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From Debito's doctoral research:

Embedded Racism: Japan's Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination

  • Embedded Racism: Japan's Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination
  • (Lexington Books, Rowman & Littlefield HB 2015, PB 2016)

    Click on book cover for reviews, previews, and 30% discount direct from publisher. Available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle eBook on

  • Book IN APPROPRIATE: A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan

    Don’t let anyone convince you that the problem isn’t spreading nationwide in Japan…


    31 Responses to ““JAPANESE ONLY” PLACES”

    1. Ed Says:

      This is a business hotel’s listing on Rakuten Travel that explicitly says no foreigners (“外国人不可”).

      This is pretty unusual, right? for a business hotel to explicitly say no foreigners, and for an otherwise respectable website like Rakuten to publish this.

      Incidentally the お客さまの声 section is quite funny. It sounds like a very, very bad hotel.

    2. Tom Says:


      I checked today (8/18) and didn’t see it. Maybe someone contacted them.

      I hate Shinjuku anyway because it is pretty much infested with yakies. In December, I was refused entry to a “normal” Japanese drinking establishment with was most likely yakie controlled. The tencho and staff didn’t know what to do when I caught them in a lie and Japanese started flowing out of my mouth. They dealt with it by telling me 意味が分かりません. The customers also ignored me. I had just worked on a friggin nuclear energy translation the SAME DAY at my former company!!!!

      Unfortunately I find myself avoiding nights on the town because of incidents like this. When I say that, I mean that I am more afraid of what I might when being discriminated against directly. I remember the rage I had trapped in my body for one week after that. Happy that you can read about it here instead of in the headlines.

      BTW, do you have a Japanese Only T shirt? I got mine last year and love wearing it. I get two different responses, either samurai-like eyes of death or “Hahaha. American joke!”


      –Sure, many T-shirt sizes are still in stock!

    3. James Arendt Says:

      I thoroughly enjoy reading the articles on your web site. I’ve lived in Japan more than half of my life (now two months from my 59th birthday) and am possibly the oldest foreigner (or individual) who continues to travel by hitchhiking in this culturally rich country. I linked back to you in my new blog 3 times. My older blog:

      I lived in Sapporo for a year in 1975, 北18乗、東1丁目

      Regards from Niigata,
      James Arendt

      — Thanks James. Close to Hokudai, I see. Bests, Debito

    4. Chris Vu Says:

      It was quite a humiliating experience for me when I was refused service in not one but two yakitory restaurants in the Shinjiku area for the simple reason that I was not a Japanese. I was flabbergasted when such a thing still occurred in this day and age in an advanced country such as Japan, even though I was respectful, polite and properly dressed and did not do anything to draw attention to myself. That experience not only ruined my trip, but caused me great distress. I think each of us needs to bring this blatant discrimination to news services or programs such as 20/20 or 60 Minutes.

    5. Mike Says:

      “Unfortunately I find myself avoiding nights on the town because of incidents like this. When I say that, I mean that I am more afraid of what I might when being discriminated against directly. I remember the rage I had trapped in my body for one week after that. Happy that you can read about it here instead of in the headlines.”

      Yeah people say Japan is a safe country, and youll never have any trouble. That is generally true, but what they leave out is situations like this that can get you worked up. Then you get into trouble. I know that rage feeling well. Just have to avoid those situations until times change.

    6. Ivonne Rovira Says:

      I have never even visited Japan, which would explain my ignorance. Let me begin by stating that.

      However, isn’t it nonsensical to post 外国人不可 to keep out foreigners, as quite a few would be tourists, would they not, who would have no idea what 外国人不可 means? What’s the idea here? To insult long-term residents? That seems to be the sole outcome. Brash non-Japanese tourists like me would not understand the insult, smile and simply brashly push their way in. Does that happen? As it appears that the Japanese don’t like scenes, the only way to get rid of you would be to cause one. At least you ruin their day as much as they ruin yours.

      Or have I got this all wrong?

      Cheers, Ivonne
      Louisville, Ky., USA

    7. Justin Says:

      I had a similar experience in hachinohe, Japan. Like many of you I speak Japanese, so having the guy speak his unintelligible English at me was embarrassing and underhandedly condescending. Overall this country has been good to me. The situation did indeed end by me making a grand speech in front of him and all the patrons about respecting your fellow man, and inviting them all to America for a free round of drinks at any bar they wished to enter.

      Probably not the best idea but I was wasted and the bartender who was telling me to leave was really tiny. Probably could have tossed him through the ceiling. Just gotta be careful of the mafia and whatnot.

