Discussion: How about this ad by COCO’s English Juku, learning English to get a competitive advantage over foreign rivals?


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Hi Blog.  An alert Debito.org Reader has sent in the following (thanks for it):


I’m emailing you to let you know about a new campaign going around in Tokyo for COCO’s English Juku. English Juku advertisements have always been rather lowbrow at times, but this one has hit multiple lows in my opinion. The ads in the trains are the same advertisement banner used at the top of their main website here.


Main website contains the main advertisement. http://www.cocojuku.jp/

At first I laughed due to how awkward and confusing it appeared. On second glance on the train today I took a closer look and thought about it within the context of the Japanese text and statements made. Is this playing on racial overtones to push for a reason to be learning English? What if the bride was Indian, African, or of another Asian ethnic background such as Chinese? Are these overtones really appropriate for an advertisement?

Furthermore, a few friends of mine also pointed out how downright sexist the ad was as well. It is clearly exclusively aimed at Japanese men with the woman being just an object of possession and trade with no say on who she marries, especially in the YouTube video.

YouTube Advertisement http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O93n0jGF25M

Thought you might be interested in seeing this rather questionable advertisement campaign. It’s especially ironic considering the way that COCO recruits their instructors in the US and the images portrayed on that section of the site.

Recruitment site: http://www.cocojuku.jp/recruit/

While I laughed at first, I have to say I find this ad campaign simply offensive on many levels.



Their other ad spot:


COMMENT:  I’m tuckered out after the ANA advertisement issue.  I think I’ll let others have their say.  I’ll put this on Discussion mode for looser moderation.  Is this the same as the ANA ad to you, with a racialized bent to the product?  If not, why not?

On a related note, in lieu of a deeper comment, I will mention that I read Catherine Pover’s book LOVE WITH A WESTERN WOMAN (a guide for Japanese men), courtesy of CP.  And while there was some inevitable stereotyping of both the subject and the target audience, I thought the book was an earnest attempt to communicate what a “Western” woman might like and how a Japanese man might better get to know one.

I wonder what Caroline would have to say about this ad.  I’ll ask her.  ARUDOU, Debito


19 comments on “Discussion: How about this ad by COCO’s English Juku, learning English to get a competitive advantage over foreign rivals?

  • Like the ANA ad, these sad attempts simply expose more Japanese insecurities. This time, the insecurities of Japanese men who see many more international marriages (overwhelmingly foreign groom and Japanese bride), the worship of “half” children, etc.

    White Devil takin’ our women? Lets see, can’t be the fact we expect them to be our mothers. Must be the fact that we can’t speak English!

  • It is a very weak and lame attempt to parody The Graduate.

    However, I would question the situation/setting for such an advert than the content. Could the person have been Asian looking…yes. Would it have had the same impact, no. Does it define a racial profile…..I would say not in this case. There is no stereotyping in the classical sense, since the “western” person portrayed could be from the US, UK, Australia, Canada etc…other than an accent I would not be able to tell the difference. Had the guy who ran in be of Asian ethnicity speaking English, again, without their accent, I would not know where they originate from. Thus no change. Had the guy ran in with a blonde wig and false nose (regardless whether the actual person was Western), now that would be racial stereotyping.

    I would tend to lean more to the objectifying of women for the man as a “possession”….but not for the ‘no say in whom she marries’, that is a bit far fetched. Since the women portrayed is Western ethnicity, thus one assumes a brain capable of making their own informed choice and without the social peer pressures that exist for a Japanese woman. So I would lean to the sexist part being centred on the man and his wants/needs, more than anything else.

  • The commercials seem somewhat tongue-in-check to me. I might like to use the one about the wedding ceremony in a mixed class with Japanese and non-Japanese, female and male students just to see how they react. I imagine more of the discussion in such a group would focus on gender as opposed to the Japanese vs. non-Japanese dynamic. After all, the woman seems to have no voice in the matter. I agree that the ads seem to be made by (unenlightened) men for (unenlightened) men. Thanks too for the information about the “Love with a Western Woman” book. I had no idea such a book existed.

  • I find this ad problematic in a number of ways.

    Firstly, as raised above, the woman is totally objectified and voiceless. It would have been much more realistic if the NJ had busted in and TOLD HER ‘Don’t marry this guy, marry me, I love you’ (kind of thing), and she had the right of reply. It is my understanding of western women that they wouldn’t be an idle by-stander in such a situation.

    Interestingly though, by having the NJ address the Japanese groom, he is conforming to rather conservative Japanese cultural norms regarding the social hierarchy of men and women in Japanese society, which whilst allowing the Japanese groom to pile in in English, should render this ad farcical. Unfortunately, I suspect that most Japanese are ‘KY’ to this aspect, as I also suspect that they have no knowledge of the ‘speak now or forever hold your piece’ stage of the wedding ceremony, and as such, the NJ will be perceived as being extremely bad mannered (as per viewers expectations).

