Dear Mr. Teriyaki

Author Eric Stone posted this on the DorothyL discussion list this morning:

Did anyone else who attended Men of Mystery in Irvine, California
on Saturday find the story Dean Koontz told in his speech about his
letter writing campaign to the president of a Japanese company, offensive? I
did. And I’m pretty hard to offend. At least one other author I know who
was there, who has lived in Japan, also found it offensive. We both were
aghast. While most of the people in the audience were laughing, we

I write thrillers that are set in Asia. I know the region well.
I lived and worked in Asia for 11 years and though I never lived in Japan, I
visited it for business and on holidays at least twice a year that entire
time. If I was ever to create a character that would say or write things
similar to what Mr. Koontz claimed to have written in his letters to the
Japanese corporate executive, it would be for the purpose of showing him as
a culturally-insensitive lout – the Ugly American personified as it

Sheesh, I was enjoying the event up until then, and looking forward
to hearing Mr. Koontz speak.

I also found his  letters to the Japanese CEO offensive.
So did quite a few other authors in attendance (I didn’t talk to any of the 550  "civilians" in the audience
about it).

Koontz talked about a dispute he
had with a studio owned by a Japanese company and regaled the audience with the
letters he wrote to the Japanese CEO, who he referred to as "Mr. Teriyaki." The
letters used WWII, the Japanese surrender, Bataan Death March, and Godzilla to ridicule the CEO and
browbeat him into taking Koontz’s name off a movie based on one of his books. To
say the jokes were in horrifically bad taste and that letters
themselves were cringe-inducing in their boorish insensitivity would be an
What if the CEO was black? Would Koontz have addressed his letters to Mr. Fried Chicken and joked about the good old days of slavery and racial discrimination? Or if
the CEO was a Jew? Would he have called him Mr. Matzoball and reminded him of the
Holocaust? I was astonished that people were laughing when they should have
shunned him with silence. It’s a shame, because Koontz is an incredibly talented
writer who I’m sure could have delivered both an entertaining and interesting

UPDATE: My brother Tod was also shocked by Koontz’s speech.

Each letter was addressed to "Mr. Teriyaki." (Internment camps were not
mentioned in any of the letters, which I assume was a simple omission on Mr.
Koontz’s part and will be rectified in the future.)

Stunningly, the audience thrilled to the stories! The laughter cascaded about
the room! People dabbed tears! Do you have any stories about your hatred of the
Jews, Mr. Koontz? Any good ones about the Muslim world? How about a notation on
some more racial stereotypes you’ve used when negotiating your name off other
shitty movies?

Happily, author after author came walking to the back of the room in horror
(more horror than is typically engendered by one of Koontz’s books, no doubt)
and wonder about what they were hearing. Did he really just tell a 15 minute
story about the Japanese where he referred to the person in question as Mr.
Teriyaki? Was the audience really laughing? Or, as Rob Roberge said, "Is he
coming out in blackface next?"

UPDATE: I got a call today from Dean Koontz, who wasn’t pleased about the comments here. I apologized to him for using "Sambo" and "Kike" as comparisons for his use of "Mr. Teriyaki" to refer to the Asian exec. He found the use of those words pejorative and said they mischaracterized the tenor of his speech. I agreed. So I  have changed them to "Mr. Fried Chicken" and "Mr. Matzoball." I believe his speech was  offensive and in bad taste — and I reiterated that belief to him in our phone conversation.

Author Joe Konrath, who was also in attendance, weighs in on his blog:

There’s a lot of buzz circulating about Dean Koontz’s speech, and how
he offended many attendees. Personally, I didn’t find the remarks
offensive—Koontz was purposely trying to be humorously insulting, in
order to get a certain Japanese CEO to drop his name from a movie
title. His goal was to dishonor the guy. The problem was in the set-up
and the execution. Koontz just wasn’t very funny. George Carlin is a
lot more offensive, but gets away with it because he’s funny.

Koontz spent more time showing he was the underdog, and established
that he wasn’t racist and did all of this to right an injustice (rather
than because he simply wanted his way, which is how he came off), I
think the story would have gone over a little better.

