Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways (ANA) said Monday it was modifying a TV commercial after apologising to customers who complained it used racist stereotyping, but insisted they had meant no offence.
ANA started airing the new 30-second television advertisement on Saturday, aimed at promoting its beefed up schedule of international flights from Tokyo's Haneda airport in March.
In the commercial, two Japanese men in ANA uniform discuss in English how they might boost the image of the airline as an international carrier.
One of them says: "Let's change the image of Japanese people." "Sure," replies the other, who is now wearing a blonde wig and an improbably long rubber nose.
White westerners are often believed in Japan to have big noses, blue eyes and blonde hair, characteristics generally thought desirable among Japanese.
The ad caused a stir among English-language users of social media in Japan.
"I've just seen the new ANA advert... Really? ANA think this is OK?!" Angela Fukutome said in a message posted on ANA's Facebook page.
"If you are a foreigner and have planned to come to #Japan do not choose an openly racist airline like #ANA! Watch their Japanese commercial," tweeted @sibylleito on Twitter.
ANA spokesman Ryosei Nomura said the carrier wanted to express the importance of the planned expansion of international services from Haneda and to call on Japanese to go out to see the world.
"But we have received opinions different from the message that we wished to convey. We will modify part of the advertisement and will release the second version soon," he said.
The original TV spot was initially aired for Saturday through Monday and has now been pulled for now, he said.
Earlier, an ANA spokeswoman acknowledged the carrier "has received calls from customers, mostly foreigners, complaining about the ad."
"We apologised to each of the customers for having caused uncomfortable feelings and also thanked them for bringing up the issue," she told AFP.
Japan is largely racially homogenous, with relatively small immigrant communities.