“Gaikokujin ja arimasen: An Analysis of the Interactive Construction and Contestation of Being a Foreigner in Japan”, an academic paper by Dr. Cade Bushnell analyzing the conversation I had with Yunohana management during Otaru Onsen Case


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Hi Blog.  The landmark Otaru Onsens Case of “Japanese Only” signs continues to reverberate more than a decade later.  Dr. Cade Bushnell of the University of Tsukuba kindly sent me the following notification of a research article he wrote, based upon a taped conversation I had with exclusionary management at Onsen Yunohana back in 2000, which precipitated the famous lawsuit.  Please have a read, especially if you are interested in the field of Conversation Analysis.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito


July 2, 2015

Dear Dr. Arudou,

Just a note to inform you that my paper featuring your interaction at the bath house has gone public:


Thank you again for your understanding and kind cooperation in allowing me to use the data.

Cade Bushnell
University of Tsukuba


Gaikokujin ja Arimasen (I’m Not a Foreigner):
An Analysis of the Interactive Construction and Contestation of Being a Foreigner in Japan
Cade BUSHNELL University of Tsukuba, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Associate professor
Journal of International and Advanced Japanese Studies, University of Tsukuba, Vol. 7, March 2015

Abstract:  Participants of talk-in-interaction may make various categories and collections of categories relevant to their talk (Hester & Eglin, 1997; Sacks, 1992; Schegloff, 1992, 2007). From an ethnomethodological perspective, such categories are understood not as static possessions, but rather as being assembled by the participants on a moment to moment basis as they co-construct their interaction (Hester & Eglin, 1997; Nishizaka, 1995, 1999; Psathas, 1999; Watson, 1997). Additionally, the participants’ co-construction of, alignment to, or contestation of categories may reflexively affect the sequential organization of their talk (Watson, 1997).

In the present research, I examine a service encounter between a Caucasian Japanese national, his two friends, and the racially Japanese staff of a public bath house in Japan. In the analysis, I use conversation analysis and membership categorization analysis to examine the specific ways in which the participants co-construct the categories of Japanese and foreigner, how they constitute the category Japanese as being bound to differential sets of attributes, rights, legal statuses, and so forth, and how they treat these mutually different categorical constitutions as being problematic for assembling the real-world activity of using the bath house facilities. I also consider how the sequential and categorial aspects of the talk jointly work to make the interaction visible as being a dispute as the participants align to or contest categories in their interaction.

Keywords: Conversation Analysis, Membership Categorization Analysis, Dispute Talk, Discrimination, Nationality



6 comments on ““Gaikokujin ja arimasen: An Analysis of the Interactive Construction and Contestation of Being a Foreigner in Japan”, an academic paper by Dr. Cade Bushnell analyzing the conversation I had with Yunohana management during Otaru Onsen Case

  • OnceAGaijinAlwaysAGaijin says:

    This article should be required reading for apologists. This sort of flat-out discrimination is a fact.

    What is more disturbing is that it clearly shows how Japan’s education system and constructed values encourage such appalling discrimination to the point where prejudice and belief override facts.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    The article sounds like the stuff undergraduate students do in senior thesis at humanities(such as linguistics or communication) departments. I know the work has some issues–e.g., cookie-cutter approach, limited amount of texts, and narrow scope of research. But, the article is a good start for many people to learn how Debito communicated with the Onsen staff(native speaker of Japanese) for their proper understanding of his eligibility in the Japanese context.

  • Same, as an engineer by trade, reading this “conversation analysis” was quite something.

    I mean, as a plain-minded and goal-oriented person it’s so painfully obvious what the whole point of this encounter (and the general policy of which it is a single reflection) – japanese think of their in-group still largely in race-categories (as, say opposed to a modern legalistic understanding of nationalities) – I mean, it’s sure interesting to analyse HOW they dance around this point, but after a while of the same it gets so tedious (we’ve been at this for decades, for very little actual progress), you just want to cut through the bullshit and get results, you know ?

