Little Black Sambo dolls on sale at Rainforest Cafe, next to Tokyo Disneyland.


Hi Blog. Here’s something from John C, postmarked December 3, 2007. Plus what he did about the issue–successfully. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Hey Debito.

This is the first time I have written something like this to your site.

I went into The Rainforest Cafe in iksepiri Maihama, Chiba (the shopping centre next to Disneyland) today with my son.
Rainforest Cafe (Jungle theme)
Ikspiari, 1-4 Maihama, Urayasu-shi, Chiba-ken (tel: 047-305-5656). Open 11am-11pm daily.
Nearest stn: Maihama

I was utterly disgusted to find these Little Black Sambo dolls…

I spoke to one of the staff and asked her if she knew what it was and what it meant, she said “Yes” they knew and that they had told the manager that there may be problems. I asked to speak to the manager and was told that the Manager was off today but the asst mng was in, he came up and talked to me for a little bit.

I asked him if he knew what the problem was with these dolls, he said yes, but a month ago when they went on sale. A couple of Americans from Head office came over for a business trip, they saw the dolls on the shelf and said nothing about them. He also tried to win me over by saying that he had friends of African decent. I asked him to think of how he would feel if one of those friends called him “Nip” he said he wouldn’t like it much. I asked him how I should explain to my son (who is 1 part Japanese and 1 Part British) why mummy’s country can sell this crap. ( that was hard to put into Japanese!!)

I asked him to take them down and he mumbled something about he would talk to the mng. I told him that I had to leave but that I would be contacting head office in America to talk to them and that I would be sending the pictures to you.

I will be going back today or tomorrow to see what he has down, and with a better camera…

I would also like to say that the Maruzen bookshop in Nihonbashi sells the same book, I have asked them repeatedly to take it down, they always take it off the shelf while I am there but the next time I go in they have it back for sale. (I would like yours/writers permission to show them chibi kiroi nipu and ask if they would sell that.)


Follow-up, full report, from the top:

My 4 year old son and I went into the rainforest cafe at about 2pm today, 3/Dec/2007 and while there found the L.B.S dolls on sale. (as you can see from the picture, “Tracy the Tree” is in the background, quality is low though cause taken on my mobile phone)

I asked the staff why the shop was selling these and if they knew the meaning and racial insult implied. One replied yes She knew and had previously thought and said they may cause problems.

I asked to speak to the manager, she went away to contact the manger, returned and said that it was the mangers day off, but the asst mng was there.

I asked to speak to him. To wit he arrived about 5 minutes later. I asked him what the dolls were and why they were on sale.

He said they had been on sale for over a month and during that time 2 Americans from Head office had come over to Japan and checked the merchandise etc and made no comments.

I told him that they were offensive and that I had many friends who were of African decent and would really hate to see them. He said that he too had friends who were from African decent.

I asked him how I should explain these to my son, who is British and Japanese… no reply…

I asked him how he would feel if one of his friends called him a “Nip” he replied that he would not like it at all. I told him that if someone called one of my kids that I would become extremely unpleasent ( I am not known for my loving personality)

Then I asked him to try calling one of his African decent friends a “nigaa” or “kuronbo” and see what they say.

I then had to take my son to his English class, so said “Please remove them from the shelf, look at this web site (gave Debito’s site) and that I would be back later or the next day to see if they were still on sale.

I went back at about 5:30 pm armed with a better camera, and found that the dolls were all off the shelves and no where to be found. I spoke to the asst mng again, and thanked him very much for taking such prompt action.

He said that the dolls would be returned to the supplier. I thanked him again and said that I would still be calling the US head office, and that I still planned to go in periodically to check. but that I would also be giving a good review of his prompt actions.

I got a call from Landry’s Restaurants America and they are checking on this incident now, they also said they were appalled by this, and that the Man who came over a month ago was African American and that they are sure he would have said something if he had seen them.

I sent them the pictures and said also that they were going to be posted on the net, but that they please commend the asst mng Mr. Yamamoto for his quick action.

I have now recieved a call from the Gentleman who came to Japan, he has heard about this very quickly and taken the time to call me and explain that his company in no way supports this type of thing. He said had already written to the Japanese partner to ask for pictures and an explanation of this product, but that he had not seen the dolls when he was here. ( so one lie was told by the shop…)

He did think that he may have missed this because he does not speak Japanese, but I told him that there is no way they could be missed, there was a box full of “gollywogs” next to “Tracy the Tree” (I hate these words, my arsehole father used stuff like this often when I was young (read: smaller than him))

I thanked him again and told him that I would like them all to commend Mr Yamamoto (asst mng) on his prompt actions.

