Ryan Hagglund on how he successfully dealt with an exclusionary landlord


Hi Blog. Turned 43 years old today… Here’s Ryan Hagglund of Yamagata on how he successfully dealt with a very common problem in Japan–exclusionary landlords.

As you probably know, if a landlord has a “thing” about foreigners and decides not to rent to you, legally there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Racial discrimination is not illegal in Japan. But Ryan found a place he liked and wasn’t having any of it. And he managed to change the landlord’s (and realtor’s) mind.

How? Sticktoitiveness and accountability. Lessons: 1) be as polite as possible while being clear that you will not accept a denial based on being foreign, and 2) audio record everything just in case you have to go to court.

(Covert recordings are also admissible in court. I did it for the Otaru Onsens Lawsuit, and it removed any possible element of plausible deniability or misunderstanding.)

Good work Ryan. Here are the series of emails he sent to the Life in Japan List. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


From: Ryan Hagglund
Subject: [LIFE IN JAPAN] Apartment Refusal
Date: December 4, 2007 10:10:00 PM JST

I have a quick question, if anyone can help. This afternoon the school I manage was told point-blank by the real estate agent we’ve been using that the apartment we had decided on for our new teacher is not available because the landlord doesn’t rent to foreigners, even if the company acts as the official tenant. We would like a chance to talk with the landlord, but the real estate company refuses to divulge any of his information. Is there any way to find out who the owner of an apartment building is? I would imagine there has to be some kind of public record out there. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you very much.

Ryan Hagglund, Yamagata



From: Ryan Hagglund
Subject: [LIFE IN JAPAN] Apartment Refusal
Date: December 5, 2007 8:21:40 PM JST

Thanks to everyone for the comments and thoughts so far. I thought I would write with a quick update and a little more background information.

Anyway, the whole situation started with a new teacher who needs housing accepting a position at our school. My wife, who is Japanese and works for the school, went apartment hunting while I was teaching and found a really great one. The real estate agent kept telling her how wonderful it was and she was right; it is by far the best apartment we have seen in the area for the price and in a good location too. We wanted the new teacher to have a chance to look at it, so my wife called to let the real estate know that her husband, me, and a new employee would be down to look at the apartment as well. Up to this point we had not said that the occupant would be a foreigner. We weren’t purposely trying to hide that fact by any means; we just hadn’t thought to mention it. It’s legally a non-issue anyway. When I arrived with the new teacher and came in saying we wanted to look at the apartment that had been played up for my wife, the agent was hesitant. She said she would show us it, but that “special permission” is required for foreigners to rent. I mentioned that such as policy was illegal and that we would like to see it. Aside from the comment about special permission, she was quite polite and pleasant, though I had to ask for her business card as she was walking back to her car to return to the office, something I thought was unusual. This all happened Saturday, just before the office closed. (All the above conversations happened in Japanese, by the way, though our new teacher doesn’t speak much at all.)

On Monday we called to confirm the apartment, but were told this afternoon that it is not available for rent by foreigners. When my wife asked to please speak with the landlord she was told that wasn’t possible. Following the suggestions on this list, my wife went to the city hall, but was told that they could not divulge private information on the ownership of a building. We decided, then, to return to the real estate agent. We were polite, letting her know we realize she is in a difficult situation, but that denying an apartment to someone simply because they are foreign is illegal, a conclusion with which our school’s attorney agrees. We said that we would like to speak with the landlord and were willing to work with him to find a suitable compromise, such as the school renting the apartment instead of the new teacher, but that we definitely wanted that apartment and feel it is very important for the law to be followed. (We also recorded the conversation so that we have proof that we were in fact denied based on being foreign.) The real estate agent said she would talk with landlord and get back to us, so we’ll se what happens. We’ve also scheduled a consultation with an attorney tomorrow to talk about our options in case the landlord refuses. I hope that won’t be necessary. Trying to be polite, but firm.

Ryan Hagglund, Yamagata



From: Ryan Hagglund
Subject: [LIFE IN JAPAN] Re: Apartment Refusal
Date: December 17, 2007 12:07:44 AM JST

I want to thank everyone for their support, comments, and suggestions on the apartment situation we encountered. At least one person asked for updates, so I hope you don’t mind if I oblige.

As you may remember, my wife checked apartments through many realtors for a new employee for our school. We decided on the best one we could find, a nice, newer, spacious 1LDK with 9-foot ceilings; bar separating the kitchen from the dining area; three-panel, glass-inlaid sliding doors separating the kitchen and dining from the main room; outdoor storage connected to the balcony; hikari-fiber internet; and video intercom system for the front door in order to evade the NHK guy :-). All of this for 45,000 yen per month, which is a decent price in this area without all the extras. As the realtor had told my wife, “If I was looking for an apartment, I would live here.” We agreed.

When we told the realtor we wanted the apartment and it became apparent that it was for a foreigner, we were then refused since the apartment owner has apparently had problems with a foreigner in the past. We found the same apartment listed with another agent in the area who told us the same thing. We have one of the refusals recorded. Neither agent was the main listing agent for the apartment, however. We wanted to talk with the owner or main agent about the situation, but we were refused the information.

On the advice of one list member who wrote privately, I went to the houmukyoku to find the registered owner of the apartment, and my wife and I gave him a visit Thursday evening. We were very polite and asked him if we could talk to him about the problems he had previously had with foreigners, but he said he has no policy against renting to foreigners and would have no problems renting to us. He then (supposedly) called the main real estate agent and gave us the news that someone else was already interested in the apartment, though, telling us to check with them about the situation the next morning. We at least got the main listing agent’s name, however.

My wife, being the amazing woman she is, knew the agency and said the light had been on when we passed it on our way to the owner’s house. We hurried into the car and got to the agency just as they were about to close. When we told them why we were there, they said the owner had refused us and there was nothing they could do. They were extremely surprised to learn we had just spoken to the owner, leading us to believe the owner had just been pretending to be on the phone. They then said someone else was interested in the apartment, so we would have to wait for their decision. We made it very clear, however, that we had made our decision a full week-and-a-half prior and considered ourselves ahead of any other possible renters. To make an even longer story a little shorter, they kept giving us the runaround until we had countered all of their “reasons” for our not being able to rent to us and essentially trapped themselves in their own excuses and twisted logic. We recorded the exchanges with both the landlord and real estate office and I would love to post them sometime, as they are absolutely mind-boggling. In the end, though, they ran out of even semi-plausible excuses and we got the apartment.

