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Hi Blog. A couple of weeks ago, we covered on Debito.org a flap about TV network NHK (“the BBC of Japan“) broadcasting a racialized anime to Japanese kids explaining the Black Lives Matter movement in America. It portrayed African-Americans as scary, angry, thieving, sinewy stomping and guitar-strumming urban folk. With a few more stereotypes thrown in. (And note that there wasn’t even a mention of George Floyd.)
Here is the video in question, with translation version afterwards:
On June 9, NHK apologized for the video, saying, “There was not enough consideration made at broadcast, and we apologize to those who have been offended by it.” The program was removed from its online streaming services, and the tweet sharing the video also deleted.
Regarding its response, [a letter submitted by academics in Japan and the United States to NHK on June 12] says NHK has not clearly elucidated what was problematic about the program, and criticized the broadcaster strongly for “trivializing the matter as a case of viewer interpretation.” It went on to ask that NHK clarify both its understanding on the issue and the events that led to the problematic content being broadcast and tweeted.
The reason why NHK hasn’t made that clear is because they’re lying about “not giving enough consideration made at broadcast”. In fact, NHK hired this production crew BECAUSE they are famous for creating these outlandish videos.
They’re the same people who did sequences for legendary TV show “Koko Ga Hen Da Yo Nihonjin” some decades ago. (More on this here, page down.)
Consider the similarity in style between the above NHK sequence and this segment, as analyzed by Kirk Masden (in Japanese, but you’ll get the point from the visuals). Courtesy of Kirk Masden:
Also witness the tone of this “Koko Ga Hen” segment from February 28, 2001.
Given that “Koko Ga Hen” routinely racialized and othered its foreign panelists for the purposes of entertainment and maintaining the constant Japanese media narrative of foreigners as scary outsiders, I aver that NHK knew exactly what it was doing when it subcontracted out to “Koko Ga Hen’s” producers. NHK just didn’t expect to be called out on it. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
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27 comments on “NHK TV’s racist video explaining Black Lives Matter for a children’s news program: Why their excuse of “not enough consideration made at broadcast” is BS”
These programs aren’t produced to ‘improve understanding’ of NJ by Japanese, they are produced as a panacea to enforce Japanese uniqueness/superiority myths so that Japanese people don’t start asking serious questions about who’s been running their country into the ground for the last 25 years.
Hey, Debito, not meaning to criticize, but most of the criticism I’ve seen of the video online has been less about the racism of the video than about its failure to mention the actual reason for the BLM movement (while purporting to present a variety of reasons that aren’t the actual reason). It might be a good idea to note this in your blog.
(There’s also the fact that the racist imagery is obvious even to someone who doesn’t speak Japanese, whereas the failure to actually live up to the name “Kore de Wakatta” is only clear to someone who understands Japanese or reads the subtitles that appear to have been created sometime after the controversy broke out — the subtitled video you link dates to June 14, five days after the other video — so it’s also possible some of the reports that focus on the racist imagery and stereotypes rather than the misleading content were written by people who were unable to verify the latter.)
— Duly noted. Thanks for pointing this out. I was focusing on NHK’s apparent claims of not knowing enough about the content of this segment, when in fact NHK likely knew they were scorpions when they picked them up.
Imagine a segment on the North Korean kidnapping issue aimed at an English speaking audience that featured Fu Manchu characters and didn’t touch any post Korean War history. Yep, I’m sure that would fly.
What bothers me the most about this segment are the racist characters and the fact that they don‘t even mention police brutality or George Floyd, but can we also talk about how badly animated this is? His mouth moves while he‘s not talking and the animations generally look extremely cheap and poor. And what the hell was that at the end? Was that supposed to be singing? Absolutely horrible! If it weren’t so racist I would laugh about this „cartoon“ because it‘s ridiculous how bad the quality is. I know that this isn‘t NHK‘s most popular show, it‘s just a show that‘s supposed to teach what‘s currently happening in the world to children, but still. I mean, such shows exist in every country and I‘ve watched similar shows in Germany, Poland, Russia and Croatia for example and all of them had better animation. It looks like NHK really can‘t be bothered to spend a few more yen in order to have some quality programming. Quality programming would also include consulting experts and actual African-American people and not just animation of course, but I think everyone gets my point. This segment is just horrible in every possible way. It really looks like they spent a maximum of 1 hour working on this crap before it got aired. Well, the only positive thing I can say here is that I‘m glad I never paid the NHK fee during my time in Japan. It was the right decision.
