“TALK A LOT” textbook (EFL Press) has a rotten caricature of a “strange foreigner” for an English lesson


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Hi Blog. Here’s a little something from a friend in Saitama.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Hi Debito. This comes from the book Talk a Lot: Book One. Second Edition.
(c) 2003 David Martin

Published by EFL Press
1-10-19 Kita
Okegawa City
Saitama 363-0011
(048) 772-7724

email: eflpress@gol.com


Feedback also to to:


I guess this is supposed to be funny, but it’s not. I don’t know what country this foreigner is supposed to be from, but I don’t know of any where a lot of what he is doing would be alowed at school, let alone in a STRICT Japanese one. What really makes me angry though is the damn katakana Japanese. Of course, no non-Japanese can speak Japanese well, so anytime a foreigner speaks, it ALWAYS has to be written in katakana. Also, gaijin are all very scary.

A little more background. At my high school, we get a lot of free books sent to us by publishers. One of my co-workers was looking through one a saw that page and showed it to the rest of the NJ staff. I took it and sent it to you. It’s hard to believe that the author is, I believe, from Hawaii.

On another page of the same book textbook, there is a list of adjectives for people with drawings to go with them. The people look European or Asian with words like skinny, tall, etc…. Out of all of them (there are 20 or so) there is one dark skined person and the word underneath is “black”. That’s a bit odd. I can scan the page on Monday if you’re interested.

Greg in Saitama




Here is the scan of the page I mentioned earlier.  I do think it’s a bit strange that “black” is the only adjective used to describe skin colour.  There is no “white” or “brown” or what have you.  Greg


From: [private email redacted upon request]
Date: November 10, 2008 2:53:49 PM JST
To: debito@debito.org
Cc: eflpress@gol.com
Subject: Re: Fwd: SUPPORT FORM
Mr. Debito,

Thank you for your email regarding the “stereotype” in Talk a Lot,
Book 1. I have had a look at your website and read the comments.
I want to explain this, not to defend myself or my actions but
just so you know. First of all, it’s NOT meant to be a stereotype
in any way whatsoever. Foreigners who live in Japan are not like this,
and everyone knows it. It’s done comically like this and is a gross
overexageration in order to motivate students to use a normally
dull grammar points.

For your information, very few people, students nor teachers have been
offended by this. Yes, if you think too hard and are too critical, it may
offend someone. Please relax, enjoy life and stop thinking too much.
Look at it in a different light and you may not be so upset. Also, keep in
mind that I, myself, am a foreigner and am poking fun at myself so
why would it be offensive. Offensive to whom?

By the way, what does it matter where I live now? It seems that you are
trying to stir up trouble for no reason. I do not live in Hawaii, by the way,
so your information is wrong.

Thank you and I hope I have not offended you but I am a bit upset at
your brusque style of writing.

Best Regards,

David Martin
EFL Press


From: [private email redacted upon request]
Date: November 10, 2008 7:56:00 PM JST
To: debito@debito.org
Cc: eflpress@gol.com
Subject: Re: Fwd: SUPPORT FORM

Mr. Debito,

Hello again. I forgot to mention that we do have a note in the Teacher’s Guide
for the activity which you mentioned. This is what is written there:

Page 62, The Strange Foreigner

This scene is obviously fantasy. It is exaggerated to increase student interest in an otherwise dull (but useful) grammar point.

I put this note just in case a few people might think we were trying to look down on
or stereotype foreigners, which is not the case.

