December 14th, 2010
06:27 AM GMT
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Tokyo, Japan (CNN) – It’s a tried and true method of gaining attention in the business world: try something visibly different. For Japanese mobile phone company Softbank, “different” is in the form of 33-year-old Dante Carver.

Carver is a member of the quirky Japanese family that fronts the ad campaign for Softbank. If you haven’t guessed by his name yet, he’s not Japanese. He’s an African-American from New York. Granted, he’s not the only non-Japanese member of the advertising campaign: there’s also the dog, who is the father of the family.

The ad campaign is certainly nonsensical. But it has been a popular and successful ad campaign, running for four years on Japanese television.

The ad propelled Carver into an unusual place in the heart of the Japanese public: a blend of fascination and adulation. CM Databank – a Japanese marketing research company who tracks the country’s top television actors – ranked Carver as Japan’s number one television commercial star. It’s a remarkable achievement in and of itself. That Carver is a black American propels it to  “what-the?” status.

Carver never expected to find success in Japan as an actor. He followed a traditional US path: he graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with an international business degree and went to work for an insurance company. But when his job ended, Carver saw a chance: pursue a childhood dream to try acting, a “now or never” moment. That he chose Japan to follow that dream drew criticism from friends and family who thought he was “crazy.”

“I had people around me that said you can’t do it in Japan because you can’t speak the language, you’re obviously not Japanese, it’s impossible. But my personality is very much the opposite. If someone says it can’t be done, I’m going to at least try it. So I tried it and I’ve been lucky, honestly,” says Carver.

Carver’s success is a mixture of luck and timing, says Billboard reporter Rob Schwartz in Tokyo. Schwartz says Jero, an African-American, quarter-Japanese singer, broke barriers for other black Americans in Japanese pop culture. Jero found success three years ago by singing a blend of traditional Japanese enka and modern hip hop.

“Even though it’s a very inward looking country, they are drawn to things from outside to spice up life, to add some variety. Even if it’s put into a little box as a foreign thing, they’re still drawn to that,” says Schwartz. “Does it signal that Japan is changing? I think it does. I think that Carver is an African American signals that Japan is changing. How much it’s changing is an open question. But I don’t think it would have been possible 15 years ago, much less 35 years ago.”

The cultural barriers have turned into a boon for Carver. “If you’re willing to stay open, the differences can become very useful, very positive, where at first, it can seem very harsh, very negative,” says Carver. “So it’s worked out pretty well just from me not being Japanese national.”

Not that being different hasn’t been without its challenges, says Carver, who believes being black in America is as similar as being black in Japan. “A stereotype I had here when I first came is, oh, you drink grape juice, play basketball and listen to rap music. It’s like, wow, it’s like I’m back in Alabama. Arigato.”

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soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Billie_Holiday420

    Cross the line brother!

    December 14, 2010 at 8:46 am |
  2. j

    the dogs the star not him.

    December 14, 2010 at 8:50 am |
  3. CA

    Now let's add another dimension to what black people are "supposed to be" in Japan. Seriously, with every new "face" a black person shows the Japanese, they realize more and more that we are in fact interesting and worth getting to know.

    December 14, 2010 at 9:47 am |
  4. hiro_sasuke_samurai_goku-san

    How is this a story? How is the success of a black actor in Japan a world business issue? Better yet, how is this relevant in any productive racial sense whatsoever. "He's a guy, but we're identifying him as black for our purposes because that makes it news worthy." Pretty patronizing. How about we just let people be..."people."

    December 14, 2010 at 9:58 am |
  5. elf evans

    As all Samurai must, "Walk softly and carry a BIG Stick", right on Brother!

    December 14, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  6. Bernie

    I thought I was going to hear another ESL teacher ( in Japan) makes it. But low and behold, a super cool story of thinking and having success outside the (bland) box. Congrats !!

    December 14, 2010 at 10:24 am |
  7. Lumumba

    He's double the size of a japanese woman!

    December 14, 2010 at 10:50 am |
  8. Neil Cassidy

    I never heard that drinking grape juice is an African-American stereotype. I suppose that is a positive stereotype, since grape juice is incredibly healthy and good for the heart.

    December 14, 2010 at 11:03 am |
  9. histeryk

    Black people dring grape juice? I'm white and I love this juice.
    Being black in Japan and USA is the same as being white in Japan and USA.

    December 14, 2010 at 11:56 am |
  10. VampireJack

    The fact he is black is relevant how?
    I thought that these days that skin colour wasn't important anymore but the media wants to big him up due his his skin tone?
    If the guy was white would it be "white american"? No, just american.
    Who gives a damn what colour the guy is?
    We have more pressing issues in the world right now than race. Jeezzz,,,,

    December 14, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  11. Danny

    Wow. Pretty much a straight lie. He's on a commercial, but he's nowhere near the top commercial star. He's not even the Black actor in Japan. That goes to a man from Africa known as Bobby . I guess it's okay for Kyung to lie. Its not Korea so who cares?

