Shiki on unlawful and racist check-in practices at “foreigner-friendly” Sakura Hotel Jimbocho, Tokyo


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Hi Blog.  Turning the keyboard over to someone who had a bad experience at one of the allegedly “foreigner friendly” public accommodations in Japan.  According to Shiki, this hotel is racially profiling its customers in violation of the law and blaming the police for it.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito


November 6, 2016
Hello Dr. Debito,

My name is Shiki, and I’m a long term resident in Japan, having been living for almost 9 years now, and I’m actually in the process of naturalization.

I wanted to report about the most horrible experience I’ve had in Japan, which happened on October 25, 2016, at a Hotel called “Sakura Hotel Jimbocho“.

I live in Sapporo, and a few weeks ago I was told by my boss that they needed me to go Tokyo in less than a week from that date. I reserved my air ticket, and looked for hotels near where is the Tokyo office of my company.

I looked at many capsule hotels, but since I needed to finish some work before the next day I preferred to get a single room so that I could work in my Notebook, but the problem was that all hotels around that area where more expensive that what the company was willing to cover for my stay.

Then I remembered that near that place, I saw once this “Sakura Hotel”, which even thou I never used any of “Sakura” services, I knew it they offered guest houses and weekly mansions mainly targeted to foreigners, so I just went to their site to see what that place was about, and it appeared to be a normal hotel, mainly targeted to tourists, but they were also offering it as a cheap business hotel for Japanese people. So I took a look at the prices, and it was perfect.

It was a small room, with free wifi, and so close to the office that I could actually just walk to it, and I could arrive late at night to check in (which I needed to), so with no second thoughts I just reserved it.

And this was the time I saw the first red flag of what was about to come. In the registration they asked for my nationality, which is something I’ve never been asked before. And it said that “Foreigners were required to show their passports”, so I looked at this, and saw your posts about the subject, and then I just thought “Thet are just doing this for the tourists”, so I just left the default that was “Japanese” in nationality.

I arrived at the hotel past 11pm, and went to the lobby and it was the usual check-in, until the guy asked me for my passport, to what I just said “I’m not a tourist”, then this guy asked me if I was Japanese, and I told him that no but that I was not a tourist and didn’t even had my passport with me.

So he then started to ask for my Residence Card, and I told him that my Residence Card contained private information, so I was not comfortable showing it, and then the guy, late at night told me that then they could not take me as a guest unless I showed them my residence card.

At that moment I was not sure if it was even legal for them to refuse me service, so I insisted that the whole thing of the passport is supposed to be targeted at tourists who do not have a residence in Japan, and that since I had an actual address in Japan that rule did not apply to me.  Then this guy proceeded to say that it was “hotel policy”, and that if I didn’t wanted to comply with “hotel policy” I was free to search for another hotel.

It was late at night, I’ve searched mant cheap hotels on internet and I knew all of them were full, my phone battery died, so i couldn’t even search anything, so really I was forced to give him my card, which he took a copy witbout my permission, and asked him to destroy the copy, thing he refused to do, and threatened me to “return me my money” if I continued “causing trouble”.

So I got to my room and immediately searched for my legal standing on this matter, and this us when I knew that they cannot refuse me service, so I went down with a copy of the law, and told the guy on the lobby to read it.

He took a look at it, and then told him that it was actually illegal for him to refuse me service, and that I wanted them to destroy the copy of my residence card or that I would sue them.

The first response of this guy was “you are free to do whatever you want”, and then I proceeded to ask for his name, and told him I was going to contact management of the company and tell them what he just said.

The he proceeded to make excuses that he dodn’t knew about the law, that he has to report foreigners to the police, and almost telling me that he was gping to “get scolded” by the police if they saw my name without any ID.

I told him it wasn’t my problem, and that he just needed to show the police that I have an address in Japan. He told me that police was going to scold him for not giving the ID of a foreigner, and when I asked him how would they even know if I’m a foreigner and not of Japanese nationality, he proceeded to make a racist statement about how “He can tell by their face, or their accent”. I told him that was racist and he proceeded to once again threaten me about “returning me my money” even after was I told him.

So I returned to my room, and wrote a mail of what just happened to the management of the hotel.  The next day when I was about to check out, this new guy told me he was in charge of the hotel and that he saw my mail.

