THE KUMAMOTO ONSEN HOTEL HANSEN REJECTIONS
WHY DIDN'T THIS HAPPEN IN THE OTARU ONSEN CASE?
(Made public November 20, 2003)
I'm assuming readers out there have heard about the Kumamoto onsen hotel which refused service to former Hansen Disease patients in mid-November 2003, so I'll skip the details.
But what I find ironic is how fast the governmental authorities took action (not even waiting days) to take action against this private-sector onsen hotel. The manager then stopped trying to justify the exclusions and soon apologized.
That's commendable, but why didn't this happen in the Otaru Onsens Case? Onsens started refusing all foreign customers with "Japanese Only" signs from 1993. Even when the situation entered the public eye in 1999, the authorities took no real action, saying they were unable to stop a private-sector business from carrying out discrimination. Even after we took Otaru Onsen Yunohana to court in 2001, and won in a ruling from the Sapporo District Court in 2002 (which adjudicated that their actions were in fact racial discrimination and illegal), the onsen still to this day has neither apologized nor stopped excluding foreigners (i.e. kicking out those who "cannot speak Japanese") from their premises.
(We even submitted a petition to the Hokkaido Prefectural government on April 17, 2000, calling for the establishment of an anti-racial discrimination ordinance. Same with the Otaru City Assembly two months before. In both cases the petitions were buried in committee and killed. We shall be submitting new ones early next year.)
I will say at this juncture that there is no comparison between the pain and suffering the former Hansen patients suffered at the hands of the State and Japanese society, and the discrimination that non-Japanese endure in Japan.
I am just noting how fast the government's reaction was to help the former Hansen patients out. Good. Stamp out discrimination when it happens. This should also happen for racial discrimination, since Japan effected a UN treaty in 1996 where they promised to do so.
There is even a legal basis to stopping this from happening. Article five of the Ryokan Management Law (Ryokan Gyouhou)
5. Proprietors of hotels (ryokan) may not refuse lodgings to anyone unless
there is a threat of contagious disease or of endangerment of public morals
It just so happens that the onsen which refused us entry in 1999, Yunohana, has accommodations. So if we had tried to stay the night there, refusing us would have been illegal. But if we just wanted to take a bath, that means they could refuse us entry lawfully?
Likewise, I was refused entry to hotels in Nagoya during the height of the SARS scare earlier this year. Even though I am a citizen and had not left the country, them refusing me was thus illegal as well. I wrote about this for the Asahi Shinbun's "Watashi no Shiten" Column, dated June 2, 2003. (http://www.debito.org/asahi060203.jpg).
If I had called for help from the authorities at that time, would they have been as prompt in coming to my rescue?
Of course, former Hansen patients are not contagious. Neither are foreigners. The only "disease" we might have is not "Hansen-byou", but rather "Gaijin-byou". That's genetically transmitted, which means it gets passed down to our kids, who are very often Japanese citizens from international marriages.
Does this mean that we will have to do what the former Hansen patients did just to claim our rights? Sue and endure lawsuits which take decades? Win them? Then have the current Prime Minister admit fault on the part of the State and publicly apologize? Just to get rights which are Constitutionally guaranteed us?
I'm afraid I'm always arriving at the same conclusion, but unless we have an established anti-discrimination law, the mechanisms for deterring and abolishing the trappings of discrimination and social bullying will not appear.
Arudou Debito in Sapporo
November 20, 2003