I’m probably overlooking it, but amongst all this discussion of racist television programming, have there been no references to the YOUは何をしに日本へ smut?
Myself included, I feel like it’s extremely easy and tempting to attribute all racist ignorance to the garbage on TV, but let’s remember that even in the highest levels of “academia” in Japan, people continue to nonchalantly, or perhaps even in an effort to seem educated, make references to “民族の感性” (“ethnic sensibility”) and similar backwards, recidivist notions. In the minds of these nincompoops, for example, miso is popular in Japan because it is inherently pleasing to “Japanese” “sensibilities”, and “culture” is the consequence of this, rather than “culture” being an objective description of the reality of how a society operates, which in and of itself changes over time. I would love to see how these kinds of Neanderthals explain immigrants’ acculturation to miso and other foods common in Japan. What is it, magic?
At any rate, this is the crux of the issue: the majority of Japanese society is still so far stuck in the past that perceiving human behavior as a consequence of racially-determined biological characteristics is seen as “enlightened.”
As an aside, thank you for sharing that video from Masden. He comments that his students accused him of, of course, “overreacting.” This leads me to believe that he’s teaching at the collegiate level. Am I the only one who feels that Wajin students become dramatically more hard-headed when they reach college? Maybe his experience was only a consequence of the way he approached the subject with them.
— What do you mean by “hard headed”? Do you mean resistant to change? Or do you mean more resistant to authority? I’ve seen both. But speaking as a person who taught Japanese college students for two decades, when Japanese college students feel comfortable enough around a teacher to speak their minds without fear of reprisal or peer pressure, a student comment like “kangae sugi” would not be namaiki. And it would be a welcome reaction in my classroom as it helps leaven the discussion.
No, I’d agree with HJ.
Even ten years ago college level students were more open minded IMHO. These days they are more likely to be suspicious of NJ, furtively seeking to disengage, view the NJ teacher as inherently less trustworthy/more ‘dangerous’ than a Japanese teacher, and more willing to express open distrust and arrogance towards NJ teachers. There’s a palpable sense of resentment should you actually teach them something they didn’t know, leading them to stop attending class, or come straight back with some obscure, barely (if even) related and dubious material they found on the internet to ‘disprove’ whatever thing it was you tried to teach them. Why bother teaching at a Japanese university? It’s a massive drag and not worth the effort given that there’s a pervasive sense that many of the students are looking for any excuse to go to your boss and get you fired for some imagined victimhood on their part. Life’s too short.
I blame it on a generation that just went through JHS and HS being pumped up with misplaced national pride over the last few years with all the (of course!) positive coverage of how the great leader is making Japan great again and all the Japan-as-victim-of-the-world misplaced unmet entitlement that goes with it.
And then there’s the lowering of the age of adulthood and voting (for and already emotionally immature) generation of teens now giddy with their sense of equality with Japanese adult teachers (which naturally translates into superiority over adult NJ).
People have literally been repeating ‘today, the youth of Japan are different from their parents’ since the end of the war, and they never are. The current generation of teens includes the youngest group of 50 year olds I have ever met.
Whatever the causes, it’s general manifestation is poor interpersonal skills and even poorer manners. Not likely to endear one to others, whether that’s NJ in general, or future employers. Better mannered and more polite and open minded young Japanese found the transition to working life in J-Inc hierarchies to be more than they could bear, dropping out to become ‘freeta’ and hikkikomori.
This current generation is going feel like it’s been in a car crash the first time the o-Yaji in the office doesn’t get his respect.
Jim, thanks for the vote of confidence.
I’m also highly inclined to agree with your assessment of the cause, as well. The pervasive presence of nihonjinron propaganda in kokugo classes, particularly at juku, is a strong source of racialized, backwards thinking, hitting the students at a time when they are very impressionable. Further, college in general has increasingly become a laughing stock in Japan, where anybody who keeps paying their tuition can graduate eventually. This devalues the faculty in the eyes of the students, who come to develop a strong sense of entitlement.
