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Embedded Racism: Japan's Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination

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  • Book IN APPROPRIATE: A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan
  • Asahi: ‘Japanese Only’ banner at soccer stadium a microcosm of discrimination in Japan (E&J)

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on May 2nd, 2014

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    Hi Blog.  Big news this week I hadn’t gotten around to blogging was Monday’s front-page story in the Asahi Shinbun, about Japan’s “Japanese Only” signs, with a sizable chunk of the article devoted to the research that has done on them.

    It made a huge splash in the media.  So much so that TV Asahi will be doing a segment on it on Sunday during their show『報道ステーションSUNDAY』(毎週日曜日10時~11時45分)for being one of the Asahi’s most viewed online articles of the week. So switch it on and have a watch. Anyone want to record the segment for replay on

    Here’s the article from the English version of the Asahi (significantly different from how it appeared in Japanese), followed by the original Japanese.  Have a read.  And thank you, everyone, for reading and supporting  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito



     ‘Japanese Only’ banner at soccer stadium a microcosm of discrimination in Japan

    April 28, 2014, AJW: THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

    A “Japanese Only” banner at a professional soccer game made international headlines and led to unprecedented penalties. But such signs are not new in Japan, and some have even appeared at tourist hotspots.

    It is true that some signs like these have been put up by people who genuinely dislike citizens of other countries. But many others say they had no intention to be discriminatory, and that their “Japanese Only” displays stem from the language barrier and problems with foreign customers unaware of Japanese rules and customs.

    Two apparent reasons why these signs keep showing up is a general sense of apathy among the public and a lack of understanding at how offensive the words can be for foreigners in Japan.

    That behavior was evident on March 8 at Saitama Stadium, where a large “Japanese Only” banner was set up at an entrance to seats at the Urawa Reds’ home opener.

    A 33-year-old company employee from Tokyo asked security guards to tell the soccer team to remove the banner. It remained on display throughout the game.

    “Even though it was clearly discriminatory, people did not notice, or they just ignored it because they did not want to become involved,” the man said. “The stadium on that day may have been a microcosm of Japanese society today.”

    The man said responsibility should be shared by those who displayed the banner, as well as the team and fans who ignored the banner. He also blamed himself for lacking the courage to remove it.

    The J.League penalized the Urawa Reds over the banner by requiring it to play a match at an empty Saitama Stadium.

    The Urawa Boys Snake, the group that made the banner, along with other fan groups that regularly cheer the Reds behind the goal, were disbanded.

    The offending banner was apparently planned well in advance.

    In February, a member of the Snake fan group tweeted: “We may have to take matters into our own hands and further worsen Japan-South Korea relations.”

    Hours before the March 8 match, three members of the group, intoxicated, brought in a white cloth measuring 70 centimeters high and 2.5 meters wide. They put the cloth on the concrete and spray-painted “Japanese Only” in black letters. The banner was set up beside a Hinomaru national flag.

    Why was the banner set up?

    The small amount of information still left on the Internet led to a college student, who said he was a Snake member but denied any involvement in the creation of the banner.

    At his Tokyo campus in mid-April, the student, in his 20s, said he joined the group when he was in senior high school. He said there were about 20 members, including company employees and civil servants.

    The student said he gradually began disliking China and South Korea because of the jeering from their fans at soccer matches.

    “Their cheers are clearly ‘anti-Japanese,’” the student said. “It is obvious to anyone who attends the games.”

    The Reds fans considered the area behind the goal as their domain, and some wanted to keep foreigners out of that space, the student said.

    Although nationalistic emotions are common at sporting events, “Japanese Only” signs have appeared in areas of Japan that are geared toward tourists from overseas.

    On Christmas Day in 2013, a 25-year-old American on his third trip to Japan visited the Imperial Palace and the popular Sensoji temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa with a Japanese senior high school student. The two became friends when the student was studying in the United States.

    On that day, the American said he wanted to eat “tendon,” tempura placed over a bowl of rice, so they waited in line for five minutes at a well-known tempura restaurant in the Asakusa area.

    However, the American noticed the “Japanese Only” sign at the entrance and asked what it meant. They eventually decided not to enter.

    After business one day, the owner of the restaurant explained the purpose of the sign.

    “It only applies when we are busy,” the owner said. “We have no intention of discriminating.”

