DEBITO.ORG
Arudou Debito/Dave Aldwinckle's Home Page

New ebooks by ARUDOU Debito

  • Book IN APPROPRIATE: A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan
  • Japan Times on a “Non-Japanese Only” sushi restaurant in Okinawa

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on April 6th, 2010

    Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
    Hi Blog. I had heard numerous reports about a place down in Okinawa that turned away Japanese customers (or, rather, charged them an exorbitant fee for membership) in favor of NJ. It made print today in the Japan Times Zeit Gist Column. Excerpt follows:

    //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    THE ZEIT GIST
    The Japan Times, March 6, 2010
    ‘Non-Japanese only’ Okinawa eatery turns tables
    Jon Mitchell explores why one restaurateur has effectively banned Japanese patrons


    Despite overwhelming Okinawan opposition to the presence of the United States military, open animosity towards American servicemen is remarkably rare here. One of the few places where it is experienced, though, is in central Okinawa’s entertainment districts. Japanese-owned clubs and bars regularly turn away American customers, and some of them display English signs stating “members only” and “private club” in order to exclude unwanted foreign patrons. With Japan’s laws on racial discrimination tending towards the ambiguous, transforming a business into a private club has become a common way to circumvent any potential complaints to the Bureau of Human Rights.

    Under these circumstances, the notices on the door of Sushi Zen, a small restaurant located at the edge of Chatan Town’s fishing port, are not unusual: “This store has a members-only policy. Entry is restricted to members.” However, what is different is the fact that they’re written in Japanese, and designed to keep away Japanese customers. Furthermore, Sushi Zen’s owner is not a xenophobic foreign expatriate, but a soft-spoken Japanese man named Yukio Okuhama.

    //////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

    Rest of the article at http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20100406zg.html

    COMMENT: Now, while I can’t personally condone this activity, I will admit I have been waiting for somebody to come along and do this just to put the shoe on the other foot. Let’s see how people who defended the exclusionism of “troublemakers” who just happened to be foreign-looking (hiya Gregory Clark) in the Otaru Onsens Case et.al., react to somebody excluding “troublemakers” who just happen to be Japanese. And watch the hypocrisy and “Japanese as perpetual victim” arguments blossom.

    If this winds up getting “Japanese Only” signs down everywhere, this will have been a useful exercise. Somehow, I don’t think it will, however.  Japanese in Japan are never supposed to be on the losing end of a debate on NJ issues.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

    28 Responses to “Japan Times on a “Non-Japanese Only” sushi restaurant in Okinawa”

    1. Allen Says:

      Hmm…..interesting idea, but I worry about the consequences of stooping down to their level. I realize, of course, that its wrong to do what they do, but we must show a good example of how to act and I worry this will not do the job. Perhaps I am worrying too much and should shut up.

      – Naw.

    2. johnk Says:

      When journalists hightligh issues with such statements:
      “..When I first heard about Sushi Zen, I’d expected any restaurant owner who excluded customers by race to be misguided at best, at worst a bigot…”

      So, why is this same ‘language’ not used when noting the otherside of the coin? Since he notes that Japanese use a “members only” sign to navigate around the discrimination aspects of the UN, and not just one club but endless; ergo it is commonplace. Yet he appears somewhat leanient on them by the tone of his language, but has no such qulams using words like “bigot” when decsribing this one, and only club, with such a sign?

      Doesn’t sound like balanced reporting to me.

      Odd…

    3. jim Says:

      I think this is a very good ideal what the owner of the sushi place has done. and hopefully the japanese will notice that they should also treat everyone else the same regardless of race.It is shameful that still now in 2010 some japanese people treat me and my bi-racial family with hostility and stare at us when we try to go out for a nice meal. also the constant stares and bad manners on the trains over here are unacceptable.this kind of place is long overdue

    4. John (Yokohama) Says:

      “With Japan’s laws on racial discrimination tending towards the ambiguous” Uh, nothing ambiguous there…there is no law (constitution aside).

      This reverse discrimination is a bad idea; however, it may provoke some thinking (as Debito notes) in people who would normally not consider or care about discrimination.

      As the writer indicates he seems more of a snob than anything else.

