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Should YouTuber Johnny Somali get prison time in Japan?

43 Comments
By James M. Rogers
Screenshot from Johnny Somali video via Kick
Image: Screenshot from Johnny Somali video via Kick

YouTubers who make videos of themselves doing pranks or purposely trying to irritate others in public have gained popularity for years.

Despite their popularity, some consider what they do a nuisance; thus, the term “nuisance YouTuber” spawned. One such YouTuber who gained considerable attention in 2023 is Ismael Ramsey Khalid, aka Johnny Somali.

Somali became infamous due to his offensive behavior while streaming in Japan. He purposefully caused trouble, harassing people quietly riding the train with inappropriate comments related to things like the atomic bombing of Japan, randomly yelling “Fukushima” to people trying to work and blasting loud music with inappropriate language in Tokyo Disneyland while surrounded by families trying to enjoy their day.

As news spread about his behavior, the public railed against Somali on the internet, condemning his behavior as abhorrent. Eventually, Japanese police began to investigate him, and he was arrested for trespassing while harassing some construction workers on a building site in Osaka.

Somali is now being detained  in Japan, facing charges related to illegal actions that he streamed. After his arrest, he received a significant amount of press, culminating with Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno even commenting on the need to control such YouTubers.

Nuisance comedy is not a new phenomenon

Johnny_Somalli_Kick-Screenshot_2023-11-27.jpg
Screenshot of Johnny Somali via Kick. Image: Screenshot of Johnny Somali via Kick

This is not the first time someone has come to Japan to purposefully cause a nuisance for entertainment.

In 2002, MTV aired “The Subway Monkey Hour” featuring comedian Tom Green. In it, Green uses his outlandish prank/nuisance style of comedy, of which he is considered a pioneer, to create uncomfortable situations for Japanese people. For example, one of the most outlandish parts of the special was when he visited a conveyor belt sushi shop and placed a sex toy, walkie-talkie and camcorder on a plate.

As it revolved around the room, the camcorder recorded customers’ reactions as the sex toy vibrated, and he said inappropriate things through the walkie-talkie. The reaction from customers was negative, and staff became angry and kicked him out. However, it was a big hit in America at the time and is still considered a great comedy special with an IMDb rating of 7.6 out of 10.

Japanese nuisance pranksters and comedians

Nuisance or prank comedy is practiced by the Japanese, as well.

A well-known case in Japan in 2023 is when a video of a 21-year-old Japanese man licking a communal soy sauce bottle at a conveyor belt sushi shop was posted online. Kyodo News reported that he was given a three-year prison sentence, suspended for five years. This seems to have become a trend known as “sushi terrorism,” with others doing similar inappropriate behavior at sushi shops, which the public has condemned.

Another example from 2023 of a nuisance prank in Japan that got a lot of attention was when the son of a Lawson convenience store franchise owner uploaded a picture to social media of himself laying in an ice cream freezer. This led to the franchisee losing his license and the store`s closure.

Nuisance comedy also exists in Japanese mainstream media.

Masaki Sumitani introduced a comedic character on Japanese TV in 2002 called Razor Ramon HG — short for “Hard Gay” — whose go-to gag was to gyrate his hips in a sexual way close to people in inappropriate situations while dressed head to toe in a tight, latex S&M outfit. This character was very popular at the time.

In 2021, the HG was changed to be an abbreviation for “Hot Guy” instead of “Hard Gay” to highlight a change in public sentiment toward jokes related to people in the LGBTQ+ community. This change in sensitivity and tolerance for what some would consider offensive seems to be connected to Somali’s case.

"But why was the reaction to Tom Green’s special and Razor Ramon HG so positive and the reaction to what Somali and the sushi terrorists did so different?"

But why was the reaction to Green’s special and Razor Ramon HG so positive, while the reaction to what Somali and the sushi terrorists did was so different? Moreover, another interesting question is whether Green’s special and Razor Ramon HG’s antics would be just as popular today as they were two decades ago.

It may be connected to how offensive Somali’s comments were. He seemed to aim for outrage from the people he harassed, probably knowing full well that the more offensive his actions were, the more views and media coverage he would get. Thus, his goal was probably press, and as they say: any press is good press.

I did wonder why the reaction to him was so huge, though. Why does everyone now know this insignificant person’s name, and why am I even writing about him? Surely, more important things are going on in the world to discuss.

The rise of cancel and outrage culture

Regarding Somali’s punishment, Japan can just deport him, everyone can unsubscribe from his channel and he’ll simply disappear into the ethernet.

