Saturday, January 22, 2011

We need sunshine, not the bomb: The QI incident.

An episode of QI, BBC's popular comedy quiz show hosted by Mr. Stephen Fry has caused an uproar in Japan. In this particular episode, Mr. Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs, was introduced as "the unluckiest man in the world". As it was reported that the Japanese embassy made a protest to the BBC and the production company, indignation and anger spread in Japan, as was apparent from television shows, newspaper editorials, and tweets and blogs that followed.

It might be difficult for someone outside Japan to understand the sheer horror and anger associated with the atomic bombs. After all, other nations just imagine how damaging it is. Japanese people, by the turns and twists of history, have actually experienced it. It is not just a fiction or a movie scene. It is a hard reality. In this respect, the BBC and the production company clearly lacked imagination and respect to one of the most traumatic human experiences in the 20th century.

Having said that, I would also like to point out that the outrage came perhaps from a miscommunication rather than an intentional malice. As someone who spent two years of happy and stimulating postdoc days in University of Cambridge, and who have been visiting the U.K. almost annually ever since, I deeply love and respect the British sense of humor. I know Mr. Stephen Fry to be an intelligent, loving, and liberal man. I adore the QI show, just as I admire other Stephen Fry legends like the Blackadder series. How sad that this particular episode of QI caused anger and sadness in my native land.

The British sense of humor means that you confront difficult social issues, sometimes verging on the outrageous. It is like an act of walking on a tight rope. When I met with Mr. David Walliams in Tokyo several years ago, he said that it is always difficult to strike the right code. In creating Little Britain, Mr. Walliams, together with Mr. Matt Lucas, had to seek a difficult balance between being enjoyably provocative and saddening innocent people.

Trying to be courageous in comedy making is laudable and reserves all the respect. I know Mr. Stephen Fry has been very
courageous and inspiring. Being a pioneer, however, sometimes comes with a price, a point all of us should perhaps appreciate.

I hope that this incident will start a much needed in-depth communication process between Japan and the U.K. I sincerely wish that what started with a dark cloud of anger would end in a peal of laughs.

We need sunshine, not the bomb.


Lily said...

I agree that it was a misstep to treat the bomb experience so lightly. It's typical of QI to treat shocking things lightly, but the bombs are on another level. They should have been hands-off. I hope everyone in the UK realizes this. But ... it is so hard to imagine things from other people's perspectives. (There's a similar problem when black people complain about racist imagery in Japan--without a history of slavery and so on, Japanese people find it hard to imagine the hurt that they're accidentally inflicting.)

masa_ceo said...

I agree with you.It is important to seek a difficult balance between an enjoyable provocation and a disrespect.I hope this issue will turn out to be fine.

Anonymous said...

I'm not in the least surprised by the Japanese reaction to this.
It's fine for the governor of their capital city to say that "foreigners have criminal DNA", for the press and everyday people to use the word "nigger" and for deportees to be killed by the police in an "accident" but a very respectful piece by an incredibly sensitive Englishman which clearly does not mock anything other than the british rail service is unacceptable???
It's fine for the japanese to laugh at and be openly racist about "gaijin" (yes please lump all foreigners together with a catch-all word essentially better translated as 'outsider') but if any of the savages dare laugh at Japan or the Japanese the cries of "unfair" or "racist" resound from everywhere.
No, not surprised at all by the Japanese (over) reaction to this.

Anonymous said...

A fair and considered judgement amongst all the hysteria.

Of course this is highly sensitive subject (and rightly so) and perhaps the BBC/production company should have chosen a different "unlucky" example.

However, the humour the comedians generate from it is directed at their own country. If you watch the clip they are joking that whereas in Britain a few leaves on a train line cause the whole railway system to stop, even after the Bomb there were still trains running between Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They were not mocking Japan and the hibakusha experience, but rather the incompetence of their own country (who of course invented the railways!).

However, "getting" the joke requires familiarity with British English and British humour, both of which are rather esoteric.


Mickie said...


I also translated this entry into Japanese.

Lily said...

Ugh, please keep in mind that my comments weren't in the same vein as Anonymous 1's. Anonymous 2 has a better overall perspective.

The Japan Times English article is useful, too, pointing out that QI often presents tragic incidents.

