By Dave Aldwinckle (

Human society is, obviously, is rife with variation. That is why in the field of education, especially when talking about cross-cultural social science, it is very important to ensure that generalizations (inevitable, yes, but one must be careful) do not become counterproductive--i.e. encouraging stereotyping that is intolerant of variance and exception, and that can potentially foster closed-mindedness.

The following example, of publisher Ohbunsha's education "Phrase-A-Day"-style calendar, arguably does multiculturalism few favors. For example:

This is the backboard matting for the wall calendar, with the daily date pages coming below it. It is a little messy, because my daughter stuck one of her "Cutey Honey" stickers on it and I spent the better part of a morning peeling it off.

The top reads, "1999, Ohbunsha", and the second and third lines: "What would I say at a time like this? English Conversation Dial 110" (Japan's version of dialing 911 for help). The very bottom indicates that the person consulted for English language is Tougo Katsuaki (I think) and the illustrations are by Hashimoto Masaru (I think). Fine.

But look closely. Note that the two phoning Japanese have small noses, whereas the English speaker has a nasal protuberance that is longer than his legs.

I thought it was a cute cultural conceit at first. But it got tiring as the days went on and the calendar pages turned. To show you what I mean, here are some examples:

There you have four pages. Now take into account that there are probably over 200 more of these drawings (not every day is illustrated, thank goodness), and WITHOUT EXCEPTION the Japanese have button honkers and the English speakers have schnozzles long enough to overbalance. A month later of this I had a clear feeling of warunori.

In terms of social science, publications like these are promoting fallacious attributions. Not all English speakers are White (statistically speaking, if you include the Indian Subcontinent, the majority of the world's English speakers may in fact be non-Caucasian) or huge-conked (nowhere is a fellow bitty-beaked Asian depicted therein as an English speaker).

To be sure, the calendar has its heart in the right place. The English is for the most part correct and the phrases, devoted to travel and momentary communications, are useful. And others may argue that this stereotyping is not necessarily negative and thus tolerable.

However, stereotyping like this is still egregiously incorrect and diminishes the purported educational value of the product. It should not remain unchallenged.

Publisher Ohbunsha is located at Tokyo Shinjuku-ku Yaraichou 78 (In Japanese:
東京都新宿区矢来町78、旺文社(株), phone 03-3266-6000.

Get in touch with them constructively if you feel so inclined.

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