Instead, he became international news. So, I began to think about how the visceral reaction to Somali is connected to the cultural shift where inappropriate behavior can easily be called out online and the perpetrators can be held accountable.

The ability of people to share videos, express their opinions, organize protests, etc., on the internet has empowered the masses. For example, racists can be called out, and police who abuse their power can be held accountable.

However, the opposite has also proven to be true. Sometimes, whether or not a person’s behavior is offensive or not can be subjective, and some may feel having their career destroyed for it is too Draconian. This is referred to as “cancel culture,” or the ability of the public to use media exposure on the internet to force the hand of major corporations to “cancel” the careers of those whose actions they believe to be wrong.

Was what Somali did extremely inappropriate? Yes, very much so. Should people be outraged? Of course. However, do I think he deserves international news exposure? Absolutely not. Moreover, are all the calls for him to get jail time appropriate? This question is difficult to answer.

On one hand, I think his words were so wildly offensive that putting him in jail is justified. On the other, jail time for the words one says — no matter how offensive — could set a precedent that may endanger the freedom of speech and the ability of the masses to dissent against tyranny.

There are times in which speech does need to be controlled, and this is why we have hate speech laws. Therefore, we need to determine whether or not Somali’s words were spoken out of hatred. In reality, he probably would have said similarly offensive things related to whichever country he visited because his objective  seemed to be coverage.

With that in mind, I worry that we may have helped him achieve his goal by giving him all this exposure because he has stated multiple times that media coverage and money are the reasons why he is making such content.

Dr. James Rogers is a university professor who has published books and over 50 articles on linguistics, Japanese studies, race, and the environment.

© Japan Today

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43 Comments
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Mr Somali is an attention seeking halfwitted fellow. I have no time for bounders like him and their craving for online attention. He deliberately acted in a vile and revisit manner due to the fact he believed that in Japan who would face no physical danger or arrest from his actions.

He has already spent a while in detention which I hope but doubt, has brought him to reflect upon his actions.

Best would to hold him for a few months, send him in trial, give him a suspended sentence and deport him as an example to other foolhardy people who may wish to emulate him in the future.

4 ( +13 / -9 )

This dude sounds like a giant pain in the butt to all parties involved. He should just be deported since his goal is to profit off of being a troll and an overall nuisance to all those around him.

He'll for sure keep globetrotting to piss people off until he either figures out it's a good time to call it quits or the streets decide for him...

25 ( +26 / -1 )

Either he's proven guilty or not, nobody should spend months in detention without trial to serve Japanese hostage justice system.

https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E4%BA%BA%E8%B3%AA%E5%8F%B8%E6%B3%95

https://japantoday.com/category/crime/why-do-people-spend-so-long-in-jail-without-going-to-trial-in-japan

-14 ( +6 / -20 )

I find nuisance comedy juvenile and unfunny in general, but it enrages me when people do it in Japan. It's a beautiful country with admirable social order, and no outsider should ever feel they have the right to harass others and disturb the peace. I hope this man and others like him are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law to set some examples.

22 ( +24 / -2 )

He should be deported.

19 ( +20 / -1 )

Either he's proven guilty or not, nobody should spend months in detention without trial to serve Japanese hostage justice system.

Agreed. The above article distinctively says" Somali is now being detained in Japan, facing charges related to illegal actions that he streamed". He is being detained but not yet charged. I would call that hostage taking.

-11 ( +6 / -17 )

yes. but he is far from the only one. People who stream live feeding and animal abuse should be arrested too and youtube should remove that content. Harassment and animal abuse just for the sake of likes should not be tolerated and posters as well as the media platforms should be fined or worse.

10 ( +12 / -2 )

It's so sad,unfunny,and unnecessary.

Should be punished according to the laws of the country.

Also ,the platform should be punished for allowing footage to be released.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Ditto most TV programmes.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Should YouTuber Johnny Somali get prison time in Japan?

If he has been found guilty of criminal behaviour in a court of law and that criminal behaviour deserves a prison sentence, then yes.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

Yes, please. Otherwise, he'll be back at doing the same stupid stuff he was already doing.

In fact his buddy, the one who took the video of them trespassing, already got released.

Throw the book at him.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

Not only him but most YouTubers who think they can disturb everyone included should be imprisoned

Some YouTubers are really going to far with their behaviour.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Given the title of the article I'm a little surprised there is no discussion about what he was actually arrested for.