Joybird said...

Very informative piece on the issue.

Have't read the first report of this incident myself, but I can easily imagine that most of the media people in this country did not mentioned what Mr.Fry's joke's real highlight was, as William above has mentioned.

One of this country's true malaise lies in "Kisha Club" oriented journalism as you touched millions of time on your twitter. Shame on them!

In order to overcome this, young people in this country should really focus on mastering English so that they can understand true meaning behind all the news coming through Kiaha Club filters.

Well,now that the Japanese embassy has forced the BBC to apologise on the matter, the BBC is bound to come up with more subtle satire ridiculing Japan. Hopefully something to do with Mr.Kan.

Anonymous said...


ton2net said...



Anonymous said...

And thus the QI programme is now stimulating the kind of debate the programme makers would have wanted. It's more a case of, as other say, a Brit mocking Britain. Let's all have a nice cup of tea, shall we?

NMacぴょん said...

,,,QI called him "The Unluckiest Man in the World" which I think is a fairly accurate description exaggerated for comic effect. They weren't laughing at him. Similarly used for the American farmer struck three times by lightning or the Brazilian man who jumped into a river to escape a bee attack only to be attacked by piranhas. This media reaction reminds me of the nonsensical reaction to the scene in the latest Indiana Jones movie where he escapes a nuclear explosion by hiding in a fridge.
The Japanese reaction is part of their revisionists attemps to claim some uniquely awful suffering in WWII thereby bypassing the necessity of meaningful and proper atonement.
I find even the family's reaction odd. We can joke but you cannot!" All suffering is shared as is all joy or perhaps we should be denied any feelings of compassion or sympathy for others if they are in a situation we haven't personally experienced ourself.

Anonymous said...

Disclaimer: I'm a British man who has lived in japan for 10 years.

I find what QI said was quite accurate. To experience two atomic bombs.

However here in Japan, the bomb is off limits.

Simply put, if someone tells you: "I come from Hiroshima, do you know where that is?" and you reply "of course, everyone knows where Hiroshima is." the answer will be "why?".

Nick Bennett said...

Interesting that the Nikkei editorial appeared to take exception to Stephen Fry's Aloha shirt. It also failed to mention that even Mr. Yamaguchi's family joke about his bad luck.

TomNishikawa said...

I saw quite a few Japanese reactions containing the idea that the British audience can enjoy the jokes as they look down on the colored people. If one thinks that the argumentation should be applied on this issue, I must say that the person himself/herself has got the same discriminating idea somewhere and/or the person believes that the Japanese media is always anyway right.

I think that Japanese are generally not used to be picked up on the WWII issues related to Japan. The media hype looks to me that they are saying that it is so sensitive that only Japanese should know the best way to tell. It is actually a bit of abuse of freedom of speech.

This is however how I was taught at school in Tokyo on Japanese/World history. WWII and Japan part was rather vague excl. the shocking stories in Hiroshima/Nagasaki and the bombing of Tokyo.

My birthplace is next to the Hiroshima atomic bomb dome and my grandpa has been in China as a soldier for 3 times during the war. And I feel sad that WWII for Japan (as criminal/victim) is not well communicated even among Japanese nationals..

atmark said...

イギリス人の冗談の品の無さは今に始まったことじゃないでしょ。だから、日本人も怒り狂わず落ち着いて。Ricky Gervaisの動画YOUTUBEで見たけど、むちゃくちゃだよ。

ami said...

I was out of my country, Japan, for 24 years and from my experiences,

I feel that it is difficult for everybody to imagine and understand the feeling of people who live in the other countries.

So I do not expect that the British people understand our(Japanese)feelings but in the same time I feel it is important to show and explain our feelings to those who do not have the same experiences as we have for better understanding.

Juta said...

I'm impressed your attitude that try to connect Japan and the U.K. Because it is important to show Japanese citizen's thinking in English but to use English language is not common way probably so far.
Definitely we all people must not forget the tragedy of the bomb and it should not be kind of joking...

moondance said...

Having read through comments here and other websites, including Youtube, I'd suspect most of Japanese people who commented on this issue didn't watch the original QI episode (possibly because of they don't speak English).
As a matter of fact, they are not making fun of Mr Yamaguchi himself (plus, some of them look like "it is ok for us to talk about it?" when Stephen Fry mentioned Hiroshima).

