San Francisco Chronicle on McDonald’s Japan “Mr James” campaign, and similar ethnically-insensitive sales campaigns overseas


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.  Here’s a column to bushwhack your way through.  I’m not sure whether the article is about the “Mr James” campaign or about me, but I appreciate the feedback.  I also stand corrected:  I thought McD’s in America would never try an Asian version character like “Mr James” in the US.  Seems McD’s is a serial stereotyper.  As I wrote on Tuesday in the Japan Times, protest media images if you don’t like them, wherever they occur.  A letter to the company may just kick off a constructive discussion.  Arudou Debito in Muroto, southern Shikoku

McRacism in Japan?
By Jeff Yang, Special to SF Gate
Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The blogosphere has been aflame over the last month as a group of marginalized and disenfranchised (and mostly Caucasian) individuals have fought back against a juggernaut that has, in their eyes, compromised their personal rights and cast aspersions upon them.

No, I’m not talking about health care reform protestors or tea party organizers. These angry activists are in Japan, not the U.S. — and the monolith they’re fighting against isn’t the federal government, but an entity whose worldwide influence is possibly even more potent: Global burgermeister McDonald’s.

Last month, Mickey D’s began an advertising campaign for four new Japan-only burgers it dubbed the “Nippon All-Stars.” These include the “Tamago Double Mac” (two all-beef patties, bacon, mushrooms, a fried egg and instant cardiac arrest), the “Tsukimi Burger” (a one-story version of the Tamago), the Chicken Tatsuya (battered chicken sandwich, heavy on the mayo) and the Gracoro (a cheesy, saucy deep-fried croquette on a bun).

But it’s not the taste or the health implications of the sandwiches that has led to this backlash — it’s the marketing.

That’s because the national face of the Nippon All-Stars campaign is a happy, dorky, bespectacled white tourist named “Mr. James.” Clad in regulation nerd uniform — red short-sleeved shirt, mismatched tie, rumpled khakis and a permanently stunned expression — Mr. James shouts about the deliciousness of the burgers in broken Japanese on commercials that have saturated TV, the Internet and print publications.

“What’s the matter [with this depiction]? Put the shoe on the other foot,” wrote foreigner-rights advocate Debito Arudou (nee David Ardwinckle) [sic] in a column for The Japan Times. “Imagine McDonald’s, a multinational that has long promoted cultural diversity, launching a McAsia menu in America, featuring a deep-bowing, grimacing Asian in a bathrobe and platform sandals saying, ‘Me likee McFlied Lice!’ or, ‘So solly, prease skosh honorable teriyaki sandrich?'”

McHatin’ It

Of course, in the past, McDonald’s has essentially done just that. During last year’s Olympics, it unveiled a commercial featuring two Chinese kids engaged in high-flying wire-fu combat in an ancient temple, dueling it out with fists and feet and chopsticks over the last McNugget in the pack.

Seeing that ad brought back memories of McDonald’s limited-edition “Shanghai” Chicken McNuggets, which briefly appeared on menus back in 1986. Served in a red takeout box stamped with cartoon-Chinese lettering, they came with a fortune cookie, chopsticks and three absurdly non-Shanghainese dippings: “duck sauce,” hot mustard and … teriyaki sauce.

Worst of all, to complete the pseudo-Sino experience, the chain’s employees were forced to wear conical McCoolie hats — a bit of irony given their minimum-wage status — while commercials ended with mascot-clown Ronald McDonald throwing a karate chop to faux Asian music.

Lame, ignorant campaigns like this one may seem innocuous. But they give people license to mock and exclude people based on racial or cultural difference, which in turn can lead down a slippery slope to more troubling outcomes.

(My own private Shanghai McNugget trauma came when I found myself pelted with them by a bunch of leering, gibberish-spouting fellow high schoolers while quietly eating a non-oriental menu item. Although I wouldn’t exactly assign the experience hate crime status, the pointier, vaguely Indiana-shaped nuggets could have put an eye out, and had things gone McBad escalation might have led to my getting a Quarter Pounding — or even a full-on Big Mac Attack.)

Given that, two decades later, offensive images of Asians are still common in American media, it’s understandable that some Asian Americans have reacted to the outcry against the Mr. James campaign with “turnabout is fair play” schaudenfreude rather than sympathy.

