A byte of life from the Land of Sumos and Sushi

Friday, June 23, 2006

Debate Rages over Baka Inaka T-shirt

Well, the baka inaka t-shirt has kicked up a storm that I never envisaged happening. Over the last week, debate has raged over the Fukui JET emailing list and karaoke bars of the ken, as to whether the shirt is offensive or not.

It all started when an American who works for the local City Office, showed the design to his superior, a high ranking local government official. The response: “extremely offensive” and “should not be worn inside Fukui prefecture”.

Interestingly, it wasn’t the slogan “baka inaka” (roughly meaning stupid/crazy countryside) that caused offence, it was the depiction of Fukui as a cloud of steam emanating from the cooling towers of a nuclear power plant, (of which Fukui has 14), that caused the negative reaction.

Most of the English teachers in the prefecture have lapped up the design, which is reflected by the fact that there have been over 100 orders for the shirt. However, some of the foreign teachers who have lived here for longer, have slammed the shirt, saying it is offensive to the people that have been our gracious hosts, and would be akin to wearing a t-shirt in West Virginia saying “Stupid Hicksville”.

Creating something that would be offensive to the people of Fukui was never the intention. Indeed, I have had a great two years here, and the people of Fukui are the friendliest, most generous and kind people I have ever had the pleasure of living amongst.

We simply wanted a good souvenir t-shirt of Fukui, and rather than buying a shirt depicting the somewhat drab Echizen Crab (Fukui’s number one famous food export) we sought a design that was a little more humorous.

I have spoken to several Japanese people about the shirt to gauge its offensiveness; there has been a mixed response. My 50 something host mum sees the funny side and indeed wants a shirt, but some people of similar ages said it was a little offensive. It is worth noting though, that the phrase ‘baka inaka’ is written in relatively small print, and in English, so you would have to get a good look to be able to read and understand what it actually said.

We chose to use the phrase, because it was a nice ring to it, (it rhymes!) and because I think many English teachers in Fukui have had their fair share of “crazy countryside” experiences during their time here.

The incident of my American friend Bran Pan Man, who was reported to the Board of Education and brought in for questioning after an elderly Japanese woman sighted him carrying out the unforgivable crime of holding hands with a Japanese girl in public, is one such example. If that ain’t baka inaka, what is?

However, as the shirt may cause offence to some people, we are recommending caution about where and when it is worn.

And finally, if we are going to get into a debate about offensive t-shirts, the Japanese may want to take a closer look at their own designs. Apparently it’s OK to walk around with slogans such as “Fuckin’ Roll Rock”, “Fuck Jesus” or “I fucking hate [insert list of racial minorities here]” splashed across your chest, but a nuclear power plant in the crazy countryside is going too far?

So, is this just a storm in a tea cup and a lack of ability to laugh at themselves, or is it really an insensitive and offensive design?

Your comments please...

11 Comments:

Anonymous Shan in Van said...

Hi Sam,
I love the idea of an interesting souvenir t-shirt and while I can understand how someone may be offended by baka inaka, I can't understand what's offensive about the nuclear power plant. I'd be interested to know what the locals from the power plant towns think of it. Maybe they are a bit prouder of their industry and not embarrassed by it, as the people around Ono and Fukui City seem to be.

Saturday, June 24, 2006 6:30:00 am

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A definite sore spot your touching on. Surely you knew the shirt would get this type of reaction. You are living in one of the most, possibly the most conservative society in the world.

Although I applaud your efforts I feel they are somewhat misguided. There is no undoing the past and you've probably noticed the wind turbines popping up on the mountains around Fukui. Why dwell on the negatives?

Promote positives and people have the chance to open up and embrace them. Promote negativity and they are just going to close down further.

Monday, June 26, 2006 5:51:00 pm

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got to admit, when I first heard "baka inaka," I thought it was cute, an affectionate tease toward our temporary adopted home. But when I heard someone was offended by it, it was kind of an "oh, duh--of course" moment. I can completely understand how someone could've come up with that design. But now that we know some people are offended by it, I don't see how there's anything to argue about, and I'm surprised that people are bothering to.

Arguing about whether it's offensive? What's the point of that? It won't stop people from being offended (what, are you going to explain the shirt to everyone who sees you?). And knowing that, going out wearing the shirt around Fukui means you're knowingly insulting people. Just because you think they don't have cause or right to be insulted won't change the fact that you are insulting people. So I can't see how arguing about this issue has any point at all. It's not a matter of defending the shirt's designers--no one is saying that the designers did anything insensitive or thoughtless in coming up with the shirt, and the fact that it is insulting to some people is no more than an innocent mistake. But now that we know it's going to insult people, the choice to wear it is not so innocent (and it's kind of funny saying the Japanese are misunderstanding OUR use of a Japanese phrase, but, hey, if you want to argue that, go right ahead).

For you relative newcomers, realize that the nuclear plant thing is an obvious dodge. It means whoever raises it doesn't feel comfortable discussing how they really feel but doesn't want to be confrontational and tell you that; you're supposed to realize that it's a dodge and gracefully pretend to accept it, letting the other person off the hook. Raising a ridiculous or legit but very minor issue is an everyday way of avoiding confrontational discomfort. For someone looking for a dodge, the nuclear thing is the obvious minor issue to bring up because it is a mildly sensitive issue--the few Japanese outside the area who know anything about Fukui tend to know only that it has a lot of poorly maintained nuclear plants that have a lot of accidents. But it's still not much to get upset about--it's not the real issue.