I would also argue the constant invective of racialized, backwards thinking present in every other level of society has a strong influence as well. (Getting back to the original subject of racist television programming.) Children are constantly exposed to the narrative that “foreigners” (=immigrants/minorities) are incompetent or “can’t understand Japan,” so when they see you standing in front of a classroom, they’ve already been loaded with years of messages of “You don’t have to take this person seriously; this person is a clown.” Add to that the above-mentioned sense of entitlement and racist indoctrination, and it’s easy to see where unfounded arrogance and disrespect come from.
As an aside, I don’t have any experience teaching in colleges, but I have been told repeatedly as an instructor at juku that “being liked” by the students is a must. I’ve also been outright told that my senpai is not a particularly good teacher, but the kids love him because he’s funny, so the boss is happy with him (because he keeps the money rolling in). Fortunately, that sort of insanity hasn’t been a major problem so far with my current employer, but I feel very confident it’s not an unusual attitude in the industry. In other words, the measure of a man is not his ability to teach effectively or accurately, but rather to keep his “customers” (=students, or more importantly, children) pleased. Given how many children attend juku, if that’s not a set-up for a false sense of entitlement, I’m not sure what is.
Also in total agreement about the “younger Japanese are more open-minded” propaganda. I figured out this was 100% BS very early on. Obviously, young children aside, the most open-minded Wajin I meet are almost exclusively rather old. (It troubles me how few young people I encounter in leftist circles.)
All that being said, I can appreciate in a certain sense where Dr. Arudō is coming from. When I said “hard-headed,” I meant “unable to accept or consider any ideas that challenge the racist, ignorant worldview that was inculcated in them from an early age.” I suppose “narrow-minded” would have been more accurate than “hard-headed,” but the issue is less a matter of considering an alternative viewpoint and more a problem of the viewpoint they hold being founded in racist nonsense propaganda that is completely devoid of merit and thus deserves to be succinctly discarded. (Maybe this is what you meant by “resistant to change.”)
Also, when you put it that way, I can see what you mean by 考え過ぎ being a potentially acceptable response. The only problem here is that encouraging people to analyze the media to which they are exposed and contemplate the underlying biases and motives with which it was created cannot be reasonably described as 考え過ぎ. That is literally the whole point of “media literacy,” which the Japanese government ironically claims to encourage young people to acquire.
The other point is that while 考え過ぎ might be acceptable insofar as it is a response to and attempt to engage with the material, I would never leave it unchallenged or accept it as a reasonable conclusion. The response as the educator doesn’t have to be そりゃ生意気過ぎるぞ！At the same time, “Yeah, maybe so,” or “Okay, that’s fine” are not appropriate responses. It’s great to have students engaging in discussion, but this should merely be the launching point for a discussion about why it’s not 考え過ぎ. Discussing that need not involve reprimanding the student for voicing an opinion.
— Agreed on all counts. Thanks for articulating so thoughtfully. You too, JDG.
The pervasive presence of nihonjinron propaganda in kokugo classes, particularly at juku, is a strong source of racialized, backwards thinking, hitting the students at a time when they are very impressionable.
It is virtually EVERY subject, and at public junior high schools too.
It doesn’t have to be jingoistic because there is just so much Japan-centric content within the curriculum. For example:
*A poster of the periodic table in the science room will have about 20% of its space dedicated to Japanese who have won Nobel Prizes in the sciences.
*The P.E. textbook puts a lot of emphasis on when a particular sport entered Japan, or when Japan got its first gold medal in that sport. I have also seen P.E. tests with the question asking for the names of Japanese gold medal winners in ____.
*The English textbooks are required to have a certain amount of Japanese content. So apart from the surname-name order for Japanese only, there is a lot of Japanplaining, depictions of Japan as inherently good, and placing the rest of the world into a generic “other” box.
No wonder we struggle to convince kids that we are adults.
Andrew, this is quite so.
The constant focus on Japan and ‘it’s achievements’ is totally mind-numbing, and leads to creating adults who lack even very basic understanding of the world.