    The owner explained that the sign was put up mainly because of trouble caused by groups of Chinese tourists who stepped on the tatami mats with their shoes on or who ventured up to the second floor without asking permission.

    “If we have to close business because of public hygiene problems, we will be the ones facing trouble,” the owner said. “Who will take responsibility when that happens?”

    The owner, who received a phone call saying the sign was inappropriate, showed a new sign that will be displayed at the entrance. It says, “Japanese Language Only.”

    Debito Arudou, 49, who was born in the United States but became a naturalized Japanese in 2000, has carefully followed the display of such signs for more than a decade.

    Arudou said he found more than 50 examples from around Japan of signs saying “Japanese Only” or “Foreigners are not allowed.” They were posted at a pachinko parlor in Hokkaido, bars in Gunma, Aichi and Hiroshima prefectures, a real estate agency in Osaka and a karaoke shop in Okinawa.

    Arudou, who wrote his doctoral dissertation about discrimination in Japan at the University of Hawaii, asked whether the Japanese have ever imagined how many foreigners have been hurt by such words.

    His interest in discrimination in Japan began in 1999, when he was teaching at a private university in Hokkaido. He was denied entry to a hot spring in Otaru, which he visited with his family.

    In 2001, he filed a lawsuit seeking compensation from the hot spring operator and the Otaru municipal government. The following year, the Sapporo District Court found the “Japanese Only” sign posted at the hot spring to be discriminatory.

    Whenever he found such signs in other areas of Japan, Arudou talked to the owners to ask their reasons. Some said foreigners made other customers nervous, while others claimed foreigners did not abide by Japanese manners. Half of the owners refused his request to take down their signs.

    A bar in Kobe displayed a sign that said “Japanese People Only,” but removed it after receiving advice from a stranger.

    “A very kind individual told me that the sign was not appropriate,” said the 51-year-old owner.

    Kobe is home to many foreigners because consulates and universities are located in the area.

    “There were fights or rowdy customers so I decided to ban those who did not speak Japanese since I was not fluent in English,” the owner said.

    Two years ago, the owner received an e-mail from a Japanese he did not know, saying the sign should be changed.

    “I never thought it could be taken as discriminatory,” the owner said.

    After removing the “Japanese Only” sign, the owner placed a new sign in English that laid out the bar rules, including the various prices charged.

    “I was lazy even though I knew that something could have been done if I just spoke to the customers,” the owner said. “Nationality is irrelevant when it comes to loud or rowdy customers.”

    Both Japanese and foreigners now frequent the bar.




    「ジャパニーズオンリー」店にも 貼り紙に傷つく外国人
    朝日新聞 2014年4月28日07時17分
    埼玉スタジアムに掲げられた「JAPANESE ONLY」の横断幕=サポーター提供



    JAPANESE(ジャパニーズ) ONLY(オンリー)




    3カ月ほど前、浅草で「Japanese Only」を目にしていた。


    老舗(しにせ)の天ぷら屋へ。寒空の下、5分ほど並び、店に入ろうとした時、友がささやいた。「どういうことだ」。視線の先には引き戸に貼られたA4ほどの紙。「Japanese Only」と書かれていた。











    Japanese Language Only





    「Japanese Only」「Foreigners are not allowed」。北海道のパチンコ店、群馬のパブ、愛知のクラブ、大阪の不動産屋、広島のバー、沖縄のカラオケ店……。いたる場で、「外国人お断り」を意味する看板や案内を確認した。その数、50以上。



    「日韓関係を俺たちがさらに悪化させるしかねーだろ」。埼玉スタジアムに「JAPANESE ONLY」の横断幕を掲げた「スネーク」。メンバーの一人が2月、ツイッターで、そうつぶやいていた。









    米国生まれの白人。北海道の私大の教員だった1999年、家族で訪れた小樽市の温泉で、入浴を拒否された。「Japanese Only」の表示があった。



    「Japanese People Only」と書いた紙を貼っているバーが、神戸市にあるという。今月18日夜、記者はJR三ノ宮駅近くの店を訪ねた。











    9 Responses to “Asahi: ‘Japanese Only’ banner at soccer stadium a microcosm of discrimination in Japan (E&J)”

    1. Chris Clancy Says:

      Think there’s anything plagiarized from my April 2 Japan Times piece? This fatefully unfortunate career ALT could sure use a bit more ¥¥ to supplement his discriminatingly stagnant salary.

