American tarento Pakkun bullies eager language learners at G8 Summit Site


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Hi Blog.  Saw something on NHK last night (General, 11PM) that made me see red.

International comedy team Pakkun and Makkun (Pakkun is the American, Makkun the Japanese) were part of a comedy troupe who descended on the G8 Summit Site to test people’s language ability.

Perhaps this is part of their act (I have avoided Pakkun in particular for quite some time–so far I have only found him humorlessly obnoxious), but NHK was exploring how Hokkaido locals around Toyako had spent years preparing for the G8 Summit beefing up their English language ability.

First bit I saw (I came in late and left early) was a roundtable with a group of Japanese locals acting as a model UN, all speaking English to each other in the guise of several countries.  They were doing a decent job, had been learning from native volunteers (the TV show said) for about seventeen years.  Nice try, anyway, but Makkun told the Japanese woman to speak with her chest like a “typical American” (yeah, right); that’s pretty ignorant, but Pakkun told the guy posing as a Russian to learn a Russian accent–and essentially misled him into a German accent…!  Yeah, I’m sure that’ll help these people communicate.

It went on in this vein–Pakkun telling people that if they make a mistake in English, they’ll cause an “international incident” (yeah, sure).  Pakkun putting a hotel owner (who had studied English language tapes in his car for two years) on the spot and in his place by using a complicated English question (about whether he was using English geared for the workplace or general conversation–or something like that–it was pretty mumbled) and occasioning a “pardon”?  And Pakkun walking into an onsen area with slippers and a towel, and acting dumb about being cautioned (“Uh… take off your slip…” “I’m not wearing a dress.” “Um… your shoes, take to locker…” “You want me to go back to my locker and take my shoes in there?”, and so on) in particular showed incredible insensitivity and ignorance, particularly given Hokkaido’s past difficulties with NJ in places like Otaru onsens.

I had had enough.  I switched it off.  Way to go, Pakkun.  Japanese people in general have glass jaws when it comes to foreign languages in the first place.  And your going up there to nameru people with your native tongue, and doing it incorrectly and insensitively (it went beyond IMO a simple playfulness–it was making sport of them), did nobody any favors.  Least of all those earnest people who were trying so hard after so many years to cope with NJ.  Hardy har har.  Go to hell.  Arudou Debito in transit

17 comments on “American tarento Pakkun bullies eager language learners at G8 Summit Site

  • Andrew Smallacombe says:

    Bad, bad, bad. I know I get p***ed off when unfunny Japanese comedians take the mickey out of NJs, and this is no different.
    Someone needs to take him to task.

  • Debito, the person you keep referring to as Makkun is actually Yashima Norito, a regular cast member of that show. Makkun does not appear on the program as far as I know.

    I think you’re missing the entire point of the show, which is (in my opinion) to get English learners not to take themselves so seriously, and thus lose their fear of learning the language. The “international incident” joke was funny because it’s exactly the opposite of the point the show makes; namely, you won’t cause an international incident by making mistakes in English.

    And just to add a little context to some of your criticisms: The narrator jumped on Yashima right away for his stereotyping of Americans. Pakkun does consistently make fun of the regular cast’s English attempts (it’s part of the running gag), but he always seems to be very supportive of the efforts of guests, and he was not making fun of that hotel concierge in any way. The sketches, while intentionally exaggerating the difficulty of communicating for comedic effect, always end in triumph for the Japanese speakers. I think it sends a completely positive message.

    I do agree with your point that Pakkun’s fake Russian accent sounded a little more German, but he’s far from the first person to make that mistake, and I don’t think it’s going to cause an international incident.

    –Sorry for the mistake about Makkun. And I didn’t feel the triumph of the Japanese guests in the situations that I saw (particularly that poor hotelier), I’m afraid… Anyway, there’s no accounting for comedic taste, I guess. Thanks for offering a contrary viewpoint as another viewer. Debito in Tochigi

  • His act certainly sounds very tasteless. But Pakkun is an actor, not a director or writer. It seems likely that the point of the program was to “entertain” by playing to Japanese xenophobia, something that probably sells better as entertainment. Pakkun’s no angel for being a part of that, but I doubt he was the architect.

    –Quite. I’m just not the type of person to let people off the hook for “merely following orders”…

  • E.P. Lowe says:

    Whilst I wasn’t seeing red whilst watching Pakkun making various Toyakoites feel uncomfortable, I really felt for them. The program was very insensitive and not educational in the least.

  • I’ve always had a problem with gaikokujin talents who make their living on sterotypes rather than using their popularity to help the rest of us in Japan. (Bobby Orogon, Caiya, etc) Guess they know that if they complain about things too much they’ll be out of a job. Even the half-Japanese talents like Becky and Wentz seem to not care very much about our situtation.

