Falling on Deaf Ears


Cell phone cameras are handy for capturing images as memos. I was snapping a lot of shots as fuel for future blog posts; recently I have been uploading them and writing them up. This post shows some shocking images. Black Face Mister DonutI went to the sink in the office at one of my schools and was struck as I saw this cup adorned with black face image. The text reads:


We love music. We love Rythm & Blues.

Presented by Mister Donut

She’s a Cheerful Mom

Normally Mister Donut puts their name on the bottom of their promotional dishes. Having their name prominently displayed in the middle would seem to mark some pride in this piece.

Black Face Fashion 1The following weekend I was shopping in Suzuka and stumbled upon a fashion shop with two black face mannequins out front. This mall is a prominent destination for foreigners in the prefecture. Also, the nearby Formula 1 circuit makes it an international attraction. One would think this location would not be a place to display these images if they were embarrassed by them.

First, you might theorize that Japan, being an island nation, is largely unaware of the impact that these images have. Black Face Fashion 2I discard this theory by pointing to the uproars caused in 2001 and 2005 and 2007 by Sambo dolls, re-release of the Little Black Sambo book, and sales of cups, keychains, and miscellaneous accessories. Although all of these events spurred international response, these images continue to be presented in many forms.

It could be theorized that Japan just doesn’t care; however, I think that it is a bit simpler. Many people loved Gone with the Wind and Little Black Sambo when they came out. Popularity came from people thinking this image was cute. Once something is decided in Japan, rarely will external pressures cause a change in mindset. I doubt that international pressure will stop the spread of these images.

Of course it could be even more simple. All of the decisions to present these images were made by businesses. Perhaps it can be chalked up to individuals – knowing there was no legal recourse – making brazen decisions. I imagine we’ve seen a bit of that in the US as well.


8 Responses to “Falling on Deaf Ears”

  1. verbivore Says:

    This kind of thing really surprised me when I lived in Japan – you’d think the average Japanese person would be mortified if they knew how offensive it was…

  2. びっくり Says:

    In September when I return to the school with the cup, I might mention a little history of the images to them. As you say, they will probably be mortified. I might bring them a new cup in case they want to switch.

    One time a lady came into my friend’s church for a free English lesson. She was wearing a shirt with a sexually explicit reference on it. They told her what it said and she wouldn’t walk home until they gave her another shirt to wear over it. Just like people who get mistaken kanji tattoos, Japanese people often buy shirts with English on them, without any thought about what it might say.

  3. verbivore Says:

    Oh yes, I gave bad news to many a friend in Japan who had bought a similar t-shirt. And I did get a couple myself, just for kicks but those were usually ones with funny grammatical mistakes or nonsensical phrasing.

    Kanji tattoos often give me a chuckle. And here is Switzerland (other places too) people like to put big kanji stickers on their cars. Very often they make no sense.

  4. Stefanie Says:

    Wow, how weird and disturbing.

  5. titus2woman Says:

    This is fascinating to me~not saying in a good way, but fascinating none-the-less. I am presently more mortified that China will not be serving people of color in bars during the olympics. Shocking! (((((HUGS))))) sandi

  6. びっくり Says:

    Stefanie – I think you hit my reaction when I saw the mannequins. They were larger than life. I guess it is easier to overlook things like the cup because they are smaller and less ‘in your face’. Kind of silly since they are all the same images. A few years ago when they re-released “Little Black Sambo”, it was displayed at the register in the bookstore that caters to foreigners in Nagoya.

    Sandi – I am surprised that China is not serving people of color in bars. Does that mean they won’t serve Chinese people either? Only the Swedes, Danes, Finns, and half the Russians I guess…

  7. titus2woman Says:

    You are right~I did not word that correctly, as there are many people of color! Everything is very white/black here~still no excuse~please forgive me! This is specifically regarding black athletes. (((((HUGS))))) sandi

  8. titus2woman Says:

    OH~PLEASE FORGIVE ME AGAIN! I was just checking the article links, and many have been taken down! It seems a lot was lost in the translation for members of a crime organization called “Hei(black) Shehui(Society)”. I am sooo sorry for believing what I read on the internet and buying into it~I’ve been hot for days over nuthin’ (along with an entire fitness message board~YIKES!)! http://shanghaiist.com/2008/07/21/lost_in_translation_more_on_the_bei.php

    (((((HUGS))))) sandi~feelin’ pretty bad… I was WRONG and SO not afraid to admit it!

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