He apologized for how the guy last night handled the situation, and then he started to explain me that they have many foreign customers, and because of this they are tightly under the watch of the police, and that ws tbe reaspn for their policy.

I told him that his policy is illegal, since the residence card is contains sensitive information and that they cannot ask and then try to refuse service if I don’t comply.

He told me that they need some kind of identification, and I told them that I was more than happy to give them my identification, but just not my residence card.

He continued trying to justify himself, at one point he even started out of nowhere to speak in broken Spanish (he probably saw in the residence card info I refused to give that I was from a Spanish speaking country, which made me more mad than anything, specially when I was talking with him in Japanese without any problem), and I was running late, so I just told him that I have never been asked by a hotel to provide any extra information outside of my name and address, and he told me that they “may” change their policy.

I’m really considering taking legal action against this company, and I hope this helps to expose this company to their foreign customers, so that next time they want to use their services they are aware that they are a company that racially profiles people and ask them illegally based on this to provide personal information under the illegal threat of refusal of service.

Regards, Shiki.


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23 comments on “Shiki on unlawful and racist check-in practices at “foreigner-friendly” Sakura Hotel Jimbocho, Tokyo

  • The police are monitoring the identifies of NJ checking into hotels?!?
    Wow! They must be pretty busy what with record numbers of inbound tourists this year! Wherever will the get the man power to monitor hotel check-ins during the Olympics?!

    I guess they never thought of that.

    This is like North Korea, or Cold War era Soviet Union, except that those countries really did (do, in the case of N. Korea) actually tail every foreign individual. The J-cops are just collecting information because the can, because they’ve never been held accountable to the law on this matter, and because they are locked into the myth they’ve created of a non-existant ‘gaijin crime wave’ that they now have to pretend to be policing.

    Until customers hold hotels to account for illegal requests, hotels will not push back against the police for asking them to break the law.

    My advice, take legal action, don’t naturalize.

    — Not sure how this leads to the advice of not naturalizing. That’s unrelated.

  • Dear Shiki
    Typing from my phone, so short answer: go to the shohisha center close to Sapporo eki. Tell them to call the kumiai responsible for overseeing hotels. Or contact me. In Tokyo now, so no access to all info right now

  • That’s rough. Been there, done that.

    Only thing that works is to stand your ground and refuse to submit anything. Ask for the manager, as the desk agent doesn’t set policy and has no freedom of action.

    So far never been denied my room, never handed over my ID…

  • Now I have decent keyboard and type more:
    A lawyer told me that when you make a reservation and the website clearly states that they want to see your passport, you have to provide it, because when reserving the hotel you agreed on the terms of the contract. So it is the law as it seems.
    If they do not have it explicitly written on their booking site (and you could make a reservation without entering your nationality), the hotel is not allowed to see your passport.
    Being refused a stay might be reason to sue them but the outcome is ambiguous. You might just be reimbursed for your cancellation fee. You will not be able to get reimbursed for the 50000 yen suite room at Odaiba JAL hotel, or wheresoever, that you needed to book in this emergency case.

    My advice to everybody: get the conversation recorded (in the open. Just put your phone on the desk and say ‘I am going to record our conversation from now on because I am giving this to my lawyer and I am planning to sue you’)

    It happened to me in Tokyo once and I complained to the management, got a handwritten apology letter.
    My next advice is to go to the Sapporo 消費生活センター (shouhi seikatsu senta-) and ask them to call the 全国旅館ホテル生活衛生同業組合連合会 (Zenkoku Ryoukan Hotel Seikatsu Eisei Dougyou Kumiai Rengoukai), which are in charge of hotel operations in Japan.

    Also, this link is handy

    Contact me anytime, if you need assistance. More than happy to go with you to the shohisha senta-.

  • I had a very similar experience a few years ago at the hotel Tokyu Stay Suidobashi in Tokyo. The guy on the check in desk insisted he needed to copy my residence card and I refused on the grounds it contained personal information.

    He said it was company policy to make copies and he showed me a thick folder full of copies of other people’s residence cards and passports saying “look, we copy everyone’s documents”.

    I said no other hotel had ever asked for a copy and I wasn’t going to allow him to make one. After arguing the toss for some time I showed him the card but didn’t let him copy it.