Or perhaps Mr. Koontz should simply retire this particular anecdote.

More UPDATES on the jump:


Novelist Charles Fleming, who also attended the event, sent the following letter to the Men of Mystery organizers as well as several other authors who were there:

Thank you again for allowing me to take part in last
Saturday’s Sixth Annual Men of Mystery event in


. I had a terrific time. Until right near
the end.

A few minutes into an otherwise amusing talk, our keynote
speaker Dean Koontz began an extended story about a disagreement with a
Japanese executive. In an attempt to bully or shame the executive into making a
business decision unfavorable to his own company’s interests, Mr. Koontz invoked
images of Pearl Harbor, the firebombing of Tokyo, the Bataan Death March, the concentration
camp depicted in “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” and the 1960s monster movies “Godzilla”
and “Mothra.” He referred repeatedly to the recipient of this correspondence as
“Mr. Teriyaki.” 

This is roughly the equivalent of writing to an
African-American executive and invoking images of watermelon, lynchings and
Little Black Sambo; of writing to a Jewish executive and making jokes about bar
mitzvahs and Bergen-Belsen; of calling a gay executive “Bruce” and saying it
with a lisp; or of referring to a Latino executive with words like “wetback”
and “greaser.” 

Is this funny? The story was met with considerable laughter.
I found Mr. Koontz’ remarks extremely offensive, and the audience’s reaction to
them extremely depressing. 

Our free speech rights as American citizens and our
privileged position as writers guarantee us a voice. But our responsibility as
artists and as human beings should discourage us from using our voices to
denigrate others – even if they are Japanese, and the author is writing from a 2.5-acre,
25,000 square foot home in Orange County. 

I hope you will join me in censuring Mr. Koontz, and in
encouraging him to consider telling a different story the next time he is asked
to speak at a Men of Mystery event.

34 thoughts on “Dear Mr. Teriyaki”

  1. Lee–
    Thanks so much for placing this on your blog. To hear that people were laughing in response to these racist jokes is indeed disconcerting. To have a personal beef with a studio executive is one thing, to bring in his race and stereotyped imagery circa 1940s is another. Just imagine if the studio executive was a woman, and the speaker read letters telling her to remain barefoot and pregnant, etc. I don’t think it would have gone over that well.

  2. Well, not everyone was laughing, thank goodness…and, as Tod’s blog said, many of the authors left the room mid way through, which made me happy and proud to be among them.
    It was one odd fucking speech, though. Hardy har har…seterotypes are really funny.
    I can’t image the text would be availiable…but the essense has been rightly captured.

  3. On the other hand, if he was joking about the French or the Germans, no one would be saying anything at all.
    Sound more like political correctness here than racism.

  4. i was there. it was racism. and you have no idea how it would have gone over had he used other nationalities as his target…i think it still would have been silly, simpleminded, and racist. french, german, whomever.

  5. also, ‘political correctness’ before the term was co-opted by the right, was a term used that meant we refer to people in a manner that they like (i.e., calling a group by the name they choose)…so, yes, he was politically incorrect by using his racist stereotypes. sheash.

  6. “Lee, you ignorant slut.”
    Is insult humor dead? Surely, Dean Koontz was both politically incorrect and not terribly funny, but would everybody just relax a bit?
    It’s as if no one ever saw Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, or George Carlin.
    I was in the audience at “Men of Mystery” [a misogynistic, exclusionary name, if I ever heard one] and have a different take on Koontz’ talk. I thought there was an element of self-mockery, that he was playing the role of the churlish American trying to get the attention of the stoic Japanese businessman. And I don’t believe Koontz actually sent those letters, as described, but rather that this was a shtick for literary seminars.
    I wonder if we’ve gotten too sensitive to perceived slurs. Can only African-American comedians make fun of homeboys and Jewish comics of Beverly Hills matrons? Would “The Sopranos” be condemned as an ethnic slur if not created by an Italian-American? Can a straight comic poke fun at gays? (Mel Brooks certainly does in “The Producers.”) Are people upset at George Carlin’s “Catholic kids are stupid” bit on pedophilia?
    So I say, loosen up a bit. And c’mon Tod…lots of comics are making Muslim jokes, many of them centered around the number and quality of virgins allegedly waiting on the other end of the rainbow. Okay, maybe it’s in bad taste. Maybe only jokes about Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan’s nipples are okay.
    As for Japanese internment camps, my father was in one. A POW, he and his B-29 crew were saved from beheading by a Japanese Army lieutenant. Stan Levine and Nobuchi Fukui remained pen pals for the next 50 years, and a photo of Fukui hangs in my home.
    Paul (Mr. Matzohball) Levine

