McDonald’s Japan “Mr James”: Reports of improvements


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in JapansourstrawberriesavatarUPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Hi Blog.  I am hearing of improvements in the infamous and controversial katakana-speaking “gaijin” character “Mr James”, advertising McDonald’s hamburgers.  Just wanted to confirm with readers:

1) Peach reports the “katakana tray inserts” (meaning these):


are not being used anymore.   Visited a McDonald’s in Tennouji, Osaka today and discovered this.

2) Justin commented to

Submitted on 2009/08/19 at 9:54pm
One interesting note about the “Mr. James” ads: There aren’t any in the McDonalds across from Kamiyacho Station, just down the hill from the Hotel Okura. This is a gaijin-heavy area, with lots of us staying in the hotel or working in the offices nearby. If the “Mr. James” ads are so inoffensive, why is McDonalds Japan keeping them out of its restaurants in foreigner-heavy neighborhoods?

3) As has been reported in the SCMP and other media outlets, the “backstory” of this character has become more sophisticated, depicting him as a tourist from Ohio, not a resident of Japan, burgering his way through Japan’s burghers (dare him to come to Hokkaido!) and blogging his experiences.  Although this doesn’t excuse his being rendered in katakana.  For those wishing to give McD’s the benefit of the doubt (I don’t), one could argue that this man is just a Japan otaku, not the typical gaijin.  But you still got the huge billboards outside the restaurant with Mr James — you don’t even have to go inside the restaurant to get “Jamesed”, let alone take the trouble to visit online and get the backstory.  Collateral effects.

4) Mr James has suddenly become a quick study in Japanese.  His blog posts are no longer exclusively in katakana, although his Japanese remains a bit on the broken side (all the nouns are gaijinized in katakana) with nary a kanji to be seen.

Are others seeing these improvements?  And are there any more adjustments to report?

These are all evidence that McDonald’s Japan is taking complaints about this campaign seriously.  But I still say the campaign must be suspended entirely.  They may be trying to make him a character with more redeeming characteristics.  But he’s still, in my book, a gaijin — an epithet made flesh; that’s how he was designed, and now McDonald’s Japan, for better or worse, is saddled with him.  Get rid of this albatross.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

34 comments on “McDonald’s Japan “Mr James”: Reports of improvements

  • Lord Hoppington says:

    On point “2)” above: I’m not sure if this is related, but “Mr. James” (life size cut out, signs on the walls, etc.) was there as of Weds. (8/19). If these events are a result of the attention, it would be nice McD’s would go the extra step to acknowledge the misstep and issue a statement to that effect.

  • I complained to the US branch of McDonalds. I got the following reply.

    Hello []:
    Thank you for taking the time to contact us about a McDonald’s commercial in Japan. Customer feedback is very important to us and we appreciate this opportunity to respond to your concerns.

    First, we’re sorry you are disappointed with this commercial. It’s certainly never our intent to offend anyone. Your comments have been shared with our advertising staff in Japan. Please know your feedback is helpful and will be considered in the future planning of commercials in these countries. If you’d still like to contact our office in Japan to share your feelings personally, they can be reached at:

    McDonald’s Co. (Japan) Ltd.
    Shinjuku I-Land Tower
    5-1 Nishi Shinjuku 6 Chome
    Chinjuku, Tokyo 163-13
    Phone* : 81-3-3344-1063
    Fax* : 81-3-3344-6982
    Website* :

    Once again, thank you for contacting McDonald’s.
    McDonald’s Customer Response Center

  • I didn’t see any of these ads at a few McDonald’s I passed today and yesterday. Maybe they are starting to take them down?

  • “His blog posts are no longer only in Katakana”

    That may be so, but reading them still makes me want to stab my eyes out:

    タマゴダブルマックを、オオバンブルマイするヒですよ! etc etc”

    I mean, who writes ‘Kyushu’, ‘Ashita’ and, most irritatingly, ‘Hi’ in katakana? He is indeed a jackass of the highest order.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    Mr. James knows the not-at-all-daily-vocabulary word ōban-burumai, yet doesn’t know the kanji for hi (despite his computer presumably offering it up to him)?

    I’m happy to see his Japanese improving, too, but it would help if McD’s had a few non-native consultants working with them to make this more realistic.

  • Two days ago the caricature was up in my local McD’s in Saitama, it was gone tonight. This is not a foreigner heavy neigborhood (not sure what that really means, cuz I don’t know who is foreign and who is not) but I know there are enough of us around because people don’t point and say gaijin da!. At lease not audibly.