I have to admit I’m somewhat dissatisfied with the fact that we will be giving these people money. There was definitely a concerted effort going on in the background to get rid of us. At the same time, it was definitely the best apartment available and our new teacher shouldn’t have to settle for second-best simply because she’s foreign. In the end, our polite determination won out. Next time we need an apartment, though, we’ll know to have a Japanese person look first at what’s available and then decide from there. We wouldn’t have been shown the best apartment otherwise, which is a real shame.

Ryan Hagglund
My English School
Higashine, Yamagata



From: Ryan Hagglund
Subject: RESEND: Hi Ryan. May I blog your apartment report? Anything to add?
Date: January 11, 2008 10:35:07 PM JST
To: debito@debito.org

…Of course you may blog you like that I’ve reported to the Life in Japan list. I can’t think of anything at the moment to add to what I’ve written. I guess I would just emphasize that I made sure to be as polite as possible while being clear that I would not accept a denial based on being foreign… Thanks! Ryan


Mark Mino-Thompson on “updated” Hotel Laws: Refusal OK if “unreasonable/unrational burden”


Hi Blog. Mark Mino-Thompson reports below on his discovery of new “amendments” to the Ryokan Gyouhou (Hotel Management Law), created in English and Japanese legalese and in generic format (meaning written by somebody else) for use in hotels nationwide. They are vague enough to make it seem as though a hotel could refuse a NJ lodging if the lodger poses an “unreasonable/unrational burden” (such as speaking a foreign language or offering beds instead of futons?). Copies of the laws linked below. Debito in Sapporo

From: Mark Mino-Thompson
Subject: [Community] Hotels asking for passports from residents in Japan
Date: January 8, 2008 11:22:07 AM JST
To: The Community Yahoogroup

My family and I went to an Onsen hotel over the holidays. While the reservation was in my name (My wife’s family name + my first name in katakana), my sister-in-law handled the front desk registration, as we were busy with our kids. They didn’t request to see my passport or other ID, although as I wasn’t checking in directly, I can’t say what would have happened if I had been. I did notice that they did have the standard multilingual “May we see your passport?” sign Debito has posted before, featured on the front desk.

Later that day, while reading through the hotel information, I came across the Terms and Conditions for accommodation, printed in Japanese and English. Firstly, I noticed that much like others I’ve seen in various hotels over the past two years erroneously states in Article 8 that:

“The guest shall register the following particulars at the front desk of the Ryokan/Hotel on the day of accommodation: (1) Name, age, sex, address, and occupation of the guest(s) (2) For non Japanese: nationality, passport number, port and date of entry in Japan

This is nothing new. There have been many accounts from others about this error in Japanese hotel documentation. However, the Japanese version also seems to be the same wording as in English.

I’ve attached a scan of the original documents in the files section of the Community yahoogroups site. (Too big to put here as image or thumbnail–see them at Debito.org here:)

English: http://www.debito.org/newhotellaws2008eng.jpg


Furthermore, as Debito has mentioned and documented before, the Hotel law article 5 states that accomodation can only be refused by the hotel in the case of:

1) a health issue involving contagious disease, 2) a clear and present endangerment of public morals, or 3) because all rooms are full.

However, this hotel terms and conditions Article 5 has additional (new?), disturbing provisions:

Article 5 (Refusal of Accommodation Contracts)

The Ryokan/Hotel may not accept the conclusion of an Accommodation Contract under any of the following cases:

(1) When the application for accommodation does not conform with these Terms and Conditions

(2) When the Ryokan/Hotel is fully booked and no room is available

(3) When the Guest seeking accommodation is deemed liable to conduct himself in a manner that will contravene the laws or act against the public order or good morals

(4) When the guest is clearly detected as carrying an infectious disease

(5) When the Ryokan/Hotel is requested to assume an unreasonable burden in regard to his accommodation [shukuhaku ni kanshi gouriteki na han’i o koeru futan o motomerareta toki–literally, “at times when the burden demanded in terms of staying has superseded the bounds of rationality/reasonability”–there we go with that easily-abusable “gouriteki sabetsu” “rational discrimination” concept again…]

(6) When the Ryokan/Hotel is unable to provide accommodation due to natural calamities, disfunction of the facilities and or other unavoidable causes, or

(7) When the provisions of Article 5 of Iwate Metropolitan/Prefecture Ordinance are applicable.

As you can see, clause number 1 seems to me to have a rather broad range of powers to refuse accommodation. Fail to give up your passport/ID to the front desk and we can deny you a room because you’re not conforming to Article 7 of our Accommodation Contract.

Clause number 5 also is troubling to me. What constitutes an “unreasonable burden” and who decides? Does having Japanese customers complaining about foreign bathers and demanding refunds allow the hotel to refuse non-Japanese out of fear of losing customers? Does not having English-speaking (or other language) staff cause “unreasonable burden” to rural hotels and allow them to turn away people as well?

Clause 7 I haven’t researched as of yet, but it seems that ordinances created at the prefectural level may have the power to refuse others as well.

In addition, these Terms and Conditions, similar to the multilingual front desk signs made by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (that Debito has mentioned) seem to be quite professionally made. They are professionally printed on glossy paper, refer to “the Ryokan/Hotel” instead of the actual hotel name and the fact that the English legalese is high and above the ability of most English-speaking hotel clerks would suggest that they were made at either the prefectural (or more likely national) level for all hotels to use.

Any thoughts or comments on my interpretation of this document? Any suggestions or a course of action to get these documents corrected to accurately reflect the new passport ordinance for non-resident visitors and the hotel law itself?

Regards, Mark Mino-Thompson



皆様こんばんは。有道 出人です。あけましておめでとうございます。今年もよろしく!