    I long for the days of Koko Ga Hendayo Nihonjin when at least all NJ had an outlet to bring important social issues to the attention of the public.

    –I too am a fan of Koko Ga Hen…
    (page down to Column 8…)
    And of course, the time we appeared on the show, once, as guests…

  • “I long for the days of Koko Ga Hendayo Nihonjin when at least all NJ had an outlet to bring important social issues to the attention of the public.”

    I LOVED that show. I don’t get why so many people found it offensive. I only thought it went mildly stupid at the end when they started doing shows on ghost stories in Japan and irrelevant stuff like that.

    And I also enjoyed seeing Beat Takeshi dress up as a pudding or whatever every week.

    Pakkun is vapid. I saw his manzai routine a few years ago and it basically consisted of a “Hi, I’m a Japanese…” “… and I’m a foreigner” routine, with Pakkun ‘misunderstanding’ everyday Japanese habits, e.g. “Why do you give people presents if you think they are ‘tsumaranai mono’?”

    Hahaha. Hilarious. But the audience didn’t laugh for some reason. Maybe he should try blackface next.

  • I get NHK over here in Canada and that omonnai pakkun is on every week with the same old “I can be dumb because I’m AMERICA JIN DESU” routine.

    When he speaks Japanese he is only pretendin right?
    It amazes me why so many gaijin tarento with such bad Japanese are allowed on TV so freqently.

    I also completely agree with you on the “nameru na” point, Which somewhat relates to my comment on his Japanese skills because what it seems to boil down to is that no matter how lacking his Japanese skills are, he can just break out the perfectly enunciated english (which most people lose after years in Japan)and show people how “it’s ok” that he is the way he is.

    I would like to see Pakkun transformed into a Korean or Chinese for just one day.

    Lastly, Dave Specters english (and japanese) is much more pleasant to listen to.

  • Andrew Smallacombe says:

    “I’ve always had a problem with gaikokujin talents who make their living on sterotypes rather than using their popularity to help the rest of us in Japan”

    Then there’s Wada Akiko. I wonder if her made-for-TV biography will even mention her actual nationality…

  • The whole show is online.

    No doubt these will be removed soon.

    After watching the show I’m not sure that it is that bad. Sure Pakkun can be a jerk (“Ginko – a bank?!”- Ahahaha. Hilarious. Never mind that they are called ginko in English), but I don’t think it is too bad. Yashima was made to look like an ass when he told the woman to speak like an American, and I think the hotelier was enjoying himself. He did willingly participate, after all.

    What got me were the shitty English translations of the food in the last segment, but that is usual for shows that are supposedly there to ‘teach English’. In fact, that was the remarkable thing about this supposedly semi-educational programme. There was very little education going on.

  • Kakui Kujira says:

    “Then there’s Wada Akiko. I wonder if her made-for-TV biography will even mention her actual nationality…”

    I’m not sure I follow this: is it not well known she is Korean? I think I even saw this in one of the cheesy re-enactmant stories they do. Where she threw a bully off a bridge in Osaka.

  • Andrew Smallacombe says:

    “is it not well known she is Korean?”

    I don’t believe so, or it is conveniently forgotten. Plus she always seems to be presenting herself as the mother of all that is good and moral about Japan. She even uses the word “gaijin” to talk about certain ethnotypes.
    Of course it could just be selective media broadcasting, but she never seems to have an opinion on the plight of the Zainichi, just on fellow tarento, sports stars and politicians.

  • “Then there’s Wada Akiko. I wonder if her made-for-TV biography will even mention her actual nationality…”

    I’m not sure about this, as I don’t (want to) consider myself an expert on Wada Akiko, but I believe Wada’s “nationality” is Japanese. I’m assuming, as she was born in Osaka, that she never gained Korean citizenship and probably naturalized at some point. In any case, if she was running around constantly being positive about her Korean ancestry, despite knowing very little about Korean culture (again, I assume), I suspect some on this site would see her as a token.

    –Wada Akiko is not a Japanese citizen.

  • Yuck, sounds horrendous. Why can’t Japanese media companies find more respectable NJ to appear? Surely there are loads of well educated, culturally sensitive non-native people living in Japan who could be asked to contribute!

  • According to Wikipedia, Wada Akiko is a naturalized Japanese citizen:

    I have met more than a few zainichi, halfs, and Japanese Americans who refer to NJ as gaijins(I added the ‘s’). I think that they think this puts them on the Japanese side of the fence. It seams to work with Japanese people, as Akiko Wada can testify.

    NJ talent and comedians in Japan need to appeal to a Japanese audience to get jobs. I think very few of them have the talent to make Japanese people laugh without bringing us all down a notch or two. In the meantime, Japanese people will soon move on to the next “new” thing… so I hope pakkun’s days are numbered. Maybe he can go back to Harvard, and get another degree?

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