I’ll admit that my own initial reaction wasn’t far from that of the authors of the blog Disgrasian, whose gleeful post included the line “karma is a b*tch.” But upon further reflection, it’s not clear how the depiction of white stereotypes in Japan is appropriate payback for media abuses against Asians in the U.S.

Besides, asks James S., founder and editor-in-chief of the popular Japan-based blog Japan Probe, “Are we in some kind of race to win last place in the stereotyping Olympics? Foreign residents in Japan shouldn’t be held accountable for bad things other people in their country of origin are doing. Arguing about which countries have worse stereotyping accomplishes nothing.”

Here and There

Even if who-has-it-worse debates are unproductive, as James S. suggests, a comparison of cultural landscapes is an illuminating way of providing context around our own experiences. America’s diversity of race, origin and belief, and the standards that protect us against discrimination via those categories, are unique among nations. They’re at the core of our democracy, and they’re the foundation of our national identity.

Japan, meanwhile, is a largely homogenous society with certain factors that have contributed to a very strong “insider-outsider” sensibility.

“There’s undoubtedly a strong distinction between Japanese and non-Japanese in Japan, largely due to Japan’s history of isolation, its island geography, and the population itself, which is largely Japanese,” says Gen Kanai, a veteran blogger who writes about Japanese cultural and technological trends. “These aren’t factors that can or will change quickly, so I believe this distinction will stay with Japan for the foreseeable future.”

The insider-outsider distinction is integrated into Japan’s very language, as Kanai points out. “In Japanese, all non-Japanese words are put into their own writing system, katakana,” he says. “And the adjectives gai — outside — and nai — inside — are often used to indicate whether an idea or product is from Japan, or from elsewhere.”

Or, for that matter, a person: The term “gaijin,” a casual shortening of the more formal “gaikokujin,” is Japan’s default expression for foreigner — to the dismay of activists like Debito Arudou, who has publicly argued that gaijin is as offensive a term for non-Japanese as “n*gger” is for blacks.

Debito’s point is that the term reinforces a dismissive, permanent “alien” status that allows foreigners to be offhandedly discriminated against, by both institutions and individuals.

“Gaijin is not a nice word, and I have not modified my opinion that it is akin to ‘n*gger’ in application,” says Debito. “Is that stance confrontational? That’s a matter of opinion, but people are debating the issues and that’s what matters in the end.”

Debito has spent much of the quarter-century he’s lived in Japan pushing for such reactions. His most famous campaign remains his 2001 lawsuit against a hot spring resort in the small village of Otaru [sic], which displayed a “JAPANESE ONLY” sign at its entrance; the resort’s operators indicated that the policy against non-Japanese guests was due to previous problems with “drunken Russian sailors.” Debito and two co-plaintiffs won their anti-discrimination suit, each receiving $25,000 in damages.

His latest cause has been challenging the “gaijin cards” that foreigners in Japan must keep with them at all times, noting that the IC chips within the cards could be used to track non-Japanese “like the aliens in ‘Aliens 2.'” (He acknowledges that there’s a “tinfoil hat” aspect to his concerns, but as with most of his causes, he believes that doing something is always better than doing nothing.)

These flamboyant initiatives and contentious pronouncements in the pages of The Japan Times have not won him unalloyed support even among his fellow expatriates.

“I can’t really say I agree with the causes Debito chooses or many of the tactics he uses,” says Japan Probe’s James S. “His methods lead to the lumping of all foreign residents together, creating an ‘us versus them’ mentality for the Japanese. I think that any approach to fighting discriminatory practices needs to include the Japanese in the movement.”

As sympathetic as James S. is to Debito’s fight to win open access to hot springs resorts, he points to more serious concerns foreign residents in Japan face, such as housing discrimination. “It is common for landlords to absolutely refuse to rent apartments or houses to foreigners, regardless of employment status, language ability, or type of visa,” he says. “It is not a fun to have a real estate agent tell you that he or she must phone a landlord to ‘check if gaijin are okay’ before you can view an apartment.”

That’s a situation that might shock Americans, who’ve grown up with the expectation that all residents of our country have equal protection under law. And though it’s not always easy, much less automatic, anyone can become an American citizen, and once you’re a citizen, you’re an American, period.

