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  • “Black Melon Pan” Afros as food: Insensitive marketing by Mini-Stop Konbini

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on December 13th, 2010

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    Hi Blog.  Here’s a letter from cyberspace on another potentially offensive marketing campaign portraying African features as black-bread Afros to sell food.

    No doubt we’ll get the defenders of this sort of marketing, e.g. “Japan has so few black people it has no sensitivity to this sort of thing”, “it’s not racist, at least not intentionally”, “lighten up guys, and stop foisting your cultural values on the Japanese”, or “it’s a Japanese character, not a real black character, so it’s not a problem”.  Any other naysaying?  Oh wait, yeah, “you just don’t get Japan”.  Anyway, check this out.  Arudou Debito

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

    November 20, 2010:

    Hi Debito, My name is XY, Founder and Director of [….] a marketing consultancy in [Japan] that researches Japanese consumer behavior on behalf of our international clients like Coca-Cola, VISA credit cards etc. As such, I often peruse the shelves of convenience stores to see what the latest trends are. I was shocked to find in my local Mini-Stop the all-new campaign for ブラックメロンパン, a bread that parodies a black man’s afro on the package. This is no small thing. Mini-Stop is a very large and growing combini chain and this is a signature campaign prominently advertised and displayed on their shelves.

    I read your JT articles often and appreciate all of them. I figured you are the man to bring light to this latest scandal. I also read your article on the McDonald’s campaign and agree wholeheartedly… however this Mini-Stop campaign is just so much more overt and insensitive… even more so than the EMobile monkey monstrosity.

    I have attached a couple photos below (click to expand in browser):


    Best Regards, XY.

    ENDS

    40 Responses to ““Black Melon Pan” Afros as food: Insensitive marketing by Mini-Stop Konbini”

    1. Ken Says:

      Plus who wants to eat hair? Stupid association of food with hair.

    2. feitclub Says:

      The E-mobile monkey was harmless. This is an actual marketing campaign relying entirely on racial stereotypes. Not cool.

    3. Bob Says:

      Slight correction – this is a Japanese man’s afro being “parodied,” (more accurately, joint marketing) and a comic book Japanese man in particular:
      http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E4%B8%AD%E9%80%80%E3%82%A2%E3%83%95%E3%83%AD%E7%94%B0%E4%B8%AD

    4. James Says:

      Really what is there to say about this?

      Thread after thread after thread about the racism/prejudice/nationalism of the Japanese has appeared on this website for years. I don’t see that anything has changed for the better at all.

      All this blatant racism is an accepted ingrained part of the Japanese psyche, for it to ever change there has to be a want to change. When people see nothing wrong with it, where on earth is the will to want to change come from? It’s not going to happen. Any argument from outside will remain just that, the ideas of gaijin who cannot understand the sensibilities of the japanese…..soto ideas..incompatible with nihonjinron and the uchi mindset.

      When the government flagrantly ignores/bypasses international treaties, UN conventions, schools teach racism, television promotes racism and the police foster it, what hope is there really?

      I think it is disgusting and appalling but I fear that if one is to live in Japan, one must put up with the intrinsic racism of the japanese, nothing is going to change it.

      Not in my lifetime or that of my half children.

      – Calm down. Save this outrage for when a real doozy of racist sentiment filled with genuine hatred comes along. This time it’s merely an insensitive ad campaign. Channel your energies to sending a letter of complaint to the seller or the marketer, if so inclined.

    5. Tom DeGroot Says:

      Dear Debito,

      I’ve been a long time reader since high school and I often agree with what you have to say regarding race relations in Japan. However, and I know I may be considered a “naysayer”, I have to disagree with you that this is racially insensitive. I’m a fan of the manga that this character is from (Jyoukyou Afro Tanaka) and he’s an ethnically Japanese character. Moreover, one of my good Japanese friends when I was studying abroad at Waseda last year had a full afro so this hair style is not limited to just people of African descent. As for calling it “Black Melon Pan”, I don’t think they meant to refer to black people as it’s clear from the photo that the melon pan is incredibly dark and almost black-ish in color (as opposed to standard sugar cookie melon pan) coupled with the fact that Tanaka’s afro is black and he’s acting as the mascot for this campaign. I’d would absolutely agree with you if, for example, the mascot was like a Sambo character or something like that but the facts are that afros are not exclusively African, the mascot is Japanese with a black afro and the melon pan itself is colored to reflect that. I’m sorry, but I just don’t think this is a case of insensitivity on Mini Stop’s part.