(Boss didn’t accept foreigner’s subscription. I am sorry. Ryozo Matsuda)







 それに、私は北國新聞本社(〒920-8588 石川県金沢市香林坊2丁目5番1号 TEL.076-263-2111 内線1)に連絡して、「これは御社の契約の問題なので、御社を代表するセールズは『外国人拒否』とはっきり書いたので、どうやら責任を取りませんか」と言っても、受付は「その販売所と話し合って下さい」と言い、私からその契約と拒否ハガキのファックスを拒否しました。その後(午後5時3分)、販売部金沢担当の小竹氏(076-260-3654)から連絡があり、明日現状を調べてからご連絡をいただくようです。


宜しくお願い致します。有道 出人

“Japanese Only” Newspaper Outlet: Hokkoku Shinbun in Ishikawa Pref (UPDATED)


Hi Blog. Things are getting surreal these days in Japan. Now even newspaper outlets are getting xenophobic.

Let’s trace the logical development of all this. In the Otaru Onsens Case, the management said they would refuse foreigners because of, inter alia, different bathing customs and sanitation issues.

In various other cases catalogued at the Rogues’ Gallery of Exclusionary Establishments, foreigners would be refused (these are actual reasons given from people in charge) at bars and restaurants ‘cos they might not pay, stores ‘cos they might shoplift, at a disco ‘cos they might drink too much or hit on Japanese women, at an Internet cafe cos they might breach security, at hotels ‘cos the management doesn’t speak any foreign languages, at a women’s relaxation boutique ‘cos their feet are too big, at an opticians ‘cos the owner doesn’t like Black people, and by realtors because, well, just because–the landlord has a “thing” about foreigners, and legally in Japan there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

But here’s a case that just boggles the mind. Of a newspaper sales outlet refusing a foreigner his subscription. What, is the newspaper seller (in this day of withering print journalism) worried the gaijin might be able to read what they write?

Turning the keyboard over to the person was canvassed, subscribed, then got refused. Anonymized. Courtesy of The Community mailing list. With updates and sleuthing to get to the bottom of this afterwards. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

November 27, 2007

Hi everyone, I thought this might be of interest to people in The Community.

About 2 weeks or so ago, a newspaper salesman came to my door. As soon as I opened the door, he gave a robust greeting in English that he works for Hokkoku Shinbun 北國新聞 (a local Ishikawa-ken paper) and asked if I understood Japanese. My Japanese isn’t great, but I like trying to read things. He then asked if I would like to subscribe for 3 months and I said sure. We filled out the form and he said that my paper would start to be delivered in December. He was extremely polite and happy that I wanted to subscribe and I was quite happy to have a chance to gather an abundance of reading materials.

Here’s the receipt (front and back, click on images to expand in browser):

However, about a week later, I got a postcard saying this: “Boss didn’t accept foreigner’s subscription. I am sorry.”

Naturally, this confused me. It’s for a three month subscription, of which I would pay each month for that month’s newspaper.

In our discussions, the salesman and I talked about where I work and it turns out that he took English classes at the same college way back when. So, he knew that I wouldn’t just up and run or that I wouldn’t be a deadbeat in paying.

Contact information on the newspaper:
販売所名: 野々市三馬(石川県)
電話: 076−247-2120 (changed to 076-243-1810)
〒920-8588 石川県金沢市香林坊2丁目5番1号 TEL.076-263-2111



I made some calls around to get to the bottom of this. Here’s what I unearthed:

1) Mr Matsuda, who made the house call to get our client above signed up, is employed of those special selling agencies (seiruzu, from “sales”) hired by the parent newspaper company. It is only tangentally-related (shita-uke) to the hanbaibu within Hokkoku Shinbun itself.

2) Mr Matsuda did not return my call. A Mr Oda at 076-247-7834 did. He said he hadn’t heard anything about this event–he hadn’t even received the actual contract forms I’ve blogged above. Hence he was not the “boss” referred to within the postcard.

3) That boss is a Mr Sakurai, and when asked by Mr Oda why he refused the client, there were some incomprehensible excuses about something or other having to do with some prior experience with something or other. (I don’t think Mr Oda even understood the excuse as he was trying to relate it to me.) What, nonpayment? Stop the subscription, like you would do for any Japanese deadbeat. But the client would be paying in advance anyway, so that’s not even a problem. Mr Oda tried to claim that this wasn’t a case of discrimination, but, I asked, what else could it be?

4) So unless I had made these phone calls, this refusal would have stopped at Mr Sakurai and nobody within Hokkoku Shinbun would have been the wiser. Who’s going to be taking responsibility for this?

Frankly, I felt there was something very fishy about all this (I have received warnings not to purchase newspaper subscriptions from these seiruzu outlets–the ones that offer long-term subscriptions with big presents–because they are often run by organized-crime syndicates. This is according to Hokkaido Shinbun.) So I called the Hokkoku Shinbun head office above and asked if they knew of Mr Oda at this company at this phone number. They did, he’s legit. And when I asked if they would look into it all, they said I should take it up with Mr Oda’s company first. Huh?

What a strange situation. Newsprint hurting for subscribers these days and they’re refusing foreigners, based upon the stealthy prejudices of one person sitting at a veto gate? Hurting the reputation of the newspaper? And the head office doesn’t want to do anything about it? What bad business practices.

I’ve already sent out the above notices to my Japanese press lists, as well as to the dokusha and koho Hokkoku Shinbun email addresses above. The media should find this interesting as it’s one of their own. Should draw up a report in Japanese tonight.

More updates as they come in. Debito in Sapporo



I have talked with a number of people on this case (NHK and Kyodo have also been in touch), including Mr Sakurai and the actual manager of the Hokkoku Shinbun Hanbai Bu Kanazawa Tantou Mr Kotake (076-260-3564, email kotake@hokkoku.co.jp) twice, for about thirty minutes each. Here’s what else has surfaced:

MR SAKURAI (Last night before dinner):

1) There was no discrimination. He was unaware that Mr Matsuda had written anything like that in the postcard. It’s Mr Matsuda’s fault.

