accented) Japanese. “Mr James” is his name (following the convention of forcing all Western foreigners to be called by their first names, as opposed to last name plus -san, proper etiquette). And boy is he happy with Japan, with life, with the taste of Japanese-variety burgers at McDonalds. Hell, they’re so good that even this nerdy-looking gaijin (full-body cardboard cutouts available at every McD’s) approves of them through his poor accented broken Japanese.

    You even get a “James Tamaran (“it’s so good I can’t stand it!”) Card” and a chance to win from a million dollar pool if you succumb to his sales pitch. It’s more than a little creepy.

    Here are some scans, taken of materials photographed and collected at McDonald’s Yodobashi Camera Sapporo August 13, 2009 (click on image to expand in browser):

    http://www.debito.org/?p=4136

    ////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    2)  Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column Sept 1 2009 on why “Mr James” is a problem


    Japan Times Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2009

    JUST BE CAUSE

    Meet Mr. James, gaijin clown

    Not everyone is laughing at McDonald’s Japan’s latest wheeze, a hapless foreigner who’ll never fit in

    http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20090901ad.html

    By DEBITO ARUDOU

    “Director’s Cut” with links to sources at http://www.debito.org/?p=4303:

    If you want to sell stuff, it helps to have a recognizable “mascot” representing your company.  Disney has Mickey Mouse, Sanrio Hello Kitty, Studio Ghibli Totoro.  These imaginary characters grace many a product and ad campaign.


    However, McDonald’s Japan dropped a clanger on August 10 with its new burger meister:  “Mr. James”.


    Fronting the “Nippon All Stars” campaign (American hamburgers with a Japanese twist) for three months is a bespectacled grinning Caucasian wearing mismatched red shirt and chinos.  Created by ad agency Dentsu, “Mr. James” is touring the burghers of Japan, offering money for photo ops.  His blog effuses perpetual wonderment at all things Japanese.  His obsession is McDonald’s:  he’s a burger nerd.


    Not necessarily a problem so far.  But some non-Japanese residents have protested that this (human, not imaginary) character perpetuates Japanese stereotypes about other humans  foreigners.


    “Mr. James” (defying standard etiquette of addressing adults with “last name plus -san”, reflecting how Japanese manners aren’t always applied to Caucasians) effuses in fluent katakana only.  Everything is in broken accented Japanese.  “Watakushi nippon daisuki” etc.


    What’s the matter?  Put the shoe on the other foot:  Imagine McDonald’s, a multinational long promoting cultural diversity, launching a new “McAsia Menu” in America, featuring a deep-bowing grimacing Asian in a bathrobe and platform sandals saying, “Me likee McFlied Lice!”, or “So solly, prease skosh honorable teriyaki sandrich?”


    This would of course occasion protest from minority groups and the Japanese embassy (as happened in Hungary in 2003, regarding a racist TV show).


    And rightly so.  But so far the media reaction towards “Mr. James” has been mixed.  The Japanese press has ignored it.  The Western press has been nonplussed.  Respectable websites have quoted some Asian-Americans’ acidulous Schadenfreude:  “Karma’s a bitch.”  As in, Asians have suffered Western stereotyping long enough, so this is cosmic retribution towards Caucasians.


    Others fail to see beyond the weird or exotic (of course; not everyone lives here or understands what straight katakana does to Japanese speech).  Still others think it’s just humor, so let it go:  Get a life, you humorless killjoys.


    But this overlooks what activists are trying to do:  Give a point of view that goes against the mainstream  because Japanese media generally stereotypes foreigners in an unbalanced and unfair manner.  Mr. James is but the most recent incarnation, and an offensive one at that.


    I personally have three tests for whether stereotyping is offensive or unfair:


    1) Does it suit the purposes of humor and satire, or is it just mean-spirited?


    2) Has it any redeeming social value?


    3) Is there turnabout in fair play?


    Regarding 1), yes, I grant that “Mr. James” is disarmingly funny.  However, it still takes mean cheap shots at foreigners for a purported lack of language ability.  Allow me to elaborate from decades of personal experience what this stereotype does:


    When asked if the Japanese language is difficult, I say it isn’t.  What’s difficult is talking to Japanese people.  One has to overcome so much ingrained baggage  often instilled from childhood in approved textbooks  that foreigners, particularly the non-Asians, are “guests and outsiders”  illiterate, inscrutable, and incomprehensible.  Thanks to this, I daresay in the majority of random interactions, foreigners who do not “look Japanese” have to prove every day to new listeners that they speak Japanese just fine.


    It’s like having to untangle your headphones before you listen to music.  Every.  Single.  Time.  And “Mr. James” just pulls the knots tighter.