  • 72! Well done!

    I doubt that McDonald’s have started changing their signs in response to customer complaints. Having worked in the advertising industry, I know how long it takes to organize a national ad campaign. While you can shut one down pretty quickly, I don’t think you’d be able to change much of the planned content in a snap. May the intention was to have Mr. James’ ニホンゴ become 日本語 as he spends more time in the country.

    — Quite possibly.

    Membership is at 81 as of this morning.

  • As I was walking around Shibuya the other night, a McDonald’s guy handing out coupons in the street shoved one in my hand. I said, “Agh! Misutaa James!” And that was about all it took.

    Of course, Mr. James is not his fault at all. And I am sure he is NOT a career McDonald’s guy in the back office. (Nobody asked him his view about whether they should do the Mr. James campaign.) But hopefully he will convey the message.

    I stopped in the Mickey D’s then, which was about 100 yards down the road. Yup, it had the James Cutout. But I noticed someone had magic markered all over his face (vandalism). The staff must have cleaned it off, but you could tell someone went at it.

    Second point: I was listening to J-Wave radio this afternoon at a cafe. (Jay Waaaay-bu this is.) And the segment was sponsored by McDonald’s, running a Mr. James campaign. I can’t believe how goofy the guy sounded. He sounded like Ronald MacDonald in the days of that clip I linked to. “Hey everyone! I’m Mr. Jaaaaaa-mes!!!”

    I guess it’s nice work if you can get it. But the handlers of that campaign better get on the ball about de-clowning and humanizing Mr. James. He can “rub” Japan and McDonald food all he wants. But I don’t remember Aunt Jemima or Uncle Ben of the 1970’s doing anything that would suggest they were advancing stereotypes.

    So McDonald’s should hurry cleaning up their act. We deserve a break today.

    — Can’t help it, but as an aside, this is one of the creepiest CMs I’ve ever seen (even more so than “Mr James”), and it’s the first appearance of Ronald McD:

  • I think its worth bearing in mind that these campaigns are integral to a lot of McDonald’s packaging, its ordered months ahead so that it can be ordered cheaply from China. McDonalds do hold some spare backup materials, but not enough to instantly replace all this material. Therefore, while they could drop a few items, like cardboard cut outs etc… getting rid of the tray liners is difficult. These campaigns don’t last forever, but we may have to wait for some of the materials to expire (they would also be prohibitively expensive to replace). Even if they did want to replace, it would take time to get new materials.

    I hope they do stop the campaign quickly, but it would be a victory if they NEVER do this kind of campaign again.

    If they really want to apologise they can follow this campaign up with one that celebrates Japan’s diversity (yes Japan does have some diversity!). McDonalds in the UK regularly plays on this international/cosmopolitan angle.

    — Y’know, I don’t care how much this cost McD’s. Their fault for indulging in this campaign in the first place.

  • Yesterday, around noon, I heard him on the radio too… J-Wave special top 100, sponsored by Mc Donalds and the freaking James talking as usual. I couldn’t tell if it was katakana or hiragana 🙂

    — Was it broken or heavily accented?

  • I passed the McDonald’s in Nagamachi, south of Sendai yesterday afternoon. I was thinking of having a snack there but gae it a pass when I saw the 20 foot high Mr James hanging from a pole outside. I had already had a hard time at Immigration in Narita early that morning so I wasn’t in the mood to face the ridiculous Mr. James. (Debito, I will be sending a summary of my experiences at Narita Immigration and the stupid questions that they have on the back of the Re-entry Disembarkation card when I finish a write-up which I’m going to be sending to the Immigration contact on their homepage.)

    — Looking forward! Thanks!

  • Debito, the actor in the commercial you linked to in none other than Willard Scott, who later became famous as a television weatherman on the NBC network.

    — You gotta be kidding! By gum, so it is!

    If that’s the record of clowns working for McDonald’s, “Mr James” has a bright future indeed.

  • From Mr. Jeemusu’s blog:


    [Born in Ohio, USA; age 43. Unable to forget the fascination with Japan that I visited so long ago, I came back with my daughter who is studying abroad.]

