Japan Times: “Riding while foreign on JR Kyushu can be a costly business” (re train ticket discounts in Japanese only)


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Hi Blog.  First have a read of this article, and then I’ll comment:


Riding while foreign on JR Kyushu can be a costly business
The Japan Times Community Page, DEC 4, 2016

The last column of the year starts off with a problem regarding buying JR train tickets in Kyushu. Reader A writes:

I thought you might be interested in this issue that I encountered when using an automatic ticket machine in Hakata Station, Fukuoka.

Because I don’t read Japanese so well, I changed the machine to English language. As I went through the menu I could not select the “nimai-kippu” (two tickets of the same type) option, which offers a discount. The only options I had were two individual tickets — if I recall correctly the price difference was ¥2,000. I canceled the sale and went to the counter and had a conversation with the clerk, who confirmed that once English is selected, the cheaper two-ticket option wouldn’t be offered.

I was thinking how many hundreds of thousands of yen have been taken from people simply because they select English and don’t happen to know about the cheaper ticket options. My wife actually emailed JR Kyushu, but just got back a standard, “Thank you for your email.”

I spoke to a representative in JR Kyushu’s PR department. After some investigation, he confirmed that this situation still exists with some of the ticket machines once the foreign language option button (for English, Korean and Chinese) is pressed. It seems that there are two types of ticket machines, and while it isn’t a problem for the “two-ticket option” for shorter distances (kin-kyori), it does affect those for machines for longer distances (shitei kenbai). As our reader pointed out, this could result in non-Japanese customers paying quite a bit more if they purchase tickets through the machine.

“While JR Kyushu isn’t in a position to change the machines immediately, we will take this opportunity to discuss the situation and see how we can improve things for our foreign customers,” said the rep. He thanked the reader and Lifelines for bringing the problem to the department’s attention.

Has anyone encountered a similar problem with JR tickets in other parts of Japan? JR Kyushu’s spokesperson said it is possible the same situation could be happening in other areas, too.


COMMENT:  Two things:  One is that we have proof positive in a national newspaper of separate pricing schemes based upon language.  And this at one of Japan’s flagship companies (Japan Railways), no less.  Consider the parallels:  A restaurant with menus with cheaper prices for customers if they can read Chinese (something frowned upon as discrimination elsewhere).  Or travel agencies that reserve cheaper plane tickets for Japanese citizens only (see here too). Japan’s train network in Kyushu is filtering customers by language ability and charging Japanese-illiterates a premium.  This must stop, obviously, because it’s discriminatory.

And this is a great example to bring up point two:  How people still defend the practice, no matter what.  I waited a few days to post this, and sure enough, the Japan Times article predictably collected a few comments from guestists and denialists.  They decried anyone calling this practice “racist” (even though it is, under modern definitions of racial discrimination being a process of differentiation, othering, and subordination).  They instead went to the extreme of calling the decriers “racist”, or conversely the practice of selling discounted train fares to foreign tourists “racist” (actually, they can be sold to Japanese-citizen tourists as well as long as they don’t live in Japan), despite all the government campaigns to promote foreign tourism these days.

The point to stress is Japan’s subtle racism is particularly devious because of its plausible deniability.  People will seize on any excuse to justify discriminatory treatment.  Want equal rights or treatment in Japan?  Become a Japanese citizen.  Want equal access to cheaper train fares?  Learn Japanese.  You see, discrimination is the fault of those being discriminated against — because they didn’t take every measure to evade the discrimination.  Its an acceptance of a differentiated and othered status, used to justify the subordination — which deflects discussion of why this discriminatory system exists in the first place.

Why can’t customers just be treated as customers, and their money for access be valued the same way, regardless of their language ability? Well, I’ll tell you why.  Because to JR, it’s not a matter of fairness or equality.  It’s a combination of setsuyaku and mendokusai.  Making discounts multilingual would be costly, and then there’s the factor of profiteering from the extra fares.  The incentive system is clear:  Why pay more for a system that brings in less revenue?  And besides, the foreigners won’t realize it (because foreigners obviously don’t read Japanese), won’t complain (because they’re so powerless, with no voice in Japan except, ahem, the Japan Times), or they aren’t organized in numbers big enough for a meaningful boycott (plus, as seen above, anyone calling for organized action will be called racist even by their own side).

This is one reason why discrimination is so hard to get rid of in Japan.  It’s subtle enough at times for people to naysay it.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito


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1 comment on “Japan Times: “Riding while foreign on JR Kyushu can be a costly business” (re train ticket discounts in Japanese only)

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    This is ridiculous. If you are asked for an extra charge when you see a careless Eki-in face to face at a kiosk, it still makes sense. But setting up a different price tag through the choice of language guidance on machine? That kind of disservice is demeaning and uncalled for.

    JR Kyushu doesn’t understand the problem they are creating.


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