Because I’m guessing they are not racist, right-wing Japanese ultranationalists.

You’d have to be one or the other to build an entire ad campaign around a symbol that is deeply offensive to millions of people across Asia:


Sure, maybe a lot of those Asians don’t care about baseball, or the Cubs but isn’t this still kind of a bad idea? I mean, I don’t know if 85-year old Eastern European Jews care much about baseball either, but would you build a marketing campaign around the Nazi swastika flag?

What’s more amazing than the fact that this ad campaign even exists is the way the Cubs are so blithely hyping it on their official website. In an article on entitled “Cubs unleash bold, new ad campaign: Promotions international in scope with dash of local flavor,” there is clearly no understanding whatsoever that this image might at all be offensive:

CHICAGO–Kosuke Fukudome is among the players featured in a new ad campaign unveiled on Tuesday designed to showcase the international breadth and depth of the Cubs.

A graphic red, white and blue image of the Japanese outfielder that includes a rising sun includes the statement, “I don’t need an interpreter. My bat does the talking.”

The campaign focuses on individual players with a bold treatment using elements from each player’s unique background. Ads featuring Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano will use a portion of the Dominican Republic flag as a background…. There also is an ad with pitcher Kerry Wood that will feature the Texas flag.


“It’s a very international campaign. Yet the red, white and blue also makes it very Cub,” said Scott Maney, president and executive creative director of Jones, which is based in the River North section of Chicago and the company behind the creation of the ads.


“Most of the time, advertising has to work pretty hard to lift a brand up,” Maney said. “But with the Cubs, the opposite is true. The brand is already so sacred, the advertising has to work extremely hard just to keep up. It has to earn the right to represent the Cubs.”

This is the kind of ad that will “earn the right to represent the Cubs”? This cheery article gets posted on the Cubs’ official site, including a picture of the Fukudome ad? And the ad has already been printed in several Chicago area newspapers? It boggles the mind to think of the number of people in the Cubs’ front office who must have had to green light this ad for it to get so far.

Clearly the Cubs have no idea what kind of campaign they have “unleashed.”

But what surprises me most of all is the reaction so far to this ad campaign, which makes me wonder, if only for a moment, whether I am giving the Cubs too hard a time. While plenty of people were shocked by the ads, there also seems to be a large number of people who think that it is not a big deal. Witness a representative comment to the post that first broke this story on the blog “On 205th”:

“Much ado about basically nothing. I would be shocked if anyone besides bloggers are “offended” by this image. For a country that sure loves to parade the image of our flag around, it is ironic that some of its citizens would get their panties in a bunch over this.”

Or this one:

“Given the craptacular diplomatic performance of our current administration could the same not be said of the American Flag?

Hell, that thing is all over the place in MLB.”

There seems to be an erroneous assumption here that this image is simply the Japanese national flag, equivalent to our own American flag, so what’s the big deal? Which means it’s time for a little history lesson…

So there are two flags which were used by the Japanese at various times in the 20th century:

japan_flag.gif navalensign.gif

The flag on the top is the current national flag of Japan. The flag on the bottom, however, is not. Rather, it was the battle flag of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy during World War II and earlier Japanese wars. This was the flag that was raised over Nanking, that flew over “comfort” stations, that was saluted by Unit 731. It was the flag of Japanese militarism.

Anyone who has been in Asia for any length of time will recognized why the second flag is so offensive. There is a reason why extreme right-wing ultranationalists in Japan make a point of marching around carrying this flag and not the regular Japanese flag when they protest in favor of restoring Japanese military might. There is a reason why many Chinese and Koreans fly into a rage at the mere sight of this flag. There is a reason why the Japanese government itself never used this flag at all for more than 50 years after World War II, until some right-wing politicians made a political statement by passing a law in 1999 “rehabilitating” the flag as a national symbol, although it is still almost never actually used.