    Now 2) Redeeming social value.  For example, when we see stereotyped characters on TV show “The Simpsons”, fun is poked.  But eventually the characters become humanized, part of the neighborhood in The Simpsons’ universe.  Is “Mr. James” similarly humanized and included?


    Well, “Mr. James” has a backstory, but it’s one of “bedazzled tourist and guest”.  It’s not one of inclusiveness:  no matter how hard he tries (especially since McDonald’s rendered his every utterance in katakana), he’ll never be Japanese.  He is the perpetual “other”.


    Nothing new, since “othering foreigners” into a skin of differences is a national pastime.  But it’s not pleasant for Caucasians who actually live here, and now have to deal with the reconfirmed “Mister First-Name-Outsider-speaking-incomprehensibly” stereotype in public as far down as children (one of McDonald’s target customers).  Besides, how many will get the online backstory?  Most will only spot his banners and full-body cutouts and see him as a flat cartoon, not a potential neighbor.


    Will McDonald’s ever wink to the audience that it’s “all in fun”, and let on that “Mr. James” is a member of this society after all his hard work fitting in and fawning?  Highly unlikely.  Because by design he doesn’t belong here.


    That leads us to 3) “fair play”.  Is everyone “fair game” for stereotyping, and do the stereotyped have the chance to reply and balance views?  I would argue no.  The Japanese media very rarely gives a voice to non-Japanese residents, offering their perspective on life in Japan unadulterated.  In fact, the image most often transmitted is that Japan is that of the hackneyed “unique island society”  and foreigners, however long-established, even married to Japan, have enormous difficulty fitting in and expressing themselves.


    To test “fair play”, imagine if roles were reversed, with a Caucasian in Japan unilaterally poking fun at Japanese?  I can, from experience.  Outrage, even cries of racism.  Domestic media isn’t fair, and most non-Japanese who try to balance their praise with critique or criticism get tossed aside as “Japan-haters”.  Only “Japan-lovers”, as “Mr. James” is to the core, need apply as foreign shills.


    In sum, the “Mr. James” character is a “gaijin”  the embodiment of an epithet.  Something for Japanese to feel comfortable with, even if non-Japanese bear the brunt.  McDonald’s Japan is pandering to Japanese stereotypes without offering any sense of balance or inclusion.


    You are welcome to disagree and see this as not worth protesting.  I’m just making the case for protest and beginning a discussion.  What I don’t quite get is why people, especially those affected by this campaign, snarl:  “I personally don’t find ‘Mr. James’ offensive, so shut up.”


    That’s the thing about how one “takes offense”.  It’s not just subjective.  It’s subliminally contextual as well.  Read history.  Any number of media icons once seen as inoffensive now cause cringes:  The Yellow Kid.  Gollywogs.  Minstrel shows.  Jose Jimenez.  Aunt Jemima.  Little Black Sambo.  Stepin Fetchit.  Fu Manchu.  Charlie Chan.  Mr. Moto.  Plenty more.  You watch and wonder what people were thinking back then.


    Yet these characters survived for decades as mainstream icons, regardless of how overgeneralizing or degrading they might be to the ethnicities they portrayed.  That’s because those ethnicities did not speak up, or were not heard when they did.  So apparently nobody “took offense”.


    Times change.  Minorities assembled into pressure groups and shifted the very parameters of the debate.  Raising public awareness of how stereotyping affects them is precisely what made the stereotypes cringeworthy.  Even when there are lapses, such as Abercrombie and Fitch’s “two Wongs can make it white” Chinese-laundry shirts in 2002, minorities complain and product lines get discontinued.


    Protesters want the same thing to happen to “Mr. James” in 2009.  That’s what’s so weird:  Did McDonald’s seriously think there are no Caucasian minorities in Japan who might be affected or bothered?  That a multinational company, with decades of experience selling goods to other societies, can show this degree of insensitivity?  That nobody would cringe at the very sight of “Mr. James”?


    Let me quote Ben Shearon, one officer of the newly-registered lobbying group FRANCA (Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association; which, in the interests of full disclosure, your correspondent chairs):


    “The people complaining about this ad live in Japan, pay taxes here, and in some cases have naturalized and become Japanese citizens.  We find this campaign reinforces unwelcome stereotypes that affect our lives here.  I have been denied housing, bank loans, and even entry to businesses specifically because of my race/nationality.


    “By pandering to the ‘hapless foreigner’ stereotype, McDonald’s is reinforcing the idea that non-Japanese cannot speak Japanese or conduct themselves properly in Japan.  A multinational corporation like McDonald’s should be more careful about the subliminal messages they put out, and we are just trying to bring that to their attention.”


    That’s it.  We’ve made our case.  Still think that “Mr. James” is not worth protesting?  That’s your prerogative.  But don’t tell people who feel adversely affected by media campaigns to just suck it up.  That’s not how minorities finally gain recognition and a voice as residents in a society.