    CNN please don't insult Asians by trying to assume we are all alike. Get someone who has lived a long time in Japan or at least specializes in Japanese culture, and I don't know, someone fluent in Japanese?

    December 14, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
  12. Haha

    Wow I saw him on a J-Drama.
    Just wondering j are you living in Japan?

    December 14, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
  13. Dante'

    Just wanted to say thanks!! I enjoyed the piece, and really appreciate the
    open and honest view you had as well as gave to the viewers. Take Care,
    ありがとうとお疲れさまです!

    December 14, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
  14. Albert Howard

    Well done brother.

    Michael J did it with music and see how music has transformed the way the world sees us.

    Some done it with acting and they shone.

    It is your time to shine and live you foot prints in the East.

    December 14, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
  15. dasjh

    black people have been a fascination in japan for decades. This is nothing new... Give us some real news cnn.

    December 14, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
  16. Chris

    He's the one that started the cm's and help them become what they are today. If not for him, there'd be no dog! Good to know ur not a hater to people who are doing something they love

    December 15, 2010 at 4:52 am |
  17. kelvin christopher

    this is black season.so keep ur mauth close end let ur eye listen

    December 15, 2010 at 7:30 am |
  18. Dwarn

    Not relevant? Thats like saying President Obama's race isnt relevant! Black men are still protrayed as "unemployed,unintelligent,lazy,late, criminals" in the media. His Race is relevant because it gives hope and inspiration to the black community and young black men in general. Him being American is relevant because he is not of japanese descent, but has worked hard and against all odds to become at least one of the most recognizable faces in japanese media today. Thats remarkable just doing it as an american in America, let alone in another country!! It is business relevant because of the revenue his image and persona generated for Softbank. Someone obviously was smarter than you and saw his marketability and charisma, to capitalize on what makes Mr. Carver who he is. Black and American

    December 15, 2010 at 6:30 pm |
  19. Lisa Paylor Rogers

    Congrats to my cousin, I am very proud of your accomplishments whether it be in America or Japan keep doing big things and don't let the haters bring you down. I love you...MUAHHHH

    December 16, 2010 at 12:15 am |
  20. Eboni aka Pepa

    You have accomplished a lot within your 5 yrs in Japan! I am very proud of you! Keep broading your horizons and career endeavors. God has it all worked out for you. Love you!

    December 16, 2010 at 3:00 am |
  21. Queda Day

    Congrats Dante; you are really accomplishing your dream; continue to go forward no matter what things are said to you or about you. God got you & that is why you are doing so well. Let the haters remain the haters & let them still be in the USA thinking that you have to stay here to reach your ultimate goals in life.& by not go to a foreign country. Give my love to KoKo maybe I will see you guys in Hawaii next year. Now I know that the cameras will be rolling on us like last Christmas in the islands. Take care & I love you much Auntie Queda

    December 16, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  22. john Coons

    Send to mom

    December 17, 2010 at 3:29 am |
  23. James Hadfield

    "CM Databank – a Japanese marketing research company who tracks the country’s top television actors – ranked Carver as Japan’s number one television commercial star."

    No it didn't. It rated the Softbank ad campaign as Japan's number one TV commercial – a campaign which also features bankable names such as Aya Ueto and Kanako Higuchi. Dante Carver seems like a lovely guy, and I think he's done amazingly well to get so far, but it's simply inaccurate to describe him as "Japan's top commercial star."

    December 17, 2010 at 9:15 am |
  24. P.Holder

    For centuries, Japan was notoriously insular, bordering on xenophobic. It is my understanding that only the outcome of WWII opened Japan to adopt some of the ways of the war's victors. I remember that a Japanese cabinet minister once had to resign for saying that Blacks and other minorities were bringing down the average scores on national standardized tests in the U.S.

    If art imitates life, that 1992 Tom Selleck movie, "Mr. Baseball", was a pretty accurate window into modern Japan. Nearly twenty years after that movie, a black American's success in a Japanese ad campaign should not be a surprise. The surprise is that it is considered newsworthy.

    December 17, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
  25. Carib

    This article is very misleading. Crosses the line on integrity of facts. James Hadfields 17 Dec 9:15 post is correct.

    December 21, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
  26. Faraz

    This is a bad headline.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:22 am |
  27. CriticXtreme

    I'm proud of the brother and thank you for not calling him "African American". That's a Jesse Jackson description. Not all black people are truly from African descent.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
  28. CinJP

    I'm sorry, but this is a horrible article that is inaccurate and misleading.

    First of all, while I wish nothing but the best for Dante Carver, he is not a "top star" in any sense. He has made a few appearances on TV and definitely working in the industry more over then last year or so, that's all there is to his career thus far.

