By Jeff Kingston, Japan Times Book Review, January 30, 2005
By Tom Baker, Daily Yomiuri Book Review, January 16, 2005
By Chris Pitts, Amnesty International Japan
By Eric Johnston, Deputy Editor, The Japan Times newspaper
By Steve King, ELT Longman Osaka
By Patrick Rial, Japanzine
(more to be added as they come out)


Bathhouse pushes a foreigner into the doghouse

(NB:@ Author disavows writing the title)



Courtesy http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?fb20050130a1.htm@


JAPANESE ONLY: The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan, by Debito Arudou. Tokyo: Akashi Shoten, 2004, 407 pp., 3,500 yen (paper).


Discrimination is an all too common experience for non-Japanese residents who study, work, marry and raise families here. Many of us have come to terms with this prejudice and deal with it in our own ways, often avoiding confrontation. There is evidence of improvement and some non-Japanese may experience little more than petty hassles, but as in other countries around the world, foreigners are too often an easy target.


Even though Japan effected the United Nations' convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 1996, it still has no law against racial discrimination; thus a treaty obligation exists without an effective means of carrying it out.


Debito Arudou (previously David Aldwinkle before he became a naturalized Japanese citizen) decided that confronting discrimination was important for his family, other foreigners and Japanese society. After reading this excellent account of his struggle against prejudice and racial discrimination, I think we are fortunate he did so.


"Japanese Only" tells us about the case of three bath houses in Hokkaido that excluded foreigners and naturalized Japanese citizens for six years before the author and two friends filed suit in 2001 against one of the establishments and the city of Otaru in which it operated. We learn of the struggle of some Japanese and non-Japanese residents to challenge discrimination and effect social change. This copious record of a social movement provides an illuminating window on how people and institutions can influence human-rights practices and is an important contribution to our understanding of contemporary Japan that deserves a wide audience.


Arudou was instrumental in stirring national and international interest in this case and taking it to the courts for redress. Readers get a personal and fascinating account of how this movement evolved, its consequences and how it affected those who participated in it. It is a very readable story that ranges from diary-like entries, to extensive quotes from the media, e-mails to his Internet site and court rulings.


Ironically, some of the harshest criticism directed against Arudou and his supporters has come from other resident foreigners. In this vein, some of Gregory Clark's articles defending Japan from accusations of racial discrimination are reproduced here. With tortured logic, he asserts that foreigners like Arudou are in fact the ones acting in a discriminatory manner and engaging in a form of cultural imperialism. Arudou deflects such criticisms as so much pandering:


"Some will surely reiterate that I am foisting some American cultural values on the Japanese here. But it's not 'American.' It's just a good idea. Regardless of origin, the idea of fighting for one's rights is objectively good."


Chalmers Johnson, in a caustic e-mail, asserts that the U.S. ambassador at the time "couldn't give a cold dog turd whether or not you, your wife and children get a bath at an onsen."


Undeterred by this apparent official insouciance, and some hostility among foreign residents, Arudou pressed on. It seems to have been a painful learning experience, as conflicts developed with other activists concerning the best way to proceed.


Tony Laszlo, now famous as the humorous husband depicted in the best-selling manga series "Darling wa Gaikokujin (My Darling is a Foreigner)," was initially involved, but we learn of their growing estrangement. Eventually they parted ways and one can sense the despair and personal toll an increasingly lonely crusade exacted on Arudou. He even endured threats against his children.


The initial court ruling on the Otaru Onsen lawsuit ventured into Catch-22 territory; the judges ruled that the city of Otaru was indeed obliged to uphold the U.N. Convention on Racial Discrimination but not obliged to pass ordinances that would make this possible. As Arudou writes, "So this means that they have to enforce the treaty. But they don't. Huh?"


Eventually the Japan Civil Liberties Union took up the case and provided a pro bono legal team to mount an appeal. The high court ruling in September 2004 against the appeal argued that the Japanese state and its local governments do indeed have an international treaty obligation to eliminate discrimination, but that the court cannot force the government to make laws. Furthermore, the state cannot be held culpable for not passing a law; inaction is not illegal. Thus "the judicial branch can only enforce what the legislative branch creates."