  7. As for Japanese internment camps, my father was in one. A POW, he and his B-29 crew were saved from beheading by a Japanese Army lieutenant. Stan Levine and Nobuchi Fukui remained pen pals for the next 50 years, and a photo of Fukui hangs in my home.
    Dean Koontz and his speech aside, what an incredible story! Have you ever considered writing it as a novel or a screenplay? You have to tell me the details of your father’s story next time we get together.

  8. There are many good stories in the naked city. My old man, a white Frenchman fought the Germans with Ernest Hemingway and liberated Buchenwald. The scene Ed Murrow reported on. It’s quite a description I’ll tell you. I just had the interview put in the Library of Congress for the Veteran’s Oral History project. Race is still touchy, because of the history of racism. Deep down though people are just people. It’s taking a long time to get that message to sink in unfortunately.

  9. I haven’t heard Koontz’s speech, so I can’t say if it would have offended me or not. But the offensive stuff you claimed he’d mentioned in his speech — they’re true and the fact that they’re true offends other Asian nations that suffered under Japan’s imperial regime. The situation is so bad that even the ex-chancellor of Germany, Helmut Schmidt, delivered a scathing speech in Tokyo in October, stating that Japan has no friends. The entire country is in denial over what really happened — they call the Rape of Nanking an “incident”. I have Korean Japanese friends, and they’re openly discriminated against in terms of employment and educational opportunities and career advancement because it is PERFECTLY legal to do so, and some businessmen actually believe it is OK to do so. In addition, in Japan, fourteen class-A WWII war criminals are enshrined at Yasukuni Shinto Shrine, and the minister of Japan (currently Koizumi) visits there to pay respect EVERY YEAR. These war criminals are referred to as “war gods” by Yasukuni priests, it is EXTREMELY offensive. (Like…how would you feel if the chancellor of Germany visited Hitler’s grave every year and paid respect and called him a “war god”?) You can read more about it at which did a good job of summarizing the situation. Most Americans and westerners don’t truly understand the situation in Asia or the dynamics.
    (BTW – if you’re wondering how I know about all this, it’s cuz I lived in Korea, Hong Kong, and now live in Japan.)
    Of course, I don’t know if Koontz knew about the situation in Asia or not. Perhaps he was just protesting for himself. Who knows? But given my background and what I know, I may not have found Koontz’s speech as offensive as some of you did. I’d still like to see the transcript if available to see if he’d been too harsh or unfair in the way he presented his case.

  10. BTW – In case my comment above sounded very harsh….it’s merely my opinion on the current state of Japanese politics and economics (as in how big businesses deal w/ foreigners). The ordinary people are quite nice and polite, and I do enjoy spending time w/ them.

  11. Hi Lee–I can’t comment on Dean Koontz’s presentation because I wasn’t there to hear it. But I can say in complete honesty that over the course of our twenty-five year friendship, I’ve never heard Dean say ANYTHING that was even moderately racist. And I’m talking about hundreds of hours on the phone. Absolutely true facts. EG

  12. As I told Dean on the phone, I don’t think he’s a racist or that he meant to offend anyone in the audience. But I think the letters were offensive and in very bad taste and that he showed poor judgement using them in his speech. He disagreed and felt that I was treating him unfairly and that no one had ever complained about the letters before.

