Japan's largest carrier All Nippon Airways said on Tuesday it was pulling a TV advertisement featuring a Japanese actor in a large false nose and blonde wig after it was criticized online for having racist overtones.
The ad, which is in English with Japanese subtitles, promotes ANA's expanded international flight schedule from Tokyo's Haneda Airport. Japan, host of the 2020 Summer Olympics, is trying to attract more tourists amid a sharp rise in visitors over the last year, particularly from Asia.
In the ad, which began airing on Jan 18, two men in ANA pilot uniforms chat about how they will now be heading off to new destinations such as Hanoi and Vancouver.
"Let's change the image of Japanese!" one says, and turns to his companion, who now wears a large fake nose and a brassy blond wig, in line with Japanese stereotypes about Europeans. "Of course," he replies.
In another version of the ad, one man surprises his companion by offering to hug him. Public displays of affection, especially between men, are uncommon in Japan.
The ad unleashed a torrent of mostly negative comments on ANA's Facebook page, with some people saying they had cancelled their loyalty cards. Other online commentators, however, said they liked the commercial while some said it was simply strange, rather than racist.
ANA apologized for the ad on its Facebook page, and Japanese media said the company had also apologized to customers who called in to complain.
On Tuesday, a spokeswoman said the ad would be taken off air. The airline had yet to decide what it would do with versions on other media, she added.
"We heard a lot of opinions from customers about points in our ad that didn't match with our intention," the spokeswoman said. "Our intention was to show Japanese becoming more active and essential to the world."
She said the wig and the fake nose were intended to show Japanese becoming more accepted overseas, adding the airline did not intend to discriminate against anybody.
"There were people who took it that way, so we are paying attention to this and cancelling the ad," she said.
The ad aired only in Japan, but also spread on Internet video sharing sites.