2) There was a problem with the contract, so we cancelled it. Yes, unilaterally.

3) Er… that’s it.

When asked why they didn’t, like, come back with a new contract, or answer with a postcard or a personal visit something a little nicer than “no foreigners”, he just said he had no knowledge the postcard said such a thing, and was sorry he didn’t come back with a new contract.

Fu ni ochinai ne.

MR KOTAKE (this morning, after checking with the Nonoichi Sanba company and Mr Sakurai):

1) This was a separate sales company unrelated to the actual Hokkoku Shinbunsha, so the problem is within the Nonoichi Sanba sales corp. itself. (As H.O. advised me below in the Comments section.)

2) There was no inkan (seal) on the contract, so it wasn’t a legitimate contract yet.

3) There was no intent to discriminate, and everyone (Mr Kotake, Mr Sakurai, Mr Matsuda) will be going to the client’s house and apologizing today if not tomorrow for not explaining this situation to the customer properly.

I pointed out that it still seemed unnatural (in this day of withering print journalism) for a sales outlet not to assiduously court paying customers (if this were a Japanese client, I doubt there would be any hesitation to go back with a new contract or ask for an inkan on the old contract). And if it I hadn’t made the phone calls, these apologies would never have happened. That, plus the postcard explicitly giving the reason as “no foreigners”, were enough to make one doubt the claim that there was no discrimination. And this attempt to pin the blame on Mr Matsuda, when it was Mr Sakurai who didn’t tell Mr Oda or anyone else in the company about the contract issue, is pretty strange.

Mr Kotake replied that he hoped that this would not give people a bad impression of Ishikawa Prefecture or of Hokkoku Shinbun. I said that how they handled this situation would determine that. He hoped that some of the information on this blog would be changed to reflect that Hokkoku Shinbun and Nonoichi Sanba were two different entities, and I have since made some alterations to the report above.

He also mentioned that he remembered me from the Otaru Onsens Case (he read a lot of my website last night) and hoped that I would have no negative impressions of things. I simply said that this sort of thing is happening all over Japan (see Comments section below for a claim that a Yomiuri subscription service did the same thing to somebody else), in all sectors of Japan, and if Japan is ever to get over their “gaijin allergy”, it’s going to take some work by media outlets, such as the Hokkoku Shinbun, to report the good things that NJ residents also do here, not just the allegedly bad. How about devoting an occasional column to that? He mentioned that few foreigner laborers come here, but lots of exchange students. It’s an idea.

That was it. Lots of loose ends here. Let’s wait and see how they play out in the other media. I spent another half hour on the phone this afternoon with a Kyodo reporter on this. Keep an eye on NHK and Kyodo News. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Economist on “When Japan was a Secret”


Hi Blog. Debito.org is following the template set by The Economist Newsmagazine, where the journalists digress from the usual serious stuff and put out a holiday issue of tangents.

In this year’s Economist holiday issue, we have a three-pager on how people (particularly whalers and other merchant marines) were trying to open up Japan before Commodore Perry. It’s a long one, so here are some excerpts:

Japanese sea-drifters
When Japan was a secret
The Economist Dec 19th 2007

Long before Commodore Perry got there, Japanese castaways and American whalers were prising Japan open

IF THAT double-bolted land, Japan, is ever to become hospitable, it is the whale-ship alone to whom the credit will be due; for already she is on the threshold.
Herman Melville, “Moby Dick”, 1851

The first English-language teacher to come to Japan landed in a tiny skiff, but before he did so, Ranald MacDonald pulled the bung from his boat in order to half-swamp her, in the hope of winning over locals with a story that he had come as someone who had fled the cruel tyrannies of a whale-ship captain and then been shipwrecked. The four locals who approached by boat, though certainly amazed, were also courteous, for they bowed low, stroked their huge beards and emitted a throaty rumbling. “How do you do?” MacDonald cheerily replied. This meeting took place in tiny Nutsuka Cove on Rishiri Island off Hokkaido on July 1st 1848, and a dark basaltic pebble from the cove sits on this correspondent’s desk as he writes, picked up from between the narrow fishing skiffs that even today are pulled up on the beach….

Far from fleeing a tyrant, MacDonald had in fact had to plead with a concerned captain of the Plymouth, a whaler out of Sag Harbour, New York, to be put down in the waters near Japan. MacDonald had an insatiable hunger for adventure, and the desire to enter Japan—tantalisingly shut to the outside world—had taken a grip on him. Both men knew of the risks, but the captain was less inclined to discount them. For 250 years, since the Tokugawa shogunate kicked Christian missionaries and traders out, only a tightly controlled trade with the Netherlands and China was tolerated in the southern port of Nagasaki, with a further licence for Koreans elsewhere. Though British and Russian ships had from time to time prodded Japan’s carapace, an edict in 1825 spelled out what would happen to uninvited guests “demanding firewood, water and provisions”:

The continuation of such insolent proceedings, as also the intention of introducing the Christian religion having come to our knowledge, it is impossible to look on with indifference. If in future foreign vessels should come near any port whatsoever, the local inhabitants shall conjointly drive them away; but should they go away peaceably it is not necessary to pursue them. Should any foreigners land anywhere, they must be arrested or killed, and if the ship approaches the shore it must be destroyed.

Two decades later the despotic feudalism of the Tokugawa shogunate was under greater strain. At home the land had been ravaged by floods and earthquakes, and famines had driven the dispossessed and even samurai to storm the rice warehouses of the daimyo, the local lords. Abroad, Western powers were making ominous inroads. After the opium war of 1840-42 China ceded Hong Kong to Britain. Meanwhile, thanks to a growth in whaling and trade with China, the number of distressed Western vessels appearing along Japan’s shores was increasing. Moderate voices made themselves heard within the government. A new edict was softer:

It is not thought fitting to drive away all foreign ships irrespective of their condition, in spite of their lack of supplies, or of their having stranded or their suffering from stress of weather. You should, when necessary, supply them with food and fuel and advise them to return, but on no account allow foreigners to land. If, however, after receiving supplies and instructions they do not withdraw, you will, of course drive them away.