Arudou fumes: "Hence, the government, which can take our taxes yet not be legally obligated to protect our rights, is exonerated from doing anything. Despite the U.N. treaty, which has the force of law, but alas is not binding because it is not properly codified. That argument has not held water in other signatory countries (all of which) . . . have codified laws to outlaw racial discrimination."


The author is not optimistic that the government will pass such laws, but has decided to pursue his case to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, the Hokkaido Shimbun lent its support to the cause, arguing for antidiscrimination legislation with penalties.


One can only marvel along with Arudou's friend who said, "Who'd thunk all those years ago that our actions one afternoon in Otaru would have resulted in a lawsuit of this magnitude?" What has been normal -- exclusionary signs -- is now a matter of public censure.


Arudou convincingly concludes that "raising your voice against social wrongs is the way to make life better for everyone in Japan. It is the way civil societies everywhere in the world develop. Japan is no exception."


Jeff Kingston teaches history at Temple University Japan. To purchase a copy or get more related information contact the author at his Web site: www.debito.org

The Japan Times: Jan. 30, 2005

"JAPANESE ONLY", By Arudou Debito
Book Review by Tom Baker, Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
Courtesy http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/index-e.htm (available for one week)
Sunday, January 16, 2004


Soaking in a hot, traditional-style bath is one of the great pleasures of
being in Japan. Or so you might think. According to certain bathing facility
owners in Hokkaido, a good bath is not a pleasure of being in Japan, but a
pleasure of being Japanese.

And they will define "Japanese" for themselves, thank you very much.

Arudou Debito began to learn their definition in 1999 when he, his family
and some friends tried to visit a deluxe bathhouse called Yunohana in Otaru,
Hokkaido, the town where they live. Not everyone in Arudou's group looked
Japanese--and in fact several of them were not--so they were barred entry.

The manager explained that drunken Russian sailors had caused trouble at
the facility in the past and the management wanted to keep such people out,
adding: "We can't just ban Russians. That would be blatant discrimination...
So we ban all foreigners out of fairness."

But banning foreigners isn't as simple as it might sound. Arudou, who was
named David Aldwinckle until he became a naturalized Japanese citizen in
2000, is a U.S.-born white male. His wife is more recognizably Japanese. And
their daughters, he writes, "are a study in contrasts. My older is very
Asian, with black hair, brown eyes and tan skin. My younger is quite fair,
with brown hair and green eyes.

"The (Yunohana) manager took one look and said, 'When they get older, the
older one can come in. But the younger one will have to be refused.'"

Say what you will about a person who could make such an obnoxious
utterance, but any policy based on it is clearly illegal.

Or so you might think.

"Japan happens to be the only (major developed) country without any form of
domestic law against racial discrimination," Arudou writes.

This is despite the fact that Japan adopted a U.N. resolution against
racism in 1996 (decades after other U.N. members), and has ever since
ignored the fact that the resolution calls for member states to pass
legislation to implement it. The relevant U.N. organs have publicly scolded
Japan for its foot-dragging, but to no avail.

Japanese Only is Arudou's account of how he and many other people, Japanese
and foreign, have been trying to change this situation. Much of it is told
in his own words, but it also includes substantial excerpts from letters,
e-mails, court decisions, government documents, press releases, newspaper
articles and even transcribed television shows. These are presented in a
choppy-looking mishmash of multiple fonts and bits of boxed text that a
casual bookstore shopper flipping through the pages might expect to find

Fortunately, this is far from the case. Not only is Japanese Only clear,
well-paced, balanced and informative, but the scrapbook style lends the
described events a riveting sense of immediacy. Through it all, the author
pulls no punches, but he refrains from the rants and tirades that must have
been sorely tempting at times.

Arudou and his allies began with a public relations effort urging the local
government to adopt some antidiscrimination laws and asking local businesses
to voluntarily cease discriminating.

They made no headway with the Otaru municipal government, which put up a
stone wall padded with mealymouthed excuses, all recounted here.

They had mixed results with the baths: One voluntarily began admitting
foreigners, but Yunohana continued to bar Arudou on admittedly racist
grounds even after he became legally Japanese.

Left with no other remedy, Arudou and several other plaintiffs sued
Yunohana in 2001 for racially discriminating against them, simultaneously
suing the local government for failing to do anything about it.

