“Japanese Only” tourist information booth in JR Beppu Station

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Hi Blog. Let me turn the keyboard over to Kyushu visitor DB, who catalogs the latest permutation of Japan’s “omotenashi” towards NJ tourists, where “hospitality” meets Japan’s inevitable “separate but equal” ideologies. Dr. Debito Arudou

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April 6, 2018
Hi there Debito,

Are you aware there is a “Japanese only” information booth at JR Beppu Station? My partner and I walked in to get some information about a local onsen travel route. The woman sitting at the available desk basically refused to deal with us, and told us to go to the desk for foreigners. She initially pretended that the desk was for Japanese language help only. When we pointed out that we could speak Japanese (we had been the whole time) she shifted her excuse. The whole time she leant way back in her chair, and spoke in an extremely dismissively rude tone. In six years living in Japan I have never been treated as poorly.

After we gave up and walking out half in shock I noticed the signage. The ambiguity of “Japanese” here covers the apparent reality that they actually will refuse to serve anybody not visibly Japanese regardless of language ability.

While the “Japanese only” info desk was next to the front exit, directly connected to the main hall that has the ticket gate, the other “foreigner info” desk was a booth that was set up in the adjoining part of the building where the restaurants are. It wasn’t too far away, but it was clearly set up after the fact in order to keep the increasing number of foreign visitors separated out. There was a hand written sign noting that the staff could speak English and Chinese. Although the other desk had four staff, this one had one or two depending on the time if day (two initially, one when I passed by later). The service was fine. (But of course, we used Japanese there anyway because that’s simply easier, so there was zero point in moving except because we were forced to. )

I’ll be sending a formal complaint later, but I thought I’d send you the story. Here’s some photos attached, taken April 6, 2016. Feel free to share the story if you like. Regards, DB.

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39 comments on ““Japanese Only” tourist information booth in JR Beppu Station

  • I’ve had that kind of treatment too with a japanese travel company. I can’t remember which one for certain so I don’t want to say any name in case my memory is faulty.

    They organised busses everywhere and had a woman on duty to help with any questions we had but she refused to acknowledge my presence or even look at me. Pretty humiliating.

    DB, if you get a chance to go back please get a video of her refusing, if you can.

    Reply
  • Wow, THE tourist information center inside a JR station is refusing to cater to Japanese-speaking foreigners? Before seeing the photo I though it would be the kind of booth set up by volunteers working for free.

    This is truly disgraceful. As in, a new low.

    Reply
  • DB, those photos are so telling: no other customers in the booth at all, but they can’t help you. Pathetic.

    And who is that creep with a badge lurking around the entrance?

    Reply
  • Loverilakkuma says:

    My eyes are on the second photo. What’s the point in putting English alphabet if you only accept inquiry in ”日本語”? And refusing based not on language(if you speak Japanese or not) but on appearance(how you look)??? Please forward 2nd and 3rd photos(showing that woman) to the JR Kyushu. This is unacceptable. Awful customer service. Grade: F

    Reply
  • I don’t have direct experience, so my examples have less impact. But, my friend from the Philippines (who speaks great Japanese) told me she received this treatment twice in Kyoto:

    1. Queuing for a taxi. She joined the shorter ‘Japanese’ line instead of the joining the long ‘foreigner’ line. When she reached the front she was denied service and told to join the foreigner line.

    2. At Kyoto station she was denied service from a major travel agency desk, and told to go to another location designed for ‘foreigners’.

    Both of these situations no doubt come about under the stated aim of providing an tailored English language service to non-Japanese people.

    However, it’s not hard to imagine that it’s also about protecting Japanese customers and staff from being ‘inconvenienced’ by ‘foreigners’.

    Either way, my friend was speaking Japanese, so I can see absolutely no justification.

    Does the ‘foreigners’ line for taxis at Kyoto station still exist?

