Thursday, January 23, 2014

What happens when white people are the ones being stereotyped?

Japanese airline ANA (All Nippon Airways) recently ran an ad that features two Japanese pilots discussing how to make their brand more appealing to foreigners.

The answer, apparently, is to "westernize" the brand by adopting Euro-American displays of physical affection and donning "whiteface" — in the form of a blond wig and an elongated artificial nose:


According to the Japan Times, the ad caused a flurry of social media outrage among English-language viewers in Japan.

Here's one:

The airline has apparently semi-apologized for the offence, and plans to re-edit the ad:
ANA spokesman Ryosei Nomura said the carrier wanted to express the importance of the upcoming international flights at Haneda and to urge Japanese to go out and see the world. 
“But we have received opinions different from the message that we wished to convey. We will modify part of the advertisement and will release the second version soon,” he said.
While stereotyping is stereotyping, no matter who does it,  this is an opportunity for people like me to feel some of the emotions that are felt by other groups of people (including the Japanese) who are constantly caricatured in western media. I qualify this with "some of" because of course we are not a group that suffers from historical or institutionalized racism. In other words, no white people were actually harmed by this ad.

This isn't the first time that Japanese advertising stereotypes of westerners have made the news, and it probably won't be the last. Here are some other examples:

This week, Japanese restaurant chain Gusto started running a new series of commercials. It features the above woman, a "handsome foreign man" as the chain's website says, and two comedians. So, what's the problem? 
The two Japanese comedians in the commercial, Ungirls, can be funny—at times. For this spot, they are "disguised". This is a Japanese pun: "Ungirls" is written as "Angaaruzu" (アンガールズ) in Japanese, and they are disguised as "Italiangirls", or "Itariangaaruzu" (イタリアンガールズ) in the original Japanese. 
In the commercial, the foreign woman sings a little jingle, asking with whom she is going to eat some Caponata. She picks the handsome foreign dude, instead of either member of the comedy group Ungirls. Part of the comedic schtick of Ungirls is that they are creepy and not popular with the ladies. That's the gag. Apparently., 2013

Screenshot (Video has been removed)
The ad for “SuiDanPa”, [Toshiba]’s newest rice maker that can also make bread, shows two business women talking about their love for bread and/or rice. They are the two featured characters in a series of spots for Toshiba, but this time around, one of the women dons a blond wig, wears a fake big nose and speaks in a heavy Japanese accent and with her words subtitled in katakana. This is the normal stereotype in Japan of what Westerners, particularly white people, look and talk like. And while some have said that the ad is trying to be ironic, maybe they should look up what the word actually means, because it seems to perpetuate and even exploit that particular stereotype.
- Japan Daily Press, 2013

Racism by peakfloods
A commercial for Choya umeshu mocks the physical appearance of non-Japanese. 
Japan Probe, 2011

The white guy in the photo above is Mr. James, the mascot for 4 new burgers of McDonald’s “Nippon All-Stars” series. Residents of Japan who have been riding JR trains or passing by McDonald’s restaurants have probably already seen his face on advertisements. In his TV commercials, Mr. James speaks annoying foreigner Japanese (not unlike the wacky foreigner who spoke NIPPONGO in a recent Sony Commercial). Print advertisements convey his goofy gaijin Japanese by rendering everything he says in katakana [a syllabary is primarily used for transcription of foreign language words into Japanese and the writing of loan words].
- Japan Probe, 2009 


  1. "...we are not a group that suffers from historical or institutionalized racism. In other words, no white people were actually harmed by this ad."
    This is a statement loaded with disordered categories of discourse, and blameworthy as lending itself to stereotypes, bigotry, hatred, and supremacy. The underlying deception is, of course, seeking to impose the stereotype that the diverse white American demographic lacks all diversity. President Obama was there first when he identified his white grandmother as "a typical white person" in 2008. This seems to be a prevailing piece of bigotry often expressed by self-hating white Americans.

    In all their diversity, white people and white Americans have long ancestral memories and can easily recall the Mongolian oppression for 500 years in Eastern Europe (ending about when Washington was president), the Arab oppression in Spain for 700 years, and the Turkish oppression in Central Europe for 450 years (ended by Catherine the Great). It is absurd to paint a picture of the diverse white Americans as always and etermally free from slavery, serfdom, debt oppression, and penal servitude.

