Tokyo sushi shop Mizutani, with 2 Michelin stars, refuses NJ customers; awaiting Michelin Guides’ response


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Hi Blog. Thanks to everyone who submitted these articles. Here’s yet another place in Japan that refuses NJ customers entry, and once again giving a reason against the group based upon the alleged actions of a select few (Japanese never renege on their reservations, after all, right?). And of course bring in the boilerplate language barrier (which was not an issue in these refusals in the first place).  Anyway, what makes the Sushi Mizutani case particularly noticeable is that Michelin has recommended this place, and so far Michelin have not commented on whether these kinds of exclusionary policies are grounds for removing that recommendation. But given the relativism and exceptionality that pervades the world’s treatment of Japan (giving it a free pass for some pretty egregious examples of racism), I would be rather surprised if Michelin took their stars away. They have been advised of this situation, so let’s wait and see. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito


Michelin restaurant in Ginza refuses reservations by foreigners
The Tokyo Reporter, By Kenji Nakano on April 26, 2015, courtesy of lots of people
Chinese journalist Mo Bangfu finds the policy of Sushi Mizutani to be ‘discriminatory’

On April 8, the secretary for Chinese journalist Mo Bangfu telephoned Sushi Mizutani, a 10-seat restaurant located in Tokyo’s ritzy Ginza district, to make a reservation for four people.

The reservation was on behalf of Bangfu, who was hosting three guests from the Communist nation. The secretary, a Japanese female, was told that seats were available on the requested day.

However, once the course of conversation revealed that the party would in fact consist of foreigners she was informed that the restaurant has a policy of refusing reservations from non-Japanese.

Mo, a 30-year resident of Japan, then telephoned the restaurant himself and received the same information. “It was disappointing,” Mo told evening tabloid Nikkan Gendai (April 26).

With Sushi Mizutani having received a two-star ranking in the Michelin Guide Tokyo 2015, the paper finds the policy disturbing as Japan is continuing a push to attract more visitors from overseas.

In a phone conversation with the head of the restaurant, whose typical meals runs around 20,000 yen, Nikkan Gendai learns that issue involves problems that occurred in the past.

“In order to preserve the atmosphere of the restaurant, we try to maintain that the total number of guests are split between Japanese and foreigners,” says the representative. “Since we’ve had foreigners make reservations and not show up and other problems, we only take reservations through a hotel concierge or (through a service provided by) a credit card company.”

Mo’s status as a permanent resident is irrelevant, according to Sushi Mizutani.

“Whether one is a tourist or not cannot be determined over the phone,” the representative says. “So this is an across-the-board policy.”

The appeal of Japanese cuisine has been one factor in the recent rise in travelers from overseas coming to Japan. Earlier this month, the Japan National Tourism Organization said that the 1,526,000 tourist arrivals for March set a record.

That record will likely fall again soon. For the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, the government expects 25 million foreigners to arrive in Japan. By comparison, last year the figure stood at 13 million.

Perhaps ironically, Mo works as a tourism adviser for Yamanashi and Kagawa prefectures. He finds the behavior of Sushi Mizutani baffling, though he does have some sympathies regarding problems that may have taken place in the past.

“However, I, a permanent resident, find the conscious separation of foreigners and Japanese to be discriminatory,” he says.

The matter is not just a problem just for Sushi Mizutani, the journalist continues.

“For the betterment of the entire image of Japan for visitors, conscious change may be necessary,” he says. (K.N.)

Source: “Sabetsu? Yoyaku kyohi sa reta gaikoku hito ga ikidoru mishuran sushi-ten no taio,” Nikkan Gendai (April 26)


Michelin-star sushi restaurant in Tokyo defends foreigner rules
Japan Today NATIONAL APR. 28, 2015 – 03:50PM JST ( 133 ), Courtesy of lots of people
TOKYO —A top notch Michelin-starred sushi restaurant in Tokyo on Monday defended its special reservation rules for foreigners after a report in Japan it had refused to accept a booking from a Chinese customer.