At least, officially. One of the things that’s troubling about the state of political discourse in this country is that Americanness has become less and less absolute. Politicians of both parties, but especially the Right, have taken to reflexively invoking the concept of “real” Americans, with a greater degree of realness ascribed to those upholding their standards of religion (Christianity), residency (rural and smalltown Midwest and South), place of birth (the mainland U.S.), and class (blue-collar and working class). It’s a terrible trend, and its consequences are toxic.

Japan, driven by demographic imperatives, is slowly lowering its “outsider/insider” firewall. As its society ages and fewer children are born — Japan has one of the lowest birthrates in the world — welcoming foreigners in may be critical to maintaining a productive society. And with newly elected Yukio Hatayama poised to become the first Prime Minister from the reformist Democratic Party of Japan, which won a shocking landslide victory this week to break the conservative Liberal Democratic Party’s decades-long stranglehold on power — it’s thought that the new regime might be open to revisiting of Japan’s absurdly restrictive immigration policies.

“I’m hopeful for the future,” says James S. “I think that Japan will gradually become more open and diverse.”

Meanwhile, America seems headed in the opposite direction, with backlashes against immigrants, a return to isolationism and even questions about the legitimacy and birth status of the President becoming surprisingly mainstream. Red-meat issues for some — but for the idea of America, a recipe for disaster.

Jeff Yang forecasts global consumer trends for the market-research company Iconoculture ( He is the author of “Once Upon a Time in China: A Guide to the Cinemas of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China,” co-author of “I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action” and “Eastern Standard Time,” and editor of the forthcoming “Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology” ( He lives in New York City. Go to to join INSTANT YANG, Jeff Yang’s biweekly mailing list offering updates on this column and alerts about other breaking Asian / Asian American pop-culture news, or connect with him on Facebook:, LinkedIn:, or Twitter:


24 comments on “San Francisco Chronicle on McDonald’s Japan “Mr James” campaign, and similar ethnically-insensitive sales campaigns overseas

  • I think he was pretty nice to you, considering he’s a San Francisco resident! The article seemed to ramble right off topic onto an unrelated tangent on American politics, so I’m not even sure it was about you, either.

    One thing I’ve noticed: no one seems to realize that Mr. James does not just stereotype White males from the U.S. It’s the stereotypical image of a “gaijin”. Any White person (or at least, in the eyes of provincial Japanese, gaijinppoi) is thought to be from America, even if they’re from Belarus, South Africa, or not White at all. Furthermore, the more general stereotype of non-Japanese being unable to speak anything but broken, painfully funny Japanese applies to every person that comes to Japan.

    If anything, this should just be a trigger for non-Japanese and naturalized Japanese standing up for themselves. Mr. Gaijin shouldn’t be ok.

    Neither should doing black face (cough cough, Barack Obama wannabe commedians).

    Nor should the old “Don Tacos” commercials that did horrendous renditions of the Mexican stereotype.

    That’s what the I Hate Mr. James facebook page is going to be about. That’s what I hope we NJ in Japan can be about.

  • Rather disappointing to see “Japan Probe’s James S.” mentioned in the same breath as Debito. I find the former’s commentary on Japan Probe to be generally sophomoric, politically naive, and lacking in historical perspective. Oddly, his comments in this article are somewhat at variance with his usual apologetics. Go figure. Anyway, as Debito suggests, at least people are talking.

  • The `Mr. James` things does worry me a bit. I really hope that Japanese people do not view other people this way. I kind of feel a little awkward when I visit McDonald`s recently. They got Mr. James plastered all over the place.

  • I’m sure that some version of this comment has been made before, and I suppose I fall into the class of people who are not particularly offended by this campaign, though of course I’m supportive of those who are, understand the points being made, and have no affinity for McDonalds.

    I suppose what makes it different for me is that there is more than a glimmer of reality to the Mr. James persona, and he is actually pretty representative of a certain class of Caucasians that visit and reside in Japan. The sycophantic nerd class, the […] I love Japan types that speak halting katakoto Japanese at best, actually does exist in fairly significant numbers, as any Sunday trip to Akihabara will confirm. Therefore, the Mr. James persona is not really a caricature with offensive exaggerations of body features, like grossly oversized lips (applied to blacks) or buck teeth (applied to Asians) the only intention of which could be to poke fun at and offend, but actually is a portrait of a type of person that we know of, and probably have a fair amount of distaste for. The “Me likee McFlied lice” bucktoothed Chinaman is undeniably a purely offensive cartoon character, with no basis in reality. On the other hand, probably like many of you, I’ve met more than a few Mr. Jameses in my time.