      Have a good one.

    8. RH Says:

      We get several million Japanese visitors here in Hawaii every year. I wounder what they would think if they started seeing the same signs being posted for them [clandestine of course].

      — They already essentially have “Japanese Only” trollies.

    9. jfh Says:

      Even though it doesnt matter much to most of us, how come nobody ever talks about the “Japanese only” world of Mizushobai in Japan ? This is clearly the most racist industry of all. I doubt Japanese would have such problems anywhere overseas. Majority of places have “japanese only” signs.

      I do understand that neither Debito nor anybody else wants to deal with the yakuza who manage these places, I was just surprised the topic never came up..

      — Because it’s tawdry and detractors have more leverage to muddy the issue.

    10. David Says:

      “I do understand that neither Debito nor anybody else wants to deal with the yakuza who manage these places, I was just surprised the topic never came up..”

      The Yakuza is a specialty of mine. I will take it on.

    11. Dan Says:


      I think it is their overall objective: to keep foreigners out of downtown. That is why they do things like that.

      @all readers

      I have been refused haircut, apartment rent, entering drinking places and even buying flowers to my girlfriend.

      The most interesting is that when you talk to any Japanese that you imagine is close to you and would understand how you feel (including girlfriend), they start tagging you as someone bearing some kind of psychological complex or trauma. I have never heard any Japanese being sympathetic to you and saying anything like: “yeah, I disapprove and I feel sorry for such actions that, unfortunately, some of my compatriots take and I understand how you feel”.

      A girl who is a friend of mine and my girlfriend was audacious enough once to say that Japaneses do not do 差別, they do 区別.

    12. Kelly in Korea Says:

      I must say it is nice knowing [someone] is evaporating all those little comfort zones over there- have often wished that we had a Debito. Most of the fluent Korean speakers here are apologists for the culture, which is fine, Yes, Koreans had a rough deal from history and colonization, etc, etc….but what I find amazing is how both the K and J governments find Xenophobia a convenient tool (probably to distract from economy and other issues)- through their control of the media and for lack of a better word pseudoparamilitary (in the sense of private groups carrying out illegal or immoral agendas that the government turns a blind eye to) groups organizing through internet. One group in particular, a quite-influential xenophobic group now guiding immigration policies in Korea (formerly known as “Anti-English Spectrum”), is dedicated entirely to cock-blocking white males and expelling them from the country before their ‘precious women’ are (more) tainted. Even though their heroine is a Korean girl who threw herself and a Japanese official off a cliff, seemingly none of their vitriol is directed at Asian men of any stripe. I was wondering what parallels if any you have in Japan- largely I take this sort of thing in a as foreigners being used as pawns (by both sides) in a war of the sexes as Korea struggles to appear global and yet remain traditional.

      — Thanks for the kind words. Please be sure to post this recomment under the right blog entry!

    13. Will Says:

      I think we need to be careful in over-generalizing or even universalizing certain ignorant or distasteful attitudes with phrases like “when you talk to any Japanese that you imagine is close to you…” Dan, I’m very sorry to hear that Japanese people close to you have not responded rationally to your legitimate complaints, but I am compelled to add that my experience is almost the polar opposite of yours. When I had even a small issue with a shop owner that could have been viewed as revealing the owner’s xenophobia, my girlfriend (born and raised Japanese) was up in arms about it, and said (among other things) that it made her embarrassed to be Japanese. My other friends are also sympathetic (though not necessarily as vocal) about these problematic situations and practices. I’m not at all trying to claim that my friend group’s reactions are normal or representative, but I feel they serve as a clear counterexample to the notion that “any Japanese” you talk to that harbors the views you describe. I hope we can all agree that the truth lies somewhere in between our two experiences…

    14. Loverilakkuma Says:

      I know this is a tangent. But I just found the sign that made my mouth wide open. It’s in Cincinnati, OH. A female landowner held the sign up at the fence nearby the swimming pool. She’s making a stupid excuse just like a manager of Yunohana Onsen.

      “White Only” Pool Sign Owner Explains
      ABC, By Christina Ng
      Dec 15, 2011

      An Ohio landlord accused of discriminating against an African-American girl with a “white only” sign at her swimming pool told that the sign was an antique and a decoration.

      “I’m not a bad person,” said Jamie Hein of Cincinnati. “I don’t have any problem with race at all. It’s a historical sign.”

      The sign in question reads, “Public Swimming Pool, White Only.” It is dated 1931 and from Alabama.