      I do really love the site though. Keep up the good work Debito.

      – Thanks. Anyway, this is not naysaying. This is what’s called offering reasonable counterargument. Thanks for it.

    6. Dan Kirk Says:

      Have you seen the onigiri? I posted a photo of it to FB on Dec. 1. This is not a flagrant attempt to belittle a race, but it flirts with the border of insensitivity. Since insensitivity and discrimination is such a common occurrence here, though, I’ll go with you, Debito. I didn’t know about the comic book until I looked it up on the, so my introduction the product and character came at the same time. It makes me uncomfortable.

    7. AJ Says:

      While quite possibly unintentional, ( ignorantly? ) that is truly disgraceful. I’m not of African or other dark skinned racial descent, but if I were, I’d be deeply offended by that.

      I hope enough people make a song and dance about this that it quickly goes the way of the dodo and the gaijin hanzai mag.

      I can’t help but smirk at the stupidity on display here. We are all born stupid and ignorant, but some regress.

    8. sendaiben Says:

      Yep, this is Afro Tanaka (which is actually a really good, nuanced manga -recommend it). I saw this weeks ago and paid it no heed…

      Nothing to see here, move along :)

    9. patrick2000 Says:

      Before anyone else gets too caught up in their own outrage, i’d like to point out that this bread is DELICIOUS! It’s not my favorite chocolate melon bread, but it’s in the top 5.

      Mini stop has several other products featuring other characters from the same manga.
      http://officialblog.ministop.co.jp/info/cat7508995/index.html

      This is sure to be a short lived product/campaign, which has a little upset given that this is such a tasty bread.

      – I’d expect nothing less from Japanese food but tastiness. I’d hope for a bit more tastefulness in the marketing, however.

    10. J.J. Says:

      Hello, all!

      As an African-American man, I have to laugh at the ad, since I was expecting the old Calpis and Dakko-chan Sambo-type ad to appear….well, not only does this look like something from a comic, the character looks like a Japanese with a punch-perm or natural Afro: there are some Japanese out there with some curly hair!! Lol. I am very grateful to everyone here being so perceptive to these

    11. Kevin S Says:

      When I read this headline I first thought that Japanese people also have black hair and can have afros. The picture of the man featured on the bread looks more Japanese than a stereotypical black person. I do think they should have been more culturally aware but I don`t think their idea was more than using the wackey hairdo to sell bread.
        

    12. Joe Says:

      @James

      You say:
      “Not in my lifetime or that of my half children.”

      Surely you’re not the same James who wrote to me last week:

      “Now what I don’t understand about you Joe is, why you are perfectly happy to have mixed race children all across Japan (including your own) labeled as “haafu” EVEN THOUGH THEY HAVE JAPANESE NATIONALITY….”?

    13. Kimpatsu Says:

      Hi, Debito, take a look at this:
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/13/japan-hitler-outfit-past?showallcomments=true#end-of-comments
      Vale!

    14. Andrew Says:

      Sorry, I don’t think racism is at work here. Not all black people have afros. Not all people with afros are black. Not all people with black hair are black. This particular character doesn’t even look black (and that was my first impression before hearing that he is indeed a Japanese character). “Black” on the package clearly refers to literal color, not race.

      Furthermore, this doesn’t depict afros or people with them in a negative light. It’s different from the Mr. James campaign, where the message was that white guys are funny because they’re stupid. The message of this black afro bread is: afros are AWESOME, and delicious.

      It’s not only not racist, it’s benign anyway.

      P.S. Is Afro Samurai racist too?