    Lots of assumptions have been made about Mr. Jeemusu. Lets look at what we know:

    -born in the USA; hence at least a US citizen at birth
    -age 43
    -living in Japan
    -long ago lived in Japan
    -working for McDonald’s or a related CM-related company
    -has a daughter who is studying abroad

    From an immigration point of visa, what is his status? Various hypothetical cases:
    1) His daughter has a student visa. This would allow NJ Jeemusu to visit Japan on a sightseeing visa for a maximum of three months, but not to work.
    2) He came to Japan with his daughter as NJ. While in Japan he switched from a sightseeing visa to a working visa.
    3) He has permanent residency.
    4) Like Jeemusu, his daughter too is Japanese making any issues of visas unnecessary. Jeemusu is also able to stay as long as he wishes as well as work.

    -Unless Jeemusu is an overstaying, illegally working foreigner, then 1) does not seem to work. Anyone alert the Immigration G-Men?
    -As a tours, you are not allowed to look for a job or change your visa status while in Japan, making 2) untenable.
    -While PR does not expire, re-entry visas are still required. Since it was a long time ago (昔) since he has visited Japan, it is unlikely that he would have been able to maintain his re-entry status, making 3) unlikely.
    -Who knows, he may not even be NJ. Like another well-known US-born naturalized Japanese citizen in his 40s, Jeemusu may have naturalized. Perhaps he put in his 5+ years during his previous time in Japan and naturalized. This would allow him to live long term and work as he is doing now.

    While his Japanese ability is rather low, language ability and race / ethnicity / nationality / citizenship are not directly related. I would certainly recommend a bit more hiragana, but his kanji ability–or lack of–is about on par with current Japanese college students lacking a computer.

    Hence, the NJ population in Japan can breath a sigh of relief. Let the Japanese population get upset for Mr. Jeemusu being a poor example of a _Japanese citizen_.

  • >While his Japanese ability is rather low, language ability and race / ethnicity / nationality / citizenship are not directly related.

    Mr Brian,
    are you sure you’re living in Japan?

    I think you’re overcomplicating things. Sto thinking. I doubt any Japanese will stop and reflect the origins of Mr James.

    Instead, what I do believe they will do is simply see the tv-ad or walk by a mcdonalds, and when they do, have their stereotypical view further cemented by James.

    Personally, I don’t care if they make some “improvements” or “adjustments” on James. Even if they were significant changes, which I think they aren’t, the damage is still done.
    And not only that,
    the tiny changes posted are not enough for people not to validate their held believes by this character and others.

    A public apology with an explanation of why their ad is bad would be dreamy.
    A way to truly turn this situation around to something positive. But for us, only. Their core customer base is hardly foreigners, it is the people who rest calmly in ads like these. So, I expect no change.

    What I hope for is instead that more major newspapers pick this ordeal up and shame Mcdonalds.
    One obstacle I see with that, though, is that most people abroad wouldn’t understand exactly why this character is so offensive.
    If I weren’t able to speak Japanese, and didn’t live her, I would have been right there with them saying that I couldn’t see what the beef is with this ad. Pardon the pun.

  • We should get together and get Mr. James an honourary juuminhyou for some little town. Other marketing characters have been made residents…

  • While I completely agree that James is infuriating, why are we stopping here? Is it the pervasiveness of this advertising campaign that is getting on people’s nerves? I noticed for the second time in as many weeks an advertisement on a Yamanote train for a bottled tea. I forget what tea it was exactly, but the ad features a white woman and a (we can assume) Japanese man enjoying their tea, but the woman cannot, for whatever reason, say “aji”; she keeps saying “ashi” instead as if she’s misplaced her ten-ten. Do we need something like an anti-defamation organization that would operate like a watchdog group for all media and make sure that these companies know that at least part of their market is being discouraged from buying their products?

    — Please join FRANCA and lead us in that direction.

  • Its clear Mr James likes to burger about in japan, but in this campaign Mr James has been burgered up the A$$ by Mcdonalds.
    My only hope is that Mr James will see the light and tell Mcdonalds to BURGER OFF and refrain from doing any more adds, and get a HAPPY JET back home.

    — タマランデス!

  • So, it’s not okay to offend gaijin living in gaijin-intese areas… in other words, gaijin who likely have no hope or intention of ever fitting in here, and choose to live in the English-speaking bubble that is Minato-ku…. but in my neighborhood, which we SELECTED IN PART BECAUSE THERE ARE FEW FOREIGNERS LIVING HERE, there’s Mr. James… doing his part to encourage the kids walking home from the elementary school that MY SON WILL BE ATTENDING in a few years, calling out their HARO! to me, because some idiot ALT has already started the process….

    I’m glad they are taking some steps. But this never should have happened in the first place, ESPECIALLY not from an international company like McDonald’s.