Thank you,

David Martin
EFL Press

— Thanks for the replies, Mr Martin. I am sorry to have gotten your location (Hawaii) wrong (your IP indicates you are in Thailand). I am also sorry that you find my brusque style of writing “upsetting”. I find it a tad amazing how you can be upset by brusquely-worded letter of complaint (you might consider taking your own advice, and “look at it in a different light and you may not be so upset”, but never mind), yet have a thick skin regarding something put in a textbook destined for impressionable young people, portraying “gaijin” as people carrying weapons, drinking while driving, and being overtly “scary” and “strange”. I guess there’s no accounting for taste. Or for editorial rectitude when you’re on the publishing and profiting end, as opposed to the millions of “gaijin” being portrayed in proxy… Anyway, thanks for your replies. Arudou Debito in Sapporo



From:   [private email redacted upon request]
Subject: infringement of copyright on your website
Date: November 13, 2008 11:01:57 PM JST
To:   debito@debito.org
Cc:   eflpress@gol.com

Hi again,

I have nothing against you including criticisms of my book, Talk a Lot,
Book One on your website. That is up to you and is perfectly fine and
perfectly legal. But I was shocked when I first had a look at your website
to find you had allowed the posting of two pages from my book which had
been scanned. This is clearly an infringement of copyright since you have
not asked for our permission. Please take these two pages off of your
website as soon as possible!

I do not ask you to do this because of the possible damage you are causing
us. That is not the reason at all. I am asking you to do this for two reasons:

1. It’s illegal and thus bothers me.
2. We, as a rule, do not put PDFs or any images of our books on our website
because we want teachers to see our books as a whole and not just a part
because we feel they will be convinced to use our books if they see the whole book.

I hope you understand my thinking on this and will take them off. The criticism can
go on and you can even explain in detail what is on those two pages if you want.
I’m not against that at all..but you cannot legally copy pages from a book and
post them without prior written permission.

Cheers, David Martin EFL Press

– Mr Martin, I suggest you do some research on Japanese laws governing Fair Use.

63 comments on ““TALK A LOT” textbook (EFL Press) has a rotten caricature of a “strange foreigner” for an English lesson

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  • I’m seriously just appalled by this whole thing…not so much because of the original illustration (which is obviously ridiculous in innumerable ways and should be ridiculed off the face of this planet…) but from the author’s follow up comments:

    “It would unrealistic for a Japanese student to be [un]familiar with
    the school rules, but a foreigner probably would not know.”

    Hey, thanks buddy. I don’t care who you are, J, NJ, black yellow brown green white purple whatever, thank you for putting this image out there to be used in an educational environment. Yeah, foreigners are so stupid that they don’t even know you can’t show up drunk on a motorcycle with a knife to school. Furthermore, that’s what they would do if not for school regulations. Are you mad, my friend? What the bloody hell were you thinking when you came up with this?

    This has absolutely no place in any educational environment of any sort. Even for strictly profit-motivated ones it’s shameful.

  • addendum,another reply to David’s comments, and another recap:

    2. Some people are asking why I chose a foreigner and not a Japanese
    for this character. The answer is simple. I tried to make it as realistic as
    possible. It would unrealistic for a Japanese student to be familiar with
    the school rules, but a foreigner probably would not know. Granted,
    a foreigner would probably not even go to a Japanese school, but the
    whole thing is fantasy (as is stated in the TG)November 13, 2008 11:01:57 PM JST

    It would also be unrealistic for E.T, Godzilla, the Yeti, Thor or any mythological creature for that matter, to go to school. The point is, a person did not need to be chosen, an animal or a fictional being would suffice.

    Yet, unfortunately a foreigner was chosen (sorry, the strange foreigner) to illustrate the point.

  • Mark Mino-Thompson says:

    I really appeciate the time and effort David Martin has made to respond to the criticism leveled at certain pages of his textbook. I know it’s hard to attempt to explain one’s position in an online

    I for one, take him at his word that his intention behind the “strange foreigner” exercise was not intended to be discriminatory or put non-Japanese in a bad light. While I have no way of knowing the discussion between the author and illustrator regarding this page was, I can imagine that it may have been something like this:

    “We need to make a fun and interesting picture to illustrate the grammar ‘must, must not, Are you allowed to..?’.”

    “I know. Some of the students at my school back home were really rebels and misfits. What if we drew a picture of the most outrageous, mifit student we can come up with (someone who was always in the principal’s office) and have him show up at a Japanese high school where school is even stricter. What would that be like?”