    Stated otherwise, some of us as foreign visitors to Japan likely share some of the blame for the emergence of Mr. James in the first place. Not all foreigners in Japan are Mr. Jameses, but I’m not sure that this line of commercials says that they are, or implies that Mr. James should be regarded as representative of all foreigners.

    The argument being made here seems to be that if you’re going to make a commercial featuring a foreigner in Japan, you can only select a highly literate and fluent Japanese speaking foreigner, otherwise your commercial will be offensive. I guess my argument would be, who’s to say you can’t select another class of foreigner, so long as it exists, who may be far less proficient in Japanese and speak only katakoto, and have them in your commercials? Why does placing a poorly Japanese speaking person in the commercial necessarily have to offend those foreigners who speak and read Japanese well?

    — Read my Japan Times column if you haven’t already. I put it up in my previous blog entry.

  • Michael Weidner says:

    In comment to Paul, what I have to say is this:

    It’s not that you “have” to place someone highly literate and what not, it’s just that they continually DON’T; they continually pick people who are not fluent, who don’t even speak Japanese, and when they are “subtitled”, they only speak in Katakana.

    This is the issue here. It goes even further when going out shopping, when doing anything out that requires to communicate with others that it is *expected* that you cannot speak Japanese and even when you do, you are treated like you couldn’t possibly understand what they are trying to say because Japanese is *sooo hard*.

    The thing that needs to really be campaigned here is this: if you go to a country that is not your own, and the national language is something different, you should be able to speak it if you go there. If you go to the US, the national language is English, and as such you should learn English if you want to communicate effectively. Go to Germany, learn German. In France, speak French. So why would Japan be any different? If you come here and live here for a while and don’t speak Japanese, it should be considered strange, not the norm.

    I will cheer the day when I go Shopping that I won’t have to see Shop Clerks run away from me because they are afraid they’ll have to speak English.

  • “…and he is actually pretty representative of a certain class of Caucasians that visit and reside in Japan.”

    Is he? Or are you, perhaps, just trotting out your own stereotype?

    “…but actually is a portrait of a type of person that we know of, and probably have a fair amount of distaste for.”

    See, now you’re being offensive. Why on earth would “we” feel the need to have a “fair amount of distaste” for anyone who is just living their life according to accepted laws and conventions and not doing anything inherently bad or harmful? Maybe I recognise the group of people you think you’re talking about, but I can’t think of any particularly good reason to hate, ridicule or caricature them.

  • – Read my Japan Times column if you haven’t already. I put it up in my previous blog entry.

    I did, and I reread it again to make sure I wasn’t missing something. One thing that I can say I completely agree with is your sentiment, “Still think that ‘Mr. James’ is not worth protesting? That’s your prerogative. But don’t tell people who feel adversely affected by media campaigns to just suck it up. That’s not how minorities finally gain recognition and a voice as residents in a society.” I support what you’re doing, and probably the awareness-raising function of your efforts will have a positive impact. Of course you have the right to your views, and bully for you.

    Where I’m conflicted on this is that I think Mr. James may be less of a caricature or even a stereotype, and more of just a plain reality. Mr. Jameses, or people like Mr. James, exist! There’s no denying that. Mr. James clearly is not representative of all or most foreigners. I give others, and certainly most of the Japanese that I work and deal with daily, the credit to recognize this also. They know that I am not like Mr. James, they speak with me about complicated issues everyday in Japanese, and treat me as hard-working and intelligent. I’d be out of a job if they didn’t.

    Although I think your article was great and the discussion has plenty of merit, I’ll refer to a couple things in your article that I found difficult.

    I. The first I already mentioned. Your “Me likee McFlied Lice!” is nothing like Mr. James. The former is mean spirited on its face and has no basis in reality. There’s a lot of living and existing true examples out there of “Mr. James.” It’s not a fair comparison.

    II. “By pandering to the ‘hapless foreigner’ stereotype, McDonald’s is reinforcing the idea that non-Japanese cannot speak Japanese.”

    For similar reasons, I also question whether Mr. James is “stereotyping.” Stereotyping is where you intentionally suggest that certain features broadly represent the characteristics of all members of a class. I don’t see that these advertisements are necessarily reinforcing a notion that non-Japanese cannot speak Japanese. They’re just saying that Mr. James can’t, and there are indeed quite a few people out there like Mr. James.