    5. holmes Says:

      “It’s not racism, because We Americans have a unique culture and we re just trying to protect it in a New York style sushi restaurant in Okinawa-which until recently was part of America anyway.

      Japanese don’t know how to behave in such an international environment and don’t speak English, so they just cause trouble. Also our Okinawan chef in fact cannot always understand mainland Japanese, so there might be some misunderstanding.

      If a Japanese customer looks Caucasian, such as Arudou Debito, then he can blend in no problem so we’ ll definitely let him in.

      We are very sorry, but we regrettably must refuse entry to anyone who appears to be Japanese”.

      How about that for a sarcastic shoe on the other foot?

    6. Jeff Korpa Says:

      Interesting policy at Sushi Zen (more like 「寿司不全」 amirite?)…seems like Okuhama-san took a page from ‘Fudou-san':

      Initial ¥50,000 to join (礼金)
      ¥100,000 membership fee (家賃)
      Sponsorship by two current members (保証人)

      Here’s my two-yen on “private” and “members only” clubs (i.e. troublemaker shit filters): those who justify their existence in the name of a safe environment deserve neither the club nor its members.

      -JK

    7. PeteMcC Says:

      I wonder if the artist that took his pictures down had a chat to his Japanese friends about how they felt about not being allowed in. I also wonder if they then in turn would talk to their fellow Japanese friends about the issue. Alas, probably not. I mean as we all know THIS IS SPA- I mean Japan.

    8. tony Says:

      Allen is right. A restaurant banning Japanese patrons is just as bad as one banning non-Japanese patrons. Both are exclusionary and racist.

    9. Laura Says:

      I don`t think discrimination is a flattering shoe on anyone`s foot, to tell the truth. I wonder however, if this will be picked up by the Japanese-language media. I do have issue with places like this though as I guess as a (white)? NJ I would be admitted but my Japanese husband and our daughter could not enter? I don`t like it sir…either way.

    10. Paul Says:

      Interestingly, the guy seems to be sincere in hoping that his restaurant would be a place for international exchange. It still could be if he went to the trouble to explain things to his Japanese customers–instead of just banning them. How about signs explaining how he is trying to introduce new “foreign” styles of sushi? Or a sign explaining the bad behavior that he finds troubling? Just as foreigners sometimes need instructions about how to take a bath, some Japanese need guidance about how to act around foreigners. He could print up a list of things he finds unacceptable from customers. This guy’s heart might be in the right place, but he is just avoiding the problem instead of going the extra mile to make a real difference.

    11. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      It doesn’t seem like a big deal because his Americans-only restaurant is vastly outnumbered by the opposite ones that refuse Americans, but he’s still discriminating against potential customers.

      I’d be pretty angry if I were a Japanese person who’d spent time in, say, New York, and got to like the American-style sushi, and wanted to relive that atmosphere at this restaurant. Imagine that I wouldn’t ever complain about English menus or having Americans seated near me. Yet, when I show up at this place, I get barred at the door because of my skin color.

      I’d much rather see those members-only rules taken down in favor of a sign expressing the owner’s wish to have an American-style sushi shop, with notes explaining that complaints that the NY-style sushi is “wrong” are not welcome; criticism of other customers will not be tolerated, etc.

      He reminds me very much of the fish seller in Tsukiji who banished all non-Japanese just because a few such people didn’t understand how his shop was run. In this case, he’s angry at the Japanese customers who didn’t appreciate what he had been trying to do.

      The fish guy was persuaded to compromise thanks to well-meaning activists, and I hope something similar can be done here.

    12. Clark7 Says:

      Living in Okinawa, I’m going to start frequenting this restaurant asap. Does anyone have a precise address ?

    13. mashu Says:

      I pretty much agree with Mark in Yayoi–but i admit enjoying the “shoe on the other foot” aspect of this all.

      You know, I am pretty damn angry– as a person who has lived 15 years in japan and like japanese style (whatever) and get barred at the door because of my skin color. (you all know the rant)

      That said, I hope this guy could be persuaded to modify his position as the fish market did. The old “higher ground” argument.

      The irony drips——with a real law against discrimination–this kind of thing would be illegal. Here’s hoping for change!