    But if freedom from oppression is equated to "no harm" by this ad, you have another think coming. Ask what role this bigotry has in the fairly closed Japanese culture? The diverse Japanese were the ones harmed in this ad.

    One difference between the way the diverse white Americans with a decent sense of self-respect respond to mockery and the ways others who rely on wailing about "offensiveness" is that the diverse white Americans have another way of analyzing these situations and it goes like this:

    When the diverse white Americans are named or labeled from outside the self-respecting white American demographic, we inquire into the state of mind of the namer and try to deduce whether he or she is indulging in the claim of supremacy that provides the right to name the Other, or simply stereotyping or hating or expressing bigotry.

    The answer is always as plain as the extended nose on one's face.

    1. Referencing the Mongolians, Ottoman Turks, and the Umayyad Caliphate in Spain is a real stretch, Bo. It hardly impacts the white privilege of the west, especially in the Americas.

    2. Oppression in Spain? The Muslim occupation of Spain brought it out of the proverbial dark age. The Muslims gave Spain medicine, architecture and high science. Not to mention the land was.occupied with very little bloodshed.

    3. @Lighthammer. You should do some more homework in respect to European history. It is true that between the 9th and 11th century, most Europeans could learn a thing or 2 from Muslims in Spain. However, the enlightenment in Spain ended in the 12th century when the Almohads came to power. The Almohads declared Jihad against the Christians, were very fundamentalist in outlook, and treated the dhimmis harshly. Large number of Christian women and children were taken as slaves. Many Jews were killed. For some strange reason, this aspect is widely forgotten by people with romantic ideas about Al-Andalus. These romantics believe that it was 700 years of bliss in Spain. It was not!

    4. What's intersting is that "race" as we understand it was all ready proven to be a product of society as opposed to genetics. Furthermore, as for Bo, you speak on this matter because you do not realize the privalidges bestowed upon those of fair skin in human society due to the Imperialism of Europe in Centuries past. Lets put to perspective something here: Asians are no actualy "yellow", they're as fair skinned as any white, but were called yellow to put them as a "sub-class", and there fore "under white people" When we speak of Whites and such, the typical white person response to anything indicative of sentiment against White-Privileged is to say that such things are non-existent, and that's largely due to ignorance on the subject. Be it that America did not still have many of its laws being rooted in the bible, and that blacks were not in many ways still being oppressed, one would argue against the merit of the argument on white privilege. However, last I checked, gays still cant marry in many states, I still get treated better than my black counter parts, and even I can observe the will full denial of white people on matters of "race." Granted, i'm often called any number of things, though often times people typically do not actually address my counter points. Lol

    5. @Anonymous August 13, 2014 at 4:11 AM,

      Where did you read that claptrap, from Bin Laden's personal children's history book on the Muslim occupation of Spain? That's pure nonsense. The Muslims of north Africa (many of whom were black moors) who invaded Europe were not any more "benign" that were the Muslims who invaded and brutalized India and its native Hindu population. You do not end up with something like the Battle of Tours in France, where a European army decisively crushes a Muslim incursion, followed by a long reconquest of land in Spain by the non-Muslim Spaniards if the Muslims were such "nice" and "helpful" benevolent intruders. Clearly the Muslims intended to impose their religion on Europeans and ensconce themselves as slavemasters and a rich elite with non-Muslims as their subhuman serfs. Only modern jihadis and very ignorant Muslim "scholars" try to pretend the Islamic invasions of Europe resulted in some kind of blissful Utopia for the Europeans directly impacted by Muslim imperialism and colonialism. And yes, Europeans have definitely known slavery and oppression, even in the times of the American revolution. Just read about the Barbary Corsairs a little. They were Muslim north Africans who spend centuries carrying on the white slave trade long before the Transatlantic slave trade happened.

    6. Well said. I couldn't agree more.

  2. Tom, you just fell into the stereotype trap again with your reply above. My point was that the diverse white Americans are diverse...surely in this Age of Diversity you are able to understand that, yet you insist on the magical belief in "white privilege" which is one of the most disordered categories of discourse imaginable.

    Why do you persist in promoting an obviously inaccurate concept? Do you believe in "diversity for me but not for thee"?

    1. Well, this diverse white guy doesn't need your help, Bo. Especially after checking out that web site of yours.

  3. One of the most interesting things about the refusal to see diversity among white Americans is that some are like you and have some kind of vested interest in promoting cartoon figures as the diverse white Americans.

