Kansas officials have sent letters to 731 drivers asking them to turn in license plates that include the letter combination “J-A-P,” which spells out a derogatory term offensive to Japanese Americans.
The plates’ letters were generated by computer, said Rachel Whitten, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Revenue.
The system will be restricted from using those letters together in the future, she said.
“We take these types of complaints very seriously and appreciate that it was brought to our attention,” Whitten said in a statement.
Car owners will be able to exchange their plates for free. Those who don’t do it now will be issued new plates when their tags come up for annual renewal.
A member of the Japanese American Citizens League who saw one of the Kansas plates on the road in Culver City, California, brought the matter to the group’s attention, said its executive director, David Inoue.
The member also complained to the state and to the US Department of Transportation, according to an article in the JACL’s Pacific Citizen newspaper. Members in Kansas also complained.
Inoue doesn’t know how many other states use that letter combination, but his group plans to look into it, he said.
“For people who don’t think it’s a big deal, they probably haven’t faced that discrimination of being called a ‘Jap,’” Inoue said.
Inoue still remembers being harassed as a kindergartner because of his Asian heritage and said his young son has had similar experiences.
“All these sorts of things that people say are childish and that we should ignore are still happening,” Inoue said, “and it still causes pain.”