Having said that, as one of Japanese living in UK, I understand nuclear bombs in WW2 are still a sensible matter for Japanese and it was not appropriate to describe Mr Yamaguchi as "unluckiest man". But I also understand how British comedy makes fun of things (and sometimes goes too far and cross the line).

So, I'd suggest what's needed now is to translate and put subtitle in the episode to understand what was actually said. I'd be happy to help translate, although I can't do any movie editing stuff. Anyone up for it?

yanonanone said...
















思います。私はLittle Britainとthe officeを所有し






Anonymous said...

The ridiculous thing about all of this is that it's not even about differences in humor but is instead obviously a failure of translation. The simple fact is that at no point does anyone on QI insult Tsutomu Yamaguchi nor do they ever downplay nuclear weapons.

The two main gripes that some people seem to have are that:
1) The QI panel are "laughing at Mr Yamaguchi".
2) That it was rude to call him the "unluckiest man in the world".

#1 is obviously false if you can understand English and #2 is ludicrous. If we can't call him the "unluckiest man" then what was he, the "luckiest woman"?

Anonymous said...

“the BBC and the production company clearly lacked imagination and respect to one of the most traumatic human experiences in the 20th century.”

I agree with you.

One can call Mr. Tsutomu Yamaguchi the “unluckiest man in the world”, if he/she wants to.
But no one should talk about him in a comedy show.

That is just inappropriate.
BBC realizes it now.

Jakob said...

I find there is some irony in that the debate about the subjective interpretation of how an event can be framed is taking place in a blog about qualia. The analogy between socially accepted norms and rules of communication and the intrinsic qualities of brain states interpreting the world is rather striking.

The problems of translating this show to a Japanese audience does not arise merely from the linguistic properties of a foreign language. You needed to translate the different norms of the cultures as well. The cultural paradigms that frame socially acceptable communication behavior differ greatly - so appeals to the standards of civility one has been raised to interpret as the "norm" do not carry over between two different cultures.

That being said, unlike qualia the different cultural paradigms can be made transparent and the Japanese people are very much justified in voicing their feelings of hurt. And I find that it is very sensible of English spokespeople on this incident to not dismiss those concerns, but rather address them and facilitate a dialogue of intercultural communication.

princessmia said...




masa ceoさんのコメントの和訳


princessmia said...



princessmia said...



princessmia said...


princessmia said...



princessmia said...



princessmia said...

Nick bennettさんのコメントの和訳


princessmia said...



yuzu said...

When I listened to this news on 7pm program of NHK.
I felt sick.

I met a person who lived in Kenya for 3 years yesterday. He said that I learned history of world and people there.
The textbooks or history books don't tell truth for us.
We should not forget that we had hell during the war in all over the world. We may have devil's mind if we would be in something gross occurrence.
What's happened to this comedian?
Then I realized that how Japanese man,Mr.Tsutomu Yamaguchi had beautiful heart. I very proud of him.
I wish that some English people who watch this TV program think same as me.
And this affair makes the chance that it recognize the Japanese history and philosophy.
We need sunshine, not the bomb in the world.
I want to scream out to the world.

Anonymous said...

Travel Alert for those headed to UK where a newly discovered disease named "Nuke-Loving" has been spreading. It is highly infectious. Visit Voice of Japan via Tweeting

Anonymous said...

Having read through comments here and other websites, including Youtube, I'd suspect most of Japanese people who commented on this issue didn't watch the original QI episode (possibly because of they don't speak English).

After all the furore the YouTube video still has less than 100,000 views. I think it's fair to say that very few people actually watched the whole video and even fewer understood it.

hana_no_yama said...

To be badly burnt is...

Mr. Yamaguchi's wish is...

Any British doesn't know the truth?

maruko247 said...

There is no doubt that the BBC was culturally insensitive. I only hope they learned their lesson from this experience.

As for the uproar that followed in this country, did Japan learn any lessons? At the very least, Japan needs to make a more concerted effort at English-language learning (and at a cultural level, as well) so that: 1) the debate is not about whether or not the anger was caused by misunderstandings and 2) there is a better appreciation of the cultural and social developments in that country (that may give rise to phenomena such as this show).