      Hein, 31, was unapologetic about the racist origins of the sign that she displayed at the entrance to her pool. She said she collects antiques and was given the sign as a gift. She also said that even though the sign seems to indicate that the pool is public, the pool is on her private property and “everybody has to ask before getting in my pool.”

      Michael Gunn, 40, is the man who took issue with Hein’s sign and filed a discrimination charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. He was a tenant in one of Hein’s properties.

      “We invited my daughter, who is African-American, to visit and swim in the pool for the Memorial Day weekend,” Gunn wrote in his complaint. “The owner, Jamie Hein, accused my daughter of making the pool ‘cloudy’ because she used chemicals in her hair. Days later, she posted a sign on the gate to the pool which reads, ‘Public Swimming Pool, White Only.’”

      Hein said that the sign had nothing to do with Gunn’s daughter and that it was already up at the time of that party, but cannot be seen when the gate is open.

      Gunn said the family previously “had unrestricted access to the pool area,” but Hein said that was not the case. She said everyone, including her own father, has to ask permission before swimming in her pool.

      Gunn did not respond to requests for comment. In his complaint, he wrote that he moved out of Hein’s property in June “in order to not expose my daughter to the sign and the humiliation of the message.”

      The Ohio Civil Rights Commission found on Sept. 29 that Hein did violate the Ohio Civil Rights Act by posting the sign, but Hein has asked that the decision be reconsidered. The sign has since been stolen.

      “I’ve never said anything to that child,” Hein said. “If I have to stick up for my white rights, I have to stick up for my white rights. It goes both ways.”

      The commission will meet to come to a final decision on Jan. 12, according to Brandi Martin, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

    15. Anon Says:


      Jamie Hein owns an apartment complex, and Jamie Hein owns a pool.

      The renters mistakenly think the pool is for the renters to use, but Jamie Hein says each potential swimmer has to ask her permission first.

      One day, the daughter of a renter (who happens to be black) used the pool without permission.

      Jamie Hein got mad about this, and accused the black girl of making the pool ‘cloudy’ because of chemicals in her hair.

      Days later, an antique “Whites only” sign, suddenly becomes visible.

      Jamie Hein claims that sign’s appearance is merely a coincidence, that the sign was there before the negro-hair-grease-in-the-pool-incident.

      Jamie Hein claims that the sign just couldn’t be seen before, yeah that’s the ticket, the sign was being blocked by a gate up until the grease-incident. After the grease-incident, the sign happened to become more visible. Yeah!

      Jamie Hein feels she has a right to post this sign, since the pool is private property, not public property. She says, “I have to stick up for my white rights.”

      Well, here’s the question that ties this whole thing back to the Japan issue:

      Do PRIVATE PROPERTY owners have to give equal access to every race, creed, age, gender, etc.?

      A public place, paid for with public funds, can not discriminate, of course.

      The real question here is do PRIVATE PROPERTY owners have the right to discriminate?

      — Private property owners have the right to decide who is a trespasser or not; in this way, this case is different from the Otaru Onsens Case (as a licensed bathhouse open to the public is not private property). However, the neighbors and society in general have the right to complain to someone (not to mention instigate civil and/or criminal proceedings) about publicly-displayed racism and expressions thereof, even if it is on private property. Let’s draw this tangent to a close.

    16. Baudrillard Says:

      Sorry I was late to see the postmodern aspect to this, but as it is about the meaning of signs, it is most apt. A “sign of the times” if I may add a pun.

      Hein didnt have the wit to excuse herself by saying she was being postmodern, though she did hint at it by saying “It was a historical sign” ie. what the sign says has no meaning in modern times (although it in fact does, its offensive).

      I thought there is something we can take away from this though; Hein`s ridiculous stone-walling would actually go a long way in Japan (and, as we have seen from the Onsen case,etc, it does). Convenient examples like “The sign has since been stolen” or “It cannot be seen when the gate is open.”
      Sounds quite like “Officer, I do not have my alien registration card because it has very recently been stolen. Thank you for asking, I would now like to report it`s theft to you”.

      Taking this to an ironical logical Japan-conclusion;where can I get one of these “Whites Only” signs? What if one was hung outside the door to a gaijin house? I think use of it here would be more realistic, as a “gaijin house” is by definition a form of apartheid housing, but I digress. It is only historical, of course. (sarcasm mine).