      – Okay, let’s insert the dreaded Mr. James in your point, and see if it undermines the essential logic similarly:

      ‘Sorry, I don’t think racism is at work here. Not all white people eat burgers or wear chinos. Not all people with burger predilections are white. Not all people with nerdy dispositions or incapabilities in Japanese are white. This particular character doesn’t even look like a typical white guy (and that was my first impression before hearing that he is indeed a corporate fictional character). “Mr. James” on the package clearly refers to a character’s name, not race.’

      I’m not sure I see how you’re saying one is but one isn’t problematic.

    15. Andrew Says:

      The difference is that Mr. James both looks white and factually is white. The character here doesn’t really look black and factually isn’t black. That is, he only looks black if you think that afro=black, drawing on your own prejudices.

      But okay, it’d be silly to say there’s no association between afros and black people. Let’s just go ahead and generalize and say that all afros are black afros. Then what? What about my other point, that it’s a benign depiction anyway (whereas Mr. James clearly was not)? Is eating a delicious afro an insult to black people? I’m asking this honestly, I really don’t know what your finding offensive.

      It’s like you’re saying you think afros=black, but if a company says that afros=black, then that’s racist. ??

    16. Graham Says:

      The bottom line is that this character is not black and this does not constitute as racism. If you want to accuse this for racism because he “sorta looks black” or that he is associated with the black race because of his afro, that would only encourage manga publishers to never publish anything that is even remotely associated with the black race. Sure the campaign is dumb enough with the idea of eating an afro hair, but let’s have some common sense here.

    17. OG Steve Says:

      Mimi-stop can answer, “Hey, it’s a popular comic!” The real question we should be pondering is, “Is this popular comic racist?” I haven’t studied the comic, so I don’t know, but I suspect it slightly is. Let’s remember that Afro does come from the word Africa.

    18. OG Steve Says:

      Meaning, let’s remember that when we say “Afro” we are in fact saying, “hair that looks like a black African’s curly hair naturally does when it is long (because their curls are tighter than most non-blacks.)”

      So, the comic “Afro Samurai” is in fact saying, “a character whose way of acting is like a Samurai, and whose hair looks like a black African’s curly hair naturally does when it is long (and let’s remember that ‘Japanese DNA’ people don’t have hair that is naturally curly to that extent, so Japanese people with “Afros” have paid money to have their hair unnaturally curled TO COPY people who have naturally tight curls like black Africans do.”

      Please don’t try to pretend that non-black people who have paid money for unnatural “Afros” are not copying black-African’s natural tight curls.

    19. Outlier Says:

      I find it strange how many people in Japan defend all things Japan, but if I did or said the same thing like this afro skit in the U.S., all hell would break loose and if these same people were there to witness it, they would be writing memos and blacklisting me, probably sueing because of lack of sleep etc. What a bunch of prizes we have here in Japan in the foreign community. There are many half black kids in Japan teased about their color or kinky hair, I seen it. Im sure the illustration would be offensive to them.

    20. sendaiben Says:

      The comic this character comes from is not in the slightest bit racist either. In the first episode the main character (Afro Tanaka) goes to Australia to meet his girlfriend, finds her sleeping with another Japanese guy, goes off in despair, and meets a bunch of cool people who take care of him, regardless of the fact that he speaks no English.

      It’s a really nice comic, and I really really don’t get what the fuss is here. Ministop bought the rights to a popular comic character and used it to promote a new product black (a colour, as distinct from green) melon pan. The character is not black, but rather Japanese. He happens to have an Afro hairstyle. Er, so what?

      Putting this much outrage into a complete non-issue REALLY weakens efforts to publicise and deal with more serious ones.

    21. James Says:

      @Joe

      I was being facetious to illustrate a point. I would never have children in Japan, aside from all half and prehistoric family law reasons I wouldn’t want them to go grow up in a regressive society laden with prejudice and racism.

      Do you remember when racist stereotypical images were used in marketing and little black sambo was read to kids at school in your home country?

      It’s still like that here and there are no signs of it changing anytime soon.

    22. AJ Says:

      For arguments sake; In the US or Canada, England, Australia or wherever, a product named using the word “black” is marketed with such a stereotyped image attached. Would it even get past base level screening by editors? I doubt it.

