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The Big Mac Attack!

Mr. James Nippon All Stars

I have been sitting back watching this one but it seems like McDonald’s Japan is being served by some in the expatriate community over its new “mascot” Mr. James, the first of the Nippon All Stars reppin’ four new burgers for Micky D’s Japan. This new all-star is killing the image of hard-working foreigners with his goofy look, goofy Japanese and goofy mannerisms. Is he portraying the typical gaijin in Japan?  I wonder if Mr. James will soon have a Mr. Leroy (no fun intended) to keep him company? He may need it because there are some vicious comments directed towards the guy playing Mr. James. Here are just a few of the non-malicious comments from Debito’s blog (with appropriate trackback for you to comment there as well):

From Debito: “Hi Blog.  Please feel free to adapt this letter to your needs and send it to any corporate outlets of McDonald’s you feel are appropriate.  Please continue to express your disgruntlement where it can be heard (there is even the suggestion that people walk in to restaurants with indelible ink pens and wrote “racist” across the face of the “Mr James’” full-size display figure).”  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

A very interesting comment from the Debito blog regarding the power of the media in Japan from AJ:

“I am a simultaneous interpreter. Even after interpreting complex technical meetings backwards and forwards between both languages, I still have (a minority, admittedly) people asking me if I can read Japanese and expressing amazement that I chose to live here on a permanent basis without going “home”. Where do these views come from? Why do people find it difficult to perceive someone non-Japanese as a fully-fledged member of the community? Such views are not formed in a vacuum. They are fostered by stereotypes such as those shown in the commercial. People acquire their views on the basis of what they see and hear. We should not underestimate the cumulative damaging affect negative portrayals in the media can have.

Mr. James and Fans

AJ continues with: “The key problem here is the katakana speak, reinforcing the notion that non-Japanese cannot speak the language and are only passing through. This is highly prejudicial… Once a stereotype is ingrained, it is very hard to breakdown. That is why I have written to McDonalds asking them to stop this campaign, a campaign that will be seen by millions of people if it continues. That is why I hope readers of this board will do likewise. It is so sad to see other non-Japanese people failing to see what the issue is here.”


Another Debito poster commented: “When I saw those commercials (he is watching fireworks from a boat and the fireworks magically turn into burgers, if I remember correctly) I didn’t find them any more offensive than the ones featuring a little white girl in a meadow speaking Japanese she obviously doesn’t understand. It took Debito to point it out to me that this is actually a direct caricature of people like myself. It would be unfortunate indeed if characters like this became acceptable joke fodder.

The comments above from the Debito blog are very similar to those by Africans and African-Americans that were up in arms when chimpanzees were used in advertising campaigns with Blacks or as Blacks. Some posters (from another blog) that find the Mr. James advertising campaign insulting could not understand why Black Tokyo “failed” to miss the advertisement’s liberal “parody” and artistic interpretation. Black Tokyo protesters were accused of  being overly sensitive or looking for racism. As I questioned the validity of Gregory Clark‘s assumption that “Japan girai” — dislike of Japan — is an allergy that seems to afflict many Westerners here,” will the expatriate community stand up to other forms of discrimination in Japanese media or the media in general? It seems like the burger flipper flipped the [advertising] script!

I wonder if my American “conditioning” and “mindset” prevents me from enjoying the “artistic” beauty of the McDonald’s Japan advertisement? Am I reading too much into this? Did I and a million other consumers miss the big picture? It may have been easier if McDonald’s Japan used a monkey! Pun intended.

To paraphrase two previous comments of mine: (1)  “Maybe someday in the future race will not matter. Nevertheless, just as those that saw no issue in using a monkey in E-mobile’s CM (I was constantly informed that snow monkeys appeared in other ads) and tried to spin the CM as just a parody of Barack Obama’s CHANGE campaign (and not Obama himself) were battling with cognitive dissonance or just plain ignorance. Ignorance because some bloggers found it funny to correlate monkeys to Blacks while others felt that the Japanese would not understand the “Western” concept of things related to race and racist imagery. Many bloggers believe that my remarks stemmed from cultural baggage, whatever the hell that means.” When in Japan, do as the Japanese do? Not always!

(2)  The most telltale sign that some people were “micturating in atmospheric equations of motion” stemmed from the numerous claims of Blacks “screaming” of racism. I would like to believe that the voice on Black Tokyo has been reasonable, measured, and raised in a consciousness that reflects the spirit of those that do not need others to validate or approve of what is deemed racist in depiction or culturally insensitive.

Can I apply this across the board in looking at the McDonald’s Japan Mr. James Nippon All-Stars campaign? Racism and discrimination in all of its forms has an impact on the populous as a whole. I just wonder if this latest campaign will get people to understand that?! Has the burger flipper tripped and flipped the advertising script?

QUESTION:  Is the McDonald’s Japan “Mr. James, Nippon All-Stars” campaign racist or discriminatory in nature?

Let us know what you think! BTW, Check out Disgrasian‘s and the Nikkei View take on the Mr. James Nippon All-Stars.


  1. Tony Tony

    >This new all-star is killing the image of hard-working foreigners with >his goofy look, goofy Japanese and goofy mannerisms. Is he portraying >the typical gaijin in Japan?

    No, this character is not meant to represent anyone living or working in Japan. He is a tourist who has just come to Japan with this daughter, hence the lack of speaking Japanese.

    This is a comedic character along the lines of Mr. Bean. Sorry if folks can’t enjoy it.

  2. Ken Ken

    Is the McDonald’s Japan “Mr. James, Nippon All-Stars” campaign racist or discriminatory in nature?

    Is it racist? I would have to say no. I’ve been here long enough to know that any discrimination I face is based on my being a foreigner (or appearing non-Japanese) and not based on my “race” per se. A Japanese person might see me and speak differently to me from (what they perceive to be) a Japanese person, but give me three minutes of conversation with them and that perception changes completely.

    Is it discriminatory? Yes, of course. Discrimination is founded upon bias against an individual based on ideas extrapolated from perceptions of the group from which that individual comes from. There is a general perception that foreigners cannot speak Japanese, and such perceptions are reinforced by adverts, the media and even the educational system.

    Beyond all that, I think the essential point about this ad campaign is that it comes across as lazy and dumb. I have a hard time believing that McDonald’s executives would even find this ad campaign appealing, given many of the very customer-savvy efforts they have embarked upon over the past few years – Ebi-chan in ads, free hotspots for Nintendo DS users, free coffee giveaways, etc. I just don’t understand why such a lame idea for a campaign got approved.

    And, looking at comments in Mr James’ blog, I’m amazed that people don’t seem to understand that it is a marketing campaign, and that the blog posts are written by marketers – that there is no authenticity whatsoever in the campaign. Perhaps insightful comments on the blog simply are not approved.

  3. Karl Karl

    The character may be a tourist who has come to Japan, but using him in this campaign only furthers the preconception that all foreigners (or at least all Caucasian foreigners) in Japan are just tourists who will soon go “home.”

    That he isn’t meant to represent anyone living or working in Japan doesn’t mean that the people watching the commercials will make that connection. They will equate any foreigners they see with Mr. James and make their assumptions based on that.

    If people really thought deeply about things like how they view others everytime they met someone then we probably wouldn’t have to worry about prejudice. But unfortunately that’s not how people usually work.

    Many racist depictions of people are intended to be comedic characters. Being funny alone doesn’t really make it acceptable. As an example, black-face and minstrel shows in the United States were intended as entertainment.

    Ask an Asian-American what they think of Long Duk Dong from “Sixteen Candles.”

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