They won against the bathhouse, which unsuccessfully appealed. But as
described in this book, the court's decision was too poorly worded to set a
useful precedent.

Meanwhile, the plaintiffs lost their case against the local government, and
also appealed. That part of the case has yet to be resolved.

Arudou's book is an excellent summary of events so far, and provides a lot
of background information that may startle readers outside this country.
"Close to half of all 'registered foreigners' in Japan were born and raised
here as native speakers, and would be citizens already in just about any
other developed country," he writes.

The narrative flows quickly despite such asides and despite a certain
amount of repetition--but this repetition only shows what a Sisyphean task
Arudou had taken on. He has to keep up a steady drumbeat of the same basic
assertion--that discrimination is wrong--in the face of various flimsy but
tenaciously held arguments in favor of discrimination.

The pro-discrimination arguments put forward in Hokkaido could have been
used, and were, by white segregationists in the United States several
decades ago: Businesses should be free choose their own customers, for
instance; those excluded are welcome to go elsewhere; those who complain are
just trying to make us look bad; racism exists everywhere, so get used to
it; people outside our approved group are ill-mannered, dangerous and
smelly; our racially correct customer base would abandon us if we let just
anyone come in; our part of the world is a special case where discrimination
is actually OK; just wait a few years and the problem will naturally go

It may be that the discriminators in Hokkaido are unaware that their U.S.
counterparts wound up on the wrong side of history. Or it may be that
learning from history is not a strong point of those who regard themselves
as "unique."

But Arudou's study of history has taught him "that rights--any rights--are
rarely, if ever, granted unilaterally. People must fight for them. So it is
not only our option, but our obligation as residents of Japan, to do

More information on the book and how you can get a copy at

Review of Book Japanese Only by Arudou Debito
Akashi Shoten, 2004, JPY3,500
Reviewed by Chris Pitts, Coordinator, Amnesty International Group 78, Tokyo, Japan
January 2005

MY experience of working for human rights is a predictable mixture: mostly humdrum--stuffing envelopes, writing letters, rattling the collecting tin; occasionally depressing or distressing--as when reading about "comfort women" or Guantanamo; all too infrequently, except for meeting like-minded people, is there anything enjoyable. One source of enjoyment and inspiration this year was Arudou Debito's book, Japanese Only.

First, I have to declare an interest, because Arudou is a personal friend of mine. Then, I want to make a couple of criticisms. My main gripe is that the book has no index. I guess specific information is accessible, because most of the source material is archived on Arudou's website, but I like my non-fiction books to have one. I was also disappointed not to see the marvelous photo of Debito and the formerly excluding onsen manager, Mr Ohkoshi, in the bath together. That photo symbolizes the success of Debito's approach and activity. To view it: <http://www.debito.org/kumanichi012102.html>

Having got the caveats off my chest, I strongly recommend that you buy it, and read it. WHY do I like this book so much? Japanese Only is more than an account of a campaign. Like Dr Who's time machine, the Tardis, it compasses far more than you expect. (Not so much WYSIWYG as WYSIJAPOWIG [what you see is just a part of what you get]). Arudou tells his story in a readable way, focusing on the personalities on all sides of the conflict (You thought there were just two sides to this story? Oh, no!). He manages this by largely letting the characters use their own voices, through summaries of contemporaneous emails and conversations. Along the way he reproduces many of the arguments and counter arguments that come up in discussion (e.g. Don't businesses have the right to refuse obnoxious customers?) for the reader to mull. He describes some of the workings of local government and the courts in Japan. The experiences he relates and the lessons he learned on dealing with the media alone are, for any social activist, worth the cover price. Further, with over 50 references to documents and sources on the Internet, this book is more than just a book. It is almost like a college course on human rights and social activism, delivered by an avuncular professor.

Another extra that you get for your money, though, unlike most college courses, is a strong feeling of optimism about the future of (t)his country, Japan. Although we don't have the Tardis and can't visit Japan's future, we know from other countries at other times that social attitudes and values are not set in concrete. Will Japan's minorities face antagonism, even violence, during straitened economic times in the future? Conversely, will the majority social group learn to see minorities as a positive, beneficial social resource rather than a threat? Will the majority resist the cheap grandstanding of racists and xenophobes who will try to pin responsibility for future social difficulties on the different and the dispossessed? Arudou Debito is one of the people providing the leadership that we who live in Japan today need for tomorrow. "The idea of fighting for one's rights is objectively good," he writes on p. 270. Human rights are not divisible, Debito. Fighting for one's rights is fighting for everyone's rights. Thanks. Keep it up. Right on!

