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UPDATE (30 June 2008 3pm): Chairman of the telecoms company, Sachio Semmoto, has informed Reuters that E-Mobile has now withdrawn the advertisement on TV, although he denied accusations of racism; saying that the macaque had already been used in several other of their campaigns.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.

"[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."

"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."


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