    He is in the campaign with one of Japan's biggest stars, Ueto Aya, who is the main face in the commercial. If he spoke Japanese, he probably could become successful because the commercial is very popular.

    As it stands, if you polled 1011 people in Japan about Dante, I imagine less than 1% would know his name: he would be referred to as "the Softbank guy" or "Yosou guy" (the first commercial in the series used a play on words to emphasize the benefits of the service: 予想外 (Yosougai) means unexpected – hence, the quality of the deal was something unexpected as was the appearance in the spot by Dante, a black "guy" speaking one line of Japanese ("Yosougai desu"). The play on words is that "gai" and "guy" are pronounced the same.

    This writer is simply trying to get attention for this article by "playing the race card".

    Unlike the USA and many other countries, Japan is not obsessed with skin color in the same sense. Of course there is discrimination and even racism, but everything boils down to Japanese vs "foreigner".
    I've lived in Japan for nearly 15 years, worked with some of the top companies in the country, seen things most people will never see: perhaps only once in my entire time here have I felt in my time here that being "a big black guy" was held against me (a mall security guard that seemed to always be where I was...).
    In New York, I remember being treated like a second class citizen when I was looking for an apartment. In Chicago (my home town), there are neighborhoods I won't go to because it's not safe for a black man to walk at night. In New Jersey, the sound of car doors locking as I walked by rang through my ears like a nail being driven through my chest.

    I choose to live in Japan because I can go anywhere in the country and never walk in fear of a hate crime against me or being pulled over for driving while black.

    Some parts of the world are concerned with more than "race" and skin color. Please don't use lies and half truths to paint a picture of Japan that will influence the minds of potentially millions of people.

    It's sad that any hack can publish on CNN, what we'd like to believe is one of the last few sources of dependable news.

    December 23, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  29. Chris

    Not to be too direct, but this is for Danny and the other naysayers.

    1-Bobby and Dante' are good friends. Difference is Dante' is a trained actor and Bobby is a Talent. There`s a difference.

    2-In Japan as well as many other countries, as small minded as it may sound-stereotypically, Americans are not always seen in a positive light.

    It`s a success story or the beginning of one. He (Dante') has paid his dues and didnt have formal training in Japanese until about a month ago.
    Yeah, It would have benefited him had he had it earlier, but for him to be successful as a Non-Japanese is saying alot no matter his color or background.

    Entertainment IS BUSINESS!! So are cms, tv shows, movies, etc. Please think about what you write about first instead of just writing to be hurtful and negative...esp if you don`t know the person or what your talking about!

    To Hiro Sasake-He also was voted and won CM Actor/Personality two-three years in a row!! By Japanese Fans and supports. A Positive thing no matter how negative your message was. It was first for any male non-Japanese! He won the award and was awarded a statue and plaque for those of you who dont know. Several sources.

    Race is mentioned in the interview because people often mistake where a person is from due to skin color. Also, because you do have racism all around the world. Just so happens, this is about Japan. People like to overlook the fact that it DOES still exsist, but we dont have to dwell on it!!

    December 25, 2010 at 4:02 pm |
  30. Chris

    Cin_jp

    Dante`s the face that got it all going not Aya. While she has been working in the industry in Japan much longer, still not the same.

    He does speak Japanese-not fluent but better than most without formal schooling.

    He`s been in more than just a few tv programs. At least 6 movies and numerous magazines, newpapers, etc. Why not checkout his profile on
    his agency`s website and imdb.

    Remix
    http://www.remix-model.co.jp/
    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3083640/#Actor
    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3096767/resume

    December 25, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
  31. Susie Lang BF of Aunt Vanita

    So very proud of you and your accomplishments. "To God be the Glory"
    Keep God first and foremost in all that you do and everything else will come after. Stay Blessed.

    January 4, 2011 at 1:04 am |
  32. pictures of celebrities

    Magnificent points altogether, you just gained a new reader. What would you suggest about your submit that you just made a few days in the past? Any certain?

    May 4, 2012 at 1:18 am |
  33. Savanna

    To Eric Blair:1. When you say you are "In favor of registration", what is being reteegsrid: the person or the gun? If the person, is it a shall-issue concealed carry permit or is it a discretionary issue ownership/carry permit, such as NY's Sullivan law, passed in 1911?2. What happens if the person fails the proficiency/safety test, perhaps because he or she is 70 years old, has essential tremor and doesn't see very well? To what extent does society then have an obligation to protect that individual against attacks by criminals and who bears the cost of fulfilling that obligation?3. How much should the training and testing cost and who pays for it? Many states with shall-issue carry permits require recertification every few years and impose fees of several hundred dollars to exercise this "right". This tends to legally disarm poorer people, who incidentally tend to live in the more crime-ridden neighborhoods.4. Like Helen, I don't care what weapon was used or the motivation of the murderer. Murder is murder and the person is just as dead.

    November 5, 2012 at 6:00 am |

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