    III. “Thanks to this, I daresay in the majority of random interactions, foreigners who do not ‘look Japanese’ have to prove every day to new listeners that they speak Japanese just fine. … It’s like having to untangle your headphones before you listen to music. Every. Single. Time. And ‘Mr. James’ just pulls the knots tighter.”

    I go through that too, and believe me I’ve been irritated by it. Still, it’s hard for me to blame the ANA stewardess for not addressing me in Japanese when I board the plane and take my seat. I lay the blame on we the foreigners for that one. Produce a whole lot more foreigners speaking Japanese at a high level, and show them in all types of venues here and abroad, and that treatment would change. However, fluent speaking non-Japanese will always be a very small minority, I suspect. Does this minority deserve respect and fair treatment. No doubt. Can we expect the random Japanese person to assume that you or I probably speak Japanese fluently without knowing us? Harder to say.

    As for someone who doesn’t know me, am I going to have to go to extra lengths to prove to him that I speak and understand Japanese? You bet. But, I blame that less on the Japanese than I do on the countless foreigners who visit here, live here, work here, have spent years here, and still don’t speak a lick of Japanese. Do you think Japan would appoint an ambassador or embassy staff member to any major city in the U.S. who wasn’t highly proficient in English? But as for us, among the foreigners that I meet out there, from bars to military bases to universities to embassies, the non-Japanese speakers vastly outnumber the fluent. Even the U.S. Embassy, which I visited some years ago, didn’t seem to have many non-Japanese Japanese speakers about. If we are going to reverse the tide of Japanese impression that we don’t speak Japanese, we are going to have to produce a lot more fluent Japanese speakers, both in Japan and in our home countries. Think of it this way, when I’m in Japan, chances are that if I ask a simple question of someone in English on the street, they’ll be able to answer, or at least be able to make an good effort to reply. Can the same be said for a Japanese person walking down the streets of Missoula or Baton Rouge? There’s a good reason why the expectation among Japanese is that non-Japanese do not speak Japanese. It’s true. Only a minuscule minority of us do.

    To sum up, if Mr. James were a Japanese person in whiteface, or a cartoon character baffooning on the hapless nature of presumably all inept foreigners, I’d be with you 100%. That would just be mean. Instead, real Mr. James types are out there walking among us, embarrassing us with their behavior, and McDonald’s is making use of that reality in their promotions. I don’t see that McDonald’s is implying or reinforcing the notion that we are all Mr. James.

    I know that others will feel differently, and I sometimes have trouble knowing when to plant my feet and get angry about something. Without minimizing your views, I thought I’d add my own. Thanks for what you do Dave. It’s good to have people out there fighting as you do.

  • While it may not be a direct attack on Debito, it is an attack on any ‘white’ guy who shouts racism, while living among his Asian brethren.

    He distorts facts
    1. A simple wiki of Otaru would have told him that Otaru is no small village, it has a population of 137,000.
    2. A brief google of the Otaru bath house case would have told him that the events of the affair entailed something more than a ‘harmless’ notice. It involved an apartheid policy of one of the plaintif’s bi-racial children being allowed in the baths because they looked Japanese enough and the other refused entry because they did not look Japanese enough. Could the author not with a small exercise in imaginitve empathy understand the uproar this would cause if something similar were to happen in the USA along a cdriteria of non-caucasian enough?
    3. He choose his outside sources so selectively that the article lacked any objectivityy. While others might disagree that the ‘G’ word does not carry the same negative semantic payload as the ‘N’, he at least could have considered that the ‘Gaikokujin word shortened to ‘Gaijin’ has the same negative semantic payload as ‘Japanese’ shortened to ‘Jap’.
    4. ‘Japan Probe’ as a serious source? give me a break. Is that site still selling Japanese ‘lollicon’ porn DVD’s on its site?

    No, don’t be too charitable to this guy. While all reporters have an agenda, apart from the facts, this guy’s agenda with this article was a knee jerk reaction to belittle your own campaign.
    As if in some way, the fact that you have consistently pointed out that racism goes both ways and is equally a problem in Asia as it is in America, will in some way threaten his own messages on issues that concern Asian Americans.
    Here are some more articles by the guy.