Chris Pitts
Coordinator, Amnesty International Group 78
(personal capacity)
January 2005

There are a lot of people, foreign and Japanese, who would simply like Debito Arudou to go away and be quiet. But regardless of whether or not you agree with his tactics, Arudou raises profound questions in JAPANESE ONLY about what it means to be not only Japanese but also a foreigner living -- as opposed to simply visiting, studying, or trying to make lots of money as quickly as possible -- in today's Japan. The questions he raises are thus of vital importance as the country debates whether or not to maitain economic prosperity by bringing in millions of foreign workers.

And this is why JAPANESE ONLY is so important. In the midst of all the overblown rhetoric about foreign workers, whether it be from woolly-headed academics, plotting technocrats, major corporations looking only at the bottom line, well-meaning NGOs, or fascist politicians, Arudou's battle against the Otaru onsens shows us real Japanese struggling with real, practical issues of integration, assimulation, and human rights, and attempting to answer for themselves questions about what is fair and what is not, what is legal, what is not, and what is moral, and what is not.

In the process, Arudou reveals some ingrained attitudes that no government white paper, blue-ribbon panel of experts, or cadre of nervously smiling bureaucrats will be able to easily ignore. Twenty years from now, JAPANESE ONLY may well be one of the seminal studies on just how Japan did, or did not, deal with the integration of foreigners into its society.

-- Eric Johnston
Deputy Editor
The Japan TImes
January 2005

For people interested in coming to Japan for the first time, and for some of the more hard-nosed, long-in-the-tooth long-term foreign residents of Japan, Arudo's book provides both fascinating insights for the newcomer and relevant, recognisable accounts of Japan's murkier side for the veterans.

Arudo manages, however, to rid himself of both the preconceptions and hackneyed cliches that pervades so much of writing on Japan whilst at the same time succeeds in avoiding the bitter cynicism of outright Japan-bashing.

In short, Arudo neither lionizes Japan nor does he write it off, and along the way shows the reader that tenacity, courage and self-belief are worthy opponents of bureacracy, prejudice and artificial social barriers

Steve King
ELT Consultant
Longman ELT Osaka Office
January 2005

Some quick comments on the review above:
Don't get me wrong... I'm not bothered by a mixed review of the book (you can't please everyone, after all), and I appreciate the compliments within the review.  (The photos are quite funny too, thanks!)  

However, some factual errors:

1) "The story starts when Arudou and two other foreigners sue the city of Otaru..."
Actually, the story starts on page one, and the lawsuit starts on page 276.  And I was not a foreigner when we sued.

2) "The problem is that Arudou fails to spell out exactly what he is after, other than the ambiguous goal of ending racial discrimination."
Actually, I would hope I made things very clear by stating several times in the book:  what we are after is a law against racial discrimination in Japan.

3) "When an onsen opens its doors to foreigners accompanied by a Japanese, Arudou claims a victory.  However, the book leaves the reader guessing if he is satisfied with this outcome..."
There's a good reason why this is unclear.  The above event never happened.  None of the three exclusionary onsen explicitly opened their doors to foreigners if they were accompanied by a Japanese.  One opened their doors fully, another instituted a membership system, and the third never opened its doors until we sued them.

As for the remaining psychoanalytical two-thirds of the review, there's no use commenting about my motives or methods since people will believe what they want to believe, interpret things how they want to.  What happened is out there for people to draw their own conclusions about, and I respect the reviewer's job doing so here.

I will say that for the comments about Gregory Clark, "who is made to look like a Japan-obsessed apologist":  If that is the reviewer's read, then it is his read, not mine, of the primary source materials--for I extensively quoted Gregory Clark's own writings (eight pages' worth) in the book.

Anyway, thanks for the review.  I just wish the reviewer had digested the book as thoroughly as he did the author.--Arudou Debito, December 7, 2005.

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