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  • Exclusionary pottery shop in Doguyasuji, Osaka, refuses service to non-Asian NJ

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on June 10th, 2011

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    Hi Blog. Here is another report of shabby treatment of NJ as customers, this time in Osaka. The writer, an exchange student in Kyoto, told me of her experience at an Osaka pottery store during my last speech, and I asked her to write it up. She did. Read on. Anonymized. Anyone nearby want to check this place out and see what’s bugging them? Arudou Debito

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

    June 7, 2011

    Hello, this is [Jessica] from the lecture to Michigan State University students at Doshisha this morning. I wrote up my experience at the pottery shop in case you wanted to check it out. Please feel free to ask me any questions you may have.

    In early June of 2011, I went to a pottery shop on Doguyasuji in Osaka. This particular shop only sells pottery and is in fact overflowing with pottery. They have too much to fit on the shelves so all the floor aisles have a row of pottery on each side, so that you have to walk very carefully so as not to kick any plates. I went into this shop twice and did not have any interaction with the salespeople the first time; the second time no salesperson approached me or seemed to take notice of me. The second time I picked out a bowl that was stacked on top of 2 others exactly like it and brought it up to the sales counter to purchase it. There were a couple salepeople there but none of them were looking at me, so I said “excuse me” in Japanese and held out the bowl to them, indicating I wanted to buy it. A saleswoman who appeared to be in her 30s looked at me, shook her head, pointed to a sign on the wall behind her (at the back of the store), turned away from me, and completely ignored me for the rest of my time in the store. Unfortunately I did not write down or take a picture of the sign, but it said in English something like, “It is not possible for us to sell any pottery because we do not have any in stock.” There was no explanation or even mention of ordering items for future pick-up either on the sign or by the salespeople. Again, this store was completely filled with pottery, and most pieces, including the bowl I wanted to buy, had identical ones on the shelves. This was definitely not a small artisan shop run by the potter, which might justify a desire to keep their personal pottery in the country; this was just a typical store that had pottery as its product. I watched for a little while and saw several Japanese people come into the store, browse a bit, pick something up off the shelf, and purchase it immediately. Nobody else had any extended discussion with a salesperson or filled out a form, and nobody appeared to come in and pick up pre-ordered pottery or get a large quantity of pottery off a shelf, as one would expect if this store was only selling to restaurant owners or only accepting pre-orders.

    This is the street. http://www.osaka-info.jp/en/search/detail/shopping_5198.html It is geared towards restaurant owners, but the shops generally sell to anyone. I’ll look through my pictures and if I took one of this pottery shop I’ll send it to you, but it does stand out somewhat as the only one that is very small and overflowing with just pottery. I’m pretty sure it was the “scary shop” in this blog post. http://www.chekyang.com/musings/2010/12/30/day-9-osaka-douguyasuji/ Note that they did just buy things right off the shelves. According to their blog they were tourists, they’re from and currently live in Singapore, and they don’t speak Japanese and spoke English on that trip; the only difference between them and me is they look Asian.

    I really think that the sign was just a ridiculous fabricated justification in order to refuse to sell to non-Asian foreigners. There was nothing that denied me entrance to the shop, I just couldn’t purchase anything once in there. A professor in my study abroad program (a black woman) had a similar experience in Kyoto, where she was allowed into a used kimono store and allowed to browse, but the shopkeeper simply refused to sell her anything. We were already in the stores, so it’s not as if the presence of foreigners could hurt their business, and none of the other customers appeared to have a problem with us. I don’t speak Japanese so it was fairly obvious that I’m a true foreigner, but I was in no way disrespectful or a less than well-behaved customer, I was not provocatively dressed nor did I look like I would be unable to pay, and I was not trying to bargain or do anything other than just pay for the bowl. I have been in Japan a couple weeks and have traveled to 23 other countries before now, so I do have an idea how to behave acceptably, and while I may have accidentally breached some small bit of etiquette I am certain that I was not rude. It is as if the shopkeepers don’t want to acknowledge our existence even enough to bar us, or are avoiding alienating other customers as Professor [X., who also attended our lecture] suggested, but if we force them into an encounter by wanting to buy something then they respond with active discrimination. I would be interested to know their reasoning, if someone who speaks Japanese goes to the shop and can communicate with them.