…The most famous sea-drifter is known in the West and even Japan as John Manjiro. Two days after Melville set off in early 1841 from Fairhaven, Massachusetts, on the whaling adventure that provided the material for “Moby Dick”, Manjiro, the youngest of five crew, set out fishing near his village of Nakanohama on the rugged south-western coast of Shikoku, one of Japan’s four main islands. On the fourth day, the skipper saw black clouds looming and ordered the boat to be rowed to shore. It was too late. Over two weeks they drifted east almost 400 miles, landing on Torishima, a barren volcanic speck whose only sustenance was brackish water lying in puddles and nesting seabirds. In late summer even the albatrosses left. After five months, while out scavenging, Manjiro saw a ship sailing towards the island.

The castaways’ saviour, William Whitfield, captain of the John Howland, a Fairhaven whaler, took a shine to the sparky lad. In Honolulu he asked Manjiro if he wanted to carry on to Fairhaven. The boy did, studied at Bartlett’s Academy, which taught maths and navigation to its boys, went to church and fell for local girls. He later signed on for a three-year whaling voyage to the Pacific, and when he returned, joined a lumber ship bound round Cape Horn for San Francisco and the California gold rush. He made a handsome sum and found passage back to Honolulu.

By early 1851—the year of “Moby Dick” and two years before Commodore Perry turned up—Manjiro was at last back in Japan, and things were already changing. He and two of the original crew had been dropped in their open sailing boat by an American whaling ship off the Ryukyu Islands. They were taken to Kagoshima, seat of the Satsuma clan. The local daimyo, Shimazu Nariakira, grilled Manjiro, but the tone was inquisitive more than inquisitorial: please to explain the steamship, trains, photography, etc. In Nagasaki, Manjiro had to trample on an image of the Virgin and child. He was asked whether the katsura bush could be seen from America growing on the moon. He described America’s system of government, the modest living of the president and how New Englanders were so industrious that they used their time on the lavatory to read. Amazingly, he dared criticise Japan’s ill-treatment of foreign ships in need of wood and water, and made a heartfelt plea for the opening of Japan, going so far as to put the American case for a coal-bunkering station in Japan to allow steamships to cross the Pacific from California to China.

Rather than being kept in prison, he was freed to visit his mother—in Nakanohana she showed him his memorial stone—and was even made a samurai. In Tosa (modern-day Kochi), he taught English to men who were later influential during the overthrow of the shogunate and the establishment of constitutional government in the Meiji period, from 1860. During negotiations in 1854 with Perry, Manjiro acted as an interpreter. Later, in 1860, he joined the first Japanese embassy to America. But as Christopher Benfey explains in “The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics and the Opening of Old Japan” (Random House, 2003), if the terror of being lost at sea was the defining experience of Manjiro’s life, then his greatest gift to the Japanese was his translation of Nathaniel Bowditch’s “The New American Practical Navigator”, known to generations of mariners as the “seaman’s bible”.

As for Ranald MacDonald, though he was handed over by the Ainu and taken by junk to Nagasaki for interrogation, he was treated decently. With a respectable education and a gentle presence, he was clearly a cut above the usual rough-necked castaway, and he was put to teaching English. Some of the students who came to his cell later flourished as interpreters and compilers of dictionaries. The most notable, Einosuke Moriyama, served as the chief translator in Japan’s negotiations with Perry, as well as interpreter to America’s first consul to Japan, Townsend Harris…


The article gives a lot of interesting information, even if it strikes me a bit as if it’s from the perspective of overseas sources only. The labeling of Japanese ships as “junks”, for example, (junks are Chinese) is a bit of an indicator. And it concludes oddly. Read the final paragraph to the piece:

As for whaling around Japan, vestigial echoes reverberate. Every northern winter, Japan faces barbs for sending a whaling fleet into Antarctic waters. And why, asks the mayor of Taiji, a small whaling port, should Japanese ships have to go so far, suffering international outrage? Because, he says, answering his own question, the Americans fished out all the Japanese whales in the century before last.

Kerplunk. Er, so the whole article was leading up to justify this contention? It’s like putting a reggae conclusion on a classical piece.

Anyway, the whole article is worth a read as a holiday indulgence. See it at http://www.economist.com/world/asia/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10278660

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

MG International ballet school in Tokyo Azabu refuses Pakistani child–with responses from school & people who were refused


Hi Blog. Report from Ms Amira Rahman, the wife of a foreign diplomat, Mr Rahman Hamid, Commerce Section, Embassy of Pakistan in Tokyo, who received a terrible shock when trying to enroll their 3-year-old daughter in a Tokyo ballet school.

Letter of protest from the Pakistani Embassy (click on image to expand in browser):

Report follows. Contact courtesy of the Tokyo With Kids.com website forum. Text authored by Ms. Amira Rahman, adapted by Arudou Debito from the original. Copious debate and comments follow.


Dear Sir,

I am a wife of a foreign diplomat representing the Government of Pakistan, and we wanted our little girl to start ballet (she is almost 4)–we thought she would look soooo cute in a tutu.

The place we went to enroll her MG International Arts of Ballet located in Photo house MG Hall, 5-5-9 Azabu Minato Ku Tokyo, December 13th 2007, around 4pm.

東京都港区麻布5丁目5-9 後藤ハウスB1F MGホール
地下鉄日比谷線 広尾駅下車 徒歩 5分
info@mg-ballet.org, Person in charge Gotou Mariko.
No phone number listed at 104.
MG International Arts of Ballet, MG Hall, B1F GOTO House 5-5-9
Minami-Azabu Minato-ku, Tokyo.

My husband took his official translator along for this exchange also. At the reception we were greeted coldly from the start, and when we requested information about ballet for our daughter we were told that this school does not accept international students.

Thinking she meant they needed students to understand ballet instruction in Japanese we argued that our daughter goes to a local Hoikuen and can understand Japanese. But to our surprise the lady told us that we would need a reference to enter this school.

Still misunderstanding her attitude my husband informed her that his blood relative, an aunt who is Japanese, referred us to this particular school. The lady flat out refused to entertain anything, and after being insulted in such a fashion we left the place with our daughter crying.

