Japanese retail giant Uniqlo has removed a commercial from South Korean screens featuring a 98-year-old U.S. style model, he said Monday after being accused of imperialist whitewashing.
South Korea and Japan are both U.S. partners, democracies and market economies battling overbearing China and nuclear-armed North Korea, but their relationship is deeply compromised by the legacy of Tokyo’s expansionism of the 20th century.
The latest example is an advertisement for Uniqlo fleeces featuring elderly fashion star Iris Apfel speaking with 85-year-old model Kheris Rogers.
The last line is the white-haired Apple, asking how she used to dress as a child, answering innocently: Oh my God. I can’t remember that far back.
Yet Uniqlo’s Korean arm subtitled its version of the commercial slightly differently, reading: I can’t remember things that happened over 80 years ago. That would put the moment like 1939, towards the end of Japan’s oppressive colonial rule over the Korean peninsula, where the time is still bitterly resented, and some South Koreans reacted furiously.
A nation that forgets past has no future. We can not forget what happened to Uniqlo 80 years ago, one internet user posted on Naver, the largest portal in the world.
One of the most searched words on Naver on the weekend was the word Uniqlo, comfort women, referring to women forced to become sex slaves to Japanese forces during World War II, and protesters protested outside Uniqlo shops on Monday.
South Korean customers have launched boycotts of Japanese goods, Seoul and Tokyo are currently locked in a bitter trade and diplomatic row stemming from past disputes.
Uniqlo — which has 186 stores in South Korea — was itself one of the highest-profile forecasts, although sales by Japanese carmakers plummeted by nearly 60% year-on-year in September.
In a statement, the company denied the allegations, stating that the text was altered to emphasize the age gap between the individuals and demonstrate that their fleeces were for people over centuries.
The ad had no intention of saying anything about colonial rule, a representative from Uniqlo told AFP on Monday, adding that the company had withdrawn the ad in an effort to control the damage.
Analysts said the incident revealed the neighbors ‘ complex history of politizing.
Kim Sung-Han, a former vice minister of foreign affairs who teaches at Korea University, said the reaction was unreasonable, involving a “jump in reasoning” that “assumes all that Uniqlo does is political as a Japanese company.”
I don’t see how she can relate her comment to the topic of comfort women,” he said. “It’s too easy.
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