BBC star Stephen Fry cancels Japan trip after joke causes offense

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-- British television presenter and actor Stephen Fry has cancelled a trip to Japan after offending Japanese viewers with comments about a man who survived two atom bombings.

Fry had been due to film small segments of a new program "Planet Word" in Japan but pulled out due to what the BBC described as "strength of feeling" in the country over the comments.

In an episode of satirical quiz show QI, which Fry hosts, he asked panelists to ponder whether Tsutomu Yamaguchi was the luckiest or unluckiest man in the world.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi was the only man recognized by the Japanese government to have survived the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. He died a national hero in January 2010 at the age of 93 after a battle with stomach cancer.

The comments about Yamaguchi touched a sensitive nerve in Japan, which accused Fry of making light of a tragedy that left tens of thousands of people dead.

During the show, panelists joked about Yamaguchi's unlikely survival and a large photo showing Yamaguchi sandwiched between two mushroom clouds was displayed on the wall as Fry told the panelists how, after surviving the bombing of Hiroshima, Yamaguchi traveled to Nagasaki where the next bomb fell soon after.

"The next day he got on a train, bizarrely, which shows you that even though the atom bomb fell, the trains were working. So he got onto a train to Nagasaki and a bomb fell again," Fry said.

In a blog, Roland Kelts, the author of Japanamerica, who had been due to film with Fry in Tokyo, said: "In the video footage one can easily see...that the hosts are tiptoeing around the obvious offense, trying to strike a balance between humor and respect. How could one man even catch a train to Nagasaki from Hiroshima after the first bombing, the hosts ask, when in the UK, trains are stopped for leaves falling across the track?"

The issue is no laughing matter in Japan. The program's makers Talkback Thames and the BBC issued a joint apology for any offense caused after receiving an official complaint from the Japanese Embassy in London. An embassy spokesman declined to reveal its contents or to comment on the cancellation of Fry's trip.

In late January, Fry, a prolific tweeter, posted on Twitter: "I'm coming to Japan the week after next as it happens, and I'll certainly let my regret known (if they let me in!) x."

Fry, who is due to star in Guy Ritchie's next Sherlock Holmes movie, is currently filming Planet World in Singapore.

Earlier this week, the BBC issued an apology after presenters on car program Top Gear inflamed viewers by referring to Mexicans as "lazy, feckless and flatulent."

In a letter of complaint to the BBC, Mexico's Ambassador to the UK, Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza, demanded a public apology for the presenters' "outrageous, vulgar and inexcusable insults."

He wrote: "It is utterly incomprehensible and unacceptable that the premier broadcaster should allow three of its presenters to display their bigotry and ignorance by mocking the people and the culture of our country with such vehemence."

In its apology, the BBC said the comments on Top Gear may have been "rude" and "mischievous," but there was no "vindictiveness" behind them.

It went on to say, whilst it may appear offensive to those who have not watched the programme or who are unfamiliar with its humor, the executive producer has made it clear to the ambassador that that was absolutely not the show's intention.