    “Sounds funny. I think it will work.”

    In this context, it does sound pretty funny. The idea of the worst imaginable student from a “Western” school being transferred to a Japanese school might make for an interesting comedy movie,
    assuming that people watching were aware of the context. However, it’s hard to believe that the average high school student in Japan (given the unending habit in Japan of lumping “foreigners” together and seeing them as different from the Japanese) would look at this activity and conclude that this depiction of this particular foreigner as being completely ironic and atypical in nature.

    As to the use of katakana, while it is quite true that it is used at times in Japanese to stress certain words, it has also historically been used in Japan to depict the speech of non-Japanese. This has long been the case, whether it was in manga, for newcast “subtitles” when non-Japanese were interviewed (regardless of Japanese ability) or even by police “crime prevention” posters depicting “foreigners.”

    Again, Mr. Martin states that this activity was not intended to paint non-Japanese in a bad light, and I believe him. I think it may have just been an idea that seemed good at the time, but that wasn’t completely thought through on whether the students reading it would get the irony in the cultural context being shown, in that (as an example) no American high school student, no matter how rebellious behaves in this way, and as such it is a humorous, fantasy characture. But as the comments here have shown I think it’s fair to say that the activity as presented does bother a lot of people. They also raise legitimate concerns about how the lesson may be perceived by Japanese students with little to know knowledge of students and schools abroad. I for one would hope that EFL Press would take these concerns into consideration with future publications.

    Mark Mino-Thompson

  • It really seems a lot of people here have a pretty low opinion of the Japanese peoples’ ability to distinguish fact from fiction, or stereotype from caricature. I am more confident in their judgement.

    I’m also a long term resident here, so if my anecdotal evidence means anything, I showed the text page in question to my two foreign colleagues at my school. The result? They chuckled and went for a coffee. As we all should.

    Actually,the whole kerfuffle here has made me check whether I can possibly use EFL Press material at my school. I generally like to support smaller publishers over large ones, so hopefully I can find a place for their material in my curriculum.

  • At first I was totally on Debito’s side on this issue, but after reading these comments I am not sure anymore. I respect Debito’s efforts and enthusiasm, but it seems to me sometimes he does things that he doesn’t have to do at all. I mean, it seems like what he does is not quite fair and hurts people’s feelings yet doesn’t bring much. And I cannot say that Debito is totally wrong, but I have a feeling that at least something is wrong.
    I don’t mean to defend Mr. Martin, but I hesitate to treat him as a criminal. I just want to point out that if Debito keeps doing this, there will be full of hatred and no mutual understanding.

    — Thanks for the advice. I never said (or treated) Mr. Martin as a criminal. I do think he’s being irresponsible, and it was his constant wriggling out of his responsibility as an editor which I believe incurred the reaction(s) that occurred on this blog entry.

    What in your opinion could I personally have done, or not done (stress on the “I”, since it is my “efforts and enthusiasm”, not the combined efforts/frustrations of posters here, that you are zeroing in on) that would have made the outcome different, lessened your feeling that “something is wrong”?

    (And as a side note, I find it difficult to accept full responsibility for what other people say here. But there is a distinct tendency for people (especially commenters elsewhere in cyberspace) to keep sticking sentiments on me that other people have said. This being “my blog” notwithstanding, frankly, I don’t feel that whatever appears here as a comment is the product of “my group” or is “my responsibility”. I’m neither their keeper nor their editor. So would it have been better if I didn’t approve comments that were critical of Mr. Martin? Or should I myself not have commented at all? Sorry, I don’t get what I’m doing wrong here. Seriously, give me some advice. Debito)

  • David Martin says:

    I would like to respond to Mr. Debito’s comments. It is quite clear
    that I am being both misunderstood and misrepresented.
    First of all, I do not feel victimized in any way. Secondly, my reason
    for bringing up the copyright infringement issue has NOTHING
    to do with my trying to conceal those pages from potential viewers
    of his website. Mr. Debito makes numerous assumptions, most of
    which are not based on fact but mere conjecture.

