An advertisement placed by a mysterious sponsor on an Eastern Shore billboard is turning heads and slowing traffic with its emotionally charged message: "Americhuko -- The Colony of Japan."
Apparently an attack on the influence of Japan in American life and business, the sign on the eastbound side of U.S. 50 in Wye Mills depicts the stars and stripes of the U.S. flag reshaped into a rising sun with spoke-like rays, the symbol used on the Japanese national flag up to the end of World War II.
"Americhuko" echoes Manchukuo, the name of the puppet regime installed by the Japanese in occupied Manchuria in 1931, three years after the island nation invaded China.
"I've never had this response off a billboard yet," said Scott Gregory, the Salisbury-based sales manager for Revere National Corp., which sold the billboard space. A Queen Anne's County newspaper, the Bay Times of Stevensville, and area residents report that some drivers are pulling off the road to get a better look.
Mr. Gregory said an advertiser, working through a Washington law firm, paid to put up the ad on Dec. 13 and has leased the space for the next year. The advertiser, he said, wants to reach "movers and shakers," and the Eastern Shore site is a favorite vacation spot for political and business leaders in Washington and Baltimore.
Both the advertiser and the law firm asked Revere not to disclose their identities, Mr. Gregory said. "That's never happened before, and I've been here 10 years," he added.
"I love it. I mean, it is frightening, but if it accomplishes what it should -- to wake up Americans -- then it is a good sign and a good message," said Rosemary DiCrispino, whose home is located near the sign.
Ms. DiCrispino, whose brother was a serviceman killed almost a half-century ago in the war with Japan, said she harbors no ill feelings toward the Japanese. But she thinks the United States is overwhelmed with products
made in that country.
K. Patrick Okura, a retired psychologist living in Bethesda and one of 120,000 Japanese-Americans sent to internment camps in the angry aftermath of Pearl Harbor, has not seen the sign. But based on descriptions of it, he said, he thinks it promotes racial friction.
"We're seeing more and more anti-Asian violence, and this is the result of this kind of propaganda," Mr. Okura said.
He said resentment against Japan had inspired attacks in the past several years on a Vietnamese man in North Carolina and on a Chinese-American in Detroit. Similar feelings, he said, led vandals to attack a Japanese-American community center in Norwalk,Calif., on Nov. 7. The vandals spray-painted the walls with the words "Nip," "Go Home" and "Go Back to Asia."
While Japan's investment in the United States is widely resented, Mr. Okura said, corporations of other countries, such as Britain and the Netherlands, are seldom criticized.
Some Japanese-Americans are also upset that those who paid for the sign will not identify themselves.
"That's pretty chicken," said James Tokeshi, regional director of the Japanese American Citizens League, or JACL, in Los Angeles. "If it's publicly displayed, they should disclose who put it there."
Four similar billboards have gone up around the country, Mr. Gregory said, adding he did not know where they were. Officials at JACL's San Francisco headquarters were not aware of any others.