Clearly, had the BBC been more culturally aware, they would not have taken up the atomic bomb on the comedy show in the first place. But from another perspective, they (albeit thoughtlessly) presented Japan an opportunity to let the world know a little more of the pain she still feels.

Cultural appreciation would have diffused this debate early on; perhaps it would not have become an issue at all.

Pupa said...

Sorry for my late comment.

I love a comedy " THE FACE OF JIZO " written by Hisashi Inoue.
I like especially the details of usual life in Hiroshima.
The phantom father cooks and watches raindrops from the leaky roof. He is active in many directions for his surviving daughter.

When we want to catch the reality of tragedy, yes, we need deep love, that is sunshine.
Thank you for your awareness of the issue.

ChuckTyrell said...

I wish the Japanese would look in the mirror. I particularly remember the last scene of "hyokinnzoku" when the comedians had to confess their sins to another comedian who was dressed in a white robe and hung on a cross as if he were Jesus Christ. What do you think we felt about that? Luckily, Japanese shows rarely get translated into English nor to Japanese commentaries make it to International press. I felt that all the anger of the Japanese was strange, considering the insensitivity of Japan's popular media concerning other people's cultures.

buvery said...

I am a Japanese citizen and I love Stephen Fry. He is a very intelligent and gentle soul. Besides he is bipolar and gay (true), which make him more likable, not less. Ad hominem attack on Stephen Fry does not make any sense to me. BBC could express concern over the situation, but he himself does not have to apologize for his handling of his comedy show.

It seems to me that most of the Japanese readers who claim that atomic bombs are a taboo and sensitive subject in Japan know no shame. The true core of hypocrisy is in the Japanese nuclear policy, which is far more scandalous and obscene than the 5 minutes video of BBC. Japan pretends to seek a world free of nuclear weapons, but at the same time, they hide behind the nuclear umbrella of USA. And they do not talk about the true nature of geopolitical reality. It does not exist, at least until the next nuclear massacre.

buvery said...

 >Nick bennettさんのコメントの和訳
Interesting that the Nikkei editorial appeared to take exception to Stephen Fry's Aloha shirt. It also failed to mention that even Mr. Yamaguchi's family joke about his bad luck.




buvery said...








Pupa said...

About age restriction in human resources.

I once asked my friend about an entrance exam for the theatrical company.
" Qualifications -18 years old and above- in the applicantion summary. But is it true? "

She was an examiner and answered,
" 35 years old and under by tacit agreement. We want to give a chance for tabula rasa."

There is age restriction even in the field of art in Japan !
We should consider great success of Saitama Gold Theater - the members 55 years old and above.

Anonymous said...

Nobody on QI was laughing at Mr Yamaguchi himself. I wouldn't expect people in Japan to understand British humour but I would have expected the Japanese Embassy in London to have reacted with more responsibility; surely an embassy should understand the culture where it is placed.

It's also important to point out that "laughing at bomb victims" is surely recognised everywhere as a terrible thing to do. So by accusing British people of doing so, many Japanese people have basically said the British are terrible people. This is somehow justified because they've never had the misfortune of having an atomic bomb dropped on them.

As a British person who has spent most of the last five years studying Japanese, learning about Japanese culture and now living in Japan, I find this particularly offensive. The offence Japan causes when making such sweeping statements seems to be completely overlooked.

I do not "laugh at bomb victims". My country doesn't "laugh at bomb victims". To do so would be terrible. But "thank you" Japan, for throwing all of my efforts to understand you back in my face.

Anyone who is serious about sunshine needs to understand that hoping the world will reach our to their culture while offending others will never succeed.

totalturtle said...

I did not find Fly's joke at QI particularly offensive. I actually found it quite funny, imo people who got overly upset by Fly's joke was misreading the context.

However I want to remind people in Europe that aftermath of atomic bomb is still on going thing in Hiroshima. This is tad more serious than just some people have been killed by awful burn 60years ago.

Can you make any joke about holocaust without upsetting anyone?

And,to Anonymous
I am living here in UK as a Gaijin,I find people here very kind, mostly, but it's impossible for people to treat foreigner completely equally. Do you really think that Japanese people treating foreigner badly? And do yourself understanding ethnic and black minority community really well?