    Occasionally you hear some of them making this point explicit (like, “that” coworker who goes on a tirade after a few beers, or “that” random politician of the week who lets the mask slip when talking amongst the ingroup, cue “misunderstandings”). But normally you just get the soft front of bullshit, as is usual in japaneseforeigner relations (and in business situations like these, with a special serving of their peculiar customerservice bullshit on top).

    Manager: Sorry, no entry. Japanese only.
    Debito: But I’m a naturalized japanese citizen.
    Manager: yeeeah…. uhm, weeeeell, you see…..

    COME ON, everybody KNOWS what the real issue here at play is. Hell, even the manager knows (as evidenced by the fact that he also knows NOT to say IT outright, because he’s aware of the fact that obvious racism (dingdingding!) has a rather bad rep, so they’ll hide behind the usual dance and mumble how things are muzukashii and mendokusai).

  • @Enginerd You might be careful how you use the word “Japanese” here. One distinction Debito pointed out so clearly in that encounter is that ethnicity and nationality are different things. I think we do ourselves a favor by clearly distinguishing which of the two we are talking about. Statements that open, “Japanese think of their …” are generally speaking false.

  • @Doug: sure – I also used the qualifier “largely” (instead of all) to make it conscious that (of course) not everyone/everywhere/everytime thinks like this, but it’s also not a very controversial statement to simply observe that still ENOUGH people (especially people that “matter”) think like this so that it’s still the dominant narrative that underpins the dynamics of situations like these (ie a naturalized citizen denied entry because for the manager (and he is certainly not alone in thinking this) being “japanese” means more than just having the right passport, you also must have the “right” kind of phenotype to really fit in (confirm: he wouldn’t deny chinese people at first glance, because they’d “pass”).

    The issue of “how careful should we be with our own (over?)generalisations when we’re confronted with prejudice ourselves” is raised here also, occasionally, and Debito even reins in the discourse when a commenter goes too far off track, but we’ve also seen it too often used as an apologist distraction tactic that it tests the patience. It usually goes twofold like this, “not EVERYone is like this” (well, duh) – “therefore your general observation is invalid” (uh, I’m not sure that’s how it works). And if that isn’t enough, invariably comes the clincher: “Even so, OTHER peoples do it too!” (duh, again) – “therefore you have no grounds to single this out for criticism” (again, not quite so). To break it down in this specific instance, when I say “japanese think…” of course it’s not meant as an unique, innate or even “genetic” thing of them – talking about conceptions of “japanese identity” which are constructed and therefore changeable, and its this here activisms’ humble mission to do its part in changing it for the better (ie beyond race-base to incorporate non-natives into the group). And the second part, of course Japan is not alone in this. Hell, most of the world still does think like that, more or less (for example, I come from a part of the world that hasn’t even “evolved” up to general race/nation structures and is still stuck in even more atavistic tribe/clan mindset). You can argue that even the few modern western nations still struggle with the issue and just sufficiently pretend to care, but what’s important is that they have at least a reasonable legal framework in place to rectify discrimination when it occurs. The relative lack of such recourse is a large part of what lets race-mindset go unchallenged and situations like these (Debito bathhouse, etc.) even occur in the first place.

    Geez, given how dismissive I was of “conversation analysis” in the first place, now there’s a fat paragraph about “talking about how to talk” here 🙂 Shows what happens if you want to make your statements concise in the first place without bloating it up with qualifiers everywhere, you have to explain even more in the end ^^


  • A tangent..but one with a simple message (one i’ve noted occurring to me many times over in other countries, rarely in Japan though):

    “…How US students get a university degree for free in Germany…” *

    “…When Katherine came to Germany in 2012 she spoke two words of German: ‘hallo’ and ‘danke’. She arrived in an East German town which had, since the 1950s, taught the majority of its residents Russian rather than English.
    “At first I was just doing hand gestures and a lot of people had compassion because they saw that I was trying and that I cared.”…

    The last sentence…people had compassion for her poor linguistic skills yet still took time to understand her……none of the smoke and mirrors one constantly gets here in Japan.

    * http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32821678


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