  13. Well, if I had a friend (or friendly acquaintance) who I thought made some sort of racially insensitive remark, I would contact him privately and let him know.
    I wouldn’t publicly accuse him of racial sensitivity on a weblog. I can see why Koontz was ticked. Imagine if someone publicly accused you of racism, sexism, etc. It’s not something you should do lightly.

  14. My last 2 cents here…(mostly responding to Paul above, but some other stuff)…i agree that DK may be a great guy, a wonderful person and no one should be judged soley by stupid shit they said in public one (or, in this case, repeatedly)…goodness knows, i’ve made a fool of myself plenty and i’m lucky to be low enough on the author food chain for few to care…
    HOWEVER…Paul Levine asks, “is insult humor dead?” well, Koontz made fun of a bad editor, and didn’t feel the need to use racist stereotypes to make his point…he made fun of what he claimed to be dumb film/TV executive (for his Frankenstein series), and didn’t feel the need to make stereotypes about said stupd exec’s heritage…
    so, it WAS a choice (and he felt a safe one) to use 60-year old cartoon stereotypes about the Japanese executive in question…there could have been plenty of ‘insult humor’ without that…so, no insult humor is not dead…but i would hope that racist stereotypes would be…they apparently are not…
    in any case, he may be a great guy…so, i don’t feel the need to pile on, but i just wanted to clarify my position…i love humor…i write humor…i pick on all sorts of things…i’m all for art (and speech) disturbing the comfortable and comforting the disturbed…but to just go with the old grain and re-enforce old, ugly stereotypes is cheap, easy and tired.
    as for Robin Williams…he’s just one of the least funny people to ever walk the planet. ‘i will talk fast in an accent, and make dick jokes and people will mistake me for a smart person.’

  15. I already chimed in on this over at Konrath’s site, but I’ve read a version of this speech in the afterword of Mr. Koontz’s HIDEAWAY and, in all honesty, I didn’t find it offensive — and I’m usually VERY sensitive about these kinds of things, since my wife is Japanese-American.
    I agree with Paul that perhaps everyone is overreacting.

  16. Interesting, Lee, that you should be so quick to look down your nose at Mr. Koontz. I seem to remember a few rather tasteless entries on your blog wherein you made hurtful fun of other people — people you don’t even know, have never met, and have no reason to insult. Yet you did it, thinking you were being funny. He who lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones, Mr. G.

  17. How can anyone say that Koontz’s remarks weren’t racist? Exactly how ugly does it need to get for people to feel uncomfortable these days? Joe Konrath’s comments in particular confound me. He claims Koontz was “purposely trying to be humorously insulting” and he does so not by criticizing the executive’s professional ability or intellect, but by taking aim at his race and characterizing it a negative, stereotypical manner. I mean, what exactly does being Japanese have anything to do with anything here? And if Koontz is being so damn funny, how come there are so many people, including myself, that aren’t laughing?

  18. Stella’s comments were incredible to me. Yes, the Japanese government for its part has not accepted responsibility for their actions in the past. But that doesn’t justify pejorative remarks that feed on insulting and ignorant thoughts of Japanese people. So…because this Japanese person was a CEO and not an “ordinary person” he must have had a hand in the Rape of Nanking and must be instrumental in denying its veracity? Is it okay when non-americans call you a torturer and muslim hating imperialist? The people who were offended aren’t denying the events that have occured in history. People are upset at the use of racial stereotypes-of past historical perceptions of Japanese people that were wrong and insulting-to make a point.