      No. Ignorant or otherwise, it’s not kosher to draw a line between black and Afro when marketing your product.

      As with the Nazi suit don Quixote example, being clueless doesn’t make it socially acceptable.

    23. Joe Says:

      @James

      Yes. As soon as I’d sent my previous mail, it occurred to me that you were probably joking. Apologies. :)

    24. Joe Says:

      @ OG Steve

      You said: “Let’s remember that Afro does come from the word Africa.”

      Indeed it does. But once you start having to remind people of connections between words, I reckon you’re in danger of becoming a little obsessed by this type of issue. “Africa” comes from “Afer”, an ancient people from North Africa who were decidedly Caucasian. So there’s not really any link between the word and the hairstyle, strictly speaking.

      – We’re starting to get off track. Bring it back.

    25. OG Steve Says:

      @Sendaiben – I agree, we shouldn’t get outraged about this minor point. Glad to hear you’ve read the comic, and it shows Australian folks helping this guy out altruistically.

      But, does the comic’s prologue explain how (and more importantly: WHY) this character decided to change his relatively-straight Japanese-hair into tightly-curled black-guy’s hair (uh, is it by using curlers every 2 weeks, or is it simply because he’s so cool that his DNA magically turned half-black?)

      If there was a comic called “Blue-Eyed Samurai” with a Japanese guy walking around sporting blue-eyes, I would think, “Dude, please take out those colored-contacts, stop pretending to be something you’re not. You can change your nationality, you can become an American or an Australian, just please don’t try to change your race.”

      To me, the author of this comic obviously “blacked-up” his character to make the character seem extra-cool, just like some Japanese Jazz musicians wore black-face make-up in the 80s to seem extra-cool. Does anyone have links of a “Japanese-race” person born a real naturally-occurring Afro with curls as tight as “Afro-Samurai” sports? No? Then let’s admit that his Afro is fake, this character was “blacked-up” just as many comic characters in Japan are “whitened-up” with red-hair, blond-hair, etc., to be extra-cool.

      And about actual Japanese folks who try to look like Non-Japanese, I have noticed a strange inverse-proportion:

      Most Japanese “Yankees” who dye their hair blond DISLIKE “gaijin” relatively MORE than the average Japanese person does.

      Most Japanese “Gyarus” who dye their hair blond and wear blue colored-contacts DISLIKE “gaijin” relatively MORE than the average Japanese person does.

      Most Japanese “Rappers” who tan their skin dark and pay for fake dreadlocks DISLIKE “gaijin” relatively MORE than the average Japanese person does.

      It seems that most Japanese unconsciously DISLIKE the people they are unconsciously copying, it’s totally strange.

      Back to “Afro Samurai”: if the comic was called “Modern day samurai in Australia”, and the character had natural un-permed black hair, if he was NOT trying to look black, than we wouldn’t be bothered by the comic or the mini-stop campaign at all. It would simply be a Japanese guy with straight Japanese hair on the package, no problem.

    26. jonholmes Says:

      Why an afro with “black” bread though? What is the association between these two words in the mind of the marketing genius who thought this up? I think we know the answer.

    27. Bob Says:

      James, every society is laden with prejudice and racism and has its share of problems. If you let that control where you live, the bigots in question win. I say live where you want to live, and if you encounter bigotry do what you can to shut it down. It’s not a battle you can ever win anywhere, but it’s worth fighting rather than running away.

    28. Allen Says:

      I think that this may have been more sensitive, but I also think we should just move on. I think the more time we spend bickering about the issue, the less time we have on more important issues. Yes, this thing is a little odd, and could have they marketed it a little better? Yes, but let’s fold our hand for now and then bet like crazy when we get the double ace.

    29. Allen Says:

      Actually, when it comes to “more important” this comes to mind:

      http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20101214hn.html

    30. Andrew Smallacombe Says:

      I think the main problems here are:
      1) The association of afro-hairstyles with black people
      2) The use of a character (Japanese), who happens to sport an afro-hairstyle, together with the word “black”

      Much like the g-mobile ad with the monkey, PROXIMITY was the problem. Not enough thought put in to how associations are made.