    2. B Says:

      I was so happy when I read this story, knowing that this issue was getting some real press in the Japanese media… FINALLY. It was a start.

    3. Jim di Griz Says:

      “I never thought it could be taken as discriminatory,” the owner said.

      Try replacing that with “I never thought, about anything. Ever.”

    4. Fred Says:

      Dr. Debito,

      I see allot about discrimination at rentals, at soccer games, public places etc., but I havent seen too much about labor discrimination. Speaking for myself, I havent experienced much discrimination outside of work, with exception to the usual police eyeballing or profilling me. This could be due to racism, because of the way I look, Im OK, or Im safe. I would never argue that it does not happen, just I havent experienced it that much.

      Employment, however, has provided me with a wealth of experiences when it comes to discrimination. It is clearly written in the Japan labor law that discrimination based on nationality etc is prohibited, and I think age discrimination is also forbidden. Japanese are discriminated based on age and gender.

      I have found employment under the most unusual circumstances in Japan. Usually, there was a problem child Japanese employee who became a headache, then the Japanese manager was fed up with them and wanted to try a one size fits all magic bullet gaijin solution. This are not exactly the ideal conditions to be hired under. The expectations are too much, and the gaijin usually ends up doing twice the work load just to feel accepted.

      I once applied at many places, only to be told, “shorry, Japanese onri” This seems, to a reasonable person, to violate the law. A part of me is glad I screened out such a place, but another part ask, how can Japan attract foriegn investment with such situational ethical attitudes?

      If Japan is to move forward with these reforms, I think a hard look must be taken at these issues.

    5. john k Says:

      #3 JDG

      You could replace it with “I never thought any one could be discriminated”

      One needs to be careful when jumping too quick to conclusions that suits one’s own point of view. We can all paint a scenario that suits our own thoughts on such issues, but if NJs are really to make any inroads in affecting the nation’s psyche and piquing them into self analysis jumping to conclusions, no matter how “obvious” it ‘may’ seem to others, gets nowhere fast. It usually makes matters worse. Always ask the owner of a sign, or their thoughts, what is their reason for such. Japanese are not known for their English comprehension ability. I would rather err on the side of caution until it has been categorically proven to be otherwise, than inflam a situation based upon an unproven assumption.

      In countries like the UK/US etc, exposing is easy and laws can be cited and a media only too complaint to the “victims” plight can be found. Not so in Japan, thus a different approach is clearly warranted.

      Simply noting and highlighting to a wider audience, (as has been noted above in the title thread), with little or no narrative is already showing to yield results. Public shame is a great tool.

    6. Paul Says:

      Well, I watched their Sunday morning show and while it was put up on their news ranking board, they spent so much time on the same Golden Week coverage we see every year that they never actually talked about it. Disappointing in more ways than one.

      — Thanks for doing so. TV Asahi had arranged to do an interview with me, but called yesterday to cancel because Asakusa’s Ten-take tempura shop had refused to be interviewed. Wasn’t aware that refusing to talk to the press was grounds for the press giving up on a story, but there you go. It’s not the first time I’ve seen it happen in Japan’s media. Once again, racial discrimination is not really an issue that beckons much of a moral imperative.

    7. B Says:

      You’re kidding… they quit the entire interview and gave up that easily?! Well, Asahi just lost the respect they had just earned.

      — Not kidding.

    8. FaithnoMore Says:

      Let’s see. We have a massive issue here and one that is treated like a small but painful boil to be lanced. By focusing on people and restaurants and situations, and focusing on the idea that the soccer thugs were drunks and extremists (and somewhat provoked since they felt they had been the victims) and that others were well-meaning and gormless this is a classic J-media washover.

      I think someone took a decision not to let Dr.D. on TV. Boy would he be an antidote to the range of house gaijins and entertainers who currently gum up the stodge.

      Still, some credit for Asahi for at least writing about this. Now they feel they’ve covered it, they can forget about it, or use it to show they care, while not pressing for any change at all.

    9. Loverilakkuma Says:

      I think the main reason why Asahi dumped the issue is because they think it’s a tiny incident that would only affect very small number of people going there, and there are no other sources but this blog and the Tentake that people can learn the whole story about the incident for its verification. Even though Asahi is the cornerstone of left media, they are not Japanese equivalent of MSNBC or ABC News. So, either put it in writing or web blog is the best they were able to do. It would be even better if they have national syndicated columnists who could put a pen across several news media outlets.

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