Sushi Mizutani, which has two of the coveted Michelin stars, told AFP it has an “across-the-board policy” of not accepting bookings by non-Japanese customers—unless they are made through a hotel concierge or a credit card company.

“Non-Japanese customers may not show up for their reservations,” a member of the staff at the restaurant said, adding employees do not have the foreign language proficiency to explain requirements to patrons.

“We prepare fish for the number of expected customers and have to turn down other requests for booking sometimes. We simply cannot afford it if people don’t show up.

“We don’t think it is anything discriminatory,” he said.

The confirmation came after a report that the restaurant, located in Tokyo’s glitzy Ginza district, had refused to take a reservation for Chinese journalist Mo Bangfu.

Mo, a resident of Japan for 30 years who is fluent in Japanese, intended to host three guests at the high-end restaurant, where prices start at 20,000 yen per person, the Nikkan Gendai tabloid reported.

The magazine said that as soon as his secretary—a Japanese woman—told the restaurant Mo’s name and contact number, the person taking the booking suddenly changed his attitude and said “some arrangements were necessary”—indicating the reservation was not acceptable.

“We have an increasing number of cases in which people are abandoning their reservations,” a restaurant worker told AFP, adding Japanese-speaking customers are called for reconfirmation a few days before their reservation.

The number of foreign tourists coming to Japan has rocketed in recent years as the value of the yen has fallen and as tensions have eased between Beijing and Tokyo.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he wants to attract 20 million foreign visitors a year by 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympics.

Despite decades of exposure to non-Japanese tourists, many facilities, even in cosmopolitan Tokyo, have difficulties dealing with people who they assume cannot speak the language.

Tokyo has a huge selection of top-class eateries, and regularly tops the global list for Michelin-starred restaurants.

No one from the Michelin Guide was available for comment.


And as for the ability for NJ clients to get around this exclusion by using a concierge service:
Wes Thorpe: I called trying to make a reservation tonight, and was told that because I was a foreigner I would need to make a reservation through my hotel or my credit card’s concierge service. I explained (in Japanese) that I’ve lived in Japan for 23 years and am a permanent resident, and that as I don’t have a platinum card I’m unable to use Visa’s concierge service. They told me I’m out of luck. Truly despicable.


Sushi Mizutani
8-7-7 Ginza Chuo, Tokyo 104-0061
Sushi Restaurant
Today 11:30 am – 1:30 pm, 5:00 – 9:30 pm


差別? 予約拒否された外国人が憤るミシュラン寿司店の対応

日刊 ゲンダイ 2015年4月26日

ショッキングな話である。2015年の「ミシュランガイド東京」で2つ星を獲得した銀座の「鮨 水谷」が、予約をしようとした外国人に差別的な対応をしたという。実際に店側とやりとりし、「がっかりした」と話すのは、在日30年の中国人ジャーナリスト・莫邦富氏だ。


「水谷」はカウンター10席で、夜のおまかせコースが2万円からという超高級店。常連客によると「金持ちの白人がしょっちゅう来て、大声でしゃべっている」という。外国人を受け入れている店なのに、莫氏へのヒドい対応は何なのか? 莫氏の電話を受けた店の担当者に取材すると、こんな言い分だった。









28 comments on “Tokyo sushi shop Mizutani, with 2 Michelin stars, refuses NJ customers; awaiting Michelin Guides’ response

  • This certainly wouldn’t be the first time a starred sushi joint has refused NJ customers.

    — I saw this article before, but it’s not as clear-cut a case as Sushi Mizutani is.


    The Man Who Has Eaten At Every Michelin 3-Star Restaurant Says The ‘Jiro Dreams Of Sushi’ Spot Is Not Worth The Hype
    Business Insider. com, MAY 1, 2014

    Last week, President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro, considered by many to be one of the best sushi restaurants in Tokyo, if not the world.

    It’s certainly the most famous sushi spot on the planet thanks to the 2011 documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” The three-star Michelin restaurant is located in the basement of an office building near the Ginza station, with a modest wooden counter and only 10 tables in the entire establishment. 89-year-old master chef Jiro Ono serves a tasting menu of roughly 20 courses, for a total of 30,000 Japanese yen (just under $300).