We will not under any circumstance be sending our child to such a racist establishment and have already enrolled her in another school.

My husband will be raising this issue with the Japanese Foreign Ministry and the Minato ]-Ku ward. He says that it is not a petty issue. Such people and establishments should be exposed for their racist behavior, and the general public should be made aware of their attitude.

Your dissemination on your blog of what happened to us to other people will serve as a means to identifying such people, and save a lot of them the heartache and disgust we felt when we left that place. Turning such a beautiful art form into something this ugly is a crime in our books.

I have no need to be anonymous because I want people to know what happened, and want to find ways to make sure this does not happen to other expatriate families.

Yours sincerely,
Amira Rahman

COMMENT: I have tried to contact Ms Gotoh to confirm for myself what happened (I will send her this blog entry at the email address listed above), but cannot find her phone number by any public means. I also called the Japan Ballet Association (Nihon Barei Kyoukai) at 03-5437-0371 and talked to two people there, but they neither could tell me much about what might have gone on (as MG is not a member of their association), nor could believe that she could be turning away a student on the basis of her nationality.

Nor can I. Ms Gotoh clearly has benefited a great deal from her contacts and opportunities in foreign countries. According to her school’s site, she has trained at Academic de Dense Classique Princesse Grace in Monte-Carlo, The Royal Ballet School in London, Deutsche Oper am Rhein, Staats Theater Hannover, and Buhnen der Landeshauptstadt Kiel in Germany. She was also in the New National Theatre Tokyo in Japan.

The site says she also “speaks English well” (she even advertises her classes on a website in English), so what’s with the language barrier?

The author is willing to be identified by name, is willing to take responsibility for her claims, and has given sufficient detail in her report, so I’m blogging it. I hope that after I email Ms Gotoh this blog entry at info@mg-ballet.org that she will contact me and clear this issue up.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo, Japan


I received a very prompt response in English and Japanese from the ballet school:


From: info@mg-ballet.org
Subject: Re: To Ms Gotoh: “Japanese Only” Ballet school in Azabu, Tokyo?
Date: December 14, 2007 11:45:46 PM JST
To: debito@debito.org

有道 出人 様、
小樽の「湯の花」の件は、日本人としても恥ずかしく改めなくてはならないと共 感を感じておりました。

下記の英文(あまり英語に自信が無いのでお許しください)に述べました通り、 事実誤認に基づく

有道さんの断定的な発言は大変残念で、下記文書をc.c.のメーリング・リストを 含め回答しようかと
思いましたが、大きな誤解があるようなので、熟慮の末、無用な行き違いを避け るためにも事前に


当方の要望は有道さんのblogの当件に関する文書の即時削除と既に配信なさった メーリングリスト

今回の件は”Japanese Only”には該当しませんが、クレームをいただいた夫婦の 方に嫌な思いを



事務局 内野秀紀

== DRAFT ====================================

Mr. Arudou Debito
Thank you for your inquiry to us.

Regrettably I suggest that you should examine the “FACT” before blogged in public.

You made a couple of critical mistakes on this claim.
We have international students now and for these past 8years after establishment of our school.
And Ms. Goto did not meet this lady yesterday because of class teaching, it was our school staff woman that I confirmed having interview..
I’m afraid that you, Mr. Arudou Debito, already have a kind of preoccupation based on a one-sides e-mail from a lady.
If our school is “Japanese Only” and refuse foreigners having racial discrimination, Why do we have international students now and in the past?
Why do we have website in English as you know?

Before confirming these facts and truth, you’ve already blogged one-sides story and Ms.Goto’s privacy in public.
How do you take your responsibility against the fact?
If you would like to injure reputation of our school or Ms.Goto , we should consider taking official steps to deal with the situation
like you do with several cases.
I also would like to ask you on the “RIGHTS” standing point, what’s your idea of keeping Ms.Goto’s privacy and rights?
You may say you tried to contact us but could not find phone number…but you should send a e-mail like many people do before blogged.

The reason why we could not accept her application yesterday was simply “pre-ballet class” is full capasity now.
A little pretty girl had no blame, including her nationality, for the reason why we couldn’t accept.
We are trying to treat fairly all people if they are Forigner, Japanese or any nationality even a diplomat or any occupation.
And our staff confuzed hearing this lady’s reaction…..We dazed our communication gap.
I know we both side have each story to tell and it’s not appropriate to claim each other’s story in public,,because we don’t
have international human rights issue here..

We sometime don’t accept application even Japanese if someone, or parents of small child, is not appropriate to our
school with some reason….. manner, attitude, decency, cooperation, security etc.
Our ballet school is small private school for membership.

Your claim is coming from human rights standing point and we have foreign student now and in the past as I mentioned.
If you would like to confirm this fact/truth, I’ll accept your coming to observe students with no making trouble condition.
I know we have no obligation to accept you but I do .
After your confirming this evidence by yourself, I strongly request your apology in public for giving irrationality impression in public,
I think that’s the fair manners for RIGHTS of our ballet scool and Ms.Goto.

I took a look at your website and your book “Japanese only”, and I can understand your claim on this.
Personally I have 20years experience of working for foreign company, so I understand we have multiculturalism
issue to solve in Japan.
I understand your point and I’m sorry that our case does not fit to your campaign.
I don’t response to your further question on this except your coming request to confirm the FACT/Truth.

I know Sapporo got into very cold winter season with lots of snow.
I hope you take good care of yourself.

Thank you for living Japan and your social activities.

Love People, Love Arts, Love Ballet!
Secretary < < MG International Arts of Ballet >>
MG Hall B1F GOTO House 5-5-9 Minami-Azabu Minato-ku, Tokyo.



内野さま、ご返答ありがとうございました。有道 出人です。


To M. Uchino,

Thank you very much for your speedy response. I reply in English for the sake of saving time.

I have forwarded your response to Ms. Rahman, and will await her response before taking any further action on my blog. I will of course put your answer in both English and Japanese on my blog, and Ms Rahman’s answer (if there is one) also on my blog later. If there is a discussion to be had, I will gladly facilitate it. Please feel free also to respond directly on the blog if you would prefer.