    Reply
    • Jim Di Griz says:

      When taxi waiting lines were first separated into ‘Japanese speaking’ and ‘non-Japanese speaking’ at JR Kyoto station, I said right here that it would mean ‘Japanese’ and ‘non-Japanese’ by ethnicity.
      I want them to put up signs in Japanese so that I can see if it says ‘nihonjin’ or ‘nihongo’.
      All too often, ‘nihonjin only’ service is hidden behind a facade of ‘nihongo only’ as an excuse for racism.

      Reply
      • Thanks for the information.

        All other taxi drivers in Japan, and every other country I’ve visited, seem to cope with language barriers fine.

        Reply
        • Jim Di Griz says:

          Yeah, I’ve never had a problem with taxi drivers in Japan regarding racism. But it seems that there’s a steady creep of ‘Japanese only’ changing in definition from ‘nihongo only’ to ‘nihonjin only’ and the NJ community should be on guard for that, I guess.

          Reply
      • Baudrillard says:

        Do the non Japanese speaking ones charge more (for their Engrish skills)? As that is how it works with real estate agencies.
        Funny how the more expensive, inconvenient housing is more willing to accept NJs (4 out of 28 called, from my agent’s experience).

        Reply
  • Japan wants tourist money but hates tourists so they are pushing for racial segregation. Non-Japanese residents should wake up to this.

    Reply
  • And this is the country that wants to host the Olympics. Japan wants it both ways. They promote their country up and down, start programs like Japan house to educate foreigners about Japan. They even want foreigners to be shills for Japans PR program. But then when said foreigners come to experience the unique and beautiful culture of Japan suddenly we need separate services to accommodate them so as not to inconvenience the poor Japanese. sorry but it doesn’t work that way. You can’t advertise yourself to the whole world and then get picky when foreigners take you up on your offer.

    Reply
  • Sapporo2000 says:

    Another recent example of a “Japanese Only” sign, this time in a brothel in Shinjuku/Golden Gai area, for the apologist this is perfectly fine as long they don’t see these signs in other type of establishments such as bars, clubs etc but for brothels and other type of adult entertainment bars it’s perfectly acceptable. talk about cognitive dissonance and Hypocrisy.

    “Only Japanese People”
    https://imgur.com/a/PZ4AT

    Reply
  • Eoghan Hughes says:

    I’m pretty sure it’s illegal in Japan to create or publish a photo intended to portray a human subject (which the bottom one clearly is) without that subject’s consent. As rude as she was (I’ve been served at “Japanese language only” tourist information booths just fine before, so this really looks like her personal problem) I don’t think it’s a crime for people in the service sector to act like a dick.

    — This is complicated (see here and here). However, it’s not illegal. This is not, for example, a private citizen having her privacy invaded in a private space. This is a representative of an organization acting in her official capacity in a public space. She can take responsibility for her actions.

    Reply
    • This is EXTREMELY confusing actually, and unfortunately while the articles talk about the subject, the articles didn’t really answer the question well at all. I don’t suppose you have other sources on this matter.

      I am aware that this isn’t really an issue with Koumin acting on the job, but what about private companies and individuals acting in their capacity in illegal/legal (but poor service for example)?

      — Doesn’t matter. They are still acting in their official capacities as representatives of an organization in a public space.

      Reply
  • Brooks Slaybaugh says:

    I don’t get it. There are places in Japan that would hire a foreign person to speak English and Japanese or another language. This was on TV and I saw about an English woman who worked up in northern Hyogo for the city. In Beppu there is Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University. Lots of foreign students there. I don’t see why JR in Beppu could not hire at least one person(or more) to speak English/Chinese/Korean to tourists.
    Japan wants to develop its tourism in other locations besides the big cities. So I guess it is working, but there is a need for interpreters.

    —- And in this case, a need for staff who don’t weird out when they encounter Japanese-speaking NJ and refuse to give them service.

    Reply
    • @Brooks
      You didn’t read the original post. There was a “foriegners” information booth. That’s where the poster was told to go. Because of racial profiling.

      Reply
      • Brooks Slaybaugh says:

        I read it but can’t believe it. Omotenashi nashi. What kind of customer service is this? It seems like apartheid. Well I would like to know how Koreans or Chinese would fare if they went.