    They could quite easily have made an innoffensive commercial showing people from around the world, either in their own native language subtitled or in decent Japanese, raving about the original Japanese McD’s burgers.

    There don’t seem to be many parents or teachers, or even corporations TELLING kids “Hey, these people not only don’t look like you, they also don’t talk or act or think like you. They are DIFFERENT, and you must treat them accordingly.” BUT… its the unspoken message that ever English school, every ALT program, most of the gaijin tarento on TV, and now McDonald’s is putting out. I just ignore the local kiddies until they speak to me and my kids in Japanese… but i’m dreading the day my son gets old enough to ask why someone has treated us like an oddity.

  • I actually liked the first bit of the tea commercial since it made more sense (nigori / nikori).

    In related news though, I haven’t seen Mr. James on TV in about a week. Are those commercials still on?

  • “…in other words, gaijin who likely have no hope or intention of ever fitting in here, and choose to live in the English-speaking bubble that is Minato-ku…”

    Way to stereotype a population there, Kimberly. How ironic.

  • Debito,

    I don’t care how much it costs McDonalds either, after all, these corporations tend to only care when it hurts them in the pocket, I just mean that its a serious consideration for them and I doubt enough fuss can be kicked up to make them take that hit in the time left before the campaign ends naturally (I think (hope!) these campaigns last only weeks or a couple of months at most), although I’ve tried to do my bit!

    Still, if they are genuinely scaling back this promotion, I agree we must keep the pressure up, because otherwise they will think that a watered down version of this is acceptable, and obviously its entirely wrong and needs to disappear permanently.

    Honestly, civil rights in Japan really is a 3 steps forward, two steps back kind of thing isn’t it!? Just when you think things are improving, WHAM… some ignorant bureaucrat in a corporation or government department spews out some nonsense like this…

    — The Nippon All Stars Campaign is scheduled to last three months in total, given the featured lineup of Japanized burgers that are on their upcoming menu. Click here to see:

  • Final thought on these adverts… don’t they breach the core principle of Japanese advertising… associating a product with a positive feeling/emotion/image? How many Japanese want to eat in McDonald’s along with this idiot geeky unsophisticated “Gaijin”? Surely they would have done better to pay Justin Timberlake or Johnny Depp to visit a few branches of McDonalds Japan on camera?

    I mean I assume McDonalds Japan are actually trying to get more customers with this advertising right?

    — Of course. But you think Johnny Depp would go this far with the promotions to geek himself up and tour Japan so gushingly? The person playing “Mr James” no doubt comes cheaper anyway.

  • Oh, hell no, just to be clear (in case McDonalds are reading this – we don’t want any more screw-ups), I intended Johnny and Justin to be at the height of their “cool sophistication” in the adverts, just dropping into the branch at Narita airport while in transit or while they are out on tour in Japan… …perhaps Justin and BoA (let’s broaden the international base here) bump into one another and agree to go for a drink in McDonalds, because they can both agree on it thanks to its universal/international appeal etc….

    There, now I’ve done the conceptualisation for McD’s next campaign for free, they can afford those big guns…

  • Jean Patrick says:

    quoting(May the intention was to have Mr. James’ ニホンゴ become 日本語 as he spends more time in the country.)
    I hope he stops the stupid cheers too (Nihon Sugoi, apare, etc)
    He can still praise the food though.

  • The ad campaign will proceed as planned until the end. I have no doubt. All had been booked, scheduled in advance so at this point MC Donalds J can only either suspend it or let it go as it was planned until the end.

  • I left a comment on Mr.James’ blog about the improvement in his Japanese language ability, and that he might master the use of kanji as early as by next week. They approved and had my sarcasm posted! Yay!

  • More blogs taking this up:

    art_house_queen: So, What Do You Think About This?
    By M. Paloma Dechelle
    So, What Do You Think About This? McDonald’s Japan angers NJs nationwide with “Mr. James”. Not Everyone Is Lovin’ Japan’s New McDonald’s Mascot By Coco Masters / Tokyo Monday, Aug. 24, 2009. Mr. James is lovin’ being back in Japan. …
    what is going on out there? –

    ontd_political: McDonald’s Japan angers NJs nationwide with “Mr …
    By don arnold
    McDonald’s Japan angers NJs nationwide with “Mr. James”. Not Everyone Is Lovin’ Japan’s New McDonald’s Mascot By Coco Masters / Tokyo Monday, Aug. 24, 2009. Mr. James is lovin’ being back in Japan. The exuberantly geeky American mascot …
    ONTD: Politics –


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>