We can see it all the time, sports coverage of international events for example (as has been discussed before). There’s nothing wrong with studying the achievements of Japanese, but it’s almost exclusive and engenders an ignorance of Japan’s relationship to the world in many wider fields.
Of course, it leaves students to become adults who think that Japan created/achieved everything. Ever. And the rest of the world is riding on its coattails whilst at the same time keeping it down (cue victim mentality triggering misplaced sense of entitlement).
This in turn leads to men (predominantly Japanese men- it’s a chauvinistic society after all), to be unbearable to interact with due to the playground arrogance and constant point-scoring they insist on combined with desperately seeking praise/affirmation whilst attempting to run me down all the time.
Jim’s comment “playground arrogance”. as I think back, there have always been some people in Japan with a chip on their shoulder towards NJs, what has changed is that there is far less respect now, and the “(western) foreigner as default honored guest” has filtered away.
The other trends were always there, Nihonjinron, point scoring, gaijin not mattering, trying to refute or undermine the teacher’s explanation with an obscure reference theyve found, are not new, but they are amplified.
And the rewards are no longer there, either. So, why work in Japan?
What it really is , is a lack of critical thinking. Also the snowflakes we hear about in the US, well they are here too. Some students have been praised too much and are not as smart as they think, or they have been allowed to get away with things in high school.
Unfortunately, as long as students have fun in English class can be more important than them actually learning something, at least at lower ranked schools.
Brooks, that’s an interesting point.
So many kids get into decent JHS, HS, University and everyone in their bubble (family, etc) tells them they are clever and special, and then working life comes as a massive reality slap in the face that they are unable to accept.
Case in point; when I was a student at (a pretty decent) university in Japan, one of my sempai (who was always told he was clever, and cool) got into a famous company (cue one year of ‘Ooow! Sugoiii!’ reactions), that when he turned up for work and found out he was just a faceless drone and nobody cared, he committed suicide in six months. Terribly unprepared for reality.
When I was teaching at the same university, I occasionally had to remind students they weren’t ‘cleverer’ than me- I had already graduated.
In the end, it was all meaningless. The social structures are too deeply embedded. Dr. Debito wrote a whole book about it!
I teach about culture at times and want students to write speeches. They choose a topic about different cultures and Japan but cannot think of anything but the dominant culture, so they can only comment on differences on soy sauce in Kanto and the west of Japan, or where to ride the escalator in Osaka or Tokyo, or dialects. I suggest about Okinawa, Koreans, Chinese or other ethnic minorities to no avail, most of the time. Cultural differences are just about regional differences.
Brooks, can you really blame them? The ultra-right wingers controlling the education system make absolutely no effort (nor have any intent) to teach children about ethnic minorities, not beyond a passing mention of the Ainu, in which the textbooks literally say 和人（=日本人）, as if Ainu aren’t actually Japanese.
Remember, those same reality and history denying right-wing nuts don’t even acknowledge the existence of other ethnic groups to begin with.
I’m sure virtually no school-age children even know what an “ethnic group” is. They don’t even know the name of their own ethnic group, FFS.
Brooks, I’ve been thinking about your comment. I have observed the same phenomenon.
I can’t decide what it indicates.
It could be a reflection of the navel-gazing element of Japanese culture which you can see in many places (TV and magazines) that promote ideas such as ‘Hiroshima people are like such-and-such’ and ‘Sendai girls are like such-and-such’. This in itself is problematic as it reinforces ideas about categorizing people based on location, rather than accepting individualism and diversity, and may stem from the inherent desire to categorize all people and place them into some kind of (Confucian remnant) hierarchy, or it may just stem from the education systems lack of emphasis on humanities and over-focus on sciences and wrote leading/repetition.
The result is the same, a lack of critical thinking induced to subvert the population by the ‘elites’ leading to an inability to understand that some things cannot be placed in an ordered hierarchy…
When Japanese do this to NJ, like the NHK BLM video, the outside world occasionally offers a timely slap down. Perhaps there is a tacit understanding that this is risky territory, but the propensity for Japanese to do this to other Japanese indicates an ‘acceptance’ that placing people in hierarchies and categories is somehow ‘normal’ and to be accepted?
