Japan Times/Kyodo, Mainichi Daily, AP/Yahoo News, Hokkaido Shinbun Editorial (trans)

Court says city not remiss for letting bathhouse bar foreigners
(reprinted in abridged version in Japan Times)

SAPPORO, Sept. 16 Kyodo - The Sapporo High Court on Thursday
rejected an appeal seeking compensation from a Hokkaido city government
for failing to stop a policy of refusing foreigners at a bathhouse under
its jurisdiction.
The suit seeking a total of 6 million yen in damages from the Otaru
city government and the bathhouse operator was filed Feb. 1, 2001, by
David Aldwinckle, a 39-year-old U.S.-born local resident who is now a
naturalized Japanese with the name of Debito Arudou, and two foreign
In November 2002, the Sapporo District Court dismissed the suit for
compensation against the city but ordered the bathhouse operator to pay
1 million yen each to the three plaintiffs.
In the high court, the plaintiffs argued that the city had a duty to
meet the requirements of the International Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which Japan signed in December
1995, by introducing an ordinance to ban racial discrimination.
Presiding Judge Keiichi Sakamoto called the bathhouse's refusal to
admit non-Japanese ''unreasonable discrimination,'' but added,
''The convention has only general, abstract provisions recommending
appropriate measures to eliminate racial discrimination, and Otaru city
does not have any obligation to institute ordinances to ban such
According to the suit, in September 1999 Arudou, then still a U.S.
citizen, and German Olaf Karthaus visited the Yunohana Onsen bathhouse
in the port city and were refused entry because they were foreigners.
Ken Sutherland, another American, was denied admission there in December
The bathhouse had put up an English-language sign saying
''Japanese only.'' It gave as a reason that trouble with drunken
Russian sailors at similar facilities in the area had caused Japanese
customers to stay away.
Arudou filed the complaint with the court after he visited the
bathhouse again in October 2000 after becoming a naturalized Japanese
citizen. He was refused entry even after he presented his driver's
license as proof of his Japanese citizenship...
In a separate case, the Tokyo District Court on Thursday ordered a
bar in the capital's Toshima Ward to pay 1 million yen in compensation
to a naturalized Japanese born in China for refusing him entry in
February last year on the grounds that he was a foreigner.
The 41-year-old man had demanded 2.2 million yen in compensation for
mental distress from the discriminatory treatment.

High court upholds Otaru spa ruling in racial discrimination suit

Mainichi Shimbun, Japan, Sept. 16, 2004

SAPPORO -- The Sapporo High Court on Thursday upheld a lower court decision and ordered a bathhouse in Hokkaido to pay 3 million yen in compensation to a United States-born Japanese national and two other plaintiffs for refusing them entry.

In handing down the decision, the high court rejected an appeal by the Otaru, Hokkaido, bathhouse, and also denied an appeal by the plaintiffs, including Debito Arudo, 39, who sought court recognition of Otaru's responsibility in the case. Arudo plans to appeal the ruling.

The focus of the appeal hearing was on whether the city of Otaru bore responsibility to eliminate personal discrimination in the case.

Arudo said that the bathing facility was one used by the general public and that the city bore the same responsibility as the national government in protecting people's rights to use its services.

He based the argument on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which Japan signed in 1995 and ratified in 1996. The convention was adopted and opened for signature and ratification at a United Nations general assembly in 1965.

The city had claimed that the convention went no further than the nation's basic obligations and that the city had wide jurisdiction over what types of policies were taken.

The facility in question refused entry to all foreigners in August 1998, saying the bathing manners of Russian sailors was bad. It tried to defend its actions during the case, saying, "Refusing foreigners did not exceed the limit of what was accepted socially."

On several occasions since September 1999, Arudo and his friends visited the bathhouse but were refused entry because they were not "Japanese."

Even after he was granted Japanese nationality, the manager of the bathhouse remained adamant, saying, "From a Japanese point of view, you are still a foreigner."

Arudo and the other two plaintiffs launched a lawsuit against the actions of the bathhouse in Feb. 2001.

The district court ruling stated that the bathhouse had acted with discrimination. However, it said the city had not acted illegally by failing to take action. (Mainichi Shimbun, Japan, Sept. 16, 2004)

Japanese court dismisses lawsuit against city over bathhouse ban on foreigners

AP/Yahoo News, Thursday September 16, 7:55 PM


An appeals court on Thursday upheld a lower court decision awarding compensation to three men who were turned away by a public bathhouse because they were foreigners, but dismissed their claims against the city government, a court official said.

The three men _ a German, an American and a former U.S. citizen who converted to Japanese citizenship _ had accused the Otaru city government of failing to ensure that businesses abide by a Japanese law prohibiting racial discrimination.

In November 2002, a district court ordered the bathhouse to pay each of the men compensation of 1 million yen (US$9,100; euro 7,500) for discrimination, but rejected their claim against Otaru city.