Looking it up, it seems he was arrested for trespassing (related to the Osaka construction site) and for obstruction of business (related to some antics of his at a Gyudon shop).

These charges mean that this analysis in the article:

On one hand, I think his words were so wildly offensive that putting him in jail is justified. On the other, jail time for the words one says — no matter how offensive — could set a precedent that may endanger the freedom of speech and the ability of the masses to dissent against tyranny.

There are times in which speech does need to be controlled, and this is why we have hate speech laws. Therefore, we need to determine whether or not Somali’s words were spoken out of hatred. In reality, he probably would have said similarly offensive things related to whichever country he visited because his objective seemed to be coverage.

Is completely irrelevant. He wasn't arrested for saying something offensive, he was arrested for trespassing and disrupting a business.

Trespassing and obstruction of business are generally the type of charges that will result in a suspended sentence rather than prison time, so he is likely to walk free (in his case that means deportation) after a conviction. But being detained pre-trial, which is what happened to him, is pretty common, so there is nothing unusual about it (one can certainly criticize Japan's system of pre-trial detention, but there are far more sympathetic suspects out there to use as a case to make them).

Dr. James Rogers is a university professor who has published books and over 50 articles on linguistics, Japanese studies, race, and the environment.

It raises an eyebrow for me when I see a "university professor" who claims to have extensively published in many academic fields that have absolutely nothing to do with each other. It just screams "English teacher who has a lot of opinions on things outside his chosen field but doesn't know any more than the average Joe about them so they aren't very well constructed or persuasive."

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

I think comparing Tom Green and HG are interesting. At its core their comedy was shock value vs so ridiculous it’s funny. But it never targeted anyone in particular or sought to take advantage in particular. Both also in subsequent years agreed they were over the top.

That’s extremely different than the “comedy” YouTubers and streamers that you see now. Their intentions have turned malicious in pursuit of clout or subscribers.

Does this guy need to be locked up for a decade… probably not. But he and others need to be made an example of. Freedom of speech isn’t the same as freedom of consequences. Thankfully this moron filmed everything so the list is visibly beyond just saying inappropriate things

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I think Somali should be prosecuted to the fullest extent, serve time, and then be deported and blacklisted the reason why I take a hard NO BS approach towards this is that he was warned multiple times to stop harassing people and over and over and over again he thumbed his nose at everyone and more importantly, the system.

I have zero sympathy for the guy and I think he should suffer the consequences, he insulted and mocked these people daily and in their faces, he caused more than enough grief, anger, and frustration to this society. Listening to what his friend Jino was saying, Johnny might be there for a long time.

He has already spent a while in detention which I hope but doubt, has brought him to reflect upon his actions.

I doubt it, his personality is just not like that, he is a very confrontational individual and likes to challenge authority, I think they are going through every single video to find something on him and to make an example and that he will be the poster child as to why you shouldn't "live stream" and disrupt peoples lives just for clicks. Keep him there and when he is released and deported, he should go on National TV and apologize to everyone for being so obnoxious, thoughtless, and rude.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Here is more on Somali's friend, Jino, and Johnny's update.

https://youtu.be/C8l6nvZtvCc?si=N3d7QTWNzr7wo0x9

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Unfortunately, I have seen 2 video's on YT, by accident, of this pathetic little nobody....oh, and one by his friend. Their complete inadequacies are on full display, and the moorons are so proud of them. They will continue to be a nuisance to society because their lives are so devoid of any real meaning it is the only thing they can do. I was very surprised though that he is a black man, black people in general are far more aware, more kind, and not given to the stupidity he displays.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Oh yes, johnny jerk off, the social media clown is begging to be made an example of.

J penal institutions impose a harsh military style discipline. Eat talk walk, even sitting or sleeping is a luxury.

Really simple basic communication is permitted only at certain times during the day.

English will be gibberish to this fellow inmates, however that smile will invite a few "girlfriend" moments.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I think Somali should be prosecuted to the fullest extent, serve time, and then be deported and blacklisted

Someone deported cannot enter the country again for five years.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Someone deported cannot enter the country again for five years.

They will never allow this guy to come back no matter especially after what he did. And even if they did allow him back in, they would watch him like a hawk.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Oh yes, johnny jerk off, the social media clown is begging to be made an example of. 

J penal institutions impose a harsh military style discipline. Eat talk walk, even sitting or sleeping is a luxury.

Really simple basic communication is permitted only at certain times during the day. 

English will be gibberish to this fellow inmates, however that smile will invite a few "girlfriend" moments.