    It was quite an irritating and unpleasant experience and I won’t stay at that chain again. I think if it happens again I will just say I am Japanese and accept their humble apologies.

  • @ Dr. Debito #1,

    I don’t see the point of an NJ naturalizing in Japan- you lose the only thing working in your favor if you do- the ability to raise the threat of turning Japanese anti-NJ discrimination into a highly embarrassing mini-international incident thanks to the power of the internet.

    After all, does anyone really believe that a naturalized NJ will be any less discriminated against? What happens when you rock up to hotel receptions, and the receptionist asks to see your passport then? You tell him/her that you left it at home because you’re Japanese. And then what? They’re gonna ask for proof of that and they’ll want to photocopy that illegally too, won’t they? Because a naturalized NJ will never ‘look’ Japanese.

    About the only thing that protects me from a J-cop beating is my passport (because NJ in Japan have no rights! Remember?), if I was to get a Japanese passport, it wouldn’t stop J-society from looking at me and deciding I was a gaijin and discriminating against me, would it? ‘Oh, I’m naturalized’, ‘My apologies, I’ll stow my racism then’, really, you think? If you hold a Japanese passport, who has got your back when the police try to frame you?

    Racists don’t care if you’ve naturalized- their worldview means you can never be ‘Japanese’, and they are the majority.

    — It’s a bit more complicated than that. And I speak from experience. I did get more rights and better treatment after naturalizing. But it wasn’t complete and it did not fulfill my expectations for full equality. But I will not agree that naturalizing makes NO difference. It did, just not enough.

  • #4Olaf,

    Are you seriously suggesting that any company policy – written however they wish it to be – takes precedence over legal laws of the country?

  • 12 years I never had such problems at hotels in Japan, even though I do not speak Japanese. If I am with a Japanese that made the reservation, I am only asked to fill a check-in paper form: if I’m alone it is enough to show my driving license, or JP health insurance card, or (former Juki card,) or now My Number card. In other words an ID card that Japanese may also have, and works for JP as an ID card.
    I simply give the ID document, I want them to register. Never I had my passport with me, and I noticed that it had/has not any printed address, but only my city, nor the country of residence.

    My opinion is that Japan has a strange system, because most of the time Japanese are not required an ID card to stay at hotels. This is not safety, extremely promiscuous for affairs, and criminal activities, and may lead tax frauds.

    In my country hotels or any lodging, must register anyone (each person) ID references on a register-book at the check-in. No matter your supposed nationality, if you do not have it, you are refused the check-in. At the end of each day, the copy of the check-in with ID references must be submitted at the police box. Police may check each by each on their network. I know it very well as in my country, I worked at hotels front desk for years.

    The matter comes out when Japanese hotels do not simply ask an “ID” card as Japanese may have (then “yourself” you may opt to give your Zairyu Card.) The matter for some NJ is when Japanese front desk, pretend to have only your Zairyu Card as the only ID acceptable, and pretend to copy it. Or if show another valid JP ID card to have your passport too, most of the time again to make a copy, wanted or unwanted.
    To avoid unwanted copies you give your check-in signed papers which have your ID card references, hold the card in your hand to allow them only to check if references numbers/data are exact.

    At the end, I do only make internet reservations paying with Japanese card, so that it tells that I should be resident in Japan, I do fully avoid hostels, backpackers, too cheap travelers lodging places.

    Then I do not have any problem to fill a form with my JP ID references, show my ID card to recheck the data, but avoid copies.

    I show my zairyu card, and passport only to police and city offices when really necessary.

    I do feel too extremist someone not Japanese national to say not to show, or do not to provide references of your (also for Japanese people regular) ID card. Rarely my JP wife must provide an ID card and and then she gives her health insurance…

  • My Japanese wife booked one night in hotel close to Tokyo station. It was on my name not hers. Sorry I don’t remember the name. We both knew what’s going to happen to her foreign husband PR in Japan. Here will get interesting: I said to her, you go to check in and I will come later. Guys, she was able to checkin as me without proof of indemnification. She’s Japanese after all, right. Then she called me and told me room number. I steped into hotel as I was already a guest, went straight to elevator and ten my room. Morning I left first and she checked us out. I avoided unpleasant time at front desk.