    But some people question if the experience is actually worth the money.

    While there’s no question that diners are eating some of the freshest and most perfectly prepared fish available, the meal is often rushed. The Michelin Tokyo Guide warns “don’t be surprised to be finished within 30 minutes.” That’s the equivalent of spending 1,000 Japanese Yen — or $10 — per minute.

    Andy Hayler, a food critic at Elite Traveler who has dined at every Michelin three-star restaurant in the world, had a less-than-stellar experience at Sukiyabashi Jiro in 2008. “It was very rushed, and I gather has become even more rushed since,” he told Business Insider. “A well traveled American friend went recently and timed it in and out in 28 minutes, his wallet several hundred dollars lighter.”

    (For those curious, Obama’s visit lasted for one and half hours, three times longer than the typical meal at Sukiyabashi Jiro.)

    There are a few reasons for Chef Ono’s fast pace. Connoisseurs believe that the highest quality sushi is served within five seconds of being prepared, and that diners should not let a bite of sushi rest, but consume it immediately.

    Plus, eating those 20 sushi courses over the span of hours could ruin the customers’ appetites as they become increasingly full, and they would not appreciate the later courses. Chef Ono’s meal lasts less than a half an hour, so there’s not enough time for diners to start to feel overly full (it takes about 20 minutes for our body to recognize that it’s satiated) and they can better enjoy every perfect bite of sushi.

    In addition to the fast pace, however, some people claim the service itself can be hit or miss at Sukiyabashi Jiro depending on who you are and who you’re with. Foreigners who don’t speak Japanese, known as gaijin, have a hard time getting a reservation at Sukiybashi Jiro in the first place and an even harder time being served. Since Chef Ono doesn’t speak English and his son speaks very little, their explanations and any diner questions or requests are often completely lost in translation.

    Bringing along a friend or guide who speaks fluent Japanese is not only highly recommended by every reviewer, but often necessary. Some reviewers even describe a hostile relationship between Chef Ono and foreigners, with some going so far as to claim discrimination.

    Hayler described the poor service in the 2008 review:

    From the moment we sat down, the old gentleman who runs the place, and the chef who served us, regarded us with barely concealed contempt. They spent their time glowering at us throughout. The fish came at a very fast pace, and when at one point my wife stopped for a few moments towards the end and explained (via our translator) that she just needed a moment, they just took her sushi away regardless. “The customer is always right” is not a concept that has caught on at this place.

    Many of his readers agreed with his assessment of the service in the comments section, describing their own experiences with Chef Ono. One man even said he and his brother were almost kicked out during a 2011 visit:

    As my brother and I entered the restaurant, my brother removed his jacket and placed it on a rack. Before I could reach for my scarf, my brother’s jacket was — literally — shoved back into his chest, and he was being pushed in the back towards me and told, “Sorry, no foreigner.”


    My wife, as yet unseen, suggested she try herself — being Japanese — and sure enough, she was treated as if a new guest had come in. When she confirmed our reservation and learned our table was ready, she beckoned us in. They were startled to see us re-enter the restaurant with her, although no apology was forthcoming.

    Despite these negative reviews, not everyone experiences poor service at Sukiyabashi Jiro, and most people still agree that the food itself is superb. Obama called it the “best sushi I’ve ever eaten,” and Hayler agreed, telling Business Insider that he thought his meal was “objectively good,” but that it still did not compare to other Tokyo establishments such as Sushi Saito, Yoshitake, Mizutani, and Sawada.

    So if you are comfortable with feeling rushed throughout a $300 meal and potentially poor service, then it’s worthwhile to visit Sukiyabashi Jiro and try Chef Ono’s truly amazing sushi.

    But Japan is filled with fantastic restaurants. Jiro Ono’s spot isn’t even in the top 30 sushi restaurants in Tokyo by Japanese diners on Tablelog, Japan’s Yelp equivalent.