    The other set adheres to an identical ideological position, and that would be the members of KKK who feel it is "treason" to emphasize white diversity. You both have a deep ideological attachment to the disordered category of discourse that white diversity is not as real as any other kind of diversity.

    1. If white people in America are so diverse why are they just under the brand umbrella of "white"? Why not be "Irish-Americans" or "Italian-Americans"? Oh, that's right: Irish and Italian people were not considered "white people" once upon a time ago. So dropping the "Irish" and "Italian" and simply being allowed to become white resulted in numerous privileges in society.

    2. Drop the "Italian-" and the "Irish-" and you don't get "White," you get "American."

  4. There really are people so in love with offence, they'd be offended that you're NOT offended!

    1. Don't get me wrong, Anon. I find the stereotyping distasteful and stupid. I just don't buy into Bo's world, in which the "diverse white peoples" of the west are under attack by an oppressive mainstream that they no longer control. I agree that "White" as a monolithic label is as stupid as "Black" or "Asian." It's only useful when discussing the sociological construct of "race" as it affects people through racist stereotype or historical oppression/privilege of the defined group.

    2. "I just don't buy into Bo's world, in which the "diverse white peoples" of the west are under attack by an oppressive mainstream that they no longer control."

      My friends and I do NOT think the diverse white American (or Canadian) peoples are "under attack by an oppressive mainstream that they no longer control." Making up someone's position in a false way is not ethical, Mr. Ethical Adman. In fact, if the white American demographic affinity group is looked at closely, we see that it is in an amazing state of civil war with half or so desperate to deny our diversity and the other half content with a decent sense of self-respect.

      Any battle going on is within the white demographic, not the way you see it. And this is the problem with talking about race and related issues...the side advocating the unlimited Joan Walsh & Salon outright hatred stoops at nothing to twist any discussion into their point of view. Even as you did in creating your false representation.

      But it is still fun to expose the depth of various people's hatreds for the diverse white Americans. By the way, while I wouldn't dream of naming, labeling, defining, or describing other demographic affinity groups, let me note that the two other groups you mention above are also vividly diverse. It's not just a white thing!

      PS: To Leah, we're not talking about discrimination here...we're talking about defamation expressed in falsely describing white Americans as a monolithic, uniform group. Discrimination is something else altogether.

  5. The context REALLY matters here. White people aren't a majority in Japan, and there is institutionalized (job, housing, police) and social discrimination against non-Japanese in Japan. It's the equivalent of yellow-face and linguistic stereotypes of Asians in the US.

    So, yes, while white people do not face discrimination in the US, the stereotypes of white people, especially the "wacky foreigner who can't speak Japanese" is harmful. Not just to workers and immigrants, but to the minority of multiracial children and not-ethnically-Japanese born and raised in Japan. I'd strongly urge that you check out the documentary "Half" and the video "White Japanese People" to get a feel for how these commercials perpetuate stereotypes in Japan.

    1. I should have actually included the links in the last comment.

      White Japanese People (about not-ethnically-Japanese people raised in Japan):

      Half (documentary about multiracial people born in Japan):

      Also, Debito Arudou, who is an activist in Japan, wrote about this. I don't always agree with him, but I do here:

    2. @Leah "while white people do not face discrimination in the US" I beg to disagree. Some white people in the US face discrimination. Discrimination is action that denies social participation or human rights to categories of people based on prejudice.

  6. I think every non-Japanese misses the most important point of this problem. Probably, Japanese also misses that point.

    Foreigners do not exist in Japan. Sorry, I exaggerated. But I am serious.

    There is a Japanese slang, "純ジャパ (jun-Japa)". Jun means pure. Japa is an abbreviation for Japanese. Then, what does "a pure Japanese" mean?
    The answer is a Japanese who have never been abroad. Can you believe it? Even going abroad makes you impure.
    This word is even on a dictionary.

    Let me introduce a little bit about myself. I was born in Japan, but went to Atlanta before my memory. I came back to Japan when I was six. So, I am an impure Japanese. I decided to write a comment here because this commercial also disgusted me, and I felt I can describe a deeper point.

    Say, you went to a Halloween party, and you were disguised as Mr. Spock in Star Trek. Do you think Vulcans may be offended?
    Probably, no; You don't think Vulcans do exist.