    When I first had a look at Mr. Debito’s website page
    (I did so because he emailed me and suggested I do so), the first thing
    I was a scanned page from my book, Talk a Lot, Book One. My initial reaction was,
    “Isn’t it quite audacious to scan a page from
    my book and put it up for all to see?” and “Wait a minute– isn’t this
    illegal as well? Surely this must be a violation of copyright law!”

    I had these initial thoughts BEFORE reading any of the posts
    on the blog. It was my first reaction. So, it’s not the case, as I
    have been falsely accused, that I asked Mr. Debito to take off
    those two scanned pages for the reason of hiding anything. I asked
    him to do so ONLY because he was (and is still) breaking the law.

    Finally, it is also not the case that I am ‘clueless’ about what the
    issue is. I know what the issue is. The issue is that foreigners
    living in Japan are being discriminated against and some readers
    of Mr. Debito’s website feel that the ‘Strange Foreigner’ graphic
    may cause Japanese students to see foreigners in a bad light.
    Thus, this in turn may lead to an increase of discrimination. This is
    the issue and I understand it. I understand it and that is why I
    have already stated that I intend to be more careful in future
    publications as it is clear that some people are upset by this
    type of depiction of a foreigner.

    I have already explained that I did not intend in any way to
    paint foreigners in a bad light. This ‘strange foreigner’ is just
    that–strange, atypical, abnormal. He is not supposed to be seen
    as a typical foreigner in Japan. If I had intended for him to be
    seen as a typical foreigner, I would have entitled the activity
    ‘The Foreigner’ instead of “The STRANGE foreigner”.

    Peace, love, and understanding please.

  • Debito, I think you are taking this to seriously. I know the pages could be influential to young Japanese minds, but how is that such a big deal? In fact it might be better because later on they can interact with a “good” foreigner and realize they are not all the same. I think it’s a little crazy illustration but that’s what makes it funny and interesting.
    I’m not offended by it because for one, I am not like the guy on the bicycle, and two, even if a Japanese thought I was like that they would soon find themselves wrong after meeting me.
    Not all Americans are so good, and not all Japanese are so good. I wouldn’t trust any American, or Japanese, or anyone if they dressed like the guy in the photo ( despite the possibility that they are a kind and trust worthy person). So if you don’t dress like the guy in the photo than what do you have to worry about? Think of it as a opportunity to bring about change by proving to someone their stereotype of you is wrong.

  • Debito,

    I think anybody would appreciate the fact that you contacted Mr. Martin to point out this issue. You could have continued the discussion when you thought that Mr. Martin didn’t realize the significance of the problem. But, by putting the issue up on this blog, I think Mr. Martin was cornered.
    It seems to me that your primary interest is punishing, not understanding. And this strategy doesn’t always work even if you are right. For example, I think you are right about the Japan Times Gaijin issue. I certainly think that the Japanese overuse the term. But calling the users of the term racist is too much, and consequently, your message was blurred.
    What I want to say is, if your strategy is always like that, people start thinking that what you claim is always too much, therefore, must be discounted.

    — Thanks for the advice.

    But I also think there is an issue of reading comprehension here. I never called users of the word “gaijin” racist. I called the epithet and usage often based upon racism, however unconscious. Have another read of the essays. There is a difference. I wonder how much of the problem is people reading stuff into what I say and assuming that the more acidulous comments from others are something I agree with.

    Again, thanks for the advice. Debito

  • David Martin says:

    I would like to comment on the use of the term ‘gaijin’ in the illustration. The word
    ‘gaijin’ is used because that is the word that most Japanese would use, at least most
    young Japanese high school students. They would not say, “Hora, ano gaikokujin kowai!”
    It’s use is based on reality. There is no offense meant in the illustration by the use of
    the word.

    I’m starting to think this whole issue is such a shame. People are thinking too hard; if you
    think too hard or too much many things can look like a stereotype seems like something which they
    are not. I’m getting tired of all this. Okay, you win Mr. Debito. I will take that activity out
    of the book when we do a third edition of Talk a Lot, Book 1.