  19. I just spent the better part of an hour reading over various debates on typepad over Dean Koontz’s innocence. Finally, I decided to post here, since I’ve read many of Lee Goldberg’s books, and since his argument was not a hotheaded one like so many others, this was a fair blog to start off in. I would like to warn you all, from the start, that as a 17-year-old, I am still ignorant when it comes to many things: if this comment seems a bit naive, I offer my humble apologies.
    (I would also like to say, half-joking and half-serious, that after reading some of the posts in various blogs, I have become disillusioned with writers in general. I had assumed that every writer was a logical person with some skill at arguing their points, and a kind and decent person at that- apparently, not always so.)
    Really, there is no correct answer as to “Was Koontz racist?” It all depends on what your view of “racist” means. Do you think that slighting somebody for any reason other than for what he himself has accomplished is biased? Or do you show more leeway when it comes to insults. And you have to remember: Dean Koontz was writing to a man who had ignored him repeatedly about a movie based on one of his books. I can’t think of many more things disrespectful than that.
    I haven’t personally read Mr. Teriyaki: I got the Dean Koontz three-in-one book set when I was reading Hideaway, which doesn’t include it in the text. However, from what I’ve read of Dean Koontz, there’s nothing to imply that he is racist in any way (besides, of course, you-know-what). That’s not saying that my opinion is correct, however: I learned about how to write three years ago by poring obsessively over Dean Koontz’s writings, since I liked his style. Obviously, I’m going to be inclined to forgive him for something that may seem offensive, especially if I’m not the only one arguing my point. I also listen and read George Carlin, so I’m very forgiving of offensive remarks.
    Another thing I’m frustrated with in the reactions to Dean Koontz’s speech- the comments, this time, not the blogs themselves- are the various logical fallacies being thrown around back and forth from each side. The people who think Dean Koontz was inappropriate are calling those people supporting him racist on some blogs, without any more reason than “You’re disagreeing with me.” On the contrary, people who support Koontz often seem to do so by using material not actually from this speech, or by (above) defending him by attacking Lee instead. I think that every opinion matters, but you should defend your arguments with fact, not by changing the subject.
    Another topic I think deserves mention is that of the alleged “racism.” In the part of New England I come from, going after a person’s nationality isn’t racism. Dean Koontz isn’t making fun of Oriental people, he’s making fun of Japan, which (though still offensive) is in another ballpark entirely. It’s the difference between making fun of Israel for being in a constant state of war (something satirists such as Mad do quite often), and making fun of Jews for being killed in the Holocaust, or being rich, or having big noses. Don’t stretch things out of proportion, or make things seem what they’re not.
    Well, that’s my two cents. I’m sorry if I have inadvertantly offended anybody, or angered anybody in the views I showed in writing this. I’m just a bit annoyed at the people who are making this subject more intense than it should be, or are treating their view as the only view out there.

  20. Rugs and vases are Oriental. People aren’t. And learning to write by reading Dean Koontz is like learning to fly by watching LOST.

  21. Oriental is one of the options you fill out when taking the SATs, along with Hispanic and Caucasian. Japanese isn’t.
    I’ve never seen Lost. If I want to learn how to fly one day, though, I’ll start watching it. Thanks for the advice!

  22. And learning to write by reading Dean Koontz is like learning to fly by watching not to offend
    What an obviously useless statement. Many famous writers were self-taught, which generally comes from reading the work of others and learning. I have a degree in literature, and I’ve written, and I don’t ever consciously try to use things I learned in that class. I do ask myself
    frequently, however, “How would J.K. Rowling and/or Dianna Wynn Jones write this scene?” More often than not, it works.
    Please don’t change the subject. Insulting somebody’s way of learning isn’t the way to argue about a subject.

  23. Mr Koonzt must have been making the entire thing up. If he really did write to the gentleman at the film studio, mostly the gentleman never saw K’s letters, and if they were in English, most likely they were discarded. It is not easy communicating with corporate Japan by English letters or emails. If he had the letters translated into Japanese, the CEO might have answered. He should have talked to the bloke on the phone. Or seen him face to face. Most likely, this was all a made up set up, just a jokey thing for Koontz to put in one of his books. But the Mr Teriyaki thing is in terrible poor taste, and Mr Koonzt should be censured publicly for that bad taste spoken in public. Not funny. If the incident really happened, it’s worth exploring and talking about, but not in Mr Teriyaki terms. Truly tasteless.