On Thursday, Sapporo High Court Justice Keiichi Sakamoto upheld the district court's ruling, court official Taisuke Shibagaki said.

Sakamoto said Otaru city, on the northernmost main island of Hokkaido, wasn't responsible for regulating the bathhouse, Shibagaki said.

U.S.-born Debito Arudou, who changed his name from David Aldwinckle when he took Japanese citizenship, Olaf Karthaus from Germany, and Kenneth Lee Sutherland from the United States had demanded 6 million yen (US$54,500; euro 44,900) in compensation from the government and the Yunohana bathhouse.

Arudou has said he would appeal to the Supreme Court if the high court didn't side with him against both the bathhouse and government. He could not be reached Thursday for confirmation of his plans.

The hometowns of the three men were not immediately available. Arudou now lives in Namporo city on Hokkaido.

Arudou and Karthaus _ activists in the Tokyo-based human rights group Issho Kikaku _ repeatedly visited Otaru bathhouses posting "Japanese Only" signs between 1999 and 2000, hoping to raise awareness of the practice, according to a report posted on the group's Web site.

The men found many bathhouses were refusing entry to foreigners because of the belief that foreigners didn't know Japanese bathhouse etiquette and were scaring off Japanese customers.

Japanese bathhouses require visitors to wash themselves before taking a dip in a large tub filled with hot water. Splashing is frowned upon.

The concept of discrimination is little understood in Japan, where many are suspicious of foreigners and worry that diversity will disturb the country's cultural homogeneity.

Otaru is located 830 kilometers (520 miles) northwest of Tokyo. Sapporo is also on Hokkaido.


Hi all. Hokkaido Shinbun came out this morning with an editorial (shasetsu) in which they finally get it.

After years of pussy-footing around the issue, saying "Why can't we just get along? Let our hearts be barrier free!" sort of piffle (for example Doshin Shasetsu Feb 3, 2001 <http://www.debito.org/doshinkaisetsu020301.jpg>), they finally came round this morning--and stated the obvious and inevitable. We need a law or racial discrimination will not be eliminated. Translating. Bests, Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Hokkaido Shinbun, Sept 17, 2004, page two
(Translated by Arudou Debito)

Yesterday's court decision is a grim reminder of how far we have to go towards eliminating racial discrimination in Japan.

We are talking about the case of the Otaru onsen facilities which refused people because they were foreign-born. One, an American-born Japanese citizen, took one to court on the grounds that said refusal contravened international treaty on racial discrimination (CERD). The Sapporo High Court just handed down a decision on their appeal.

The court ruled against the company which runs the onsen, stating "unrational discrimination is illegal" and ordering compensation. However, the court rejected the plaintiff's appeal against the City of Otaru. Court stated that Otaru's responsibility in the matter did not extend to an obligation to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance. This was about the same as the Sapporo District Court's ruling on this case two years ago.

Having the onsen pay compensation is a no-brainer. Refusing people simply because they look foreign is racial discrimination, none other. Some may say this is a problem between private individuals, but the fact the court established that human rights take priority is worthy of high praise.

But the larger issue remains a problem: What of the obligation under the CERD of local governing bodies to eliminate discrimination through legislation?

Plaintiffs maintained in court that the City of Otaru should have made ordinances stopping discrimination. Their failure to do so resulted in them being discriminated against.

The High Court yesterday refuted this by saying that the CERD only vaguely establishes general guidelines for signatory countries to properly eliminate discrimination. Thus, Otaru's obligation to eliminate discrimination is no more than a political duty.

The plaintiffs could not accept this outcome. How is racial discrimination to be eliminated? How is the government to intervene in these cases? These were not ruled upon. This is an unfortunate development even if one is not a plaintiff.

Then again, the judiciary does have its limits. We stress that it is essential for national and/or local governments to make legislation to eliminate racial discrimination.

The UN adopted the CERD in 1965. It took Japan 30 years to sign it. And the Japanese government's stance has been half-hearted ever since. In a public admonition, the UN in 2001 clearly demanded Japan adopt anti-discrimination legislation with penalties.

This delay in creating a legal framework has caused trouble nationwide, with baths and eating/drinking establishments refusing people with "Japanese Only" policies--no longer limited to Otaru.

Are we to assume that things are all right as is? That victims of discrimination have to compound their burdens with long lawsuits over and over again? This offends one's sense of social justice.

Through legislation, people must be told clearly what exactly amounts to discrimination, thoroughly enough that it becomes common knowledge.

This requires effort on the part of the people. Yes, we will in the meantime see the closed nature of this society, thanks to the limited contact with foreign countries that an island society has. But we must build a society where non-Japanese can live in this society without segregation or discrimination.


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北海道新聞 2004/09/16

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