    And for those looking for a more affordable and low-key sushi meal in the U.S., New York is now home to Sushi Nakazawa. Owned by Jiro Ono’s former protégée Daisuke Nakazawa, the entire meal lasts for two hours and costs only $150 a head.


  • Since they are refusing PRs I would like to see what their stance is on accepting reservations from Japanese citizens with a non-Japanese appearance.

    I think this could go down the path “irrational discrimination” very quickly.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    ““Whether one is a tourist or not cannot be determined over the phone,” the representative says.”

    Really? So if I call from my landline, which is listed in the old-fashioned white “Hello Pages” under my own name, they’ll still think I might be a tourist, just because my name doesn’t sound Japanese?

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Looks like Sushi Mizutani started no foreigners policy not so long time ago, since non-Japanese reviewers who wrote positive comments about the restaurant were apparently allowed to be let in. What makes Mizutani’s case challenging is its exclusive status and limited seat availability (hence customers need to make reservation for the specific date). That allows them to refuse foreign customers on the phone so that they wouldn’t have to put up “No Foreigners Allowed” sign at the front door, and hence, make it easy to cover up their discriminatory conduct. Yurakuchu/Ginza is one of the most expensive districts in the central Tokyo, and many foreign business clients and media correspondents visit there. I wonder if any journalists joining at Foreign Correspondent Club of Japan had a chance to go there or similar type of restaurants and encountered the similar situation like Mizutani.

  • “…“Since we’ve had foreigners make reservations and not show up……whose typical meals runs around 20,000 yen,..”

    Well, i would suggest there you are.

    I have been to these “establishments” before. Very few, if any, price lists are shown or given. They charge whatever they feel is “suitable”. Some do not even have a menu, one is expected to let the sushi chef decide for you.

    I would wager that anyone, not just foreigners, who have made a reservation and then cancelled, did so after finding out, too late probably, that they would not receive a “menu with a price list” of sorts. And from this, it would not be too much of a stretch to have customers asking or even complaining about the price of the meal, as they are very rarely broken down into each dish. It is just a flat fee. Typical a-la-Japanese style, just accept don’t complain.

    More transparency prevents confusion. And, wooaaah…being transparent also means, yup..anyone can order, just point and hope for the best, as most others do when in a foreign land and in language one is unable to decipher. It is part of the fun of…bugger…not allowed, neh!

  • FaithnoMore says:

    How can they get away with this?
    It’s discrimination.
    It’s clear.
    Foreigners are troublesome, and need to be controlled and vetted if at all possible.
    They don’t do this to Japanese.
    Not only is it discrimination, it’s snobbery and bigotry.
    No matter how polite this snobby fish restaurant is about it, it’s quite blunt.

    Sadly, this isn’t new.
    Sadly, it’s the same old story.
    I hope their fish goes rotten.

  • If you really want to eat at Sushi Mizutani, why not make a reservation using a “Japanese” name? On arrival they either serve you or turn you away. If they choose to turn you away any loss incurred would be entirely their own fault.

    Anyway, there are plenty of sushi restaurants that are happy to serve anyone. Much better to eat at one of those than have some resentful chef sneering and muttering at you during your meal.

  • B: I believe I have heard of restaurants losing Michelin stars.

    — Of course. Otherwise they would have no incentive to keep up the quality. The question is: Are bigoted policies grounds for losing?

  • John K:

    The sad part is that I’m sure that there are lots of NJ who would have no problem with omakase or no price list, if the restaurant bothered to explain it. (I ate at a Japanese restaurant in New York with no menu — I knew this beforehand, and it was a wonderful experience.) But of course, they don’t, and instead blame the foreigners for all the meiwaku…

  • Debito:

    From :

    “The star symbols judge only what’s on the plate, meaning the quality of products, the mastering of flavors, mastering of cooking, personality of the cuisine, value for the money and the consistency of what the restaurant offers to its customers both throughout the menu and the year.”