    By the way immigration now have face recognition machine at airports to scan coming foreigners only. How do they know who is foreigner. I remember the test was done to do this for Japanese to speed up their entry to the country but ended up that only foreign faces are scanned and checked manually on terror suspect.

  • To be honest, I haven’t stayed in any hotel in any hotel in Japan that hasn’t asked for some proof of identification… just sayin’…

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Pretty much ironic to see this happening at shared house that is supposed to be foreign-friendly–rather than conventional business hotels.

    Like a dumb Chili’s manager in Cedar Hills, who denied a black veteran free meal by buying into horse shit a white old Trumpkin made about him, this clueless staff should be fired right away.

    — I’m not sure what you mean. The manager tried to sell him horse shit? Could you please rewrite this sentence and provide a link to the incident?

  • Sakura Hotel Jimbocho says:

    We apologize for the unpleasant and uncomfortable experience you had during your last stay in our hotel.

    In order to provide safety to our guests, we ask all our Hotel guests regardless of nationality, to provide an Identification upon Check In , so we can take immediate actions in case of emergency.

    Thank you for your stay with us, and all opinions from our guests are greatly appreciated, all feedbacks will help us to continually improve the standard of facilities and services offered to all our guests.

  • @ #12 Sakura Hotel

    You apologize for the unpleasant experience “[Shiki] had?” You mean the unpleasant experience your staff created through their ignorant and rude behavior? If the reason for the policy is as stated, then why didn’t your staff state it as such? Your story contradicts Shiki’s account, and further, the entire illegal ID policy aside, what about your rude employee’s decision to switch to Spanish mid-conversation? You claim to be running a modern, diverse business, and your staff resorts to that sort of trashy behavior in a dispute? Disgusting. Your apology is half-baked, insincere, and reeks of a total disregard for the nature of the problem.

  • @12 Sakura Jimbocho hotel (really? Ayashii)

    1. Your “correct explanation of the rules to gaijin” is remarkably similar to the Abe regime’s foreign policy, which is also completely uncompromising and destined to fall on deaf ears. Hanging tough will NOT lead to us caving in to your unreasonable behavior. Which brings me to

    2. You are pushy. Shitsukoi naa. Again, like Abe and co, you think- in age old Japanese style”negotiating” style- that pushing and pushing and repeating the same tired old “rules” will eventually lead us to just give up (and go away).

    Very poor customer service, but as you are following a policing agenda and not a customer oriented one, this was bound to happen. You prioritize the rules as dictated to you from the police, instead of customers, whom you see as a mendokusai source of income.

    Your attempts to convert us to the “logic” of your policy are illogical and doomed to fail.

    The concept of good customer service is non negotiable and cannot be redefined using the “Japan is special” lame argument.

  • Baudrillard #14 nails it.

    So-called ‘Sakura hotel’, haven’t you ever heard of ‘the customer is god’? You should tell the police to get lost instead of letting them force you and your employees to break the law.

    Unless only Japanese customer is god?

    Right now you must be afraid of having empty rooms during the Olympics…

  • I do feel for Shiki because I have been travelling for business in many low cost hotels in Japan and this situation happened to me 20-30 times.

    I have copy of 2005 law about ID checking for non resident foreigners and also 旅館業 law which states they cannot refuse accommodation.

    In my experience recently I am encountering more frequently bold kind of Japanese persons, who challenge you in a very arrogant way even if you show the documents. (like in Shiki case).
    Some years ago it was enough to show documents to persuade them.
    Not being native Japanese speaker, in case of a quarrel with such an arrogant type of Japanese it is difficult to debate back.

    The other day I went to Tully’s shop in Tokyo, the time I got in a lady in the counter closer to the entrance closed down to push me to other counter where a gentleman clerk was serving another customer. Eventually the gentleman spoke broken English, didn’t ask for office building point card as they do for all Japanese customers, and eventually gave me cappuccino in paper cup to go even if I asked mug cup. So I called up the customer service and a old veteran Japanese oyaji told me in Japanese “it is my problem because I am racist complaining about Japan”….

    Unreal Japan

    These are new situations for me.

