I first saw the ad two Saturdays ago when my husband and I were watching TV together. I didn’t think much of commercial until one of the men said, “Let’s change the image of Japan,” and for that brief second, I was excited. “Yes!” I thought. “Let’s do it!” But in the next second, the commercial did a 180. The camera cut to the other man (comedian BakaRhythm), who was now wearing a Cyrano nose and a yellow wig. He’s supposed to look like a hakujin — a white foreigner. My husband laughed. I said nothing.
Some people, like the Japan police of the Internet, think it isn’t racist at all, but I would disagree. The ad is racist; there’s no debating that. What’s debatable is how offensively racist it is, and as for me, it’s not even a blip on the radar. But ANA’s ad is upsetting for other reasons.
Japan sees itself as a unique country (like I talked about in my last blog post). Name your reason–because they were closed off to the world for 200 years, because Japan is supposedly the only country with four seasons–whatever it is, Japan is insistent of its uniqueness. There’s a feeling of “us versus them” within Japan, the Japanese versus the rest of the world, and this feeling is very strong. There are many stories of second-generation foreigners and how, even though they were born here, grew up here, and live here permanently, they are still considered Korean or Chinese or whatever their parents’ nationality was. Either you’re ethnically Japanese or you’re an outsider.
The ad was exciting to me because it speaks about Japan as a global player. There was no “us versus them” …until the yellow wig and big nose appeared, which was like a slap in the face. Changing the image of Japan wasn’t a serious proposal. Instead, it sent the message that Japan is no more international than it ever was. Either ANA thought foreigners wouldn’t see the commercial or they thought people wouldn’t be offended by it, and either is upsetting in its ignorance.
Edit: Hifumi Okunuki has written a great piece on this topic for the Japan Times.