On the other hand, maybe it shows nothing but how narrow minded these students are that all they can do is parrot that which they saw on a TV show with no self-awareness?
The Japanese are not necessarily unique in doing so, but the extent to which such behavior is widespread and persistent even among university educated adults does seem (at least to me) to be remarkable.
Jim Di Griz says:
The constant focus on Japan and ‘it’s achievements’ is totally mind-numbing, and leads to creating adults who lack even very basic understanding of the world.
Not doing a ‘whataboutism’, but I think that you’re being a bit too selectively over critical of Japan and the Japanese on this point. Could, with ease substitute ‘Japan’ with the ‘USA’ and would be speaking the truth – ‘manifest destiny’, ‘American exceptionalism’ and, ‘the greatest nation’ . All nations, to some degree, are afflicted with this malaise. I’m a Brit and ,’God save the Queen, we mean it man, we love our Queen’.
I understand your point, but I would disagree.
I think that both the US and the UK have (had?) a healthy scepticism of blind nationalism. For example, kids in the UK used to study the ‘trench poetry’ of WWI (Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et decorum est’ pro patria mori), which reflects the extent to which the British working class felt disillusioned in nationalism by WWI, and how deeply that impacted the national consciousness. In the US the Vietnam war led to a ‘general funk’ in the US and a decade of conspiracy movies (especially The Parallax View, Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake).
In the UK this had led to ‘noisy nationalism’ being seen as the boorish reserve of far right skinheads, and in the US could be seen as a distrust of government expressed in the X-Files.
I agree, in the US it was generally more acceptable to express openly pride in America without the negative far-right connotations. (All of this is in the past tense since the recent rise in global popularism is distorting these positions).
But don’t forget that Steve Bannon said that Abe was ‘Trump before Trump’, and I would say that this is not without merit. In fact, I would say that Japan isn’t riding along in the popularism wave, it just never really got over its fascism. In the immediate post-war period we can see GHQ exploited the defeated Japanese public’s disenchantistment with their ‘national narrative’ to implement a western-style constitution, universal suffrage, human rights, and legal opposition parties.
Japan was having its cynical learning that they had been played by leaders espousing nationalism.
When even MacArthur is praising the teachers communist union as the last hope for democracy, you can see how hard the right wingers were fighting to crush this new social consciousness during the Reverse-course.
Its relative. Japan, Korea and China are far more extreme examples so there is no “North East Asia Economic Community”; they havent ditched their deep rooted prejudices and “uniqueness” or “Japan/Korea is #1” at the end of WW2 as the French and Germans did.
I agree the USA and UK (Brexit) have nationalistic streaks, but these are huge immigrant nations and are more accepting of immigrants who dont look or think or talk exactly the same as the majority.
(There was the case of the Japanese nationalization checkers coming to a resident Korean’s home to check if she had kimchee in the fridge as that would not be “Japanese”, but I digress)
Sorry, missed the Pistols reference in my reply, but yeah, that’s almost a joke isn’t it? The Brits can joke about ‘God save the queen’ and even though it raised a few eyebrows back in 1977, most people wouldn’t find it intolerably offensive now- there’s such a degree of relaxed contempt for social hierarchies in the UK.
But I’d dare any Japanese to joke about ‘Tenno heika banzai!’ and see how long it takes them to get a bullet in the mail.
Remember when Southern All Stars compared Abe to Hitler? Forced to rush out a speedy sorry.
Kuwata forced to apologize? He should send his medal back, as Lennon did, if he doesnt want to be a hostage to the establishment narrative. Otherwise he is just a clown.
‘God save the queen’ and even though it raised a few eyebrows back in 1977
John Lydon got physically attacked a few times, a blade in the leg etc for God Save the Queen. Still waiting for a Japanese punk band called Unit 731 or similar.
I think we are in for a long wait.
I get what you’re saying about the medal, but could he even send it back? Wouldn’t that be seen as an equally big insult?
It’s kind of a trap (very passive aggressive); they’ve given him something he can’t refuse without some black-van nut job stabbing him.