  • @ Max #16,

    I agree with you about the coffee shop anecdote.
    I must have at least a hundred similar anecdotes myself.
    The Japanese are overly-proud of their racist customer service because they keep telling them selves that their ‘Japanese hospitality’ is somehow more ‘special’ than that of other countries. But what it essentially amounts to is this;

    The Japanese service provider gives NJ customer what they imagine NJ wants based on racist myths and misconceptions of Japan, and NJ cultures, identities and needs.

    So, NJ customers have to grudgingly accept service provision in a manner that is not that that they would normally accept paying for.

    NJ has choice; write this off to Japan’s unique culture, and accept that Japan’s parochialisms must be endured, or…

    Ask for what they really want. In which case prideful Japanese will often become offended that NJ has the affront to dare to question that Japanese side isn’t giving them what they want, and therefore they become angry with the NJ who ‘must’ be a racist with an anti-Japan agenda.

    This cycle repeats since it is the only series of outcomes that does not require the Japanese side to evaluate itself, nor change in any way; after all, Japan is ‘perfect’…

  • @Max,
    sureal because Ive had the same thing happen to me @ many places. very rude arrogant behavior, and if you call them out on it, youve offended twice because you challenged the perfect system. The best thing to do in those instances is either not go there, adapt (make your own coffee and put it in a thermos), or call the management later. 3rd option sometimes works; I had a service person call me “omae” and scold me when I was just asking for a repair. I didnt respond, but later did call the manager, He was upset by it and probably took action, but I wasnt promised anything.

  • @ Max #16,the “unreal” Tullys “enboldened Japanese” rude service (so much for omotenashi) is an example of an underlying trend that is coming to more to the fore, of the “enboldened Japanese” (in their own mind). Every now and then they used to pop up, even in the 90s period of “alternatives to sarariman lifestyle” with comments like “we shouldnt speak English too well or we d be slaves to America” or “Japanese men gaman too much, they should fight back” but now these are becoming more and more commonplace.

    Its because of the media telling Japanese how they are resisting China and Korea (yeah, in their dreams or dreamy days).

    Max says its a new experience for him, but I d say since 2006 or so, when on my return I was told several times “We dont need you anymore…the gaijin fad is over”, the “gaijin as defualt honored guest in the 80s/90s” has gone, only to be replaced by a new default, rudeness and/or indifference.

    Sure, they ll take your money but if you are “mendokusai”, they will play the “furiyo gaijin” card and blame it on that. Or “Explain THE RULES” to you again. Whats more, as in the Tully example, you may even be paying more than the Japanese for good service (e.g. “foreigner friendly” real estate agents which are more expensive, there are less savoury examples I wont go into here) or getting inferirior service as an NJ you “dont matter”.

    Its the trickle down from the failure of policies to make Japan more inclusive of foreign visitors. E.g local votes.

    Dovetailing with this, the idea that even a lowly, ageing Japanese coffee shop employee is a member of the “special” Japanese race, and therefore better than an NJ. And having to serve an NJ too, to their chagrin! OK, hurry up, drink up and get out.

    There could also be agrowing similarity to Chinese service in Japan (oh, the irony!), where foriegners are seen as non preate business so hurry up and finish, pay, get out, need new bums on seats to pay the high rent.

    Finally, the “unreal” part of it is the postmdodern conclusion that the average Japanese draws form these signals and signs, which are in fact, unreal:
    1. Japan is independent of American foreign policy
    2. Japanese are fighting back. (They are actually just straining at the leash).

    Nope, on both counts, but focussing on #2, they are just lashing out at the local NJ, an easy target, because they cannot or will not have the guts or gall to instead target their “erai hito” masters.

  • Omotenashi and good quality service to international (?) standards (ie flexibility). only exists in Japan is you pay more. Tullys and the low cost hotels dont offer it.

    FRom this you may conclude, as I did, that Japan is horribly over priced and is yet another argument for not living there.

    I recall a service i paid for, these two DJ type jokers messed around and did a shoddy job because “200 000 yen is a low price”- they even said that to our face!!

    Again, its just like China (oh the irony)-5 star hotels are very expensive and an “international” price, and yet the service does not reach 5 star quality, even if facilities are ostensibly good. There are no real 5 star hotels in China.