    McDonald’s Japan should have known better, and it is reacting to the pressure:  A letter in English (responding to FRANCA’s letter sent in Japanese, naturally) has Director of Corporate Relations Junichi Kawaminami claiming, “no offence was meant” (oh, so that’s okay then), but not apologizing or promising any changes.  Meanwhile, certain restaurants in areas with concentrations of non-Japanese don’t seem to be carrying the “Mr James” campaign.


    And suddenly “Mr. James’s” blog has hiragana too.  Maybe after enough complaints he’ll be a quick study in kanji.  If he’s not cringed out of commission.  And rightly so.

    ENDS

    Links to sources at http://www.debito.org/?p=4303

    ////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    Protest begins:

    3)  NPO FRANCA protest letter to McDonald’s USA HQ re “Mr James”


    To McDonald’s USA corporate headquarters:

    To Whom It May Concern:


    We write to you on behalf of FRANCA, a human rights group concerned with the rights of non-Japanese residents in Japan. Our goals are: 1) To eliminate negative public images and stereotypes of non-Japanese and multi-cultural Japanese; 2) To eliminate discrimination by race, nationality, ethnicity, and national origin; 3) To highlight the benefits of immigration and a multi-cultural society. FRANCA works to achieve these goals through sustainable and effective lobbying, networking and public relations campaigns aimed at educating the public. More about us at www.francajapan.org.


    We wish to bring to your attention a sales campaign launched this month by McDonald’s Japan that we find extremely problematic.


    The “Mr. James” character, representing the “Nippon All Stars” hamburger campaign, features a spectacled Caucasian narrating his love for Japan and Japan’s version of McDonald’s’ hamburgers. Our association finds the following things problematic:

    http://www.debito.org/?p=4153

    ////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    4)  NPO FRANCA’s downloadable protest letter in Japanese

    Here is the Japanese translation for FRANCA letter protesting the “Mr James” burger campaign currently underway at McDonald’s Japan. You can see the original English here.

    Please feel free to copy and send this letter to McDonald’s yourself via their feedback inlets on their website. Better yet, take it to your local McDonald’s doing this campaign, ask for the manager, and hand them this letter to express your disgruntlement. You can download the Word version of it here:

    http://www.debito.org/FRANCAMrJamesJpublic.doc

    Please also consider not buying food at McDonald’s for the duration of this (three-month) campaign. Maybe tell the manager that when you submit your letter.

    Talked to the media yesterday. An article on this issue should be appearing in the South China Morning Post tomorrow (Friday). It’s already appeared on Consumerist.com…

    http://www.debito.org/?p=4167

    ////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    5)  “I Hate ‘Mr James'” Facebook page created (not by me), now at 232 members

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=136293508102

    Join if you like.

    ////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    Reactions:

    6)  South China Morning Post on “Mr James”, quotes FRANCA

    “McDonald’s has obviously put a lot of money into this campaign as there are full-length posters and banners in every restaurant that I see as well as by the side of roads here, and the company is apparently not concerned that they are offending people and hope we continue to buy their burgers,” Franca chairman Debito Arudou, a naturalised Japanese born in the United States, said.


    “This is untenable in a Japan with ethnic minority residents,” he said. “They are being ill-portrayed by this stereotype and their lives may be affected by this careless campaign by one of the world’s most influential multinational companies.”


    McDonald’s Japan confirmed that it had received complaints about the campaign and said it was examining the matter. Similar complaints to its US headquarters have been referred back to the Japanese firm.


    “What really angers me is that no one involved in the process here thought that anyone would take offence to see a caricature such as this advertising their company,” Mr Arudou said. “Can you imagine the outrage there would be in the US or any other country if a restaurant chain used an image of a Japanese man with big, round glasses, buck teeth, geta sandals and a kimono telling people to `buy flied lice, is velly good! “That’s the sort of thing that gets embassies and global human rights’ groups angry and involved,” he said.

    http://www.debito.org/?p=4176

    ////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    7)  San Francisco Chronicle on McDonald’s Japan “Mr James” campaign, and similar ethnically-insensitive sales campaigns overseas

    SF Chronicle: “What’s the matter [with this depiction]? Put the shoe on the other foot,” wrote foreigner-rights advocate Debito Arudou (nee David Ardwinckle) [sic] in a column for The Japan Times. “Imagine McDonald’s, a multinational that has long promoted cultural diversity, launching a McAsia menu in America, featuring a deep-bowing, grimacing Asian in a bathrobe and platform sandals saying, ‘Me likee McFlied Lice!’ or, ‘So solly, prease skosh honorable teriyaki sandrich?'”