    So it seems that the stars are — in theory — only about the quality and value of the food. Of course, Michelin also rates on ambiance (symbolized by forks and spoons, not stars). It’s not clear to me if there are guidelines for what makes a restaurant eligible for listing in the first place, or if it’s at the inspector’s discretion.

    As a separate but perhaps related issue, there are claims that Michelin stars mean less in Japan than elsewhere. Using the data in Wikipedia as a source, it appears that there are 593 starred establishments in Japan (where Michelin publishes major city guides only) as compared to 594 in France (where the guide covers the whole country); there are 293 starred listings in the Tokyo/Yokohama/Shonan guide as opposed to only 65 in the New York City guide and 77 in the Paris guide. Certainly Japanese food is very good, but these are striking disparities.

  • And you notice that whenever they flat out discriminate against foreigners, they ALWAYS have a legitimate sounding justification for it. We call it “pretext” in legal jargon. It means they make up a reason to make it sound legitimate. For example, they’ll always say “it’s a language barrier problem”, or “it’s to avoid cultural misunderstanding”, or some crap like that. Sounds good doesn’t it? Except it doesn’t hold when you closely examine it. Unfortunately, the Japanese legal and cultural mindset doesn’t really see when it’s discriminatory. You can discriminate against foreigners all you want; just make sure you say it’s because of the language barrier or some crap like that.

  • “So this is an across-the-board policy.”

    It’s not an across the board policy if it only applies to some people (i.e., non-japanese). If it only applies to some people, then it is a discriminatory policy.

  • Klansman: See, it aint like we’re refusing to allow some poor ignorant blacks to join our schools. Our policy is fair because we ban ALL blacks, regardless of where they come from. It’s an across the board policy.

  • Anonymous says:

    For 4 years, I have taught a class with 4 racist old Japanese ladies.
    Yesterday was the absolute final straw, I will never teach them again.

    Discussing a store’s sign which says “Non-Japanese not allowed entry”,
    the 4 racist old ladies agreed about the following racist statements:

    “Shops SHOULD have the right to deny entry to races which they don’t want to deal with.”
    “Shops should NOT be penalized by the courts, for denying entry to such undesirable races.”

    I could handle those, since I once (wrongly) wrote, “Well, no PHYSICAL damage, no crime, eh?”

    But the final kicker that made me decide I will absolutely never teach them again, was:

    “Denying entry to all people who are not pure ethnically Japanese, is NOT discrimination!”


    The above illogical statements, in both English and Japanese, were voiced repeatedly, vehemently.

    Today I found a substitute teacher who I will happily pay to babysit those racists from now on.

    My policy is, “About nationality-based or ethnicity-based or race-based discrimination (for example store entry denial) people who say ‘that is not discrimination’ are people I refuse to speak with.”

    私の策は “人間を国籍か民族か人種に基づいて、区分するのが(例えば店にお断りのこと)は「差別ではないよ」と言う人に基づいて、私はその人と話すのがお断りします。”

  • “So it seems that the stars are — in theory — only about the quality and value of the food. Of course, Michelin also rates on ambiance (symbolized by forks and spoons, not stars). It’s not clear to me if there are guidelines for what makes a restaurant eligible for listing in the first place, or if it’s at the inspector’s discretion.” Marnen Laibow-Koser

    So if a Michelin starred restaurant in London, Paris, New York, Canberra, Toronto, or Christ Church refused Japanese customers for the same reason then Michelin would be OK with that?

    I really think not and also the restaurant would be closed in hours after protests. Some how it seems even non-Japanese people wish to excuse flat out racist and discriminatory behavior by Japanese nationals. It never ceases to disgust and amaze me.

  • Rev. Daniel:

    “So if a Michelin starred restaurant in London, Paris, New York, Canberra, Toronto, or Christ Church refused Japanese customers for the same reason then Michelin would be OK with that?”

    It seems pretty clear that it wouldn’t figure into the star rating, yes. Whether the restaurant would be deemed ineligible for listing as a result of that policy is what we don’t know.