    14. Eido Inoue Says:

      I’m surprised to here about the “Members Only” excuse being used as a tool in Japan to enforce discrimination; the one different thing about Japan and its “Japanese Only” signs are that the signs are out in the open — the sign makers are too obtuse to understand the backlash (or they don’t care or view the backlash as insignificant), making it easier to identify the prejudiced.

      Ad hoc “Members Only” and “Sorry, private function, and you’re not on the guest list” excuses that hide discriminatory policies sound like something this restaurant learned from the U.S. (and/or other countries which I’m not aware of), which uses this obfuscating language in downtown nightclubs as a carte blanche license to exclude almost anybody that doesn’t fit their desired customer profile (regardless of whether the exclusion is legal or proper).

    15. Marine Says:

      I remember going there with an American who’d lived in Okinawa for three years.
      He explained that the owner was tired of being refused entry when he went out with his foreign friends and decided to start his own place refusing entry to non-accompanied Japanese as a means of “getting back” at them and to create a place where foreigners and Japanese would be able to get along.

    16. jack Says:

      Vindictively, it feels good to see other people go through the same problems we do. I’d like to think that a dialogue about the many Japanese-only businesses and their own inappropriateness would develop. However, call me cynical, but I expect the only result of places like this will be: a law barring discrimination against Japanese in businesses in Japan; or, a law barring discrimination in Japan, that the courts will later decide applies only to citizens, just as they arbitrarily limit so many things that are the common rights of man.

    17. holmes Says:

      After sleeping on it I m now tending to agree with Paul above, that the guy who runs this restaurant’s heart is or was in the right place. He was an internationally minded perosn who lived in NY, and then had his dreams dashed by anti foreigner local sentiment (?). In a way he (said he) is fighting those racist Japanese/Okinawans who came into the restaurant and who then got drunk and complained about the international clientele.

      Is the restaurant in a bad area or something?

      Or perhaps the lingering anti-American bases sentiment in Okinawa comes out more after a few cups of sake.

    18. Anonymous Says:

      I worry that this will fuel other restaurants to exclude foreigners in a “if he can exclude us (Japanese), we should be able to exclude them” kind of attitude.

      I think a better practice would be for the owner to stand up for foreigners who get heckled by Japanese customers and sort it out verbally. This way, you’re not just shutting out people whose behaviour you don’t agree with, you’re also raising awareness of the issue and changing their attitudes. In my opinion the latter works more effectively if we’re thinking long-term changes to perspective on NJ. [...]

    19. Simon Says:

      Two wrongs make a right now?

      This is very similar to that geisha — Sayuri? can’t remember — who had “special introductory rates” for “foreigners”. Reverse discrimination is still discrimination, and people who wish to construct a sound argument would do best to object to discrimination in any form, not just that which inconveniences oneself.

    20. holmes Says:

      Having slept on it again I’ll now even venture to say I really like what this Okinawan guy is doing, it is discrimination but it is what used to be called “positive discrimination” to address the balance. The scales are tipped heavily against NJ’s, so it is good someone Japanese had the guts and sympathy to do something equally extreme to try to balance things out.

      No doubt he (the owner) would be called a pinko liberal in the USA or the UK, but he is just one restaurant owner, it is still a far cry from government sponsored positive discrimination with quotas for e.g. Caucasian or mixed race Japanese, etc.

      It is discrimination of a sort, but it comes from a different place. He was dismayed by the exclusionary attitudes of some locals, so he excluded what he thought was the source of the exclusionary people; the Japanese. Admittedly it would have been better if he had just barred people after they displayed any anti NJ attitudes, but from the article it sounded like he got tired of kicking out the drunks and xenophobes after the event.

      I don’t agree with the blanket ban but as it takes extreme measures to highlight the extreme and blatant discrimination against NJs in Japan, then so be it. Harsh but fair.

    21. Simon Says:

      Holmes, I switched out some of your words. How does it read now?

      “It is discrimination of a sort, but it comes from a different place. He was dismayed by the rambunctious attitudes of some locals, so he excluded what he thought was the source of the rambunctious people; the foreigners. Admittedly it would have been better if he had just barred people after they displayed any rambunctious attitudes, but from the article it sounded like he got tired of kicking out the drunken and disorderly after the event.”