Obviously "baka" is a strong word here, but "inaka" is also generally perjorative. It took me a while to realize that--until I realized I was offending people (I thought it just meant "rural" or "countryside," not realizing that the concept of countryside itself is a negative here). It's funny that the very next item down in this blog, a day out on a mountain lake, illustrates the point beautifully. The westerner sees the beauty of untouched nature, the Japanese something crude and dirty.

Peter Rivard

Monday, June 26, 2006 6:35:00 pm

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I concur with the high ranking local government official. Though irrelevant, why did the American who "works for a local City office" show it to a high ranking local government official in the first place. STUPID STUPID STUPID.

Even if there was no intention to be insulting, surely there were other rhyming slogans to choose from that didn't include the word "baka". Using words from our own and dear Fukui-dialect, for instance, would have been equally popular amongst the individuals who actually purchased the T-shirt.

Claiming "we didn't know it would be offensive to any one" is a cheap cop-out. Those who designed the shirt obviously put some thought into it while overlooking that very important detail.

The "baka inaka" print is quite legible even though you claim that the print is relatively small. You also say that it's written in English -- sorry, it's not. It's written in Romanji and perhaps not all Fukui-ites can read it, but certainly there are many who can.

When the shirt was first advertised, I instantly knew that I would not buy or wear this shirt. My opinion has not changed.

Monday, June 26, 2006 8:43:00 pm

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm out. I don't want to start gratuitously slamming anyone or be associated with doing so. Whatever I think about the shirt, I've got no reason to think anything bad about the designers--I've pissed off so many people here through innocent mistakes (in fact, I added another one to that list today) that I certainly don't want to start judging someone else for doing the same thing. And I don't want to post anything I won't take responsibility for, which is why I'm closing this with my name,

Peter Rivard

Monday, June 26, 2006 11:39:00 pm

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A simple modification of "the baka inaka" slogan to "I(heart/love symbol)baka inaka" would change the meaning from a statement which could cause offence to a positive declaration that you really like the area despite its rural quirkiness.
Lewis's Dad

Monday, June 26, 2006 11:50:00 pm

 
Blogger The Funky Drummer said...

Well, several good points there.

Firsty - there's no changing the shirt, the design has already been sent to the printers, and will be ready this week.

Secondly, Peter, yes you make a valid point regarding the offensivness of the shirt. I agree that if people find it offensive, then it's offensive. End of story.

However, regarding the Local Governemnt official, who said it was the Nuclear Powder that was offensive to him, not the baka inaka - you say he was just dodging the issue. I don't agree.

The guy who showed him the shirt, is half Japanese/half american, is bilingual, fully understands the nuances of the Japanese language and culture, and had no tie to the shirt. Therefore there was no need to skirt around the issue.

This is not to say other people won't be offended by the baka inaka phrase, I'm just saying in this case, I think the local offical was genuinely saying what he thought.

Most importantly - the vast majority of people who have ordered the shirt are leaving Fukui in one month. After the "hoo-haa" that the design has caused, I doubt anybody will be wearing it around Fukui. At the end of the day, nobody wants to risk offending our hosts, and most people will just enjoy wearing the shirt many, many miles away from Fukui.

I must stress - this shirt was designed as a souvenir shirt, i.e. one to be taken back to our homelands, not one to be worn to a Fukui green tea ceremony.

Of course, I wouldn't expect long termers like you Peter to want the shirt - it is for people who are leaving, and it seems to have fulfilled that purpose.

I certainly won't be wearing mine in Fukui after the points you have raised, but I still stand by the shirt, in that it's a good design. And it is mildy amusing.

We just have to be careful about where it's worn.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006 10:11:00 am

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lewis' dad is, as always, the voice of reason.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006 5:29:00 pm

 
Blogger magnus said...

the link tot he racist t-shirt was crazy... i can't believe that that sort of thing can get past anybody. adn then to put it on a 3 year old.... and wear it to a pottery festival??? insanity

regarding the fukui t-shirt... i like it. i like the design, i like the idea behind the design. ok, so not everybody gets it, but we all say and do things which offend people every now and again. it was meant in the best possible way. i've never visited fukui, never heard of it before reading this blog, but i'd wear one. so if you've got a spare you're bringing back to blighty...

Saturday, July 08, 2006 1:39:00 am

 
Blogger The Funky Drummer said...

Well - a quick update on the Baka Inaka shirt.

Going against all advice, the Baka Inaka shirt was recently showcased at a local bar in Ono, Fukui.

The response from the Japanese punters, who ranged from 15 to 50:

"Cool shirt! Where can I get one?".

Ten orders for shirts were taken that night, soley from Japanese people.

It seems that the shirt is not as offensive as some people have led us to beleive.

BakaInaka.com has been registered, and will be producing quailty goods to the people of Fukui soon.

Watch this space...

Monday, July 10, 2006 1:33:00 pm

 
Anonymous BakaInaka.com - Fukui T-shirts said...

Hi Guys,

Just to let you know - I (the creator of thefunkydrummer and the Baka Inaka t-shirt) - have created a new website and online shop for the baka inaka and 'I love inaka' Fukui t-shirts: http://bakainaka.com

Tuesday, June 15, 2010 6:17:00 am

 

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