    Very sad and ignorant, on his part, that he felt the need to write such a distortion of the facts. Apart from this article, I actually like some of his writings.

  • Felt I should add, the ellipsis appearing in my initial posting above is defined in various wiki as follows. I didn’t realize the term had acquired pejorative status, but sorry for putting it there if so.

    […] are people who believe that Japanese stuff is better simply because it is Japanese, and typically have an unhealthy obsession with the culture and media of Japan while simultaneously managing to know very little about it.

  • I want to make a kind-of followup with Paul’s post. I agree that banning images like Mr. James and the similar has a strong potential for a future witch-hunting of any kind of negative imagery of any fictional foreign characters, to the point where depicting foreigners on the media itself becomes impossible (and that would certainly be going against what Mr. Arudou wishes to accomplish).

    National (not racial, to be clear) stereotyping is not unique to Japan: it happens all over the world, all the time. Just look at how people from various European nations are depicted by the US media. Yes, it is probably wrong fundamentally when you look at it from a humanistic perspective, but personally, I believe that *recognizing* the differences among each other is a better path to multiculturalism, rather than ignoring those differences and pretending that we’re all the same.

    Of course, what’s also important is to be able to recognize that there can be exceptions to those differences, such as foreigners who are not rude, and can speak Japanese fluently. Assuming that *ALL* members of certain nationalities or ethnic groups are exactly alike, disregarding possible exceptions, is questionable, but again this is not a problem unique to Japan.

    — None of these were points made by anyone. Nobody has argued thus far that these problems are unique to Japan. And nobody has said that “ALL members” of anything are exactly alike. Please address points raised and avoid straw men.

  • Guys, I read a lot about it here and I`m always against towards any discrimination, but I cannot see anything wrong with that. Maybe because I`m not American. My wife and I went to mac today and she ordered Mr. James burger. Sorry, she didn`t like it, no test, ketchup was needed. She received scratch card too. Sorry ハズレ. We couldn`t find anything offensive. Pity is not my face there 🙂
    Well…let me ask you questions. American movies…
    1. Japanese coming to the meeting and bowing to each other like crazy without stopping. (we know is NOT TRUE here)
    2. Japanese sightseeing overseas. All of them pick up cameras and start taking pictures, flashes are everywhere around. (NOT TRUE)
    3. Japanese seeing something are showed with BIG surprise, wide open eyes and mouth sayin WHOOOOO, EEEEEEE!!!! (NOT TRUE)

    So isn`t kind of the same? I think it is. This is stereotype showing Japanese that way and the most stupid movie I watched was “Lost in Translation” I`m very surprised that Japanese didn`t write petition and movie maker got prize. I felt sorry and had to explain a lot to my friends in Europe who were laughing about it, that this movie is BIG BULL..T and not showing reality.
    Again, I`m always against everything what is anti-foreign here, but mostly what GoJ do.

  • Bill #4

    I agree. What James [S. at Japan Probe, not “Mr James”] says on ‘other blogs’ is invariance with the ‘manner’ in which he likes to maintain on his own. as such to compare his views to Debito’s is missing the point.

    What James is trying to suggest or clarify about ‘Japan’ is precisely the same that I’ve tried to suggest to those other posters on his website who dismiss such acts as “I never see it”..only to be banned for standing my ground, because they lack simple comprehension and the ability to debate, so James sides with the ‘easy non-confrontational’ crowd. Any hint of racism is pounced upon, even by James, as he suggested himself in the article above..pathetic. If that ain’t the kettle calling the pot black.

    — What I don’t quite understand is why this article, which starts off (both in the title and the opening paragraphs) as talking about McDonald’s business practices both in Japan and elsewhere, then warps into a discussion of me and my methods, citing other bloggers. Not sure how all this is materiel.

  • To offer some brief words in my defense, Iago, I would say “fair enough,” I should have been more tactful in my wording. Dave even had to ellipsis-out part of the terminology I used, so sure, I should have been more careful and delicate in trying to get my ideas across. Point taken.

    I don’t know what stereotype I would be trotting out. In fact, I was trying to say that Mr. James isn’t really a stereotype at all, but a reflection of reality.