    22. holmes Says:

      Simon, yeah yeah thanks for that, I missed out apologizing for sounding like a standard Japan apologist before supporting the guy. You also forgot my bit at the end how I don’t approve his blanket ban, but in the end if the GOJ just continues to ignore the UN et al then something equally extreme or outrageous is needed to make people sit up. Think Malcolm X.

      We re not even there yet; its just one sushi shop in Okinawa. But I like the guy’s attitude for sticking it to the local xenophobes.

      You re saying all discrimination is wrong.Yeah, in an ideal world.

      I m saying there has to be positive discrimination now in favor of NJs to balance it all out, a process the USA went through 20, 30 years ago. [inappropriate attempt at humor deleted]

    23. Glenski Says:

      Discriminating against people is still discrimination, even if you call it “positive” or “reverse” discrimination.

      Debito, You are obviously banned from that place unless you pay an entrance fee, right? Or is the fee only for non-Japanese?

      Also, it will be interesting to see if the restaurant has any problems with people who have Asian-Japanese faces, yet are not Japanese citizens. And, what about those with dual citizenship? Who gets kicked out?

      Shoe on the other foot aside, this guy is wrong. [...]

    24. jon Says:

      The USA and UK governments have “positive discrimination” guidelines, quotas for employing minorities and people of all races/religion and gender, and although a lot of people don’t like it, it does address a balance.

      Of course Japan has nothing like this, and makes no attempt to address the balance. Fine, age and die then.

      Discrimination leads to tit for tat discrimination. Say sayonara to that UN permanent security council seat, GOJ!

    25. Michelle Says:

      I don`t think discrimination is a flattering shoe on anyone`s foot, to tell the truth. I wonder however, if this will be picked up by the Japanese-language media. I do have issue with places like this though as I guess as a (white)? NJ I would be admitted but my Japanese husband and our daughter could not enter? I don`t like it sir…either way.

    26. Paul Says:

      The USA and UK governments have “positive discrimination” guidelines, quotas for employing minorities and people of all races/religion and gender, and although a lot of people don’t like it, it does address a balance.

      Of course Japan has nothing like this, and makes no attempt to address the balance. Fine, age and die then.

      Discrimination leads to tit for tat discrimination. Say sayonara to that UN permanent security council seat, GOJ!

    27. david Says:

      Sure, all discrimination is wrong, but this is not so much discrimination as an illustration of what discrimination is, that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. The more coverage this restaurant gets, the better. As a slight aside, I once saw a “Japanese Only” sign outside of a restaurant/bar in Bangkok. I’d love for them to try that in Toronto.

      While I’m at it, and this is only slightly off topic, I have a bone to pick. Yesterday, May 9, 2010. My wife, a Japanese corporate executive who makes oodles of cash, filled out a form for a credit card at our local super market. The idea being that I could use the card, which would be in my name, and funds would be deducted from one of her accounts. It took them about 20 minutes to refuse her application. And this, whilst any number of Shibuya teens have more cards than they know what to do with. In just about any other country on earth, this would be a gross violation of law. Disgusting.

      – Sorry, but this is more than slightly off topic.

    28. (株)飛日空 Says:

      What most seems to be forgetting is that Mr. Okuhama did at first try to open up the restaurant to customers of all nationalities with unfavourable results. More often then not, local Japanese patrons were being hostile to the Caucasian patrons. There are plenty of places that will cater to the local Japanese population and there aren’t that many that will comfortably cater to foreigners. But the demand for a restaurant that foreigners could comfortably visit is still obviously there. So to secure the patronage, trust and goodwill of such clientele he created the desirable environment and a great selling point: exclusivity to foreigners yet located in Japan.

      In any case, I think Mr. Okuhama found a great niche. He attracts the well moneyed clientele that the locals abhor and makes a lucrative and comfortable business from it. Reverse discrimination is still wrong on principle but in this case, he did, with good intentions, attempt to cater to all nationalities. Banning all Japanese customers is something that I think no one wants. But short of having to hire security staff and have a constant tense air about his restaurant yet still wanting to comfortably cater to foreign customers, I don’t think he had much of a choice. That it had to come to banning Japanese patrons is telling and unfortunate.

      – And something Debito.org cannot support on principle. The Otaru onsens made the same argument.

    Leave a Reply