      It would be more appropriate and proactive though (and targetted at the audience who would benefit most from it`s lesson, i.e. the posters of exclusionary signs in Japan) to get a sticker printed up saying “Gaijin Only” that can be quickly slapped on any racist exclusionist sign we see in Japan that says “Japanese only” when no one is looking. (Or if you feel this is too clever, one that just says “No to exclusionary signs”). There was a paper sign outside my local izakaya in Kawasaki that said “No gaijin”- I tore it down while running home during a typhoon, and then once again. After that, it never went up again. But I think a sticker, preferably one with hard to remove, cheap adhesive, might be a more lasting protest. Now someone may say “you are defacing private property” but some of these signs are stuck up in public places; the garbage collection point (also in Kawasaki, clearly a melting-pot of tolerance) had a sign that said “Foreigners cannot use this point as they dont understand the rules” posted on a telegraph pole-that is fair game.

      Only problem though is the need to wear gloves while doing it, as fingerprinting is back in vogue. And do it on a dark night, preferably during a storm when no one is about, covertly. Wearing a balaclava.

      Fight fire with fire in the name of fairness, but don`t get burnt.

    17. Joaquin Says:

      I just discovered your site and felt compelled to post here. I’ve always been fascinated by Japanese culture via the Japanese films I’ve watched throughout my life. I also recently have been saving up money to take a trip to Tokyo, Japan. However, after reading all these stories, I’m now too scared about going. I’m a Latino from the U.S. and feel the discrimination I’d get in Japan would be worse than what I’ve been reading here. I’m pretty sensitive and emotional whenever it comes to racial injustice and I don’t want to have such an experience over there. Maybe I should cancel my plans to visit?

      — No, come and give it a try. Your experiences will be yours, not necessarily ours.

    18. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      Joaquin, I agree with Debito; don’t let anything put you off from coming to Japan! The odds are very much against anything unpleasant happening to you on a short trip, or even a trip of several months; most of the stuff complained about here is experienced by long-termers. Come out here, see the country, and have a blast!

    19. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Jaoaquin #17

      By all means come to Japan! I am sure that your trip will be great fun!
      It’s when you decide to make Japan your home (fall in love, get married, have kids), then that’s where the real ‘fun’ starts.

    20. Becky Says:

      Joaquin, rest assured that you’ll be very safe in Tokyo, and that most Japanese are either polite or indifferent to foreign tourists (I’ll take that over violence or hostility any day). I agree with the above commentators – Japan is a wonderful place to visit, just not so great to live/work in. Come on over Joaquin, you’ll be fine.

    21. Jen Says:

      I feel like I need to hold a funeral and enshrine my love of Japan at Yasukuni.

      Fall, 2012

      1. Pointed and laughed at in Himeji.
      2. Shoulder-checked in Sendai. (I’m a middle-aged, average woman, and was alone.)
      3. Refused service at the No. 11 ticket counter in Sendai, because I didn’t stand in the huge line. I had.
      4. Stared at constantly, no one wants to sit/stand next to me, clear about onsen, etc. ad nausium.
      5. Etc., ad nausium, from one end of Japan to the other.

      More power to you for sticking it out. Two trips to Japan is, sadly I think, all I can take.

      I can’t suggest that anyone go, much less live, there. I have poured a lot of time, money, effort, and emotion into a country I fell in love with. Well now that I have realized that I fell in love with someone incurably abusive, I’ll tearfully leave them to their therapy, and stay on this side of the world.

      And I’m Western. It’s worse for Koreans, who were the only ones who went beyond the stock disingenuity.

      Fight the good fight. I will have to vote with my feet.

    22. Bill Says:

      Here is an article from the Japan Times about Japanese only apartments in Kyoto.

    23. Mark Says:

      Regarding the Sumatra Tiger establishment in Hiroshima – I’m not sure I’d include it in the Rogue’s Gallery for one reason and one reason only: I wouldn’t include members of a certain profession (i.e. the US Military) to be a “protected class”, per se. I interpret this in a very narrow sense, that is to say, if a Japanese citizen with permanent residence in the United States joined the US Military, were stationed at Iwakuni or Kure Harbor, and were subject to exclusion from Sumatra Tiger if they were discovered by the establishment to be a member of the US Military, either by personal admission or being identified by someone else, then this would not be a case of foreigner discrimination.

      I’ve included a link to a YouTube video of a coffee shop in Seattle, Washington that refuses to serve employees of the US Transportation Safety Administration (TSA).

      Again, it’s in how they ascertain this. Although the right to refuse service in this case (i.e. discrimination against those in a certain profession) is not illegal under US law, I’m not sure if this would necessarily be the case under Japanese law. I know of one nightclub in Roppongi that did not allow in members of the US Military, as it happened to me when I was in the US Military and stationed in Japan. The excuse the doorman gave was that photo ID was a prerequisite for entry into the club, and only ID establishing residence in Japan (i.e. Japanese Driver’s Licence, Gaijin Card or Japanese visa in foreign passport) would be accepted. As far as I could see, this requirement was also enforced on Japanese potential customers seeking entry as well. I don’t know if this was the policy of the club in question, or if the doorman just had a bug up his you-know-what. My friends and I just ended up spending our money somewhere else.