    I hope I wasn’t offensive. In fact, I’m sure I went though my own Mr. James period in my first couple of years in Japan, which seems a lifetime ago now. So, probably, when I refer to distaste of the Mr. James types I see now, there’s some self-flagellation involved. They’re immature, not sufficiently aware, and in puppy love with Japan. There’s much to love about Japan (it’s safe, the trains run on time, dentists are not expensive, a long list of good things here …), but much to get upset and frustrated with as the puppy love wears away. Infatuation clouds one’s ability to see the fault lines, and Mr. James and his ilk have some growing up to do. I don’t hate them or think they should be ridiculed, just brought up to speed.

    But the main point I was trying to get across is that McDonald’s Japan can hardly be held at fault for having Mr. James as an advertising icon, if Mr. James is a reality. And I think he is. We, the non-Japanese, brought that reality into being, so we share some of the blame here. If we don’t like Mr. James, then there’s something about ourselves that we don’t like.

    — Look, all stereotypes have some basis in reality. Or else they wouldn’t “ring true”. What I was getting at in my Japan Times article is that the use of stereotypes (and of racially-based humor) is okay if *everyone is fair game*. And I argued that is not the case, given how little a self-deterministic voice minorities are given by the media in Japan. There’s no sauce for the gander here.

    Furthermore, your suggesting we blame ourselves for the existence of “Mr James” is like blaming Asians in, say, the US for “looking nerdy”, or looking any media-created particular way that Asians cannot answer, control, complain about, or parody back. Would you dare do that? I bet some Asians in the US would complain. In fact, they have done just that. So should we here in Japan. Sauce for the goose. Capiche?

    Anyway, thanks for engaging in discussion without getting nasty. You’re a true rarity. 🙂

  • Debito
    [I]Not sure how all this is materiel.[/I]

    I think the only reason is to pad out the article and an attempt to give some depth, as if the reporter “knows” Japan and its social issues.

  • Paul

    One of your main points is that “The majority of foreigners are like that”. Well, you’re wrong. They aren’t. Maybe the majority of English Teaching Americans in Japan are (I don’t know about that), but Americans are (from the last Census information I checked) little more than 2% of the 2 million registered foreigners in Japan. The largest groups are about 500k Chinese, 500k Koreans, 300k Brazilians, 150k Filipinos etc (I think you get three or four other groups before you get to Americans).

    Brazilians and Filipinos are not eastern asians. In the case of the Brazilians, a significant part are even Caucasian. Many of these foreigners can speak Japanese as well as, or even better than they can speak English – since both are second languages for them. Same applies for the other foreign groups. They don’t have the luxury of “getting by” with Japanese in English, so they have to make the effort to learn the language

    So, no. The majority of foreigners is NOT like Mr. James. You need to review your arguments in that front 🙂

    (On a tangent, this misrepresentation (foreigners == americans) is something I see sometimes here in – makes myself a bit sad, since people who fight for the right of foreigner in japan are tapping a very small part of the pool of interested parties by insisting on this stereotype)

  • Claus, no doubt, what you say is true. I may not have made that point clear enough in my line of argument, that I was addressing the white Caucasian English-speaking NJ (primarily American), which Mr. James represents. Obviously, lots of NJ, but only a small number of white English speakers, study, learn and speak excellent Japanese. Moreover, it’s a learnable language, and more could and should learn. Thanks for correcting a misrepresentation that my post could have suggested.

  • Personally, I don’t find Mr James racially offensive, but I do find the campaign to be upsetting, for a few reasons.

    Firstly, I work in an Eikaiwa. I know. I am the worst kind of person. Unlike some in the industry however, I’m actually a dedicated language teacher planning to work in several countries, earn a masters, and make a career of it. Unfortunately, I didn’t know until I arrived that ‘Language Teacher’ in Japan is essentially a euphemism for ‘unskilled foreigner’. So, on arriving I found I was already considered part of a generally despised group of otherwise unemployable nerds/sex pests. Which was a fun thing to be labelled as. I’ve had a huge amount of japanese people tell me that they’ve heard English teaching is really easy, which it absolutely is if you’re shit at it.

    Secondly, I came to Japan straight after university and after my teaching qualification, and didn’t really have time to study Japanese before I came. I was hoping that by studying hard when I arrived I would be able to gradually build my skills to a decent level, through self study and everyday communication. Instead (and I realise this is just my own experience and is possibly not representative) I’ve found the Japanese to be incredibly hard to talk to. When I try to speak Japanese I get blank stares, fluent replies in English, or even hectoring reactions to my grammatical mistakes. The result is that I am very unwilling to use my Japanese, and that when I do I make a lot of nervous slip-ups. I know another language leacher in the same school who has become fluent in five langauges in the past five years, and has hit the exact same stumbling block in Japan.