    But I don’t think it would occur in any of those other cities, for the simple reason that businesspeople there know that discrimination statutes are actually enforced. Those in Japan, OTOH, appear to simply be tatemae and of no real use to anyone.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Rev. Daniel Rea #18

    ‘So if a Michelin starred restaurant in London, Paris, New York, Canberra, Toronto, or Christ Church refused Japanese customers for the same reason then Michelin would be OK with that?’

    Japanese customers would not be ok with that, but would bite their tongue until they got home, and then spew racist venom, just like Gackt’s alleged incident at the French airport with a view of Paris (I mean, seriously, a view of Paris from the airport?).
    However, if a restaurant had a policy like that in London, Paris, New York, Canberra, Toronto, or Christ Church, no one would have to contact Michelin, because the law of those countries would act against it first.
    However, since this is Japan, we are relying on a food guide to uphold our inalienable human rights. Is this not insane?

  • I visited Milan Universal Exhibition 2015 on May 3rd about food and nutrition, and as a foreigner long term resident in Japan I couldn’t but visited Japan pavillion as well.
    I was very surprised to see in many areas of the pavillion it was mentioned that “diversity” is a richness of Japan.
    I guess they should have put in brackets (food diversity and not people diversity)

    This and many other cases should be brought up at the expo 2015.

    — Thanks for reporting. I wish you could have taken some photos. Is it still on? If so, could you? Thanks.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ Max #22

    Like the defense of the ‘good manners’ textbook I linked last week included some meaningless counter factual comment about diversity in the edo era, I think ‘diversity’ is replacing ‘cross-cultural’ (kokusaiteki) as the new buzz word.
    Expect to hear it used and abused much more.

  • I have sent the references to your e-mail address.

    Pavilion main theme is “harmonious diversity” and yes it mentions about food diversity but also people diversity

    This message is especially stressed in the last section of pavilion visit, The restaurant of the future, where they explain that Japanese culture is to put together different people around a table with good food and make them feel in harmony 和

    Maybe it is 2060 year vision or something

    I think this pavilion too sums up to recent Abe’s efforts in improving (artificially) Japan image with foreigners / foreginers correspondents.
    That pavilion costed 3 billion euro to Japanese governmnet, I guess it is part of Japanese government 海外PR budget, including recent CNN CM about Japanese philanthropists’ actions in South East Asia.

  • Giuseppe says:

    No one likes non-paying customers or customers who don’t show up, but that’s not the point.

    Japanese crave for international recognition and business but they don’t want to share any of the burden associated with it.

    This behavior is all over Japan, from import restrictions to racial profiling to total lack of racial discrimination laws.
    And the discrimination often happen where the perpetrator is likely to get away with it.

    Sushi Mizutani is the latest example of this behavior, they welcome the Michelin rating, the CNN review, the documentaries, the TripAdvisor’s comments, but at the same time they refuse the very same customers who gave them lots of free advertising and brought them lots and lots of business.

    Ironically, even Michelin’s director Jean-Luc Naret would not be allowed to eat there.

  • Meanwhile, in the UK:

    Black students ‘refused entry to club’ in Leicester
    BBC News, 21 May 2015

    A doorman at a Leicester nightclub has been suspended after a group of students alleged he refused to let them in because of their race.

    Footage recorded by one of the students shows a bouncer agreeing they were being barred “because they were black”.

    A statement from Ghost Nightclub said it welcomed people “from all walks of life” and had suspended the doorman.

    In the mobile phone video, the bouncer says he was enforcing the club’s rules and claimed it was not his decision.

    Kosi Orah, a 19-year-old University of Leicester student from Essex, who was celebrating his birthday on a night out with friends, said they were turned away from the nightclub.

    But the owners of Ghost Nightclub said: “We reiterate that we only have a shoes-only, 18-plus door policy.

    “I urge people to take a look at our Facebook page to see that we welcome people from all walks of life.

    “This is a 45-year-old business – the oldest nightclub in the city – which has been owned by the same family for all that time.

    “We urge the group of students who were turned away to get in touch with the management of Ghost Nightclub so that we can resolve this.”


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