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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Mr. James Madness

You might know about the Mr. James ad campaign going on in Japan right now, but I'll sum it up briefly: Mr. James is a foreigner as Japanese people imagine foreigners (the harmless, non-violent type anyhow). He's white, he's a Japan-loving dork, and he recites random non-sequitors in laughably bad katakana, demonstrating his basic inability to "get" the real Japan.

I've gotten tired of getting up in arms about this kind of stuff, but there are a lot of people who've been offended by it. You can reference the threads on JapanProbe.com or debito.org to get up to speed.

I couldn't help but think about how this commercial leaves McDonald's WIDE OPEN to a reversal of their own publicity, for the benefit of another fast food giant. So Brett and I made a silly little video. Below is the video, along with a copy of a letter that I've drafted to Mos Burger, and which long time friend of the Daily, Nirav, has translated into knock-you-on-your-ass Japanese.

Please forgive the quality of the video, but if you support the idea, comment away on the YouTube page. Maybe someone will notice it.


You are most likely familiar with the current advertising campaign for McDonald's in Japan, featuring "Mr. James." You may not be aware that the character of Mr. James is one that many foreigners, especially those residing in Japan, find to be very offensive. His katakana-Japanese pronunciation, and Nihon-otaku appearance have made many foreigners feel that they are at best, being portrayed in a poor light, and at the worst, being openly mocked. This advertising campaign contributes to the already widespread image of foreigners as goofy, hapless, and unable to connect to or understand Japan on any real level. It has instigated petitions and boycotts against McDonald's both domestically and internationally. I believe that these actions will probably have very little effect on either McDonald's financial situation, nor on the way of thinking that gave birth to these commercials. However, I do think that this situation presents a unique opportunity for the Mos Burger Corporation.

Instead of focusing on foreigners as bizarre and unable to function normally in Japanese society, what about an advertising campaign featuring a foreigner who, as many of us are, is well-adjusted to daily life in Japan? Softbank, for example, has had great success with its foreign spokespeople. Japanese citizens and many foreign residents alike find the "White Family" advertisements amusing, and few complain that they are in poor taste. This is because they portray foreign characters no differently than Japanese characters. In the world of these commercials, Big Brother's race is not a focal point. He is merely a member of the family, and the fact that he lives, works, and functions in Japanese, in Japan, is treated as natural.

I've imagined, and created a rough draft of a potential advertisement for Mos Burger that works as both a light-hearted spoof of the "Mister James" campaign, and as a statement of affirmation to the foreign community in Japan. A character similar to Mr. James, excited about Japan but essentially clueless, is befriended by another foreigner who is a long term-resident of Japan. The second foreigner offers to show him an insider's view of Japan, which includes steering him away from the American-owned McDonald's, and into the Japanese-born Mos Burger. Within just a very short video segment, Mos Burger can assert its identity as an authentic "Japanese" Hamburger Shop, establish itself as willing to befriend Japan-savvy foreigners, and turn the publicity of the McDonald's campaign to its own advantage.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this letter, and I hope you'll consider this proposal seriously. I look forward to hearing from you.







Kriszti said...

Haven't had time to read the japanese, but from glancing at the beginning and end, i think i'll keep it as future reference for the japanese formal letter. maybe one day i'll use it in class to teach written keigo to my students.
and also, good luck on your business proposition. i love mos burger too!

Anonymous said...

It's キャンペーン.

Nirav said...

Good catch! I'm sure there are a bunch of other mistakes, but 悪しからず。

(Do let us know if you see any more, though.)

Steven said...

Good idea, but 2:30 too long. Dude looks similar enough to get the point across; could have trimmed quite a bit off the beginning. But like I said, it's a good start.

Anonymous said...

あなたの意見を読む限り非常にうぬぼれている感じが致します。モスバーガーと外国人がどのような関係にあるのですか? ほとんどの日本人は今回のマクドナルドの件に対して興味はないし外国人の意見も知らないはずです。

archipelagic said...