He also asked me what website the pictures would be posted on, so I told him, and a little about Debito’s site.

I am still a bit wary that the dolls will return to the shelves, but deep down want to believe they won’t.

11 comments on “Little Black Sambo dolls on sale at Rainforest Cafe, next to Tokyo Disneyland.

  • “They aren’t racist…I have friends of African descent”

    What a great excuse…not!

    Good job on both lodging the complaint and the follow up.

  • Good job. Thanks for doing it and for sharing the info and experience. I will have to keep a look out around my world for any similar situations. Your story is a great guide on how to handle such things if I come across them.


  • Congratulation!
    We can make a difference for sure.
    This is who we are and why this country dislike us; we can act and move the things forward.
    Thank you so much!

  • hi debito and THANKS John C. for reporting this!

    I will create a podcast for my viewers/listeners and send a link of this story to others that are in my web ring.


    afro eric

  • As an African-American, and also someone who is semi-fluent in Japanese and lived in Japan for a few years, I am always appalled at this sort of thing whenever I run into it there in Japan. I’m based in Atlanta, Georgia, USA these days, which is the birthplace of amongst other things Dr. Martin Luther King, and the American Civil Rights Movement so racial injustices and stereotypes are always at the forefront of discussions around here.

    I ran into a similar incident in Osaka 6 years ago when I was living there while participating in an internship sponsored by Kansai University. Not too far from the university itself was a shop selling and promoting “American Hip-Hop Culture”. While the vast majority of the merchandise in the store was legitimate hip-hop oriented stuff (posters, clothing, etc.)there was a small phone strap with a “sambo-jiggaboo” (my words, not theirs) doll on the end. When I talked to the store workers about it, I let them know that it was quite offensive to those of my particular race, and many of those people not of African decent, but still knowledgeable of its meaning.

    He said he had no idea, and I took this to be true; I was the first African-American that ventured into the shop actually, and in my many casual talks about this subject in Japan, most people have no idea of American racial stereotypes. I become kind of an ambassador of sorts whenever I am in Japan because I happen to be African-American, and have the ability (somewhat anyway) to communicate in Japanese.

    Please correct me if I am wrong, but a lot of Japanese either don’t know, or tend to forget that the USA is populated by many different groups of people, and many different races. In fact I have met with people in Japan that are somewhat shocked when meeting me in person; they expected my skin-tone to be a little bit lighter than it really is due to their idea of an American “should look like” (although I get the same results here in the States invariably as my name is very Anglo-Saxon sounding and a lot of African-Americans in my generation have very “ethnic” sounding names now.)

    I stumbled upon this blog when I was researching on information needed to obtain certain visas in Japan last month, and since then I have enjoyed seeing what it is really like for some of you who are trying to fight the good fight for human rights and equality there. I admit that I really do love Japan and wouldn’t complain if God allowed me to be there up until my last breath–that place changed my life that much! However just like any other place, it isn’t perfect. With that I say keep up the good work, and ask your permission to repost this article and link to it on my own blog ( and I hope next time I am there perhaps I could meet you in person if only to shake your hand.

    Best Regards,
    J.L. Gatewood
    Documentarian struggling to make it back to the Land of the Rising Sun

  • Hello all,
    I have word from friends and with my own eyes that the little dolls have not returned to the Rain forest cafe shelves, so for that I thank them.
    I did go into Nihonbashi Maruzen to buy my kids some books for Christmas, and at the same time took the oppertunity to ask the manager to stop selling/stocking the Little Black Sambo books.
    She gave me a very cold reception, and when I aksed her if she knew they were offensive and it was the same as saying “Nip” she said yes she knew that.She added that she had been called “Nip” herself… here when I tried to say “2 wrongs don’t make a right” my Japanese let me down.( Damn but I hate trying to translate proverbs and such)
    I asked her to look at the “Chibi Kiroi Nipu” and she said she would peruse it at home…
    So I have to say that the result was a resounding “No, We will continue selling”…
    I will continue to try, but am not really in the frame of mind to go back for a while. I will definitely only be taking my kids there to show them what not to buy.


  • Does anyone know who made the first black sambo dolls? I have one with painted eyes and jointed arms and legs. he also has glued on hair.

  • This is enteraining. In the early ’90’s the chibi kuro sambo t shrts were popular and I saw a 20 something Japanese woman get yelled at by a Honolulu transit bus driver about it. She didn’t have a clue what was going on but everyone on the bus was laughing at her so she didn’t get on. Not sure if she ever figured out why her blatantly racist T shirt got her yelled at.


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