And then there is our good friend Jay Mariotti of the Chicago-Sun times, who writes a piece today calling for people to have some “perspective,” and asking us to “remember that World War II ended in September of 1945. A month later, the Cubs played in their most recent World Series. We’re talking a long, long time ago, maybe too long to get worked up over what’s supposed to be a proud showcase of the new right fielder.”

Yeah, and the Holocaust was a long time ago too.

World War II in Europe killed 40 million people. The War in Asia killed 30 million people. The only difference between the armies that bore the swastika on their flags and the armies that bore the sunburst was that the armies with the swastikas killed some more people. But we are still talking tens of millions of people killed.

So either symbol would be an absolutely moronic image to use in your “proud showcase of your new rightfielder,” let alone tout on your official website or run in actual print newspapers, no matter how long ago those atrocities were.


7 Responses to “Apparently the entire Cubs front office are morons”

  1. Awesome stuff. Maybe it would be like an American playing in Japan with the Confederate flag in the ad.

  2. Paul Moro says:

    That’s actually an apt comparison, Zoner. Most Americans want to distance themselves from the Confederate flag because it represents a portion of their country’s history that is particularly embarrassing and reprehensible. And that’s pretty much the way that a lot of us Japanese people feel about the Imperial flag. Even a lot of the older generation who served in the war have a good deal of regret over what their country had asked them to do. For them, things like this is a painful reminder. For us younger Japanese people, it’s fairly recent history that we didn’t live through, but is still strangely a burden. We can’t run away from it (and shouldn’t, really because that’s just trying to pretend it never happened), but wish we could.

    My knowledge of MLB’s PR machine is minimal, but I’d like to think that they let the players and agents look at things like this before it’s made public…

  3. Sarah Green says:

    Interestingly, Nick, I nearly blogged about a similar phenomenon back in October, when a Somerville artist got a very flattering write-up in the Globe for designing and silk-screening Red Sox posters made to look like WWII propaganda. (You can see his work by clicking here.) He has a very similar poster of Matsuzaka, which includes an even more explicit reference to the old flag, and the tagline: “VICTORY! Through strength of arms.” But what bothered me most about the article, and the artist, is that there was absolutely no sensitivity at all to actual war or warfare—just delight over how “kitschy” and “retro” the posters were. I admit, they are attractively designed, and even witty (the Youkilis poster reads, “Homegrown means more PRODUCTION!”). But I could never feel comfortable with something like that on my wall.

  4. Absolutely agree. Excellent entry Nick.

    And Sarah, I was a little weirded out by those posters too.

    Speaking of Youkilis, by the way, I finally caught up on reading my sister’s SI subscription, and found that Youk’s Slumpbuster had achieved being noted as a Sign of the Apocalypse. Go Sox.

  5. My first thought too, Zoner.

  6. This issue has not been over-looked or minimized by all of Chicago media. Jay Mariotti is not the go to guy for the barometer of this city, most people here think he is a moron. Hosts on the local sports talk station 670 AM have derided this ad and called the Cubs marketing out on it. Fans have also spoke out that it was ignorant and insensitive. The Cubs lost their President and former marketing guru John McDonough earlier this winter and this was most likely was an error of ignorance. The corporate monolith that is the Tribune Company does not like to attach itself to anything that is the least bit controversial. I fully expect them to halt the promotion of this flag, apologize for their error and most likely fire the ad agency responsible. While I don’t think this flag is as notorious as a swastika, at least not here in the U.S., it is still offensive and represents tyranny. It is an absolutely inexcusable error by the ad agency and someone at Trib Co. should have caught it. I would definitely say they are guilty of ignorance and not intentional promotion of an evil empire.

  7. With McDonough gone, the head guy is Crane Kenney, boy did he make an impression, unfortunately it’s the stupid kind. Clearly, this guy has no idea, he should be embarrassed, tribune should be embarrassed, in fact Kenney should be fired! This “Jap” will not be going to Cubs games, it’s just stupid, stupid. Do your research, get on the internet and look things up, the agency that did these ads should be FIRED on the spot just for their stupidity alone. With the internet age, their is no excuse, the internet is your research department!

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