    Thanks again for the talk today, it was very interesting and informative. Jessica
    ENDS

    UPDATE:  Debito.org Reader Level3 investigates the store in question, discovers this is all apparently a misunderstanding, as he is able to make to purchase there.  Read his full report here.

    12 Responses to “Exclusionary pottery shop in Doguyasuji, Osaka, refuses service to non-Asian NJ”

    1. KX Says:

      I am white and speak Japanese. I live near Doguyasuji and have never had any problem buying dishes in any store there, including the “scary” one featured in that blog post. The employees have always been very polite and helpful, so my first instinct is that this was some kind of misunderstanding. However, I would be willing to investigate if Jessica could identify the store for sure.

    2. Rodney Says:

      This was posted over at the stalker site:

      “To sum it up, most foreign residents (especially whites from Western countries) HAVE NO REAL PROBLEMS HERE”

      We dont? All those things that happened to me, just a bad dream?

    3. Rodney Says:

      I found this interesting policy on the stalkers site:

      “Personal abuse will NOT be tolerated. Feel free to slag off their opinions, but personal attacks will be removed.”

      Strange because I can count scores of personal abuse, name calling, lies, manipulations etc over there and none have been removed. Of course all of my post that rip are removed or never posted, but its ok to devote a whole website to attacking somebody personally. Puzzeling indeed.

      – Let’s get back on track with the subject of this blog post.

    4. adam Says:

      I wonder how much of this sort of stuff happens to obvious foreigners but only if they can’t speak Japanese well… Probably the easiest group to discriminate against anywhere is people who don’t speak the language well. I know if I got that treatment I would probably end up using some very choice Japanese, I wonder if they would discriminate against me?

      If there is a sign (even in the back), though, the shop should be very easy to identify. I am betting it wouldn’t take much legwork for someone in the area.

    5. Level3 Says:

      Really sounds like some sort of misunderstanding to me. The staff couldn’t explain the situation in English, and the customer (it seems from the post) couldn’t read or communicate well in Japanese, Although maybe embarrassed Speaking?

      I’ve lived in Osaka over 10 years, worked in Minami for several years, which gave me the oppotunity to shop at Doguyasuji countless times and have NEVER had any problems. The description of the shop that is so crammed full of all sorts of dishes that it’s hard to even walk down what serve as the aisles makes me feel I know which shop it is, there being about 2 or 3 that fit the description, but I’ll assume the most cramped one (east side in the north half, Doguyasuji is not very big). I have shopped there and at others several times, most recently in March, as it is a great place for genuine and cheap “Japanese” souvenirs for friends back “home” (but Japan is my home) and visiting from abroad. And I’ve never really spoken while shopping to tip my hand regarding language skills. Even though I can, I just see little point. Just hand what I want to the clerk in the back just like anyone else at any other shop, give the money, maybe say arigatou and leave.

      I’m not surprised that the poster found the staff are not really fawning over the customers like in Takashimaya or something: most likely because it’s just impossible to wander the narrow aisles along with customers, as there’s barely room for 1 person to pass, doing so regularly would just lead to things getting broken – and part of it I just recognize (from experience long ago) as the laid back attitude that can be found in many mom+pop shops frequented by tourists (who will never be repeat customers) and not run by some corporation demanding they put on a uniform, a fake smile, and scream “いらっしゃいませ!” to every person crossing the threshold. Customer service is usually proactive in Japan, but not always!

      The customers in these shops on a typical day are almost always tourists buying individual quantities of items. (Many people waiting for the NGK show nearby wander aimlessly along Doguyasuji. For others it’s just the farthest south you can go on a rainy day wandering down from the Ebisu-bashi shoutengai.) Restaurateurs get dishes delivered or order bulk, you are not going to see such activity in such a storefront (go further south to the cooking appliance and sign shops for a lower tourist ratio) so that angle of the story about nobody making special orders doesn’t really tell me much.

      Might be passing through Minami Monday or next Monday, if I get there before the shops close I will check for such a sign if I have a bit of spare time, but I have a feeling that maybe it’s a wild goose chase.

      What’s that saying? Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity (or perhaps in this case, laziness of a bored shop staffer)

      Or maybe the assumptions are true and it WAS racism of one sort or another. Yet white male me has never had problems.
      The part about there being more than one plate is hard to explain away.