    Their idea of “service” may be in fact to follow you around, watching you work out closely at the gym, invading your personal space, grabbing your bag or PC to be “helpful”- hang on a sec, this sounds a bit like the Unfriendly Neighborhood Deputized Oyaji in Tokyo…but I digress.

  • TRANSLATION of NEWSPEAK-Sakura Hotel Jimbocho Paid Troll decoded

    We apologize- (because this is the magic word that makes problems go away in Japan, without changing anything

    your last stay in our hotel- it WAS your last stay, you wont be coming again!

    In order to provide safety to our guests- Japan is SAFETY COUNTRY meme, Abe said so to get OLympics, it must be so!!

    to our guests- So you ll be leaving soon….

    we ask all our Hotel guests regardless of nationality- yeah right. But you forgot to mention that we want to see your GAIJIN CARD, not driving license.

    so we can take immediate actions in case of emergency – like what? How does this help?

    Thank you for your stay with us, and all opinions from our guests are greatly appreciated, blah blah blah, cut and paste standard letter template, ahh mendokusai na,

  • Is this the Sakura guest house company as advertised in Metropolis magazine, that have been herding people in and out of their slums for 20+ years?

  • Hello everyone, and thanks for all your comments.
    To the people talking to me I shouldn’t naturalize, I will tell them I’m not naturalizing to not be discriminated. I’m naturalizing because I’ve lived long enough in this country, and I pretend to stay in this country for many more years to come. I don’t want to worry anymore about visa renewal, I want to be able to use a different name (basically my name is too long and complex for Japanese standards, and I’ve had a lot of problems with my services getting my name completely wrong. My name is wrong in my bank account, and not because of an error, but because their system do not allowed for more than 1 name and 1 family name, but still my name needed to be full length, so the name of my account is an amalgamation of all my names), and I want to be able to vote, and have constitutional access to all the services any other citizen of this country has.

    One funny thing is that soon after this post, I went to another Hotel for a convention, this time a nicer Okura Hotel, and I had 0 problems. They didn’t even ask me to fill anything because I had already in the reservation, so the only thing I did in reception was to get the key, and pay when I left the place.
    And I’ve had many similar experiences around Japan. At one time, many years ago someone asked me for my passport, and after I told them I wasn’t a tourist, they just said ok, and it wasn’t even a problem.

    To Sakura Hotel, the response was exactly the same they told me when I left the hotel, and as such I’m responding the same thing I said. I’m willing to show an ID, but not my Residence Card. I even got a My number card just for the purpose of having a valid legal ID other than my Residence Card.

    Another curious thing, is that I never said my country to anyone when I went to the Sakura Hotel. In their registration paper, I left that space in blank. Which means they saw my nationality from my Residence Card, which is a violation of the privacy laws, since they are using that information for things outside their supposed purpose.
    So Sakura Hotel, there are many things you are in the wrong here, not just one little thing.

    Before I was willing to use my Residence Card (Or Alien Registration Card, when that was still a thing) as a standard ID. I even thought of it as “convenient”. But I immediately stopped when I had a bad experience at an AU shop, when I tried to get a new smart phone, and the girl from the shop after looking at my Gaijin Card said some nonsense about how I couldn’t get the phone in 48 months payment without interests, and with many discounts (The standard in Japan) because my visa was going to expire before the phone was paid fully. I explained her that the date my residence expires doesn’t imply I’m not going to be in Japan anymore, since I will renew my visa as every other time, still she didn’t get it, so I told her to look at their contract (she was sure there was something about it in there), and later apologized for her stupidity, and let me buy the phone as usual.
    At that point I understood that people will make stupid assumptions about things they do not understand of my residence status. So, the best thing to evade any kind of problem like that in the future was to never use the Residence card ever again as an ID.

    Sakura Hotel also proved how they will use that private information without permission. I don’t know if you think you were trying to “connect with me” by speaking to me in Spanish, but it enraged me a lot.
    I never use Spanish anymore. The only time I use Spanish is when my parents call me on Skype. Outside of that I mostly use Japanese, and sometimes English.
    Another thing you didn’t got from that Residence Card, is the fact that I dislike a lot my country of birth, and try to never be associated with that country
    If you want to “try your Spanish”, do it with some random tourist who doesn’t know any Japanese. Then, maybe, they will be happy to be talked in a language they understand.


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