The Sex Pistols were sacked by their record company and their nationwide tour cancelled, partly because of (potential) lynch mobs and threats. They were harassed by the police and denigrated in the mass media. ‘God Save The Queen’ was banned and where not banned received little air time. Band members (and anyone resembling them) were beaten and John Lydon stabbed. The Sex Pistols were public enemy #1. ‘Raised eyebrows’, in some posh university perhaps but out on the streets it was bloody dangerous.
— Okay, therefore…?
True that this is not a uniquely Japanese thing.
Something I have noticed, however, is just how much obsession there is with Japan and Japanese in the mainstream media.
Notice all those programs of the 1) “Japanese living in the far stretches of the world” 2) “Amazing Japanese products” 3)”Foreigners coming here and being blown away by ____” categories? I swear there must be some broadcasting law requiring certain timeslots to be filled with this kind of content!
Good comments to my post, Thanks. I totally agree with all the comments. By posting, I was really looking for a check to my own opinions, which are actually very much in line with Jim and Bauds’. One comment that always sticks with me was by a Swiss professor in the 1990s. He was being challenged on the idea that racism in Japan existed beyond the fringes. While other ‘Western’ democracies had sizeable ‘Hard Right’ political parties, there was no ‘Hard Right’ political party in Japanese mainstream politics. The prof countered by commenting that Japan had no need for a ‘Hard Right’ political party because people who held such views, were being well served with the LDP, the Japanese media and exiting government institutions.
Another point about NHK’s so-called ‘educational animation for children and young people’ on African Americans in the USA is that it is designed to deflect any possible reference to its own problems with minorities and its own colonizing status in regard to the Indigenous people that originally populated Honshu, were chased up to Hokkaido, then colonized by the latecomers who became known as the Japanese.
However, anybody who understands that different regional languages in Japan indicate ethnic differences and as an archipelagothere are different ethnic origins of the population now called Japan, will know that there never were ‘Yamato’ people as such. NHK in th 21st century along with the Abe Government and a compliant Ministry of Education are still dumbing down generations of Japanese students with myths and downright lies.
Why hasn’t NHK made an animation about the Indigenous Ainu to let Japanese schoolchildren know real history? The BLM movement in Australia, for example, has had Indigenous Aboriginal and Islander people at the forefront as well as minorities of African background. Just because Australia’s colonisation was later than Japan’s does not privilege Japanese authorities to maintain propaganda instead of actual historical factual reporting.
Of course NHK and the education system and society generally omit references to the Ainu, Zainichi and other minorities. That way they can project their own discriminatory attitudes and practices onto the world at large even while making some attempts to or pretence of understanding immigrant countries and their issues regarding ethnic and other minorities.
Apart from the Japanese people willing to march for BLM and spend time working with non Japanese on a number of issues related to minorities in Japan, most Japanese people seem to be complacently giving themselves a ‘We are not racist like western countries and in fact there is no racism here’ pass.
Despite ugly extreme right harassment publicly of non Japanese that has never been dealt with and despite the systemic discrimination and yes racism of Japanese society in which non citizens are not recognised as having the same rights under the law and indeed the constitution is continually interpreted in that way.
Some say Japanese society is nationalistic and xenophobic to some extent but let’s call it for what it is – racist just like other countries except refusing to acknowledge that basic fact and lacking the necessary laws unlike western countries to deal with racism and other human rights issues.
I am a former panelist on Kokohen: I had the chance to call Ishihara (former governor of Tokyo) a Nazi on primetime Japan TV because of his discrimimination against other Asians, among hundreds of other statements by me and Gaijins to put the finger into the wounds of an unjust, self-centered and also racist Japan that were all broadcast. Kokohen gave you (Debito) a public panel to get nationwide attention for your Otaru Onsen case.
If Kokohen was around today, this story (corona shutout of foreign residents) would have become a panel topic already.
— Yes. I have acknowledged the good points of Kokogahen as a forum for NJ voices in their own voice in other writings. There was, however, a distinct filter. That filter was what NHK hired.
While all this is going on, a car company (Car 7) dealing in shaken (vehicle inspections) is running a TV commercial depicting an evil company featuring a yakuza style boss and a black henchman.
Again, the only single depiction of a black person is as a criminal enforcer threatening Japanese.