      However, as the poster noted, letting people browse but not letting them buy based on race just doesn’t make sense. I’d say it doesn’t make sense even if the clerk WAS racist. A racist would either bar people from entry completely, or happily take their money behind a fake smile.
      The clerk also “ignored” her, rather than what one would expect from a racist, hovering nearby to make sure that she was not shoplifting.
      Two strikes agains the racism theory, at least from the details in the story.

      This makes me think something else was happening here that went over the poster’s head. Just wish there was more illuminating detail, a photo, something.

    6. Al Says:

      @Level3 – Racism doesn’t make sense and it comes in all forms. I think your comment about a what a racist would do makes no sense. In fact I have met quite a few racists that are very polite to the races they dislike.

    7. Level3 Says:

      @Al

      Exactly. We do not diagree here.
      As I noted, and as you also noted, plenty of racists can be very polite to those they don’t like, happy to take the money behind a fake smile.

      The claim that the clerk didn’t want to take a customer’s money due to racism doesn’t make sense to me. Some strange racism that is happy to let the minority in the shop, browse without suspicion of shoplifting, but then get stubborn at the end and not take their money? That backed up with my personal experiences in those shops, and the posters lack of language ability, it seems far more likely something else was going on.

      So it could be anything. Maybe the poster was trying to pay with a traveller’s check or a credit card and the clerk was actually pointing to a sign saying “cash only” or something. Maybe the 30-something woman wasn’t even a clerk, just a friend hanging out in the store and the clerk was in the toilet or something. Who knows?

      No idea, just need more relevant info to eliminate possible explanations a la Sherlock Holmes, where the “..whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” result COULD be a CASE of racism – but almost certainly is not a POLICY of racism, as my experiences indicate. Really wish there were exact info on the shop, a photo taken by the poster, anything. Without such, this event is an unfalsifiable claim.. like Russel’s Teapot, or could develop similar to Carl Sagan’s “Dragon in My Garage”.

      http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/Dragon.htm

      As a blanket racist policy by the shop, it is falsifiable if I can know exactly which shop it was, walk in and buy a plate. (which I submit is very likely I and thousands of tourists have already done)
      If I could throw away cash and time, I could just buy a plate in every tableware shop in Doguyasuji on video and post that on Youtube.

      If it was an individual case or racism, I would have to find a Western woman, get her to go in the shop while the same 30-something woman was on duty, and try to buy a plate in the exact same manner, but also be fluent in Japanese to detect whatever else might be the resaon for a failed transaction. I do not have the resources to do that. Anyone here capable?

      But I can at least comfrim if there’s a sign in English at the shop pictured as the likely shop in the blog link as related in the post. Couldn’t get to the shops in time on Monday, only a few stay open after 6PM, the suspect shop was not among them. Maybe on a weekend I can check it out. Will post results here.

      – I think you’re trying too hard to exonerate.

    8. Level3 Says:

      Apologies for the length of this. For those who just want the key part, skip to the photos and read points #1 and #4 under “facts”.

      I went to Doguyasuji on Sunday to prove that the suspect shop will sell to non-Asians. There were 2 or 3 suspect cramped pottery/tableware shops I had in mind. I walked the length of Doguyasuji (about 170m, it’s not very big) to confirm there were no others. Only 2 had dishes on display stacked on the floor, making it scary to walk around in the aisles. 1 of those 2 had no English signs that I could find near the register or back of the shop. The last shop had 2 multi-lingual signs at the register, 1 exactly as Jessica described, about some items being out of stock and the last is only a sample and please be understanding. So, unless the description is wrong, it must have been the right shop. I snapped a photo with my keitai for reference. Adding to this there was a 40-ish female shop clerk who did not greet me or anyone really, plus maybe 5 or so male shop clerks. No huge “irasshaimase”, but the shop arcade was pretty busy with tourists it seemed, lots of people wandering zombie-like pre/post NGK show. I counted at least 6 Caucasian people as well in the short 10 minutes I was in the area.

      So, on to the experiment. I located a cheap bowl. There were others of various patterns in the same size in the same stack. 350 yen. Took it and walked up to the register area. Waited my turn for a Japanese guy to buy something. I said nothing. Put the bowl on the counter. Clerk said “350円です”. I paid. He told me (in Japanese) I could wrap it myself at the table to the side (just as a large multilingual sign right next to the smaller sign about out of stock items indicated). I did, took a couple more photos on the way out, then went shopping in Minami… with a weighty, fragile ramen bowl in my bag. D’oh!