      Mini-stop should have thought this one through a bit better.

    31. James Says:

      @OG Steve, right on brother (is it ok to use ebonics???) I agree 100% with you.

      @Bob, you are absolutely right, every country does have prejudice and racism, my grandparents fought it wars to prevent its spread in my home country. That’s why I was raised to know that one should never be judged on race and that stereotyping is bad. Of course I wasn’t raised in some fantasy land of roti rainbows, there still exists an element of racism but the following also exists:

      1: For every racist protest there will be MORE anti racist protesters.

      2: There is no racism in the mass media (if something was construed that way it would be shot down in seconds)

      3: Racism isn’t used to sell products.

      4: There are laws to protect victims of racism.

      5: Schools don’t portray other nationalities in a derogatory way.

      6: The government isn’t complicit in prejudicial activities

      7: Schools teach about other cultures and religions.

      8: Nationalism is not encouraged in schools

      …I could go on all day.

      I chose where to live not knowing what I was getting into, if I had known what Japan was I would have headed for the exit as fast as possible, coming here has been one of the biggest mistakes of my life, thankfully I am in the process of getting out.

      If one encounters ingrained bigotry from the majority of a nation, leaving should not be considered as “running away” rather making the right decision. Why would one want a constant running battle against something so archaic when there is a NORMAL life waiting elsewhere? The constant crap about racism in japan is an absolute joke. If people want to stay and battle against it, that’s their prerogative, but it seems a bit like getting blood out of a stone……..see cop stop thread to get a visual of how pathetic it is.

      @Andrew,

      That’s just the problem, mini stop did think it through and thought there was nothing wrong with it.

      @Joe
      ;)

      With that said, I’m having my Robertson’s Blackcurrant jam, [sarcasm] how I miss the golliwog labeling ……………..[/sarcasm]

    32. Ben Bullock Says:

      OG Steve

      Most Japanese “Yankees” who dye their hair blond DISLIKE “gaijin” relatively MORE than the average Japanese person does.

      Most Japanese “Gyarus” who dye their hair blond and wear blue colored-contacts DISLIKE “gaijin” relatively MORE than the average Japanese person does.

      Most Japanese “Rappers” who tan their skin dark and pay for fake dreadlocks DISLIKE “gaijin” relatively MORE than the average Japanese person does.

      What evidence do you actually have for that statement? Did you do a survey of attitudes to foreigners of Japanese “yankees” and “gyarus” and “rappers” or something?

    33. jonholmes Says:

      OG Steve, you said
      Most Japanese “Gyarus” who dye their hair blond and wear blue colored-contacts DISLIKE “gaijin” relatively MORE than the average Japanese person does.

      Most Japanese “Rappers” who tan their skin dark and pay for fake dreadlocks DISLIKE “gaijin” relatively MORE than the average Japanese person does.

      Have you got any experiences or stories to back this up? I m not doubting you, it’s just that I used to think the same thing but after I met some it seems more like surprising disinterest (ie. these kids are maybe not changing their looks out of any love or deep interest in foreign folks, though then again some are) than dislike per se. Some liked me, some ignored me, but that’s just my experience.

      Its just a fashion victim look anyway, though one could argue some shallow slaves to fashion may not all be particularly deep sociological thinkers, but I cannot prove this either. No deep meaning,after all.

    34. OG Steve Says:

      Just a pattern noticed over the course of 13 years here interacting with a wide range of people. Call it an unprovable unscientific personal survey with no evidence.

      When making friends here in Japan, I simply have experienced relatively LESS cases of race-related-rejection from “Japanese looking” Japanese, and relatively MORE cases of race-related (straight out “Gaijin Kirain da”) rejection from the Japanese folks who were unconsciously COPYING “gaijin” hair/skin/eye-color.

      It’s simply my experience and my opinion. If your “survey” shows different results, feel free to share your experiences.

      – Or not. We’re getting way off track.