That latter anonymous Japanese commenter has a point to some extent, but it seems to rest a bit too heavily on Japanese people not knowing or caring what resident foreigners think about their media portrayal in the country. Kind of makes me grateful to be living somewhere with greater diversity, where inclusion and representation is at least part of mainstream discourse.

I love Japan, but damn. Don't miss this.

AzzidisRidden said...

Hmm. For me, the one message that comes through loudest in that anonymous comment is "Foreigners (should) have nothing to do with Japan."

The poster seems to be offended by the very idea of foreigners in Japanese commercials, as we have no relationship with those companies, those products, and our opinions have no bearing on the Japanese people who patronize those companies or Japanese people's lives in general.
A response to the Mr. James campaign, such as ours, would fail to be seen as a parody, and come across as just ANOTHER gaijin advertisement.

As archipelagic points out, this is a typical non-inclusive attitude: "There aren't that many gaijin here, and it's not their country, so they don't matter."

Having grown up in a diverse society, I have a hard time understanding how anyone can say "This group of people doesn't matter," without offending half of the room.

On a related noted, there are a lot of foreigners who think that being offended by the Mr. James commercial equates to "white kids, crying "Racism in Japan!" I have to say that this is a position I understand, and sometimes identify with. I know the difference between "I-want-to-be-your-friend-so-I-can-show-you-off-and-learn-English" racism and getting-your-ass-kicked-in-the-parking-lot racism, and so I feel silly/guilty even talking about 外人差別 most of the time. However, I think it's perfectly fair to address questions of how groups of people are represented and portrayed in mass media, and to take issue with the ones that might be counter-productive to cultural-understanding. As I mentioned on the comments thread on Japan Probe, my issue is not with the fact that Mr. James is a dorky white guy who loves Japan, cause let's face it, there are no shortage of those. My issue is that there are very few examples of gaijin in the public eye that represent us as most of us are: normal, well-adjusted human beings.

So, as for that anonymous comment, I'm not really sure which part of my statement is 非常にうぬぼれている. Is it conceited to think that we have a place in Japanese media at all? Mmmmm....maybe. But is it conceited to think that if we're going to be represented in mass media, we should be represented more fairly? And is it conceited to think that Japanese people should care about our opinions? I hope not...

Anonymous said...

If the foreigner wants to improve it like this, it should be discussed in Japanese with the Japanese of large majority.
Only the person who understands a part of English knows it.
Why does not the foreigner make the blog for the Japanese in Japanese?
because the purpose is for foreigner reader.
Then, the stereotype to the foreigner is not lost either.

AzzidisRidden said...







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David said...

Aww that's so great. I lol'ed. Nice work.

the_greatest_pip said...

Interesting discussion going on here.

Furious said...


This is a bit late, and I said I wouldn't give my opinion about Mr. Jeemusu, but I have things to say about this that aren't really compatible at all.

First one is, Mr. James acts pretty much like Japanese men do in most light-hearted Japanese commercials. There are loads of "lovable dorks" doing and saying stupid things on Japanese TV and if any one of those roles were given to a Caucasian actor instead of an Asian one, it would probably be taken as being offensive. This is a case of majorities versus minorities, I suppose, but as far as some of the debito.org crowd getting up in arms, I think that's a bit silly. There are also plenty of Japanese women on variety shows whose entire act is to play numb and make stupid mistakes in their Japanese. Sound familiar?

On the other hand, while I find the CM annoying, I find the *website* really quite offensive. A lot of fa-fa-fa-foreigners act like and speak Japanese pretty much like Mr. James in real life, but having bad spelling mistakes an a near-complete absence of kanji, as though they were the diamond in the rough that whitey will never find, is really condescending. I can just picture the English blog of the Japanese character that uses "me" for "I" and reverses all L's and R's from start to finish.

Ps. Lovely Japanese, Jeff. :) Really coming along, eh?

AzzidisRidden said...

Yeah, I have mixed feelings as well. I've never felt up in arms about the Mr. James issue. Just saw an opportunity.

And if you're referring to the letter with your Japanese comment, then I"m required to state once more, Nirav wrote that (it says so in the body of the post). If you mean my response to the anonymous commenter, than thank you, though I think it might be more apt to say that it's coming along "confrontational."

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