“Foreigners” on Japanese TV

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    As Korean netizens and expat bloggers are up in arms about a racially offensive TV segment in which a black woman is mocked by a Korean man wearing an Afro wig, a Japanese TV program that similarly makes humor out of the stereotypical features of another race continues to enjoy immense popularity. If you’ve been reading Japan Probe for a while, you’ve probably seen my previous posts on the rotating sushi segment of “Haneru no Tobira”. If not, here is a recording of last night’s segment:

    Part 1:

    Part 2:

    As you can see, comedians dress up as foreigners and try to pick up pieces of sushi with chopsticks. The food items chosen are particularly difficult to grip, causing contestants to occasionally fail to pick them up. Is the reason they are dressed as foreigners is because it is generally assumed that foreigners cannot properly use chopsticks? I can’t confirm this, but it seems that way.

    Anyway, allow me to introduce the “foreigners”:

    A “Chinese” girl

    A “Mexican”

    An “American”

    A “Russian”

    And an “Arab” (not a regular character, but the celebrity guest needed a nationality and I guess they had a particularly huge “Arabic” rubber nose lying around.)

    I don’t really find the Mexican or the Chinese costumes to be racist, since they only involve hair styles and “national” clothing of their countries. When it comes to the other costumes, however, I do find them to be irritating. I am not at all cool with mocking the stereotypical facial features of a racial group. Sure, you could say that Caucasians and Arabs usually have bigger noses than Japanese people, but does that doesn’t make it OK for Japanese comedians to put on huge rubber noses and say “Hello my name is Yakmal and I am an Arab. LOL!”

    When I asked readers if they found this racist or offensive in my earlier posts, there were quite a few people who posted saying it was perfectly harmless and not at all offensive. Some of them didn’t think it was racism because the targets of mockery were whites. Sure, whites have been on the top of the global power structure for a long time, and their racism was responsible for the suffering and death of huge portions of the world. It’s a terrible thing, but it has nothing to do with this situation. In Japan the Japanese have the power, and they are in a position to discrimnate against non-Japanese. Mockery of another race’s physical features is not a positive thing, and I agree with Shari’s article about my “gaijin nose” post in which she declares that this is a negative stereotype. Even if you don’t agree with me on the racism against whites issue, this week’s program has proven that they can make fun of “Arab” noses too, does that offend you? If they had a “Jew” with a hooked nose or an “African” with blackface and big fake lips, would that offend you?

    Official complaints can be filed to the Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement organization at this link, which requires some Japanese writing ability. Even if a few dozen foreigners wrote in complaining that it was offensive, would FujiTV pull one of the “best” segments from a very popular comedy show? I doubt it. Perhaps we could write to Nissan Motor Company and demand an explanation for why they used these racial caricatures in an ad campaign? Since Nissan also sells its products in other countries, I think they might be more receptive to complaints from foreigners. Would writing to their investor relations section be appropriate? I can’t seem to find an official complaints contact address.

    Let me close this post be clarifying that I do not think that this comedy segment is the result of malicious racism. I guess that this is a result of ingorance. The non-Japanese population in Japan has always been very small, and most Japanese people are simply unaware that putting on a rubber nose, wearing blackface make-up, Black Sambo could possibly offend anyone. I am hoping to spread awareness of the fact that foreigners are offended by such things in the hope that comedians stop unknowingly reinforcing offensive racial stereotypes. I don’t hate Japan and I don’t think that the other segments on “Haneru no Tobira” are bad, I just want to make things better. And if Japanese people start to realize that such things can offend foreigners, maybe, just maybe, the next time I go to Japanese elementary school the children will realize that it isn’t cool to make jokes about how the foreign teacher’s nose is bigger than theirs….

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