    35. Alex Case Says:

      I really think you all could have taken the effort to look at the comic before commenting, especially the person who wrote the post. It’s not exactly difficult to find a copy of this comic in Japan. Or is it just more fun to be outraged?

      I haven’t read the comic for a couple of years, but it is one of my favourites. I never once wondered why he has an Afro in the comic. I wondered much more why he has a deer head on his bedroom wall. I can say that it certainly has nothing to do with wanting to look black, because his only interests are trying to get laid and ramen. It also certainly isn’t supposed to make him look cool either, because he is about the least cool manga character ever. My only guess is that the joke is that everyone does indeed wonder why he has an afro and assumes an explanation is coming, but it never does.

      – So the manga mitigates the merchandizing?

    36. Norbert Nemes Says:

      Is this a joke?

      The character is Japanese and not black.
      The melon pan is black, so calling it “BLACK melon pan”
      seems to make sense to me. Or am I an insensitive racist
      bastard?

      Let’s organize a campaign to ban white chocolate, because they
      usually sell it with European looking motifs on the package,and
      as such, it mocks the white race. Chocolate melts -> white people
      are pussies. RACISM!

      Or even better, let’s organize a campaign to ban pool (billiard)
      because it is obviously racially charged and motivated game. I mean,
      the end goal is for the white ball to knock the black ball off the
      table. How insensitive! How racist!

      Is there a black person here that is offended by an afro-wearing Japanese
      guy being the front-man for a black melon pan, or is it just non-blacks with
      too much free time on their hands and trying to find racism no-matter how
      large a stretch of the imagination it requires? How condescending is that.

      Tom, SendaiBen, great comments.

      C’mon people! We are still being carded at hotels and on the streets, denied
      service etc. because we don’t have east-asian looks. Now that IS racism.
      We should stop wasting time on such non-issues.

      – Then relax and stop wasting time writing so much about it. Ignore this blog post. There will be things like this popping up from time to time on Debito.org. That’s the nature of discussion — probing what issues are worth taking up and what aren’t. The consensus on this one seems to be that this isn’t.

    37. jon Says:

      It’s a minor issue, but its the tip of the iceberg of a mindset that “anything goes” re color, racial characteristics, e.g. Black pan= Afro, or nerdy white guy otaku in Japan= eternal Katakana speak (Mr James).

      Hey, why not sell bananas as “Japanese fruit”? It doesn’t matter right? No one is going to be offended.(sarcasm obvious)

      OK, I m getting worked up here but more thought needs to go into the marketing minions’ minds when they “free form” (actually just recall tired old cliches) in their brainstorming sessions. Methinks what gaijins in Japan might think doesn’t count to said minions as the gaijins are a powerless demographic, right?

    38. Jonadab the Unsightly One Says:

      When I read the first part of your writeup (the summary part, on your main page), my gut reaction was, that might not necessarily be racist. I mean, people often scream “racism” where there’s no racist intent, and in a culture where the most famous superhero (heck, the most famous fictional *character* among children), a protagonist, has a head made out of a bean-jam roll, it seems entirely plausible that an advertising campaign for a black bread product could use a black man with an afro on the package in a way that is not really racist.

      But then I clicked through to the whole article, with the pictures, and my argument went to pieces.

      To the people who say the character is Japanese (not black), I ain’t buyin’ that one. Do you see those lips, those ears, and that nose? Have you ever seen an Asian with features like that? I have not, in all my born days. The character is *obviously* drawn to look African, so much so that you can actually tell that he’s specifically West-African.

      That in itself wouldn’t make the depiction racist (sure, bread for hair is weird, but it’s weird in a Japanese way, and anyhow weird is not the same thing as racist), but the excessively angry and almost demon-like depiction in the third picture (are those flames for teeth, or what?) is very hard to defend. If there’s an innocent explanation for that, I’d like to hear it.

      – Manga-esque style of exaggerated facial expressions?

    39. Ari Says:

      http://aramatheydidnt.livejournal.com/2399799.html

      That’s all I have to say.

    40. Drea Says:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afro_Tanaka

      not even about black person

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