  24. Well, Dean Koontz is entitled to his libertarian beliefs. If you don’t like them, then don’t read his books. It’s amazing how many people who dislike Koontz’ books eventually get into a rant about his personal politics. My God, the man supports Republicans! Should I hate Stephen King’s books because his personal politics are liberal and mine aren’t? I don’t think so.
    As for Koontz being a racist, I wouldn’t judge a man by one tasteless joke. After all, Koontz recently wrote a novel where an Asian-American was the main protagonist, which is more than most of his critics have EVER done.

  25. Got to go with Paul Levine on this one.
    I’ll be the first to admit there are things I think are hysterically funny, but when it comes out of my mouth I realize no, it’s not funny. (This is usually based on the expressions of my friends, who look at me like I’ve lost my mind. Which is entirely possible…)
    It’s been a source of amusement for years that if Chris Rock uses racial invective, it’s funny….if George Carlin did it, he’d be crucified as a racist. American Society has become such a mix of double standards it’s become impossible to tell what’s what anymore.
    I did not hear Mr. Koontz’s speech, nor have I read it in any form, so I cannot address that. I will say I’ve read his work for years and will continue to do so. His politics are no more my business than mine are his.
    Everyone has their own beliefs based on experiences, and in my case, having dealt with a contingent of Japanese businessmen back in my Corporate Days…well, let’s just say I learned new definitions of the words “arrogant” and “condescending”. All cloaked in incredible politeness, but there none the less.
    Everyone needs to take a deep breath, and let this go. Whatever happened has happened, and there’s no un-doing it.

  26. Call me PC, call me whatever, but speaking as somebody who is often called a contrarian and a conservative (my politics are complicated, like most peoples’, and resist easy labels), it just plain strikes me as bad manners to resort to ethnic slurs as a means of trying to get your way in a business dispute, especially in a meeting when you have been asked to give a speech that is ostensibly NOT about your beef with some other dude. Not just bad manners, but boorish. Hey…somebody was mean to me once! So l wrote “Dr Mr. Whitebread, you suk and your mom suks 2” and then he was like “up urs” and then I was like “boo yeah”…who cares? Joe Eszterhas has written two books about throwing temper tantrums as a writer’s negotiation style– like we need this from Koontz? Like there aren’t lawyers to figure this stuff out?

  27. Very interesting to read comments on Koontz’ inadvisable gaffs. I’m doing research on racist/cultural sterotyping in crime fiction. I would be keen to hear of examples that have galled readers
    regards, Besse

  28. I haven’t read any Dean Koontz novels since he began using ‘others’ as villains instead of the U.S. government-types. For years I read his books and cheered his improvement in both plot-lines and complexity of characters.
    It’s no surprise to me, if true, to discover he’s ‘conservative on defense’ as stated on someone’s blog. It’s also no surprise, if true, to find out he’s capable of racist comment. This is a man, after all, who sees things (at least in his novels) as black and white, and, incredibly, doesn’t have the imagination to envision special children with highly evolved sprituality and enhanced empathy NOT cheerfully eating animal meat.

  29. Of course it is offensive. I am not wanting to crucify Mr Koontz, as someone else has said he did write a book with an Asian protaganist which is more than most have done. Unfortunately everyone makes racist comments occasionally because it’s still so prevalent in society, and maybe writers are even more prone to resort to stereotype as they are always trying to step in others’ minds.
    But yes, crude 1940s stereotypes are racist. To say that such comments are just a breach of PC or nationality bashing is to miss the point, wilfully or otherwise. As someone else has said PC really just means not calling black people coons and so forth – showing them the respect of calling them the name they choose for themselves.
    To characterise the situation as only an attack on nationality (if it was a German CEO everything would be OK) is ignorant. Germans haven’t historically been persecuted because of their ethnic features. Certain words and stereotypes have a historical context and many of them are tainted with the brutal racism of a bygone era. Using crass Asian stereotypes is not as bad as using ones for black people, because we were only locked up and denied proper employment, housing etc as opposed to lynched, but it is bad enough.
    I find it shocking that all this evens need to be explained. Isn’t it easier just to say ‘yep, he screwed up, lets move on’ than to try to defend the indefensible?


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