And yes, I would be happy to stop by your school in January (when I will be in Tokyo for speeches) to meet you and hear your side of the story.

You do admit in your explanation that your school does refuse students. Of course, the reasons for refusing any student are very important (and I have a hard time believing that “security” could ever be a concern). If, as Ms. Rahman claims, your representative refused her daughter because MS School does not take international students, there clearly is a communication problem, especially in the face of how your school portrays itself on its website.

In any case, Ms Rahman is very upset at this situation. Having this much upset happen in customer relations is something that should be avoided. Let’s hear her side of the story next.

Thank you for engaging in a dialog on this issue, and, as you note in the Japanese version of your email, for reading my website so carefully. I hope we can reach an understanding on this issue between you and Ms. Rahman.

Sincerely, Arudou Debito in Sapporo
December 15, 2007











From: Amira Rahman
Subject: Response to MG International
Date: December 15, 2007 8:11:55 PM JST

Dear Sir,
I can believe their claim that they have had foreign students in the past but I would like to contradict one small important point which is we were told that this school does not accept foreigners and no mention whatsoever was made of pre ballet classes being full. If they had said this in the first place we would understand immediatly and have had no hard feelings at all because we had a list of 6 other schools in the area we were going to visit.

My only question is have they ever had a student from Pakistan in their school. Please accept their invitation to see their school for yourself and verify the information I have asked. If there has been even one of us there I will gladly chalk it up to misunderstanding on my behalf and apologize otherwise my husband and I will continue in trying to get an apology for their behaviour towards us.

I can also believe that the owners of the establishment or the teachers may have no clue as to what happened at the reception and were not a part of this incident at all but they must acknowledge that somehow, somewhere a misunderstanding took place that led to us feeling insulted. I know the owner is a ballerina of repute and has international credentials to her name and her business is in Hiroo which incidentally is a center of Embassies from around the world, therefore it is my observation that she should lay great emphasis on training staff to deal with “Foreigners”. If I have not stated this earlier the lady at the reception was most cordial but her changing requirements for enrollment and attitude left no room for error that we were not wanted in this place.

Yours sincerely,

Amira Rahman

Dear Arudou,
My husband says it was nice talking to you and he will be emailing his letter to the school to you on Monday first thing in the morning.

Please do not apologize to anyone on our behalf because you are the voice with which people like us can speak and because of you 2 schools contacted us for our daughter already.
Please keep up the good work and our prayers and blessings are with you.

UPDATE DEC 18, 2007:

J Times: UNHCR’s Guterres bravely spins on Japan’s exclusionary refugee policy


Hi Blog. The United Nations drops in, and tries to put a brave face on Japan’s inability to accept refugees or asylum seekers like any other developed country. Stressing improvements when there really aren’t any. He’s a diplomat, all right. Debito in Sapporo


UNHCR chief pitches third-country resettlement
By KAHO SHIMIZU Staff writer
The Japan Times November 29, 2007

Japan is notorious for accepting very few refugees, despite making a significant financial contribution to the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

But the visiting head of the U.N. organization said Tuesday that Japan is making steady progress in improving the situation facing asylum seekers here.

“Japan is not a country with many refugees . . . but the asylum system is moving in the right direction,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told reporters during his three-day visit to Tokyo.

After arriving Monday, Guterres met with government officials, including Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama and Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura, and left the country Wednesday morning.

Japan was the UNHCR’s third-largest donor country in 2006, with a $75 million (¥8.1 billion) contribution, after being the second-largest donor for eight years through 2005.

However, the number of people granted refugee status in Japan remains small. In 2006, the government recognized only 34 people as refugees, compared with 23,296 in the U.S. and 6,330 in Britain.

Since assuming the top position at the UNHCR in 2005, Guterres, 58, said he has witnessed some improvements in Japan. These include the introduction of an appeal system to review cases of people whose applications for refugee status have been turned down, and the move by authorities to grant protection for people whose applications have been rejected but are allowed to stay for humanitarian reasons.

Above all, the most encouraging development for Guterres was that Japan has begun discussing the possible introduction of the third-country resettlement program, which means accepting refugees who sought asylum in other countries.

The UNHCR views resettlement in a third country as an important tool of protection and a durable solution for refugees, especially when voluntary repatriation to their home countries and local integration are difficult.

In September, the government set up a working group involving officials of the Justice Ministry, Foreign Ministry and other bodies, and began studying the program.

The U.S., Canada and Australia were among the first countries that began offering third-country resettlement opportunities, but although countries in South America, including Brazil and Argentina, recently introduced such a system, no Asian country has done so.

Guterres said he felt there is political will from the Justice Ministry and the Foreign Ministry to introduce the system because they are making a serious analysis of conditions to bring it about.

“We would very much appreciate that (if Japan becomes) the first Asian country to install the program,” Guterres said. But at the same time, the former Portuguese prime minister said the UNHCR does not want Japan to rush, nor is it necessary for Japan to accept a great number of refugees from the beginning, because the U.N. organization wants a system that really works to help asylum seekers.

People’s awareness about refugees in Japan is relatively low due in part to its geographical location, but Guterres said he was encouraged by growing interest among young people.

The Japan Times: Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007

Rogues’ Gallery: Kansai Kensetsu Inc., a “No Foreigners” realtor in Osaka–according to its catalog


Hi Blog. Martin Oickle was kind enough to send me one page of a housing/apartment catalog from “Heartful Fukushima Ten”–an Osaka realtor (Fukushima 7-5-1, Fukushima-ku, Osaka-shi, KK Kansai Kensetsu Fukushima Ten, Ph 06-6455-7101).

It has a system for refusing foreigners that is so clear it’s even got a special snappy logo:

very kindly abbreviated to “‘gaijin’ are allowed” for your handy-dandy reference. Cute.