    — Mr Martin, thanks, but remember, I wasn’t the only one who raised the issue, and it’s not a matter of “winning”. I just wish you would be taking this out of the book because you saw what the issue is (you still think using “gaijin” in school reflects reality, when schools nationwide are disavowing the use of the word due to the influx of tens of thousands of international students with mixed parentage and overseas heritage), but I have the feeling you don’t. And I don’t think you’ve been following the recent debates regarding “speaker intent” vs. “listener feelings” we’ve been having about the “gaijin” epithet in recent months. Again, I think you’re truly out of touch with what’s going on in Japan today.

    Anyway, thanks for discussing and removing. Debito

  • David Martin says:


    I have decided to change the illustration immediately. It will not longer be a foreigner going
    to school on that page. We will reprint Talk a Lot, Book One this coming January and
    so the new batch of books will have the new illustration.

    — Thanks for the change and the update.

  • Debito. Thank you. The offending piece will not be rereleased. You do not need to apologize to anyone for how this was handled. As you have said yourself many times, no one is perfect, yourself included. Doing what is right is not always pretty. However, the net gain in correcting these issues in Japanese society is well worth it. Japanese people and the foreigner and his or her offspring in Japan gain by being able to live in a better, more caring society that understands and accepts what is different, rather than living off sterotypes and myths that can do so much damage and harm to people living their daily lives. This living off stereotypes and myths applies just as much to the foreigner as it does to some Japanese people, by the way. Everyone wins. Keep up the good work and know that the thinking majority of foreigners in Japan support you in making life better for all.

    Mark Hunter

  • Hi – me again,

    OK. I have now read through the entire discussion. The discussion seems to have significantly reframed what a stereotype actually is to mean,

    “Any image that we don’t like of a person who belongs to a group to which we also belong”.

    But what about the positive stereotypes of foreigners? Wouldn’t we need to attack those too?

    Hardworking? Nah, it’s a stereotype. Friendly? That’s a stereotype too. Honest? Treat women with respect? Men who do 50% of the housework? Yup – all stereotypes.

    Fact is, white foreigners benefit from stereotypes just as much as we suffer from them, probably more.

    So – your mission, if you posted here attacking this cartoon, is now to attack every stereotype, including the ones you benefit from. Because if you don’t, you’re a hypocrite. Start with the textbook you use tomorrow – the one with the nice, cleanshaven white guy on the cover. It’s a stereotype, after all.


  • As I started reading this thread, I knewthat it would get ugly. Debito, I admire so much what you do for the foreign community. Unfortunately, a dirty residue is often left over after the dust settles. I’ve followed the struggles and battles that you’ve posted here, and, inevitably, there arrvies a point in the rhetoric where you lose your footing and come off as less than gentlemanly. In this thread, it happened at post 43 with the following left jab from your corner (and I use this terminology because it is at this very point that it crossed from discussion to battle):

    – Right. Now please check out the law governing “Fair Use”.

    If you had simply provided a link to the Fair Use guidelines, (rather than snidely pointing out that someone has less knowledge in the area than you,) you could have continued on the discussion in a far less combative and superior tone. At that point, David Martin garnered my support. Further, I investigated what EFL Press has to offer, and will be including their materials in my curriculum next semester. The fact that David Martin was bullied on a forum and handled it in such a professional way has earned him and his company a few more orders. Thank you, Debito, for bringing David Martin’s books to my attention.

    Keep up with the work you do. But, please, take a moment to breathe and not forget decorum when you feel those claws coming out to attack. When you get too high on that horse, you alienate many of the people you are supposed to be standing up for.

    — Thanks for the advice. I was ticked off at that point because I told Mr Martin to research Fair Use. He came back with Copyright. So I steered him once again to Fair Use. If he researches one thing, he could have researched the other, and I didn’t feel like providing a link at that point to somebody who wasn’t addressing my arguments.

    Anyway, put his books to good use! Debito


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