      Photos at the link below:
      http://www.flickr.com/photos/64229301@N03/sets/72157626870530597/

      Facts and deductions:
      1.I am white and I bought an item, just as I have many times over the years at this shop and others in Doguyasuji. This time I got a receipt and took a photo. I did not speak Japanese to the clerk beforehand. No blanket anti-foreigner policy. Photographic proof.
      2.I think it’s very safe to assume this was the same shop Jessica reported on. There are no more than 10 dedicated pottery/tableware shops like this one along Doguyasuji. Only 2 are so crammed it’s hard to walk in the aisles as Jessica described. And only one of those had a sign about samples just like Jessica described. Unfortunately the auto focus on my fancy-schmancy keitai which I specifically bought for its 12Megapixel camera did not lock on well. But of course, I couldn’t tell this at the time on the 5cm screen. My ancient fixed-focus keitai would have been better! Lesson learned. You can still make out the word 「サンプル」”sample” and the ending 「..ません」”not____” so if you don’t trust me, make your own assumptions as to what a sign about “samples” and “not___” might be. But it basically said what Jessica reported, IIRC. And she could confirm if it was the basically the same size and layout as the sign she saw. Not photographic proof of the sign, but we all agree such a sign existed anyway! If I were dishonest and trying to discount that section of the story, I’d take a blurry photo on purpose and claim it WASN’T as Jessica described. Still, I wish it had come out well so we could parse the Japanese and English of the sign. Maybe another day. Moving on…
      3.There was a 40-ish woman clerk. Maybe the clerk in question. Dyed reddish hair. All clerks wearing light green work jackets. If Jessica can confirm this, it would help.
      4.There was also a sign at the register in Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese to please wrap your own purchases. This indicates that the shop intends to sell to English, Korean, and Chinese-speakers and foreigners in general, unless it is a cruel facade. The argument that the shop might only sell to Asians because they think the Asians are Japanese also falls flat. If so, why have Korean and Chinese signs about wrapping up your purchases? Photographic proof that the shop has a policy of foreign and Japanese customers wrapping their own purchases. Again, unless it is a cruel joke, this shows the shop allows foreigners to make purchases.
      5.My cashier was not the woman, but she was right next to the cashier serving another customer’s request. I suppose it is possible that if she were on a solo racist crusade and there were no other clerks, she may have chosen not to sell to me.
      6.While posting my photos I noticed an interesting thing. A poster for Peace Boat right under the register! A poster for an international cruise of multi-cultural understanding. (Debito was recruited by them as a speaker once, IIRC) Does this make sense if it’s a racist shop?

      Theory

      Most likely thing I can think of is the clerk was just busy with another issue, and is not as hyper polite as a clerk in Takashimaya, and didn’t/couldn’t spend time apologizing for being too busy to help her, thus Jessica felt ignored.

      The closest I can come up with to a “racist” scenario is that the item was out of stock, or the item had been reserved or something (or the clerk mistakenly thought it so, it’s such a jumble in there I don’t know how they keep track). Jessica was a foreigner who admittedly couldn’t speak Japanese well, so the clerk assumed that Jessica did not have the ability to understand a full explanation of the situation in Japanese, assumed the non-Asian foreigner speaks English, and just pointed to the pre-made sign and went back to work.
      Further, IF the shop was in the business of placing orders (they do have tons of catalogs lying around), the clerk knew she did not have the ability (or time, or willpower) to guide a non-Japanese speaker through the ordering process, nor the ability to explain that special ordering a single plate and shipping it is just impractical or under some minimum order limit for shipping. So, it just ends up being a case of bad communication. The only racism being the assumption Jessica can read the English sign because she’s not Asian.

      Conclusions
      I bought an item (and I have often done before) in the shop. Proving there is no blanket “no sales to non-Asians” policy. The female clerk on duty didn’t try to stop me. The shop has signs in English and other languages for customers to please wrap their purchases themselves, proving the shop caters to foreigners. Coincidentally, the shop has a Peace Boat poster in it right at the register, advertising a round-the-world cruise to meet people of different cultures.
      All these facts stacked against Jessica’s assumption that what happened to her was racism. I submit that the facts establish it was most likely a case of bad communication rather than racism.