    The quite similar thing happened in this case. After I came back to Japan, there was only one foreigner in elementary school. There were no westerns in junior or senior high school. A native English teacher who came once or twice a month, and a few third-generation Korean-Japanese were the only 'foreigners' I saw at that time.
    My school was in urban area, so I think I saw them more than usual. In the university, I saw a bit more. About one foreigner per 50 persons. Well, recently, I meet many foreigners, but that is simply unusual.

    Actually, the fact that I am writing such a long comment proves that I am unusual. I think Japan is the only country in which even elites cannot speak English. It is because they do not need to.

    That means, hardly any Japanese thought foreigners might see this commercial. Or, they did not notice foreigners could feel something.

    I also saw Debito Arudou's comics. But sadly, he does not understand the point. His parody 'I'll get the rice!' looks simply funny to me.
    I also saw his book 'Little Yellow Jap.' He tried to explain why a book, 'Little Black Sambo' was offensive, and he asked 'Did you laugh at this book?' Actually, I did.

    The moral is simple. You need to know what race is before what racism is.

    So, the problem is here. For most of Japanese, foreigners are similar to Vulcans or Micky Mouse. You've seen them on TV. You've met them in Disney World. But, that's all.
    I think most of Japanese reactions to foreigners can be explained by this.
    And, yes, I think it is a problem.

    If you saw Vulcans in New York, there is no reason to fight. You want to be kind.
    If Micky mouse was trying to be a human, it is humorous. (So, Debito's comic was funny to me.)

    There are two solutions. Communicate or separate.
    No, do not write in English. English writings do not exist in Japan. Writing in English only means mumbling yourself. I think less than 0.1% read English. You need to write in Japanese. I strongly want many regular foreigners who write in Japanese.

    Do you want to learn Japanese? No? Then 'separate'? In that case, English community can see Japanese community, but not the other way. Japan might gradually lose its reputation.
    Well, I do not say it is good but there could be no choice. That is the consequence of a insular country.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Keita. That's a lot to think about...

    2. It is my pleasure if you thought something from my comment.
      I'd better add one more thing to be fair.

      If I understand correctly, it is a traditional white culture to imitate a stereotyped race to insult that race. A minstrel show would be a good example. These historical things socially constructed the meaning of disguising. That means not disguising itself is insulting. For example, in the era of Shakespeare, boys disguised as women in plays. But, of course, it does not mean Shakespeare was trying to insult women.
      Just like that, there is no such culture in Japan. Well, there are no foreigners in Japan. So, it's not possible. That is why even big companies in Japan make this kind of silly commercials over and over. Also, there is a J-pop group which members always paint their faces in black. I think it is not possible to do this in the USA.

      So, it is natural that westerns think this commercial is racism and Japanese do not because the meaning of disguising is different. But, isn't it also racism to deny other culture's point of view by their own point of view?

      By the way, as someone in this thread commented, the idea of 'white' is the sociological construct. I think this idea was formed along with the formation of 'the New World' to make the line between the first citizen and others. So, this idea is only meaningful to those who related to the New World and languages and religions of the New World. So, I do not think the commercial was trying to disguise a white but a foreigner.

      As I said, I am an impure Japanese, who think this commercial is disgusting. But, most Japanese do not think so. And, I believe that Japanese should think this is disgusting. Yet, I do not have an answer to how it would be accomplished.

  7. I thought the commercials were funny and was not offended at all, what's the matter people, you take yourselves too seriously. Shut up and laugh.

    1. Indeed! I'm a Brit living in the Good Ol' US-of-A and I thought the ANA commercial was VERY funny! :)

  8. apparently white people can dish it out, but can't take it....speaks volumes

    1. Oh, I see, so you think "white people", ALL OF THEM EVERYWHERE, dish out racism and should expect to "take it" from the victimizer? Drop dead and go to hell. Thanks, I don't think that's asking too much from a snide, dispicable hypocrite like yourself. And those are the nicest things I can say to you.

