If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that the Japanese are weird. Not your run-of-the-mill, garden variety weird like the Canadian obsession with gravy and fries, the French obsession with hairy armpits on chicks, or the Dutch obsession with bondage-based sex, but truly, offensively, unsettlingly weird.
Everyone knows this. This is a culture, after all, that celebrates the eating of Fugu fish, a fish so poisonous that just looking at it wrong can kill you. This is a culture that revels in the creation of freaky monstrosities like Pokémon and sexy big-breasted anime chicks who look like kittens. This is a culture that designs USB sticks to look like octopus balls… the sushi, not the anatomical equivalent- c’mon, now, get your mind out of the gutter!
However, the Japanese sure do have their minds in the gutter. And worse, they're incredibly offensive-minded as well. Have you ever seen a Japanese game show? If you thought Mexican game shows like the infamously awesome Sabado Gigante and its competitors were gross, tasteless, and crazy, you have definitely never seen a Japanese one. Talk about insensitive and unsettling! How about watching contestants see how much cash they can shove up their “girl-parts” in 60 seconds or answer trivia questions while being mummified. Or my personal favorite- blindfolded contestants guessing which “mystery lady” is their Mom and which is their wife by…wait for it… feeling up those ever-popular girl-parts again.
But we didn’t come here today to talk about all that. We came here to find out what the latest Japanese trends in massively insensitive, inappropriate and unsettling product placement might be. ‘Cause if their popular culture is any indication, the stuff they’re selling has to be truly offensive.
10 Little Black Sambo
Let’s start off with a relative oldie but a doozy, as they say. Back in 1988, a Japanese toy manufacturer was boycotted in the U.S. for selling toys and gum that had extremely exaggerated and offensive depictions of African-Americans (and were called “Little Black Sambos,” so there’s a freakin’ clue). At the same time, a giant Tokyo department store faced similar accusations, but this time in regard to their black store mannequins. Wow, Japan! You have to be pretty unaware to actually design life-size mannequins that are so offensive to black people that there’s a storm of protest on the other side of the Atlantic. I mean, most mannequins don’t look remotely like people at all- you really have to work at it to make them that bad.
9 ANA Goes Whiteface
On the other side of the racist spectrum, All Nippon Airlines (ANA) came out with a commercial that featured two Japanese “pilots” for the airline talking about how the airline was expanding into Western cities. One of them mentions that the airline will have to “change the image of the Japanese” at which point the other dons a blonde wig and large plastic nose. While Westerners who saw the ad immediately raised a stink, I wonder who should actually be offended the most? After all, the Japanese themselves aren’t made to look very good either in this one, trying to change their own image to satisfy the racist preconceptions of the West as well as appearing duplicitous, reinforcing an old American stereotype in the process.
8 Soup For Sluts
Yeah, you read that right. You know how the art of Ramen making is supposed to be one that’s mastered over the course of a lifetime? C’mon, you know you do- just like everyone else you’ve seen at least a few minutes of Brittany Murphy in that awful flick The Ramen Girl. Or I guess you could just wander into any Japanese supermarket and pick up a package or two of this stuff. I have to admit this one doesn’t offend me so much as make me crack up, but I’m aware it’s in pretty bad taste. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s the best tasting Ramen you’ll ever have. After all, it’s “cheap, fast and easy.” Just like the…wait a minute. I’m not going there.
7 More Sambo
Yeah, the Japanese really don’t seem to understand how offensive their commercial depictions of black people actually are. Here’s another case in point. This time the whole grotesque Sambo motif revolves around “Ufu & Mufu,” Little Black sambo’s younger siblings in a Japanese sequel to the original book. This is from 2011! Just in case you thought this was all some terrible cultural misunderstanding, their parents are named “Mambo & Jambo.” Seriously, Japan? Here we see Ufu & Mufu selling lemons, I guess. Too bad the whole sambo idea in Japan hasn’t been a lemon.
6 Blendy Coffee
I’m not easily offended. Really, I’m not. I mean, I spend my time working online, so I see plenty of stuff every single day that pushes the envelope when it comes to tasteful and classy. But this one is pretty bad. Blendy is a Japanese bottled coffee company. Their selling point is all the milk they add to their product. So of course it’s perfectly natural of them to make a commercial where a bunch of teenage girls, who are apparently actually milk cows (or worse), find out what their real jobs are going to be after graduation. And yeah, it’s pretty much what you’re thinking right now. I really don’t know whether to be offended, appalled, or just straight up weirded out. It's kind of hard to find the full commercial but if you really need to see it, here ya go.
5 More Ramen
At least, I think it’s Ramen. I don’t really read or speak Japanese and if the translation on the package is anything to go by, it might be exactly what it says it is. And what is it, precisely? That’s the real question- which way do I go with this? Is this stuff the expensive, illegal crack that helped ruin the ‘80s? Do crackheads even want their Jones flavored??? Or is it ass-flavored? Either way, I seriously do not want to know… How much does “Shrimp-flavored Crack” go for anyway? I can buy a 36-pack of regular shrimp-flavored Ramen at my local Sam’s Club for about $5. Depending upon what it really is, this should be way more expensive or absolutely free.
4 Kung Fu Hair Guy
OK, I’ll admit it. I have no idea what the hell this product is. But like that old Supreme Court Justice said when asked to define adult entertainment: “I know it when I see it.” It’s pretty much the same when you’re defining what’s offensive- one look at this and you just know it’s wrong. But what exactly is it? A hair-growth product to make you look like a 70’s Blaxploitation Kung Fu guy? Some kind of horribly wrong Chia-head? An actual wig? It looks like it’s in a cooler- please tell me it’s not “soul food.” Only the Japanese know and they’re not telling. That’s probably a smart choice by them.
3 Samurai Underwear
Actually, I think this one is kind of cool. After all, who doesn’t want to be a Samurai, or at least feel like one? Samurai are awesome! But this has got to be mortally offensive to any real life samurai out there or their descendants. Often the only thing these guys had, other than their sword, was their honor. It was the whole point of their existence. So to see their culture turned into underwear for a profit is probably pretty offensive to some people. But apparently not to everyone in Japan. And certainly not to me- I just ordered a pair.
2 Lady “Lap” Pillow
Just no. This is so not right. Although, I have to admit, it seems pretty typically Japanese. Why have a real girlfriend or wife to “have and to hold” when you can have a chopped-off mannequin’s lap and legs to rest your lonely head upon? This product seems, in its own way, even more desperate than your classic love doll. Even worse, it’s made by a toy company- Stripper pole and disco ball sold separately. Women’s rights are not the biggest issue in modern Japan but I’m sure there are plenty of women in Japan who find this product totally misogynist, unhealthy, and ridiculous. At least I hope they do. I’m not doing any more research to find out, though- this is just too weird.
1 More Racist Product
Well, all good things must come to an end. So let’s finish this off with a bang, shall we? This ad is supposed to be for some kind of facial wipe, I guess. But what really got people going was the obvious racist overtones of putting a monkey (well, chimpanzee) in Rasta garb with all of his black “friends and brothers.” This sort of advertising would never fly in the West. Apparently, some people were even offended by the disrespect shown to the Rastafarian religion by this ad, which is definitely something real, if a little bit obscure. I get it, but I think the racism is enough to focus on for one day.