It’s not often that I roll out the R-word — and when I do, it is generally due to the incredible short change that black people or other Asians get in Japanese popular culture. Usually the silliness with which white or “western” people are treated can be shrugged off as merely poor taste and, well, silly.
But this time it’s bad. Bad as in cringe-worthy, disgusting, I-can’t-believe-they-paid-an-ad-agency-for-this-crap bad.
As introduced on the Japan Sociology blog, Toshiba’s new TV commercial for its SuiPanDa rice cooker-bread maker machine is — there’s no other way to describe it — racist. It’s also a terrible ad in general, though we should be grateful for small mercies. At least there was no appearance by one of minions of AKB48.
The skit uses two Japanese actors, one playing a “foreign” (gaijin) women — complete with fake blond hair, a fake accent, and a fake nose. What? We’ll get to the nose in a moment.
They also use katakana subtitles for the foreigner’s dialogue — even though she can ostensibly speak fluent Japanese. Katakana is the script used typically for foreign loanwords or emphasis. Subtitles are common in Japan because the language has a lot of homonyms, so it can be hard to grasp meaning without a visual reference to help with context. The news features frequent captions and subtitles, and all kinds of programs employ subtitles for people with strong accents (Japanese included). Though the accent here is not that thick — just thick enough for you to realize the hammy Japanese performer is putting it on — the subtitles are there to emphasise that she is foreign. (In fact, the “foreign” character is played by the same actress who appears as a Japanese co-worker in other TV commercials in the same Toshiba series.)
Take a look at the ad.
UPDATE: The video has (already!) been taken down. Clearly bloggers with big noses are making too much of a fuss.
It used to be common for Japanese actors to wear fake noses to show they were now “white”. Certainly Caucasian and Asian features are different, but the nose isn’t one that comes to my mind. What about the eyes for a start?
It was a bit like how black face was used to play black people or heavy make-up for portrayals of “Chinamen”. Imagine trying to get away with a TV ad like that in America today. However, this is far from being the first time that Japanese companies have stuck a fake snout on someone.
What’s so bad here is that it is purporting to be “ironic” but actually perpetuates and exploits the conceit that a blond wig, fake noses, heavily accented Japanese and acting like an idiot makes you foreign.
It’s also interesting that both characters are women and that food is used so simplistically for the purposes of contrast. One is a strong Japanese career women happy with her modest bento lunch, but sometimes pining for a bit of bread to liven up her day. The other is a “foreign” colleague, a buffoon who is loud and with more basic culinary (i.e. bread) tastes.
If this is how Japan’s leading manufacturers hope to attract consumers and pull the country’s economy out of the doldrums, then god help us.
At the risk of getting all Debito Arudou about this, I want to open this up for debate: Is it racist, just plain bad — or both? And if it is racist, do you then take offense or just laugh it off?