Is it racist?

A Japanese advert that portrays Barack Obama as a monkey has outraged Web users. But is it really racist? Maybe not in Japan...

UPDATE (30 June 2008 3pm): Chairman of the telecoms company, Sachio Semmoto, has informed Reuters that E-Mobile has now withdrawn the advertisement on TV, although he denied accusations of racism; saying that the macaque had already been used in several other of their campaigns. He said that he recognised sensitivities with the African-American/ Japanese relationship. He also said that Obama's candidacy is an opportunity for the US and that such a candidate could be beneficial for Japan.

NEW UPDATE (9 July 2008 10.30am): One of our readers has informed us that although the television adverts have been pulled, the campaign is still being circulated in print form. We have verified this with news sources.



The advert is a promotion for changes being made at the Japanese phone company E Mobile.

"I don’t feel that it reflects racist ideas about black people and monkeys"

James comments on JapanProbe, a blog run by a group of expats:

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 (...). E-mobile has used this cute Japanese macaque as their mascot in commercials before this one (...) so it would be hard to claim that they just pulled this monkey out of nowhere so they could make a racist joke. (...)

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."

"[I] emailed the Obama Campaign to voice my opinion"

From Black Tokyo, a blog run by an afro-American living in Japan:

I am not trying to turn this into racial issue but an issue of the media and advertisers being stuck on same ignorant advertising that has continued to portray Blacks in an unflattering manner. This is why I called attention to the commercial and even emailed the Obama Campaign to voice my opinion! If the commercial producer, E Mobile, or advertising agency had a lapse in judgment, so be it but everyone knows that an image is a powerful tool to use on both the consumer and others in society that tend to walk around with their eyes wide shut."


For the record, the company

For the record, the company HAS NOT WITHDRAWN THE ADS. They are on trains all over Japan and in the train stations. I pulled two of them down from a subway in Nagoya. They have done nothing to stop the ad in print as of this moment.


Thanks for the info! We've ammended the update.

Side by side photos comparing George W. Bush to a chimpanzee

Racist? Sure. But, as a commenter says on YouTube>...
gekkobear (20 minutes ago)

Right, obviously racist. Their only possible defense would be if GWB had been presented as a monkey for the past 8 years ... oh, he has?

George W. Bush or Chimpanzee?
Side by side photos comparing George W. Bush to a chimpanzee.

Thank you all for your replies!

E-Mobile has decided to pull their advertisement. You can read about via the link below:
Information and discussions on Japan from the Afro perspective!

The Monkey is the Japanese Macaque

They native to Japan. sorry...
Japanese Macaque

This is ridiculous. This is

This is ridiculous. This is Emobile's mascot. The Japanese think the monkeys are cute. They always take parts of American culture and make it their own, that's probably where they were inspired to get "change" (which is also quite generic and anytime a politician runs they promise "change", tons and tons of it!)
I highly doubt this is supposed to represent Obama and supposed to be racist. There are many who will see this and won't even think of Obama.
What you you people be saying if the mascot was a parrot? A polar bear? It seems this company had the misfortune to have their mascot be a monkey and this ad on @ the wrong time.
Do you guys know what happened to the Dunkin donuts ad? This kinda reminds me of what happened. Let's not all be as crazy as Michelle Malkin.


I am totally displeased with people that over reacts and biased irrationally. Anybody aiming to become the president of a great nation such as The US must be able to absorb anything... Incumbent President Bush is an example of several abusive, expensive, more racial, and even too personal jokes. We did not hear or see people protesting. Neither did we see any protest in the media. I am a democrat, but i will not follow supporting advert criticsm at all. The monkey thing is used to portray another thing entirely. Let people stop being temperamental for nothing....

This has been done in very

This has been done in very poor humor and taste. There are too many racial slurs from the past where "monkey" has been used as a slur against African Americans. It was insensitive and ill thought throuh of the company to use such an add. As such it should be pulled and an apology issued.

The monkey signifies to you whatever you want it to be.

The title says it all

Portraying blacks as apes is wrong

It's surprising to me that no one in the production meetings for this CM said, "Hey, you know, maybe we shouldn't use a monkey to parody a black man." While I understand that the monkey has been used before in other CMs from this company to parody other non-black individuals, using it to parody a black man is quite different due to the historical context of portraying black men as apes as a means to degrade them and portray them as less than fully human.

Let's try to do a reversal here. Let's say there's a cell phone company in the States that has a yellow puppet with large teeth and glasses as its mascot, and it is often used to parody white American politicians or other public figures. However, for one ad they use it to parody a Japanese prime minister. This would obviously be problematic given the history of racist images used to represent East Asians, particularly Japanese. During WWII, the American government and the media portrayed the Japanese as yellow creatures with large buck teeth and glasses in order propagate the idea that they were less than fully human. No doubt the Japanese embassy as well as Asian-Americans would be lodging complaints with the cell phone company regarding the CM, as they should.

In fact, there have been stereotypical and degrading portrayals of Japanese in CMs and other media in various countries, and the Japanese embassies in the respective nations have filed complaints. I don't recall there being any accusations that the Japanese government was acting in an "imperialist" manner, as some have accused the critics of this ad -- they were rightly taking objection to how their people were being negatively portrayed.

The CM in question here is, at the very least, insensitive to the historical context of how black men have been portrayed as apes in order to humiliate and degrade them. At the very least, they should have taken this into account when they decided to parody a presidential candidate who happens to be a black man. And at the very least, they should take the example that Mandom set for their racially insensitive CM before -- pull the ad, issue an apology, and vow to do better in the future.