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Home > Media Reiews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #190: February 5, 2004

AT&T Wireless apologizes for offensive Japan ad

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"AT&T Wireless apologizes for offensive Japan ad"
(Reuters) Forbes


The article reports that AT&T, in one of its advertisements on US newspapers, had the term "Jap" to indicate Japan, without any specific intentions or implications on the part of the company, but later apologized to anyone who was offended by the expression.

It is not necessary for a linguist to tell you that words change over time. Especially when conflicts of interest are heightened, often thorough clever propaganda to emotional levels, the hatred induces many events unimaginable by the outsiders, including the people of different era.

Such phenomena are most vividly seen at a time of war. For example, during WWII, Americans were also subjected to such propaganda by its own government. Bishops blessed the American flag and preached that God's on their side, and Generals, partly from their own experiences told people that 'the only good German is a dead German'. So the people looted shops with German names within their own towns, and regulations were adopted to ban Beethoven from the concert halls.

A linguistic scholar once told me that the term 'Jap' had no bad implications at the beginning, which was only a short way of designating Japan or Japanese. Whether it is true or not, the term began to carry negative implications, first through increase of Japanese immigrants to the US in early 20th century, when they were accused of depriving jobs from US citizens. The notion became irreversible during WWII, when the term 'Jap' was deliberately used to imply hatred, such as 'the only good Jap is a dead Jap."

Thus, the term 'Jap' became one of the words honored in the list of 'politically incorrect's' at an early stage, the list to which many words were added since.

Just to avoid any misunderstanding, similar phenomena were seen during the war in Japan, too. The term "kichiku-beiei" (US and Britain, and their people, are ogres and beasts) was a term everyone used to designate the enemies, and all the terms used in baseball games, already was a favorite pastime among Japanese people at the time, were carefully translated into Japanese with authoritative enforcement. (This is perhaps one reason there are so many Japan-made English-like terms used in Japan's baseball today.)

What should be noted here is that the invalidation of the term 'Jap' was a matter of concern only, and obviously, within English speaking circles, and could have been of no concern to Japanese people. It was only after Japanese people were taught and reminded that the term is derogatory, they began to be concerned.

One of the recent incidents when the term was used with obvious deliberation was in the UN General Assembly on November 4, 2003, by the representative of North Korea, in an attempt to condemn Japan for its accusation of abduction and nuclear development by that rogue regime. Japanese delegation to the UN immediately submitted a protest, and on the same day, the chairman of the General Assembly, Mr Hunte of Saint Lucia, pleaded with speakers to mind their language during discussions.

In September 2003, someone came to notice that the URL of the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo included the expression ''. At first the Chinese did not respond to any claim, saying that it was just a shortened form to designate Japan without any intentions attached. Perhaps it was true, as after a few weeks, the URL was change to '/jpn/' very quietly.

In either of the cases above, Japanese people in general were very quiet, seemingly uninterested. It was only the politicians, of various schools, and right-wing activists who brought up the issues. In fact, the AT&T incident was virtually ignored by Japan's media.

It has become a common sense in the modern world that calling other people names is an indication that the person is biased and unsophisticated, unaware that such an act would not help solving the problem. Accordingly, those involved in such performances would be viewed as having agenda of their own, effectively inducing people to adopt a healthy attitude, to simply ignore them.

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