    McHatin’ It


    Of course, in the past, McDonald’s has essentially done just that. During last year’s Olympics, it unveiled a commercial featuring two Chinese kids engaged in high-flying wire-fu combat in an ancient temple, dueling it out with fists and feet and chopsticks over the last McNugget in the pack.


    Seeing that ad brought back memories of McDonald’s limited-edition “Shanghai” Chicken McNuggets, which briefly appeared on menus back in 1986. Served in a red takeout box stamped with cartoon-Chinese lettering, they came with a fortune cookie, chopsticks and three absurdly non-Shanghainese dippings: “duck sauce,” hot mustard and  teriyaki sauce.


    Worst of all, to complete the pseudo-Sino experience, the chain’s employees were forced to wear conical McCoolie hats  a bit of irony given their minimum-wage status  while commercials ended with mascot-clown Ronald McDonald throwing a karate chop to faux Asian music.


    Lame, ignorant campaigns like this one may seem innocuous. But they give people license to mock and exclude people based on racial or cultural difference, which in turn can lead down a slippery slope to more troubling outcomes…

    http://www.debito.org/?p=4319

    ////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    8 ) TIME Magazine on “Mr James”, misses point

    TIME Magazine: 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.

    http://www.debito.org/?p=4227

    ////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    9)  McDonald’s Japan CR Director Kawaminami Junichi responds to FRANCA, no apologies or retractions

    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, which is a bit of a disappointment. I presume he doesn’t want the discussion to expand to the Japanese debate arenas. Letter follows below.

    http://www.debito.org/?p=4243

    ////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    Repercussions:


    10) McDonald’s Japan “Mr James”: Reports of improvements

    McDonald’s Japan seems to be tweaking the “Mr James” campaign in a more positive direction: 1) Losing the katakana tray inserts, 2) Giving him a more endearing backstory, 3) Having him speak in hiragana too, not just katakana, 4) Not featuring him in more international neighborhoods of Japan. Readers, confirm, deny, or expand?

    These are all evidence that McDonald’s Japan is taking complaints about this campaign seriously. But I still say the campaign must be suspended entirely. They may be trying to make him a character with more redeeming characteristics. But he’s still, in my book, a gaijin  an epithet made flesh; that’s how he was designed, and now McDonald’s Japan, for better or worse, is saddled with him.

    http://www.debito.org/?p=4192

    ////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    11) Sports drink uses katakana- and KANJI speaking alien:

    Contrast with McDonald’s “Mr James” katakana-only character

    At a convenience store (Lawsons) in deep south Shikoku, we have a sports drink company which uses an alien character to promote its products. Visual:

    Note that like McDonald’s Japan “Mr James” Character, he too speaks katakana.

    But UNlike “Mr James”, even the space alien speaks kanji!

    Somebody please explain to me again why space aliens but not Caucasians are allowed to speak in more natural Japanese? We can’t use the “island society” mentality against fellow humans, can we?

    Either way, this helps to show just how alienating this “Mr James” campaign actually is.

    http://www.debito.org/?p=4306

    ////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    12) Quick follow-up letter to McDonald’s USA “Contact us” website re “Mr James”:

    Compare to Subway Sandwiches’ J-speaking NJ shills

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

    Hello McDonald’s USA (excerpt):


    You might be interested to read my column in the Japan Times talking about what’s wrong with McDonald’s Japan’s “Mr James” Campaign. Also articles in SF Chronicle, TIME, SCMP, and more. Perhaps it’s time to consider pulling the plug on this campaign before it embarrasses your organization any further?

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

    UPDATE: Even Subway Sandwiches lets their NJ character shills speak in proper Japanese. Why not McDonald’s Japan?

    UPDATE 2: McDonald’s USA responded within 24 hours with another “Dear John” letter, the same one sent verbatim to all complainants, stressing the lack of intent to offend and that we should take it up with McD’s Japan. Taraimawashi.

    http://www.debito.org/?p=4337

    Guess I won’t be eating McDonald’s again.  Pity.  I grew up with the stuff.  They lost a longtime customer.

    ////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    That’s all for this Newsletter.  More to come soon enough since we have more than a month’s backlog.  If you can’t wait, visit www.debito.org!

    Thanks for reading!

    Arudou Debito in Nagoya, Japan

    DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER SEPT 8, 2009 ENDS

    One Response to “DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER SEPT 8, 2009”

    1. Posts about race discrimination (best posts combined for review) as of September 15, 2009 | Discrimination Law News Says:

      [...] means that there are areas of their thinking that haven’t overcome their social programming. DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER SEPT 8, 2009 – debito.org 09/15/2009 Posted by debito on September 15th, 2009 UPDATES ON TWITTER: [...]

    Leave a Reply