      — Thanks for the feedback. The reason the Sumatra Tiger establishment stays on the Rogues’ Gallery is because according to reports I have received, the place enforces the rules upon anyone they think “looks Beigun”, meaning NJ in general, so it goes beyond professional choice. These things generally do.

      As for the requirement you mention being enforced upon Japanese customers seeking entry as well (it’s a very sophisticated logic, one I hadn’t heard before), I have never heard of ID checks for residency being required for all customers regardless of potential nationality happening anywhere in Japan, and I strongly doubt it was happening there too. Japanese can be very protective of their privacy, and I bet that managers know that enforcing that sort of thing would cost them too much J-business.

    24. Don Says:

      This is a gay gentlemen’s club (cruising spot) in Nagoya, near JR Nagoya station. I entered to check and see whether or not it meant Japanese people or Japanese language, but indeed it meant people as I was flatly refused before taking off my shoes at the entrance.

      The don’t have anything mentioned on the website but there are two to three signs before you reach the front desk.

      — Thanks. Received your photos and details via email successfully.

    25. Douglas Perkins Says:

      Satake Ryokan, a ryokan in Tomakomai that said the only rooms they let foreigners use are ones with attached bath & toilet. Those were fully booked, or they said, so no reservations for me. I told them hey, if you think we will somehow be a problem for your big bathing area, what if we promise not to use it and go to a sento elsewhere in town for bathing? But still they said no.

      — For the record, when I click on your website, I get this message:
      This Connection is Untrusted
      You have asked to connect securely to, but we can’t confirm that your connection is secure.
      Normally, when you try to connect securely, sites will present trusted identification to prove that you are going to the right place. However, this site’s identity can’t be verified.

      So I suggest you get that fixed. If not, I’m afraid I’m going to have to delete this comment for the security of our readers. Sorry.

    26. Douglas Perkins Says:

      As a followup note to my previous comment, I’m not sure if it’s in the right place. I don’t have a photo of that establishment because I tried reserving over the phone. I’ll check when I’m passing through in a few weeks and see if they have anything indicated. And it’s unlikely they have any signs indicating their bizarre half xenophobia.

    27. Kim Says:

      C.R.A.C (Counter-Racist Action Collective) protests against hate speech “as Japanese” and non-Japanese (includes Japanese national who are not Japanese race) are not allowed to join counter racist demo.
      I once attended an counter racist demo not knowing I can’t join them, and they stared at me just like the way racists do.
      One of their main member said that a man became Japanese citizen (who used to be Chinese national) isn’t Japanese.

    28. Jim di Griz Says:

      @ Kim #27
      An anti-racism organization that only Japanese can join! Of course, this is Japan! Can’t have those uppity NJ criticizing other Japanese for their racism! Only ‘we Japanese’ right-wingers are allowed to criticize other Japanese!

    29. Baudrillard Says:

      @ Kim, thats so weird, but also, typical. only in Japan. A Japanese anti racist group ony for Japanese people.

      I suppose NJs are excluded (key word-excluded, othered) in case you have a different objective.

      You want to be accepted.They want to save face, or as I commented recently, want the haafu on Team Japan to be allowed access to e.g. Onsen, as reward of their service to Team Japan?

    30. Edward J. Cunningham Says:

      @Kim & @Jim Di Griz

      “An anti-racism organization that only Japanese can join!”

      “A Japanese anti racist group only for Japanese people.”

      If only if were just that bad. If that group was for Japanese citizens, Debito or his kids, or his (future) grandchildren would be allowed to join. They’re not, and this group’s insistance that “Japaneseness” is based on race is itself the essence of racism.

      CRAC isn’t about protesting racism. It’s about protesting people calling them out on racism.

    31. Dave Says:

      Miura Ryokan in Kazamaura, Aomori will not allow non-Japanese guests. I even had the Japanese in-laws call to make a reservation for the family. Everything went smooth until the last name was asked for. They told my in-laws that my family should stay at another hotel better equipped to handle foreigners. My in-laws (Japanese) were quite shocked since they wouldn’t bend. It was the first time they witnessed discrimination in Japan. Miura Ryokan was even advertised in the bullet train magazine which is why my family wanted to visit it.

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