    Result? Rude ‘gaijin’ gets put down, in his own language, in public! That must be a wet dream for so many Oyaji I have met.

    The poster is also extremely revealing as to what COCO thinks will appeal to the mass Japanese market. ‘In the age of globalization, the world is your rival!’ Whoa! Is this another take on the ‘poor, little Japan-as-victim’? Gee, in other countries globalization is about communication and opportunities free from political borders (and all that), with the emphasis on *opportunities*. For the Japanese, it would seem, it’s just another Meiji-era ‘the wolf is at the door’ moment (or sould I say ‘the barbarians are at the gate’?).

  • #1 Bob: “.. insecurities of Japanese men who see many more international marriages (overwhelmingly foreign groom and Japanese bride)”

    actually, the number of ‘japanese man -> foreign wife’ marriages outnumber the ‘japanese woman -> foreign husband’ marriages by a large margin (more than double iirc, I think Debito has blogged about this before and has the statistics). Of course, international marriage in general is rather miniscule around 5% of all marriages in japan, compared to other developed nations (which also have more immigration in general, no surprise).

    The foreigners that japanese people (men AND women) are marrying do come mostly from other asian countries, which can lead to some kind of perception bias: out on the streets of course you’d notice an international marriage more if it’s a j-spouse with a white/brown/black partner more than you’d notice a chinese or korean partner for example (which is statistically more likely), so you can be inclined to overrate them more than they really are.

    What I find interesting about this complex is the gender perspective on this discourse, case in point:
    despite the fact that international marriage is overwhelmingly j-male -> asian/SEA wife, the cutesy little graphic accompanying the chart provided by a government agency itself frames the whole issue as a “j-wife -> white/western man” thing, with the furthermore implication prominently displayed that such an arrangement will end in heartbreak for the poor japanese women. So what about the j-men ? Well, it’s basically the same double standarts as everywhere around the world, where ethnocentrism (“when my people do X to others, it’s good; when the same thing is being done to us, it’s bad”) and sexism (where we men are naturally entitled to OUR women, and other women.. but females should not be) intersect. Some percentage of j-men foreign marriages are also “mail-order bride” type and similar arrangements, where for example organisations exist to facilitate the “import” of foreign wives to repopulate rural areas, which is another interesting complex of socioeconomic issues. Of course, the dangers of power imbalance here are disproportionally worse… and, no surprise, disproportionally less adressed in the general discussion.

    Now, as for the ad here.. actually, my first thought was the same like the wedding crashers’: Damn, dude that’s some confident english, I almost want to high-five you! based on the rather frustrating language-interactions we all had with japanese people sometimes. So, well, good for them for getting that part right (though I guess not many japanese non-english speakers (ie the target audience) would be able to distinguish between this and fake bad “engrish” ?).

    I found the ad rather funny, seeing as the punchline being that good command of english solves this exageratedly cliched wedding situation, which is more interesting to me than a generic “bla bla english will improve your business success” standart. If you want to find unfortunate implications with this ad, you can do this, like interpreting it as promising men success with women (even more, western women!), but then again that’s basically the oldest play in the book with any male-targeted products everywhere: look at all the car commercials, beer ads, etc where the object of women is utilized to connect the insecurities and desires of males to purchase this product/service that will make you more attractive. One could make a further point that while the bride was talked to, it was the groom who spoke up, so if you want this is an issue of men fighting over a powerless women as if she were property. Like comment #3 said, in a gender-oriented class it would probably get that attention. But I’d attenuate the point with what comment #2 brought up: Seeing as this is a western marriage, which has in japan the reputation of love, mutual respect and equality (which has been said is presumably what makes it so attractive to japanese women) it also factors in here, so we could generously assume this is also what attracts the japanese man here.

    The second ad was just cute, I like it. The westerners were just normal people, and the message seemed to me how successful communication can bring people together and help you. Contrast with the ANA ad which was essentially white people -blackface and plays on otherization as “we are like THIS, they are like THAT, haha” lazy caricature. But here even the wedding crasher in the ad didn’t necessarily feel constructed as a “thing westerners do”, so I wouldn’t be offended ethnic-wise.

    ” What if the bride was Indian, African, or of another Asian ethnic background such as Chinese?”
    It wouldn’t really work because this isn’t an ad for a hindi, svahili or mandarin language school. I know, people of all colour can and do speak english (and not all white people speak english either), but in the context of an ad you need short and fast “markers” to process the audience attention, and for better or worse white=english for most japanese. I have a different question, how about this ad, but with the genders flipped ? ie “what if the groom was white, the bride was japanese, and the grooms’ white ex-girlfriend came up, and the japanese woman diffuses the situation with her impeccable english ?”. Would you (a white man) would still be so offended (as on behalf of the white bride in the ad) or is it then somehow “different” (sexism/racism wise) ? And how do english-lesson advertisements targeted at japanese women generally work ? I guess they all must have some aspirational component, but do they also play as directly on attraction (as in implicit/explicit mention of love with western men), or is it more business-oriented, or more generally toward travel/culture ?

    — Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Regarding the gender switch in the last paragraph, I don’t think it would resonate with its target audience (J women) in the same way: Most of them would probably say “baka mitai” for having to duel over a man (and probably the stereotype is that most J women believe they have an edge over NJ women that is not linguistically-based). The audience that would get more out of the gender switch would be the hetero men (J & NJ) who love cat fights and would have their egos boosted by the duel.

  • ERIC CARTMAN says:

    This really is an ad that is by and for the insecurities of a certain male demographic. Thus, the message is once again “The Japan that Can Say No” And by “Explaining” how the answer is no with no flexibility whatsoever, will somehow convince NJs to do give in and win respect.(Yeah, in your dreams).

    Hazukashii. Cringe worthy.

    “Everyone is tired of the same old Harrywood ending”. You mean the one where the Japanese perceive themselves as the victim?

    Definitely an ad for the Zeitgeist, and Abe’s policies. The “no”, the “explaining”, the control of the J-Narrative, Japan as victim, all these hackneyed old ideas are here again.

    And it is very sexist. Women as voiceless chattel.

  • Enginerd – Japanese men from the countryside marrying other Asian women is well known but in this case, a moot point. Ill be more specific and say the insecurities of Japanese men inherent in the Coco ad are clearly white men taking “their” women vs white women marrying Japanese men. As already pointed out in the ANA ad, other Asian countries are not included in the Japanese image of “外国”.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    I don’t feel this ad as offensive as the ANA’s in general. However, this does not mean that the ad escapes my scrutiny–not because of arrant racist flap, but its typical mindset as for-profit business to sell misconceived ideas to its target audience.

    There are roughly three problems I have found with COCO’s ad. First, the ad deliberately leads us to believe that Japanese people study English for winning the competition. This is unconvincing at best, since being fluent in English alone doesn’t give people (including me) better career opportunity in terms of economic mobility–whether in Japan or elsewhere as of today. Even though it sounds true to some English-speaking Japanese, they owe their successful career path to their experience, connections, and specialties other than language fluency. Second, COCO’s ad relies on double false assumptions on the effect of language fluency by 1) using the white guy to feature him as a rival to the main Japanese actor over a white bride; and 2) depicting him as culturally naïve and ignorant about Japanese who can speak English. What makes people to convince that whites always like competition–as Japanese? Does the COCO really expect knee-jerk reaction of “oh, you speak good English!” from people who have never met Japanese who can speak very fluent English?? In such tense situation like wedding???

    Third, and finally, the ad draws a misleading message to the people about racial tension and sexism. What baffles me most is that the ad seems to make the white guy look like he is challenging international/inter-racial marriage because he doesn’t feel comfortable seeing Japanese getting married with white female. Really??? Do they still think that many people like him believe inter-racial marriage is morally inappropriate, and even display hostility just like the outrage against Fred Korematsu or Emmett Till?? Please, we are living in an inter-dependent democratic world of the 21st century.

    Anyway, this COCO’s ad reminds me of what historian Thomas Frank says about the consumption of “rebellious culture” which is integrating into the mainstream society as a strong marketing drive for capitalism in “Conquest of Cool”(1998).


    If they think this is the Japanese model of “Conquest of Cool,”–a.k.a. the future trajectory of “Japanese with English abilities”– they are completely hallucinated in a daisy dream of wonderland which they can only see by sticking their heads in the sand.

  • Caroline Pover responds:

    I’m sorry for not having time to write in more detail and participate in the discussion!

    I had a quick look at the ads ….. I found the wedding one offensive because the woman didn’t appear to have any say in what was going on. And I actually found the flower one quite charming and amusing.

    However, the fact that a Japanese man would need to speak English in order to have a relationship/propose/get married isn’t something I would feel comfortable encouraging, but the development of an open-minded attitude towards different countries and cultures and communication styles is something I think would enhance any relationship including those of people who share a culture — I don’t know if conventional English classes/schools do that.

    Good choice of actor in the ads though : )

  • As has been pointed out above, all commercials are based around some sort of mostly false association. In this case, the idea is that doing eikawa the CoCo way will transform you into a confident competent person able to handle all sorts of situations and be successful and cool, etc.

    I can’t say that I am particularly offended by either ad. Though I do understand the charge of sexism with regard to the wedding one.

