In Japan, conflating Obama with a monkey is a fun way to sell phones

This commercial for Japan's EMobile cellular company has a monkey in a suit standing on a podium in front of a crowd of people holding placards emblazoned "Change." At the end, the monkey cries a single tear, ashamed of his role.

[via Japanese Think Obama Is Bananas []

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  1. Being associated with Hanuman is hugely flattering. He’s the cool, mischievous older brother of the Hindu pantheon, whom everybody loves. That Japanese commercial: Feh.

  2. When I first read the article, I had a WTF moment, and was a little angry about the racist overtones (even if I’m not a great fan of Obama’s). After watching the video am I the only one that doesn’t see the connection to Obama? Maybe I’m missing something without a translation, but it sure looks like the Monkey wants you to “change” cellphone service. Heck the monkey doesn’t eve resembe Obama.

    I think this is the Obama zealots being a little too sensitive.

  3. well, in their defense, the Japanese have been depicting American politicians as monkeys WAY before Obama was around.

  4. I was going to send this in, but forgot. I live in Tokyo, and E-Mobile has been using this monkey for all their ads, not just this one. There is definitely a correlation to Obama’s “change” message, but it’s completely innocent of malice. They’re just riding the coattails of his media success (to sell phones).

    There’s also a town here called Obama that has been supporting his campaign. They even have Obama pastries, with a caricature of his face stamped on them. He actually sent them a signed letter thanking them for their support.

  5. First of all, this TV ad is NOT mocking Obama or his campaign because Japanese do not use monkey as a RACIAL insult.

    This TV ad is a parody based on Japanese political TV drama called “Change” which has been on air since May 2008.

    Also I would like to point out that highly-trained monkey like this one is from Sarumawashi (highly trained monkey circus), which has been very popular entertainment for Japanese over 1,000 years. It is not unusual to see monkey (or dog / cat) on TV ad there.

    This is Japanese TV ad after all and I wonder why everything has to be about America ? I am extremely sad to see the post like this.

    – Kazuo

  6. Sorry for the anonymous post.

    I live in Japan and have seen this commercial a few times. Maybe I’m naive, but I didn’t see an Obama connection either. The reason is there a new TV series called, in Roman letters, “CHANGE”. It stars SMAP star Takuya Kimura as a teacher who somehow becomes prime minister. In the show he has some seriously crazy hair, so I just assumed it was a parody of that show.

    I think I’ve seen this monkey in a few other ads, also parodies, and always crying at the end.
    Obama is kind of popular here because his name sounds Japanese, オバマ; a town even has the same name, and makes little cakes with his image. (I bet if the Obama people raised concerns there, they could make a stink.)

    I see a lot of racial and ethic stereotyping here, so this could be another example, but I’m not sure.

  7. What the hell you guys? If you had not mentioned Obama, that would not have even crossed my mind when I saw the ad.
    Sheeesh! Americans think everything is about them, isn’t it?


    This post is totally out of context in BoingBoing as
    this commercial is a parody of “CHANGE” drama and book!

    I think that before making such a post BoingBoing should consult one of the many readers who live in Japan…

    A quick note from the World: billions of people out there doesn’t even know who is Obama…

  9. we’ve had a monkey president for eight years and this one looks a lot smarter and capable. he/she’s got my vote.

  10. I would guess it’s probably not a reference to US politics, but it’s hard to be sure when you’re as ignorant of Japanese culture as most non-Japanese are.

    It’s still a big world. Misunderstandings are still quite common. So to the upset commenters: put your shirt back on, Hammer. Nobody’s getting hurt over the monkey cellphone ad, okay?

  11. Um, it wasn’t the commenters who were worked up or upset, it was the blogger. The commenters have just been pointing out the silliness in being worked up or upset at the ad.

  12. OMG. Are people still talking about this ad? It’s pretty clear that the only thing racist about this ad is the person who believes that it is.

    reCAPTCHA: hatred deposing

  13. You think this is bad? Meh. I see a connection, but..

    A very popular show here (it’s awesome, but I don’t know the name, sorry!) where, basically, a bunch of random 1 liner celebrities play hide and go seek with money strapped to their heads. It involves traps, things like giant pitfalls and grown men dressed as kings. The idea is to stay hidden till time runs out and you win.

    I almost recorded it this week at one point, because I couldn’t believe what I saw. My camera was out of room so I couldn’t.

    It was a popular Japanese themed episode, “mujintou”, or deserted island in English, with everyone hiding on one. One of the comedians was dressed as Obama, not with actual blackface, but the same heavy makeup you always see on Yamamba girls. He kept saying “Yes We Can!” while motioning to eat flies like a frog.

    Here’s the best part- guess where they hid him?

    In a cave.

    Out of 15 or so people, and the huge island, they picked only him to hide in a cave.

    Then they kept making comments to the effect that “Oh, I’m sure someone’s in here…. It’s gotta be Obama- yes, this place is definitely where Obama would be”. I just stood there with my mouth gaping. They hid the imaginary black man where? In a damn cave, and kept saying that he would be best suited to hiding there.

    I wish I had the video to back it up, but I have to ask you to o on my word. Racism exists in Japan, but much like nannyism, nosiness, and safety here, it is always a very fine line crossed in doing so- it can be very subtle, so that no one thinks anything is wrong with it. That just keeps happening here.

  14. @ #18 BastardNamban

    This is not Metropolis forum (where sensitive gaijin can point to every Japanese culture weak points), as Burnchao said, here we are just pointing to the fact that this post is based on a complete misunderstanding.
    I’m puzzled why this post has not been yeat “strike-lined”… almost I would add a link to a page about CHANGE drama like this so readers could judge by themselfs…

    Now that I think about it: if in USA “CHANGE” is an Obama tradeword, the original author of the Japanese book should sue Obama for copyright infringement…

  15. I can’t say that the advertisement with the monkey is specifically meant to mock Obama, but I would say that it’s more likely to mimic the new TV show here in Japan that just came out in May and is really popular. (I watch it with the gf.)
    “Change” –

    When the kid on the show was doing his campaign, there were signs that said “Change” on the podium when he would speak and it was the slogan used on the show for his campaign.

    Since most/all Japanese don’t really watch/care about the American political campaign and since it’s usually a quick ‘blip’ on the news when it does happen, I’d feel safe to say, they were not trying to have a laugh on Obama’s account and were trying to capture the ‘air’ of the new TV show here.

    NTT DoCoMo is the big player here and is huge as a cellular carrier, but since the
    “Change” to allow portable cell numbers to be “changed” to a different carrier…Softbank has done well and since it is about to launch the iPhone here in Japan…

  16. At least over here on gadgets, contributions by those of us who do live in japan and call BS on a post dont get shouted down or dsmvwld b tht cnt.

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