E-mobile monkey imitates Obama in commercial

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    Summary: Japanese company has a Japanese macaque as a mascot. Previous ads show the monkey doing human stuff. Trying to ride the wave of Obama love and optimism that has swept Japan, they run a commercial that has the monkey running an Obama-like campaign of change. Ignorant non-Japanese react by taking the entire ad campaign out of context and presenting the commercial as “racist” against Blacks.

    I’ve received several e-mails over the last week regarding an E-mobile commercial running on Japanese TV that has a monkey campaigning for their service using “Change” signs:

    Is this “the ugly head of racism” in Japan, as sites like Black Tokyo have written? I don’t think so.

    The commercial clearly is a parody of Barack Obama’s campaign, which has received a lot of positive media coverage in Japan, but I don’t feel that it reflects racist ideas about black people and monkeys. E-mobile has used this cute Japanese macaque as their mascot in commercials before this one (in the last one the monkey listened to headphones while using a PC), so it would be hard to claim that they just pulled this monkey out of nowhere so they could make a racist joke (this is not the same as Mandom’s ad). The monkey’s previous commercials had him acting like a human, so it was already established that E-mobile’s mascot is a cute monkey that mimics people. With this latest ad, they were probably trying to make a cute commercial that brings attention to the benefits of changing to E-mobile’s service, and a parody of Obama’s “Change” slogan was most likely included without a thought of race issues. I doubt that most Japanese people would even understand how a pink-faced grey monkey native to Japan could be equated to African people.

    Taken completely out of context by foreigners, this commercial will appear racist. I expect that e-mobile will be getting letters of complaint and phone calls from angry people who assumed this commercial was making an offensive racial joke, and I wouldn’t be surprised if e-mobile reacts by pulling the ad. But if you ask me if this commercial is a racist jab at Barack Obama and black people, I’d have to tell you I don’t think it is.

    E-mobile’s established mascot is a Japanese macaque that acts like humans in his commercials, and it just so happened to the latest commercial spoofed the campaign of an American presidential candidate who enjoys enormous popularity in Japan. That’s all there is to it.


    Update: Here are a couple images of older e-mobile advertising campaigns involving the monkey.

    E-mobile’s president calling the monkey in March 2008.
    E-mobile girls dress up like the monkey in February 2008.

    Update 2: Perhaps I should clarify my view a bit more. In the original post, I wrote that the commercial is a “parody of Barack Obama’s campaign.” This does not mean that the monkey is meant to represent Obama. The monkey, who already the established mascot of E-mobile, is is running a campaign of “Change” against competitors such as Softbank, which also use cute animals in their commercials. Japanese people who watch the commercial will not think the monkey is meant to represent Obama, and I doubt the creators of the commercial intended for the monkey to be seen as Obama either.

    As an American, I’m well aware of the long and hurtful history of using monkeys to depict Africans. However, this commercial doesn’t depict Obama as a monkey, nor does it depict a monkey as Obama. It just has a company’s mascot, which happens to be a monkey, running a campaign of change partially-inspired by Obama’s campaign of change. This is not about race – it’s about a cute animal mascot selling stuff.

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