    That John and Katie at least know each other’s names is made clear in the first few seconds, so I don’t think it is a case of potraying a westerner being uncomfortable with interracial marriage in general. It is unclear whether John feels unconfortable with his Katie marrying a Japanese male, generally, or Mr. Coco Juku, in particular. And I think the benefit of the doubt can be given, and assume that John is unhappy with Katie marrying anyone but him. Having said that he does back down very quickly without a word being said by Katie. But this is a commercial and probably any sense of realism cannot be expected.

    The “hollywood ending” presumably refers to a scenario where Katie changes her mind at the altar and runs away with the objecting John. It might be possible to interpret this as a deeper message of confident rejection of silly foreign Western ideas concerning romantic love and marriage, as portrayed in Western entertainment media, ad naseum. And Japanese are tired of it. Maybe.

    Actually neither John nor Mr. Juku bother to mention that they might be in love with Katie. And as for Katie, as far as anyone can tell, might just like dressing up in bridal gear. I have a feeling that this ad doesn’t lend itself well to any serious analysis.

  • “Since the women portrayed is Western ethnicity, thus one assumes a brain capable of making their own informed choice”

    I can’t believe that I just read this here of all places. Talk about pot calling kettle black. This comment made me far more angry than the silly ad.

  • You left out the important part (or may be that was the point as it allows a misdirected commentary??):

    “… without the social peer pressures that exist for a Japanese woman..”

    Making an informed choice and being able to carry it through without social peer control/pressure, is very different from making an informed choice but not being able to carry out owing to social/control pressure. The social control peer/pressure is the issue….since you trying to imply/infer that the statement is referring to Japanese females not being able to make an informed choice. As such, you’re very wide of the mark…if you read that into my comment, then your creating your own commentary where there is none simply to create a reply of sorts (unsure why or what for)….a classic non sequitur!

  • And of course ,none of these adds recognize the issues of having children after an international marriage and the inadequacy

    of Japan addressing international child abduction for which Japan is notorious..Japan’s tatemae accession to the Hague Convention

    is yet to be internationally assessed.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @James, #12

    I totally understand. No doubt that’s sexist and very offensive comment, even though I’m not so sure that’s what the commenter thinks as his personal belief. To me, it sounds more like false consciousness manufactured by the mainstream media. They like to portray woman in such a manner, and channel such false idea to the public.

  • Yes indeed “false consciousness manufactured by the mainstream media.” And Japan, like so many other developed countries with a plethora of distractions, but with shrinking alternative narratives-in fact a control state that strives to control the J-narrative- is were it can often be believed and bought into.

    A false set of values with no basis in reality.But this ad is nothing new, just the latest in long line of silly and misleading eikaiwa.

    Nova was ostensibly an “intercultural institute” but any kind of intercultural discussion was absolutely taboo there; as it might offend the sensibilities of someone listening, and as it was a SERVICE industry, not an educational industry, that was all that mattered.

    Inoffensive mediocrity which does not rock the boat.

    Caroline Pover makes the excellent comment that eikaiwa should teach the culture that goes with the language as well, (after all, there is a very obvious Cultural Agenda with Japanese language learning) but for the reasons above, it is unlikely to happen as long as language education in Japan is trapped in its own postmodern hall of mirrors.

  • I think I would like to watch the ad of the couple’s second year of marriage. If the english lessons were good enough to keep them together after the crash of the cultures for so long then COCO is something…but really, I don’t think so.

  • I don’t know what the offense is about. I mean if Rosetta Stone (a language learning program) decided to advertise in the US with the message, “Do you have a case of yellow fever? Learn Japanese!” no one would ever be offended. Oh, wait… that’s right… anyone involved would be fired on the spot. But this is totally different, because… Japan says so.

  • Former Coco Juku Employee says:

    I’ve experienced first hand the attitude to foreigners that Nichii Gakkan (Coco Juku) has towards its’ foreign employees. I am proud to say that I stood up for my rights and helped for a local union branch at Coco Juku, much to the dismay and anger to Japanese management. Simply put, the express attitude of management is that foreigners are not reliable and are fickle when it comes to employment so that is the reason why they only offer yearly contracts to foreign instructors, whereas their Japanese counterparts get open-ended contracts, with the opportunities for promotion and salary increases, whereas the foreign staff are limited to a max wage of 265,000yen, no matter how many years they work for the company.
    As a member of an outside union at Coco Juku I was subjected to bullying and contempt from staff and management, accused of anti-company blogging and threatened with being subject to Police action in Japan for criminal defamation. I chose to leave, I invoked Art 23 of the Labour Law (much to their utter contempt and refusal to pay my outstanding wages within 7 working days in the first instance when I requested without using law as authority). The greatest thing I left with Coco Juku when I left is the headache of having to deal with angry employees who joined the union and are still fighting the cause, and for that I know that while I am no longer there, I will always be a thorn in their side.


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