  9. This is something of good use for Mexico, when apparently most racism sarcasm is directed to those of African and full indigenous ancestry, but in reality White Mexicans don't fare better... The common slur "cascarón de huevo" - literally meaning eggshell- addressed to Whites underlines what the dominant Mestizo population things of them, from whom ironically they inherited half of their genes: White people are nasty, dirty, cunning, disgusting, disease carriers, and weaklings... If they have money and power it is because of their use of technology and resources... Put a "cascarón de huevo" to do the life and work of an ordinary citizen in the factories or the countryside fields, and they will char and melt under the tropical sun and the demands of everyday life"... For Europeans and White Americans this means nothing...But for White Mexicans and other White Latin Americans having your own family members, friends or members of your racial group being called names that keep on reminding how awful life for Europeans was in the open sewage of the Middle Ages, such slurs really become despicable, especially when directed to children at school, at playgrounds...Everywhere they go!!!!

  10. I don't give a DAMN what they do. They can dress in blackface, whiteface, redface, blueface or whatever. It's no sweat to me. I don't think they're trying to denigrate someone. If someone feels that way, it's on them to stay away or toughen up. Quit trying to turn the whole world into a bunch of sissies! More power to a free country like Japan!

  11. This particular form of "racism", like beauty and ugliness, is entirely in the eye of the beholder. Get over it. There are more important things to address and repair.

  12. If you like racial hypersensitivity and political correctness, stay in america. Leave Japan for those who don't.

  13. And the winner is Keita and Bo Sears

  14. Personally, I think the Japanese posing as white people in these ads actually just make themselves look like very ugly Asians trying to look "whiter". It's sort of funny and pathetic, but hardly something to get too bent out of shape about. In a way it simply backfires on the silly Japanese making these commercials, like a lot of things Japanese do without really thinking beforehand.

    1. I can't believe how much butt hurt this is causing! I mean seriously, who's really offended by black face, white face etc? I understand there are many people in this forum complaining/whining but that's because they're just overly sensitive to things that don't actually affect them.

    2. I agree. There are far worse things to criticize the Japanese about, like their agregious, unrepentent racism over many centuries, starting with the crushing of the native Ainu population and continuing with their many atrocities during World War 2. You'll hear Japanese Americans cry "racism" about their treatment at the hands of white people in the internment camps here, but the fact of the matter is, white Americans of ethnicities that match the Axis nations were also placed in those camps (mostly Germans and Italians). At least the U.S. addressed the problem on its own and recognized the harm it did, but Japan and Japanese Americans are terrible about admitting to their own racist actions. You should see how they behave in Hawaii. It's as if they own the place and all other ethnicities, including white Americans are in "their" sovereign territory. Not all Japanese Americans, mind you, but there IS significant racism originating from Japanese people overall. These "whiteface" incidents are pretty tame compartively speaking. That's not to say the Japanese shouldn't be held accountable for serious acts of racism, but getting irate about any minor instance of (possible) racism like these videos will only make the people getting offended look petty and overbearing to the Japanese. It's better to pick your battles and confront Japanese with the more serious racism they've been guilty of. I do think they're generally a "thinking" people and will eventually understand an outside/foreign point of view if it's presented calmly and rationally.

    3. I think the ads do backfire on them. Such attractive people trying to look more like a Muppet character than a person.

  15. This article is rather comical however, the butt hurt reactions to white face and black face tickle me the most. How can anyone seriously be offended by this? None of this actually affects anyone!

  16. White people are awesome, why should we be offended by 'whiteface'?

  17. I am white and nothing about white face offends me. It seems the reality is people are trying to make racism out of anything these days. People just need to lighten up.

    What if I identified as a black person and started painting myself black and got hatted on. Who is being prejudice now? Would be no different than someone hatting on a transgender. This is a very similar case, when you act, you are now identifying as the type of person you are playing; what is so wrong about acting as another color, nationality, etc.? Are people who play serial killers in movies being prejudiced towards serial killers?

    This article is so dumb. Media, please stop trying to cause drama at every chance you get. This is why the world is so full of hate because the media creates it!

  18. I found the above ads funny. Racism exists EVERYWHERE. I won't say get over it, but recognize it for what it is: one culture wants to feel superior over another. We believe that slavery is wrong, but do not take a stand against LEGALIZED SLAVERY (similar to our pre-Civil War days) that exists in other countries. We let people speak of repatriations but do not address the white lives that moved north because they felt slavery was wrong. We do not tell people to factor in the sacrifice of families that gave their sons to the causes of uniting our country and making slavery illegal. Basically, what I see anymore is white hate but we can not call it that. It is ok to say jihad because that is a religious term. Essentially it is a hate crime against Jews and Americans and our allies. so much more to be said, but based on the comments above someone will blow this post up and ignore the intent.