Pretty much, not giving people of color a good name and that’s a serious, serious tragedy

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Hi wallace, deporting would be an option, get rid, as my UK family would say.

There is something rather callous spiteful, an innate indifference to any sensibilities the emotional harm inflects.

Somali particular brand of abuse included references to the atomic bombing of Japan, and randomly yelling “Fukushima”.

This sicking behavioural phenomenon has manifested in UK recently, in the form of TIKTOK twat, Bronze O’Garro, ‘Mizzy’.

My blood boils beyond the point of simply marching Somali onboard the next plane out.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

bass4funk

Maybe it is just me, I want to see that smirking grin wiped off his face.

Back in the day, UK, a spell in a "barrel pillory/drunkard’s cloak" would have proved to be an deterrent.

However we have all moved on.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

He is an "undesirable" who should just be deported. Why waste any money on him?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Maybe it is just me, I want to see that smirking grin wiped off his face.

Back in the day, UK, a spell in a "barrel pillory/drunkard’s cloak" would have proved to be an deterrent.

However we have all moved on.

I just think this guy has no respect for anyone, but having said that, you think he would have done the exact same shenanigans in the US or UK? France or Germany or anywhere else in the Western world? I think we all know the answer to that already. He completely looked down on the kindness and non-confrontational nature of the Japanese and used that to his advantage. Makes me so angry. I’m so glad he didn’t come down to Fukuoka.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

This should be discouraged in a reasonable way. I also think suing the platforms for incentivizing antisocial behavior and even crimes may be appropriate in some circumstances.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"Either he's proven guilty or not, nobody should spend months in detention without trial to serve Japanese hostage justice system."

How does this comment get so many negative votes ? You can want this guy to be punched in the face and rot in prison for years and still a trial is something good no ? What sort of persons vote here ??

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Here is more on Somali's friend, Jino, and Johnny's update.

https://youtu.be/C8l6nvZtvCc?si=N3d7QTWNzr7wo0x9

@bass4funk I'm allergic to this guy already, can you summarize what he said ?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Deport him and force Youtube etc. to demonetize all his videos in Japan (i.e., from Japan IP addresses), regardless of whether they include any Japan related content. Demonetize his Japan videos in other places too if Youtube will agree to it.

Demonetization should be the punishment for all livestreamers who obstruct businesses or generally hassle people. This goes for Japanese livestreamers too, sushi lickers and the like.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Deport him and force Youtube etc. to demonetize all his videos in Japan (i.e., from Japan IP addresses), regardless of whether they include any Japan related content. Demonetize his Japan videos in other places too if Youtube will agree to it.

Demonetization should be the punishment for all livestreamers who obstruct businesses or generally hassle people. This goes for Japanese livestreamers too, sushi lickers and the like.

I think that has already happened, I think he was kicked off one of the platforms except for Kick, and I think Kick will support and encourage him to do more of this crap, the rest had his accounts closed, but don't quote me, that is what I hear in the social media world.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

@bass4funk Why are you contradicting yourself. In your post you are are talking about how this guy should be punished to the fullest extent and then deported, but then you keep his dream a live and well while he is in detention by posing information about his latest update! It is people like you who subliminal fall into his trap. The guying is in your head and you are continuing to get him paid while he is locked up SMFH!!

Here is more on Somali's friend, Jino, and Johnny's update.

https://youtu.be/C8l6nvZtvCc?si=XXXXXXXXXXXX

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why are you contradicting yourself.

I didnt.

In your post you are are talking about how this guy should be punished to the fullest extent and then deported,

Yes

but then you keep his dream a live and well while he is in detention by posing information about his latest update!

I’m not keeping his dream alive because he’s living a nightmare behind a Japanese jail.

It is people like you who subliminal fall into his trap.

Not at all, and no different than anyone news or information outlet (this one included) that is informing us as to his whereabouts and status.

The guying is in your head

No, because I’m not the one wasting away in a Japanese jail

and you are continuing to get him paid while he is locked up SMFH!!

He’s not getting paid, he’s demonetized and Kicked off Kick and if you don’t like me posting an update link, don’t watch it. I want to know what’s going on because I think the guy should be held responsible, so I’m glad to hear an update, he shouldn’t get off easily, me and anyone else wanting to know is not helping him.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

His YouTube is still there.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

His YouTube is still there.

And demonetized.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

And demonetized.

You know that because? Why is this guy so important to you?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

You know that because?

Because the memo was posted on X right after he got arrested from other YouTubers, also the statement from Twitch that they might still support him, but Kick and YouTube he’s done.

