Hot Dog Served with a Side of Controversy

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An image from a recent Mitsuwa flyer announcing a Japadog event in June.

By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo

Perry Miyake has worked as a food handler at a Santa Monica supermarket for the past five years. On June 16, in hopes of educating the store management and the public, he quit his job.

Miyake’s quest began a few weeks ago when he noticed a company flyer announcing a three-day promotional event at Mitsuwa’s Torrance store for a product known as Japadog.

As a Japanese American, he found the use of the racial epithet contained in the name of the Japanese style hot dog to be offensive and brought the issue to the attention of his supervisor in the Nagomi Department. Receiving no response, he wrote to company headquarters and learned that unfortunately a contract was in place and had to be honored. The event went forward as scheduled in early June.

Miyake, 63, remembers a time when anti-Japanese sentiment in America was more pervasive than it is today, particularly during and after World War II. The three-letter epithet for the word Japanese “is our n-word,” he pointed out in his letter to management. “In case you were not aware, the term…is a derogatory racist slur that has been used against Americans of Japanese ancestry since we first got here over a century ago.

“It is a term of bigotry, prejudice, disrespect, and outright hatred. It is indicative of an attitude that has preceded every anti-Japanese action in this country, from acts of violence to mass evacuation and incarceration.

“It is not an abbreviation. It is not shorthand. It is ignorant and insensitive.”

Miyake added, “We who have been here in the U.S. for over five generations now are telling you it is a term of exclusion and oppression.”

Mitsuwa’s Response

Responding on behalf of Mitsuwa, Noriyoshi Miyata, vice president of administration, issued the following statement:

“By way of background, Mitsuwa is a Japanese company that sells authentic Japanese-made food and other products. Mitsuwa has been a part of the Japanese/American community in California for nearly 40 years. In addition to California, Mitsuwa owns and operates Japanese supermarkets/superstores in New Jersey, Illinois, Texas and Hawaii, and has affirmatively chosen to locate its stores in those states where there are the heaviest concentrations of Japanese and other Asian ethnic populations.

“Through the sale of an unparalleled assortment of authentic Japanese-made food and other offerings, Mitsuwa has dedicated itself to enriching the lives of people who are a part of the Japanese/American and Asian/American communities in cities across the United States and, as well, to introducing non-Japanese Americans to Japanese food culture. Indeed, the Japanese culture is a part of the very fabric of our company.

“When Mitsuwa contracted with Japadog to permit them to operate a concession stand in Mitsuwa’s Torrance store over a three-day period in early June, it did not occur to Mitsuwa that the name ‘Japadog’ might offend some people in the Japanese/American community. Rather, Mitsuwa’s focus was on the fact that Japadog is a Japanese company, manufacturing and selling a Japanese food product (Japanese-style hot dogs) that for many years has been very popular in the Japanese communities in Santa Monica, Los Angeles and in certain Canadian cities, as well, including Vancouver.

“Mitsuwa earnestly believed that Japadogs would appeal to its customers, and judging by customer comments received by Mitsuwa, Japadog’s Japanese-style hot dogs were extremely well-received by those customers. In fact, Mitsuwa has received only one complaint about its decision to sell Japadogs in one of its stores – and that complaint was from a Mitsuwa employee.

“Mitsuwa is extremely proud of its Japanese heritage and holds all of its customers and employees, including those of Japanese descent, in the highest regard. Accordingly, it was certainly never Mitsuwa’s intention to offend anyone (most especially, its Japanese customers, who are the lifeblood of our company) by promoting the temporary sale of Japadog products.

“Mitsuwa sincerely regrets if anyone was, in fact, offended by that activity. Moreover, Mitsuwa does not have any continuing contractual arrangement with Japadog for the sale of its products in Mitsuwa stores, and Mitsuwa has no present intention to permit the future sale of Japadog products in its stores if those products carry the name ‘Japadog’ or other language that our customers might view as offensive.”

Earlier Conflict

Behind the controversial product name is a menu of grilled hot dogs topped with familiar Japanese condiments like teriyaki, Kewpie mayonnaise, seaweed, kimchi, yakisoba, okonomi sauce, and more. Founded in 2005 by a couple that moved from Japan to Canada with the dream of establishing a world famous hot dog stand.

The hot dog company, which has been featured on USA Today and other media, is no stranger to controversy. In July 2010, The Bulletin, a Japanese Canadian online publication based in Vancouver, carried comments by Masaki Watanabe:

“The brand name (is) too reminiscent of that old epithet/abbreviation which goes back a long way in the English-speaking world. There is no doubt the word took on much more of a pejorative connotation during and after WWII. It’s obviously a word we in our community don’t feel comfortable with, allowing for individual differences.”

A 2014 Los Angeles Times article about the Japanese-style hot dog drew criticism from Politicus USA. A blogger known as “Tim of L.A.” commented, “We are not J**s, and neither the editors (of The L.A. Times) nor some immigrants from Japan can speak for Japanese Americans and assume that ‘Japadog’ is OK.”

For a completely different reason, Japadog came under fire in 2013 when IKEA workers in Richmond, British Columbia went on strike, and the Japanese hot dog purveyors were brought in to replace the striking food concession workers.

Last April, their food truck made an appearance at the Huntington Beach Cherry Blossom Festival.

More recently, other entrepreneurs have come up with their own hot dog concoctions that fuse American and Japanese flavors. Among them are the Seattle-based Tokyo Dog and Takuya in San Mateo (south of San Francisco).

The Rafu Shimpo reached out to Japadog for comment but received no response.

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