        Reply
  • I was there 2 weeks ago and didn’t have a problem. I walked up, asked a question in Japanese and got the help that I asked for.

    I also disagree that this is new or anything like that. Just lkast week, I saw the same set-up at Kanazawa Station – an English-only help desk and a line for help in Japanese.

    — Debito.org did not make the case that this was new. In fact, we’ve talked about “foreigner taxi stands” at Kyoto Station here years ago. And as predicted back then, “foreigners” are running the risk of being refused regular service under systems like these.

    I’m glad to hear it didn’t happen to you, but are you writing this in order to be dismissive (in addition to being misinterpretive)?

    Reply
  • “The whole time she leant way back in her chair, and spoke in an extremely dismissively rude tone. ” This is rich, considering I got into the Japanese students at the eikaiwa I worked at for sitting back on the sofa in the “lounge” they had. The boss said we had to sit with out backs bent forward, looking more attentive, at all times, despite the furniture being designed for the opposite!
    One rule for them and another for us. And the fact I remember this after 15 years or so, indicates how former J supporters leave as detractors with long memories at the absurdities of “the RULES” in Japan.

    Those bitter chickens are now coming back to roost.

    Reply
  • realitycheck says:

    Good article but again we can expect the usual set response from officialdom that this is to help foreigners and has nothing to do with making sure the Japanese public are not inconvenienced by us.

    Speaking of travel agencies as a couple of posters have. a shout-out to JTB Ueno. It may have changed now but hopefully it hasn`t – a foreigner walking in and speaking passable if not fluent Japanese a couple of yrs ago would be treated well and engaged with in simple Japanese.

    The bad and sometimes downright snide attitudes experienced sometimes in Japan extend to the ward offices.Yes there are some well-meaning staff who may not speak English or other foreign languages but do their best to make their foreign residents feel welcome.

    However, in some of them there is a culture of dismissiveness and arrogance towards non Japanese. The Japanese-speaking rule there does not aim to include those foreigners who know Japanese and can use it to any extent, It is used with a don`t care attitude, too bad if there is no written material in English even if we are collecting taxes from you.

    You*d be surprised at where that attitude is. A well-heeled ward starting with M inTokyo has just about zero information in English or other languages for its foreign residents. Including tax forms. And no designated English speaking staff member or members there to help the tax paying foreigners including the non well-heeled ones.

    Reply
    • I’ll push back here slightly and say that expecting Japan to provide documents and information in English is slightly entitled. It’s great that they do often do this, but I don’t think it should be seen as something that must happen.

      If you are a medium- to long-term resident you owe it to yourself and others to learn as much of the language as possible.

      Reply
      • Jim Di Griz says:

        Well, I see your point of view, but Japanis the place in terminal population decline, desperate to attract NJ ‘trainees’ and ‘students’ and ‘elite foreigners’ to come over and help out with Japan’s labor shortage and taxation shortfall, so the onus is on Japan to go that extra mile and do everything possible to attract NJ and make it easy for them to live here, otherwise they will choose somewhere else and Japan will be the loser.

        Reply
    • Baudrillard says:

      Foreigners are not allowed to submit tax returns online, but Japanese can. So says Kawaguchi ward office!

      We have to go there in person and submit them (so they can check).

      Reply
  • realitycheck says:

    To Sendai Ben,
    I don’t see anything ‘entitled’ in noting that key documents for important issues with legal ramifications such as taxation forms/other tax info are continuing to be the norm in Japanese wards with relatively high foreigner populations.
    And as English is the recognized global language, including in Japan, I’d say that it makes some sense to have key documents for issues which can end up putting people on the wrong side of the law if they don’t understand them or fully understand them, in English.
    Those of us who have to go cap in hand to renew our working visas breathe a sigh of relief that Immigration at least provides those forms in English instead of making visa renewal an obstacle course where you can mess up your extension by not being able to understand some or all of the language on the form.
    And one of my points was that this rich ward in Tokyo falls way behind less privileged wards which at the least provide information people at the first point of contact who will speak easy Japanese to foreigners or at least point them to somebody who understands simple English.
    Contempt is a harsh word but it certainly comes to mind when thinking about the way some private businesses and so called public services which are funded by foreigners too, treat non Japanese.
    Too many elements in Japanese society are claiming some kind of privileged right and entitlement to backwards behavior because of Japanese exceptionalism – supposedly.