      The only racism I could agree occurred was the clerk’s assumption that Jessica would be able to read the English sign because she was a non-Asian foreigner. On an exponential scale of 1 to 10 of racism, with 5 being banning races from shops, 8 being lynching and 10 being genocide (feel free to make up your own scale), I would put the assumption that a non-Asian foreigner in Japan can read English at a 0.5 – and the assumption that a Japanese person can’t sell you something is doing so because he/she is racist at about a 2.

      Speculation
      I would speculate that perhaps, having just seen a Debito presentation (I assume that’s the order of events here) on very real incidents of racism in Japan, Jessica’s racism awareness might have been a perked up, perhaps hyper alert, tending to seeing racism first and not seeing evidence to the contrary (such as the sign in English about wrapping your own purchases). Kind of like the rash of UFO reports after Close Encounters came out, or the smell of McDonald’s making me feel ill after seeing Supersize Me. A very human reaction.

      Or, there is always a chance that the particular clerk was on a solo racist (or perhaps sexist?) crusade, but it sure sounds like a strange one. Not tailing a gaijin to make sure she isn’t shoplifting. Not preventing her from entering the store. Not trying to take advantage and shortchange her when purchasing or steer her to shoddy goods. Only revealing the “racism” when the potential customer wants to fork over some cash. Strange.

      Her brief anecdote of the friend’s experience in the kimono shop reminds me of the similar issue with the barbershops that happened recently, which makes me think…

      Discussion
      That tricky issue of language, communication, and customer satisfaction. Are shops required to provide an explanation to all visitors in their native language as to why exactly their needs can’t be met? How much effort can be reasonably expected of shop clerks? Is a foreign customer responsible if their own lack of communication ability leads to a mistake (bad haircut, etc.) or is the shop liable? If we want to draw up such guidelines, would we want to apply them in our native countries as well? Do foreign customers have some responsibility to learn the language and accept communication breakdown as a lesson learned, study harder, hire a translator or recruit a friend to translate, or just move along to the next shop and hope things go better? Sounds like a good topic for a newspaper article. ;)

      What is the solution? Someday our keitais will provide instant translation, but until then, what are the rules? And how can we solve this issue if people jump to conclusions based on incomplete understanding?

      A big step would be a better multilingual signs. Though it would be tricky, as many shops have particular needs. Of course, signs mean nothing if the customer chooses to believe the sign is a lie and the clerk is just a racist. On the other hand, such signs could be abused by clerks who put racism ahead of money, or are just feeling lazy.

      More communication. Less jumping to conclusions. I think that’s a good rule in all areas of life, not just being a foreigner.

      – An A-plus to you for investigation, documentation, and interpretation. Well done, and thank you very much for making the effort and investment. And I hope your purchase serves you well as a fine representation of this experience.

    9. Level3 Says:

      Thanks, but I’m just dsiappointed that in the time between the initial claim, and the time to disprove it, that most people have lost interest. Most people read the original article weeks ago and never came back, and still mistakenly believe that there is a pottery shop in Doguyasuji that is racist. Probably many people in the future who find the article will only read the claim and never work their way through my lengthly proof, and they too will wrongly beleive there is a actually a shop in 21st century Osaka that won’t sell tableware to gaijin.

      So, it all feels like a wasted effort. What is the solution?

      – I’ll add an UPDATE to the original post so people can page down immediately to your report.

      There is at least one place in 21st-century Osaka (2004) that wouldn’t sell to NJ (or, rather, black people), in that case eyeglasses. Refer to the Steve McGowan Case. But thanks for your report on this. You are welcome to check that place out too. It’s listed on the Rogues’ Gallery.

    10. Al Says:

      @level3 don’t worry. People are reading it. Don’t think that because there are no comments that people aren’t. For most people reading your report was probably a やはり moment. Thanks for the research. Most cross-cultural issues are really just communication problems.

    11. Dr. H Says:

      I read it. :) Thanks Level3, great job!

    12. bsosaka Says:

      I also read article and answer. I have been in most of the shops in the area but I rarely buy anything.
      Even after reading I am sure that the original poster would not have written about it unless they felt genuine prejudice. Misunderstandings aside they felt badly treated.
      Level 3 you did not waster your time because your answer is just as important as the original article and I hope in some way it helps the original poster to perceive things differently in the future.

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