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Hi Blog. Here’s an earnest Japan Times journalist trying to take on some nasty anti-foreign signs up in a prominent Tokyo shopping area. The article cites me at the end, thanks. Read on for another comment from me that didn’t make the cut. Dr. Debito Arudou
Tackling signs in Japan that you’re not welcome
BY DAISUKE KIKUCHI
The Japan Times, June 4, 2017
“MOTHER F——- KISS MY ANUS. F—- OFF Mother F——-… foreigner. Sneaking PHOTO.”
A hand-written sign bearing these words is among several decorated with similar insults that greet shoppers outside a fashion store that sells rock-style clothing in Tokyo. The sign sits among shirts emblazoned with designs featuring overseas rock bands such as Iron Maiden, Children Of Bodom and Marilyn Manson in the fashion and kawaii culture mecca of Harajuku’s Takeshita Street in Shibuya Ward.
The Japan Times visited the shop after being approached by a foreign resident who was disgusted to see the signs while he was with his young daughter.
“The shop is absolutely covered in these messages,” wrote the reader. “I walk past this place from time to time. The thing that annoys me most is that Harajuku is such an anything-goes area full of all kinds of subcultures and minorities, not least of all foreigners, so this place is like a nasty little pit of intolerance inside an oasis of colour and joy.”
Asked about the thinking behind the signs, a staff member at the store explained that the shop put them up after becoming frustrated by the terrible manners of foreign shoppers.
“They usually take pictures, without permission,” said the staff member. The shop is concerned about images of its products being uploaded to the internet, she said. As to whether they would consider taking down the sign, she added: “I’m not so sure. If (they) had good manners, we wouldn’t do this, but there are so many that have really bad manners.”
In 2002 the Sapporo District Court ordered a bathhouse in Otaru, Hokkaido, to pay ¥1 million each in damages to three plaintiffs refused entry because they did not look Japanese. This ruling was based on articles of the civil code protecting individual rights and authorizing damages when these rights are violated, Article 14 of the Constitution — which forbids discrimination — and international conventions on racial discrimination and civil rights. However, the court did not uphold the plaintiffs’ claim against the city for its failure to implement an ordinance against racial discrimination based on the international pact cited in the Bortz case. That verdict was confirmed by the Sapporo High Court.
Debito Arudou, a plaintiff in the Otaru case and a columnist for The Japan Times who writes about human rights, hosted a “Rogues Gallery” of “Japanese only” and other discriminatory signs found across the country on his website, Debito.org, in the years after the Otaru case. There, readers could post photos of signs they found locally or on their travels, as well as any measures taken to get those signs removed, some of which proved successful.
“After the Otaru onsens case, bigoted shopkeeps realized they could put up ‘Japanese only’ signs with impunity, and they proliferated around Japan,” explains Arudou. “I dropped by those places, asked ‘Why this sign?’ and what could we do about it.
“Most managers adamantly denied any racism on their part, until I asked if someone like I, a Caucasian with a Japanese passport, could come in. When they said no, I pointed out the racism, to which they just shifted tack and blamed their racist customers. When they said yes, I often came inside and got more information about what was necessary to get the signs down. When they said they’ll think about it and I should come back later, I did and was usually denied entry again. I’d say each situation happened about a third of the time.
“We did get several signs down,” Arudou says. “Part of it was by calm persuasion about what how unenforceable the policy was: How were they to decide who was Japanese, especially when I was proving it was possible to be one without looking like one — and what about Japan’s international children? Part of it was the need to make the rules clear despite a language barrier. I listened to their rules, wrote up a bilingual sign for them to display, and received their exclusionary sign in trade. And part of it was quietly pulling signs down in the middle of the night. They didn’t go back up.”
Based on his experiences, Arudou advises engaging with business owners displaying discriminatory signs.
“If you have the language ability, or a friend or native speaker who is so inclined, ask the manager why the sign is up, and what it would take to get it down,” Arudou says. “After all, we shouldn’t allow racist behavior to be normalized through public signage. And if that doesn’t work, of course, I would never advocate that people pull the signs down quietly in the middle of the night. Never ever.”
NB: I also commented directly about the signs that open this article, which didn’t make the cut:
The authorities are right. This isn’t a “Japanese Only” sign. It’s just a rude anti-foreigner sign, painstakingly rendered by shop staff too angry to say “No photos, please.” Kinda ironic, given the penchant for Japanese tourists here in Hawaii to take snapshots of anything they find exotic. At least merchants here word their notices more politely.
You could make the case that this is hate speech, but it might not convince enough people who can’t be bothered with signs that don’t affect them. It’s better to contact tourist associations, and do some name-and-shame as the 2020 Olympics loom.
Or better yet, create unintended consequences. Tell people where the sign is, and go take pictures of it. Add to the irony with photos of “no photos”.
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