Here’s the original page in its entirety, from page nine of its catalog:
(click on the image to see a very detailed 300 dpi scan close up)


You’ll notice the very clever logos at the bottom, for “Auto Lock”, “Satellite TV”, “Students Allowed”, “Pianos Allowed”, “Children Allowed”, “Sink for Shampooing”, “Pets Allowed”, “Toilet and Bath Unit Separate”, “Shower Included”, “Flooring”, “Piped in Radio”, “Specially for Women”, “Hot Water Pot Included”, “Staff Constantly On Duty”, “Cable TV”, “Parking Allowed”, “Handicapped Access”, “Contract with Legal Entity”, “Air Conditioning”, “Elevator”, “Rentable in Portions”, “Furnished”, “Phone Included”, “Refrigerator Included”, and finally… “Foreigners Allowed”.

(click below to see whole image in your browser)

Thanks for making it so clear, I guess. Very Heartful. You’ll also notice that there is only one apartment of the twelve on this page which will deign to take “gaijin”:


And it’s nearly the cheapest and quite possibly the crappiest one on the entire page–only a one-room (1R). Now what a coincidence…


Now some quick counterarguments for the pedants, for what they’re worth:

Yes, there are restrictions on other things, such as pianos, but pianos and other material effects are not people. Same with pets, of course.

Yes, there are restrictions on students and children. But one does not remain a student or a child all their life, so it’s not the same as discrimination by nationality. (And for the record, I do not support “Women Only” apartments by the same logic. In any case, the default mode for apartments is accepting women, whereas the default for “gaijin” is rejection.)

What a lovely way to welcome newcomers who have enough hurdles to jump over in this society, without having the most fundamental thing they need in their life–a place to rest their head every day–denied them when they first arrive or need to move. Moreover relegate them to lousy housing regardless of income.

And the fact that this company is bold enough to make exclusionism so explicit (the realtor will no doubt counterargue that this is done by the landlord’s wishes; they’re just following orders) makes them an accessory to the discrimination in black and white.

Debito.org wishes to discourage this type of systematic discrimination in any way possible. I have put this company on the “Rogues’ Gallery of Exclusionary Establishments”.

Suggest you take your business elsewhere if you’re looking for apartments in Fukushima-ku, Osaka. Someplace less tolerant of intolerance.

Like some of these places, mentioned in a Japan Times article of November 10, 2007, blogged here.

Pertinent references from the article:
The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry launched the Web site Anshin Chintai (safe rental housing) in June to provide rental housing information and lists of real estate agents and NPOs that can support foreign apartment-seekers. So far, Tokyo, Fukuoka, Osaka and Miyagi prefectures and Kawasaki have joined the project. For example, 237 real estate agents in Tokyo are listed as supportive firms.

The site — www.anshin-chintai.jp — is available in Japanese only, but foreigners who have difficulties with the language can ask local governments to explain the information on the site to them, according to the ministry.

The Japan Property Management Association, involving about 1,000 real estate agencies, also launched the Web site Welcome Chintai — www.jpm.jp/welcome/ — in September to introduce rental properties in six languages — Chinese, English, Korean, Mongolian, Spanish and Russian.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

McGowan Case: Steve wins case on appeal at Osaka High Court


Good news at last. Comment follows at bottom:


African-American wins Y350,000 in damages for being denied entry into Osaka shop
Japan Today, Wednesday, October 18, 2006 at 19:41 EDT
Courtesy Kyodo News

OSAKA — The Osaka High Court ordered an Osaka optical shop owner to pay 350,000 yen in damages to an African-American living in Kyoto Prefecture for denying him entry to the shop in 2004, altering a lower court ruling in January which rejected the plaintiff’s damages claim.

Presiding Judge Sota Tanaka recognized the owner told Steve McGowan, 42, a designer living in the town of Seika, to go away when he was in front of the shop, and acknowledged damages for McGowan’s emotional pain, saying the entry denial “is a one-sided and outrageous act beyond common sense.”

However, the remark “is not enough to be recognized as racially discriminatory,” he said. McGowan had demanded 5.5 million yen.

According to the ruling, the owner told McGowan to go away to the other side of the road in a strong language several times when he was about to enter the shop with an acquaintance in September 2004.

The plaintiff had claimed the owner said, “Go away. I hate black people,” but the ruling dismissed the claim, as the possibility that he misheard the owner cannot be eliminated.
A plaintiff attorney said, “It’s unreasonable that discrimination was not recognized, but the court ordered a relatively large amount of damages payment for just demanding the plaintiff leave the shop. It seems that the court shows some understanding.”

I am very happy Steve McGowan appealed his case, as it shows just how ludicrous the previous District Court ruling was last January.

Full information on the case at

The previous decision disqualified McGowan and his wife as credible witnesses to any discrimination, by ruling:

1) McGowan’s testimony inadmissible, as he apparently does not understand enough Japanese to reliably prove that the store-owner used discriminatory language toward him.

2) McGowan’s wife’s testimony as negatively admissable. In her follow up investigation, McGowan’s wife didn’t confirm whether the store-owner had excluded McGowan because he is black (“kokujin”); she apparently asked him if it was because her husband is *foreign*.

Put another way: A guy gets struck by a motor vehicle. The pedestrian takes him to court, claiming that getting hit by a car hurt him. The judge says, “You weren’t in fact hit by a car. It was a truck. Compensation denied.”

This was a huge step backward. As I argued in a Japan Times column (Feb 7, 2006, see http://www.debito.org/mcgowanhanketsu.html#japantimesfeb7), the McGowan decision thus established the following litmus tests for successfully claiming racial discrimination. You must:

* Avoid being a foreigner.

* Avoid being a non-native speaker of Japanese.

* Have a native-speaker witness with you at all times.

* Record on tape or video every public interaction you have 24 hours a day.

* Hope your defendant admits he dislikes people for their race.

Actually, scratch the last one. The eyeglass shop owner did admit a distaste for black people, yet the judge still let him off.

Now this High Court reversal sets things back on kilter, although it pays McGowan a pittance (35 man yen will not even cover his legal fees!) and will not acknowledge the existence of racial discrimination.

That’s a shame. But it’s better than before, and far better than if he did not appeal. Gotta pray for the small favors.

Thanks to Steve for keeping up the fight! Arudou Debito in Seattle, USA