    This brings me to Mr James. I found myself walking into a Mcdonalds near one of my schools a few days ago, and then walking straight out. Why? Because I didn’t want to order food in broken Japanese, while standing next to a humiliating charicature of myself doing the same thing. It just seems unfair to me that I’ve put so much effort into learning the language, and yet my lack of fluency is seemingly both encouraged and then mocked by the society around me. When I was working in a shop before coming to Japan, I would have innumerate foreign students arrive and ask me questions in broken, sometimes amusing English, which I would do my best to understand, and then reply to. I didn’t say “WHAT?? What does that mean?? ‘Me want beer?’ You can’t even use pronouns correctly! AHAHAHAH!! I can! I could do it when I was 2!”, etc. Mr James makes me feel like the country is laughing at me for not having a perfect knowledge of their language. Perfection comes comes after a long time, and a lot of practise, and as I said before, practise in Japan seems a little thin on the ground.

    Perhaps the Japanese should realise that foreigners don’t learn Japanese for several years at high school, as the Japanese do with English (I’ve had many students react with shock at that news), and also that maybe a person who is trying hard to learn their language should be applauded and encouraged, not mocked.

    I didn’t come to japan to be made to feel bad about what I do, or to be made fun of for my attempts to fit in. When I look for support on the internet I mostly find foreigners who have been here for years making sarky comments about Eikaiwa teachers, and about foreigners who can’t speak Japanese. Mr James makes me personally feel like an outsider, an idiot, and, despite all my efforts the contrary, a gaijin minstrel show.

    Plus the adverts aren’t funny, don’t make sense, and probably drive away potential customers (i.e. foreigners who lack the language skills to order food anywhere else). …

  • Rob,

    Your comments were persuasive to me as to how Mr. James can come off as troubling to someone like you, who is really trying hard to learn, while holding down a job you care about and want to do well in. What you’ve observed is quite true. In English speaking countries, if someone addresses us in less than perfect English, we don’t belittle them or immediately start addressing them (equally or less badly) in their native tongue. Rather, often, we graciously slow the conversation down and work with them to find out what they are trying to say. Moreover, even when the meaning is clear enough, we tend to tolerate grammatically less than perfect English as okay, as long as the content being spoken is understandable. I’m sure this fact more than any other enables visitors to English speaking countries who come to learn, the ability to do it much more quickly.

    Most all of us who learn Japanese go through this period where it’s very hard to find Japanese to speak with us in an effort that we might actually benefit from and improve by, and Japanese classes, even if you’re fortunate to have the time for them, can only take you so far. You need interaction and conversation in Japanese. Those who manage this have been lucky enough to stumble into a relationship, or a work scenario, that provides the needed constant stimulus.

    I also recognize that teaching Eikaiwa or ESL, and being a real teacher, planning lessons, etc., is very hard work. Probably some of your colleagues, if we can call them that, treat it as an easy walk-in job, and unfortunately, tend to lower prestige level English teachers could attain, if all English teachers were competent, caring and treated it as a profession, as you seem to.

    I understood what you had to say, and I’m beginning to dislike Mr. James a little more than before.

  • I just hate the Mr. James ads because he’s so dorky! I don’t like stereotypes of foreigners here in Japan, but they’re usually tolerable because they’re so good looking! 🙂

    Seriously, though, making a foreigner who has trouble in Japanese isn’t a stereotype, it’s normal. I’ve been studying for years and I STILL make dumb mistakes. But the the thing about Mr. James is that they’ve really gone out of their way to make him look unattractive, and that bothers me. What gets me about is that it stands out so much and it’s clear that it’s intentional.

  • Perpetuating stereotypes like this definitely, indisputably make life harder. Twice this week I have had less-than-shiningly intelligent shop workers force me to repeat myself several times because they could not process the concept of Japanese coming from a white face. One was determined to talk to me in baby English, so I told her I was from Germany and could not speak English. She STILL talked to me in English. I feel a bit guilty about lying, but sometimes on a day off I just want to go into a coffee shop and have a cup of coffee without the shopkeeper drawing attention to me by a) not understanding very easy Japanese and b) talking to me in English.


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