Why is this guy so important to you?

He’s not.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

@rainyday

Is completely irrelevant. He wasn't arrested for saying something offensive, he was arrested for trespassing and disrupting a business.

Uh, no. Totally relevant. In reality, the police were monitoring him and looking for anything to arrest him for specifically because of the things he was saying/doing that were offensive. Walking onto a construction site for around a minute or so and making dumb jokes with a silly mask on usually wouldn't have warranted an arrest and probably wouldn't have even resulted in the police being called in any other situation.

Why be so fastidious?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

On the point of exposure, I think more people should be giving exposure to that Korean-American Texas native who stepped in and told Khalid to leave the people on the train alone. Perhaps more exposure of him would lead to better role models in society to follow instead of people like Khalid.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Uh, no. Totally relevant. In reality, the police were monitoring him and looking for anything to arrest him for specifically because of the things he was saying/doing that were offensive. Walking onto a construction site for around a minute or so and making dumb jokes with a silly mask on usually wouldn't have warranted an arrest and probably wouldn't have even resulted in the police being called in any other situation.

Uh, no. Totally irrelevant.

Couple of reasons why.

1) One point I was making is that there is a huge distinction between "saying offensive things" on the one hand, and "doing illegal things" on the other which the author of this article ignores. The police weren't investigating him because he was saying offensive things, they were following him because he was being disruptive. The fact that the things he was saying while doing his BS were also offensive was incidental - he wasn't saying illegal things, he was doing illegal things. So when the author starts analyzing the severity of the words the guy used in considering whether he should go to prison or not, he is completely missing the mark.

2) Even if the police were monitoring him because they were offended by the comment of his remarks, the article (look at the title) isn't asking why he was arrested by the police, its asking whether or not he should be sentenced to prison. In other words, it isn't asking what the police will/should do to him, its asking what the courts will/should do to him. These are two different actors in the judicial system. The subjective thoughts of the officers who arrested him are completely unconnected to the question of how a judge will sentence him.

To understand if he should be sentenced to prison, we need to understand the criminal charges he is facing. The content of what he was saying is completely irrelevant to those charges - trespass and disruption of business - so all this discussion of cancel culture and people being easily offended, etc is just irrelevant to the question of what type of punishment the actual Japanese criminal justice system will/should mete out to him based on the actual criminal charges he is being prosecuted for.

Why be so fastidious?

Couple of reasons.

1) I'm a lawyer by training and I find it irritating when someone is wrong on the internet about some random aspect of the law. The subject of the article is inherently about the law, yet the author's analysis is frankly pretty lazy and unpersuasive. In particular these paragraphs here:

On one hand, I think his words were so wildly offensive that putting him in jail is justified. On the other, jail time for the words one says — no matter how offensive — could set a precedent that may endanger the freedom of speech and the ability of the masses to dissent against tyranny.

There are times in which speech does need to be controlled, and this is why we have hate speech laws. Therefore, we need to determine whether or not Somali’s words were spoken out of hatred. In reality, he probably would have said similarly offensive things related to whichever country he visited because his objective seemed to be coverage.

are very weak. Its just random musings about the law which are completely uninformed about what the law in Japan says, how its legal institutions actually function, or how these interests he mentions are actually balanced therein. Its just useless rambling.

2) My critique might seem harsh - we all engage in useless rambling from time to time after all - but the fact is that the author is identifying himself as a professor who publishes (and by implication is an expert in) a wide range of fields, and he has published this piece in the mass media. I think such writers should be held to a higher standard than what random people write in the comments section are held to, yet the article barely even meets that standard. If the argument is weak or makes no sense, then I'll be fastidious about it and point it out.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

2) My critique might seem harsh - we all engage in useless rambling from time to time after all - but the fact is that the author is identifying himself as a professor who publishes (and by implication is an expert in) a wide range of fields, and he has published this piece in the mass media. I think such writers should be held to a higher standard than what random people write in the comments section are held to, yet the article barely even meets that standard. If the argument is weak or makes no sense, then I'll be fastidious about it and point it out.

Ah, a voice of reason in the comments. Sweet soccour.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

If he has committed something illegal, he should go to jail. If not, why is that? Is there a law prohibiting questions about Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Who were the Japanese allies, and why did America drop a bomb on them? If guilt hasn't been proven, why is he still in prison? How can someone be punished or deported for words? Where is the freedom of speech? Has society become so sensitive that expressing opinions is restricted?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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