    Reply
  • As it happens, I just noticed a tour guide website (a private company, not related to the information desk in the article above) stating:

    “Dear foreign customer, we don’t give you service due to safety reason and regulation.
    We are appreciated your understanding.
    (申し訳ありません。 安全上の理由により,外国の方はお受けしておりません)”

    I wonder if the owner of this company simply can’t envisage that a non-Japanese person could speak Japanese, and therefore could understand one of his tours. Or, whether, he is simply xenophobic and dislikes non-Japanese people.

    Not speaking Japanese would be a valid reason for refusing service as his tours involve water sports. But, the message on his website sounds absolutely awful.

    — Can we have a link to this website so we can better see the context?

    Reply
    • Well noticed, Steve.

      About Diving: “Gaijin Refused” http://archive.is/kUTlD
      Even just Walking: “Gaijin Refused” http://archive.is/rk6Gw
      (Look at the photos, not dangerous hiking, simple relaxed walking.)
      The smiling race-excluder: Mr. Ken’ichi Konishi http://archive.is/STvQx

      Embarrassed Mr. Konishi?
      What about the emotional suffering (Seishin Kutsuu 精神苦痛) you caused,
      to all Non-Japanese-Race people, whom you denied service based on race.
      People had to explain to family members, “This walking tour guide refuses my race.”

      I’m sure Ken’ichi will claim he LOVES Non-Japanese-Race people, “This is for Gaijin safety!”
      But he chose to deny service to all Non-Japanese-Race people, regardless of language fluency.

      He could have said: “日本語が話せないの方はお受けしておりません”
      But he chose to deny service based on race: “外国の方はお受けしておりません”

      言語で区別する(言語差別)は合法です。
      人種で区別する(人種差別)は違法です。
      日本の加入した人種差別撤廃条約により。
      「外人お断り」は人種差別撤廃条約違反。
      どんな言い訳でも「外人お断り」は違法です。
      日本が加入した国連条約は日本の最高法です。
      https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/あらゆる形態の人種差別の撤廃に関する国際条約

      Treating differently based on Language (Language Discrimination) is legal.
      Treating differently based on Race (Racial Discrimination) is illegal.
      According to the U.N. International CERD Treaty Japan signed.
      “Gaijin Refused” violates the U.N. International CERD Treaty.
      No matter what excuse is given, “Gaijin Refused” is illegal.
      U.N. Treaties Japan signed are Japan’s Supreme Laws.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CERD

      Reply
    • Sure, it’s http://www.begin.jp/index.php

      The nuances of the Japanese language are lost on me.

      I thought that 外国の方 is just the formal version of 外国人.

      But, is there any way in which this can be read as ‘a person living in a foreign country’ instead?

      I guess it could be possible that people living in foreign countries aren’t covered by this guy’s insurance policies.

      I’m trying to understand if there’s anything that makes the Japanese version of the message sound less discriminatory than the English version.

      — No. They just added the word “regulation” in the English version to make it sound like there was a legal reason behind refusing foreigners. There is none.

      And 外国の方 is mere window dressing to make the refusal sound more polite. But it is still a refusal.

      Reply
    • Loverilakkuma says:

      I was just trying googling the sentences above. I got the website named “begin (http://www.begin.jp/aisatu.php). They are a tourist agent in a remote southern island called Tokashikimura, 35 mins off from Naha, Okinawa prefecture.

      Here’s their contact.

      ☆ 住所 : 〒901-3501 沖縄県島尻郡渡嘉敷村字渡嘉敷1918-1
        ☆ 電話 : 098-896-4114
        ☆ 携帯 : 090-3272-3939
        ☆ FAX : 098-896-4115
        ☆ mail : tokashiki@begin.jp

      http://www.begin.jp/aisatu.php

      Reply

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