Kyodo: Half of foreigners in Tokyo experienced discrimination: ARIC survey


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Hi Blog.  At the risk of calling forth “Captain Obvious” or “Obviousman“, here’s a survey saying that half of Tokyo-resident NJs have experienced discrimination; it even made the news.  The survey is not quite on the scale or scope of the previous Ministry of Justice one covered (and I wrote two Japan Times columns about here and here) in 2017, since it has a smaller sample size, has a more targeted surveyed group, and is confined to the Tokyo area.  But it’s nevertheless better than the very biased one the GOJ did twelve years ago.

It also deserves a mention on as it quantifies the degree and patterns of discriminatory behavior out there.  ARIC, the group doing the survey, is on the right track recording issues of domestic racism and hate speech.  Let’s have more surveys in other places, and get data quantified and triangulated nationwide.  Enough of these, and recorded isolated incidents eventually merge into patterns, and ultimately concretely-measured trends that justify public policy fixes.  Debito Arudou Ph.D.


Half of foreigners in Tokyo experienced discrimination: survey
The Japan Times and Mainichi Shinbun, April 17, 2019, Courtesy of JR

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Nearly half of the foreigners living in Tokyo have experienced racial discrimination, according to a survey released Tuesday by a civic group.

In the survey conducted by the Anti Racism Information Center, a group organized by scholars, activists and university students, 167 of 340 respondents including students said that they have suffered discriminatory treatment such as being told not to talk in a language other than Japanese.

Some working as retail shop cashiers said customers asked for Japanese cashiers, according to the face-to-face questionnaire survey conducted in February and March in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward.

Among them, a Nepalese man who works at a drugstore said one customer told him that he or she does not like to see a foreigner working as a cashier and asked for someone else.

A Chinese respondent who works at a convenience store said that a colleague told the respondent not to speak Chinese when the respondent was asked for directions by a Chinese-speaking customer.

There were also cases where foreigners had apartment rental applications rejected. Some said they were denied entry into stores, but none of the respondents took their case to a public office dealing with such issues.

Ryang Yong Song, a representative of the civic group, told a press conference that foreigners living in Japan tend to “end up letting (their discriminatory experiences) drop.”

“The government should conduct a survey to show what kind of discrimination foreigners face,” Ryang said, calling on schools and employers to deal more proactively with discrimination and establish a mechanism to involve public officials in addressing the problems.

With the country’s new visa system having started this month to bring in more foreign workers to address the deepening labor crunch, there have been criticisms about the government’s ability to offer consultation to foreign residents.


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23 comments on “Kyodo: Half of foreigners in Tokyo experienced discrimination: ARIC survey

  • cynical.nj says:

    >There were also cases where foreigners had apartment rental applications rejected. Some said they were denied entry into stores, but none of the respondents took their case to a public office dealing with such issues.

    I’m probably not the only reader to whom both of these things happened. I know Japan ratified CERD, and this should be illegal, but AFAIR there is no right preventing them from doing so, thus I also never took my cases to a public office. (call me a defeatist orz)

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    ‘Half of foreigners in Tokyo have experienced racism’, and the other half don’t speak enough Japanese to have noticed?

  • Tony Kehoe says:

    The reason NJs let their racism experiences drop is because they know the so-called ombudsman system is a sham.

  • I cannot believe that 50% of people HAVEN’T experienced discrimination. I think this survey proves that 50% of people are not fully cognizant of social dynamics that are happening around them. That is the only enlightening point that I can take away from the survey.

  • Hang on. Are they including short-timers, or zainichi who look Japanese in this survey?? It would help to know who was included.

    Frankly, if you look or sound foriegn, and you have lived in Japan for a few years or more and you haven’t had a Japanese husband/wife/support netwrork to handle all your affairs AND you have never experienced racism, then you have an awareness disfunction.

    • > Are they including short-timers

      That’s a good point, pretty sure they are.
      21.8% of all foreigners in 2016 had lived here for less than 3 years, which means less time to experience the society and very likely less fluency in the language.

      Source: Analytical Report of the Foreign Residents Survey, MOJ (page 11)

  • Justanordinarycustomernanoni says:

    I don’t know where to put this, so I chose this article. I recently experienced something weird when I had to go to a bicycle shop nearby for two minor repairs. I’m a middle-aged white man (non-native English speaker, but very high proficiency in both English and Japanese, absolutely no proficiency in bicycle maintenance, though) who is living in Fukuoka for almost a decade. So, what I’m reporting now is not the first incident I could report, but this one was particularly weird, and I will also use it as an introductory anecdote to address a general and potentially problematic trend I’ve observed in recent years.
    I went to the shop fairly early and was probably the first customer of the day. The young mechanic around just lifted the shutters. He was friendly and immediately and quickly repaired my bicycle without greater problems, so nothing to complain about the service he was expected to provide. There was something odd, however, that bothered me from the start. He initially didn’t use keigo, not even normal desu-masu, towards me, only casual speech (at least he didn’t attempt to bother me with Engrish, so a minor plus there). So it was not really a behavior of shop staff towards customers I’ve got used to during my life here. At that point I also couldn’t tell if that was just his style or if he did that because I’m not a Wajin. While I waited, an old man entered the shop and greeted me completely normal with “irasshaimase” (something the young mechanic didn’t when I entered, by the way). I suppose that was the boss. However, after the old man entered, the young mechanic began to speak to me in formal desu-masu style without ever turning back to casual. Quite curious, isn’t it?
    I still can’t tell for sure, if that particular behavior was due to my appearance or not, since no Wajin customer appeared during my stay there, but that the mechanic changed his mode of speech towards me immediately after his boss (or so I suppose) showed up was a fairly weird experience. At the end I didn’t complain to the old man about the initial snobby speech of the mechanic, because he did a quick and good job with my bicycle and the price was also fair. So, there’s not so much need to make a fuss in this case, especially since at least the boss of that place seems to be non-discriminatory.
    However, this is just the latest incident in a row of incidents, a trend I’m observing since a few years ago: Shop keepers and staff (Wajin staff, not NJ baito!) not using the standard keigo towards visible NJ customers, while keeping up this standard towards Wajin customers. I experienced these obvious cases a few times at local supermarkets, where Wajin customers in front of and behind me get the normal keigo treatment at the cash register, but only I casual treatment without any of the standard phrases I got used to. It wasn’t this way, at all, the first five years of my life here, so it’s a fairly recent phenomenon as far as I can tell. I think that this is linguistic racial discrimination and quite annoying. Sometimes I call the staff in question out, and all I get is the standard mōshiwake gozaimasen, which often doesn’t enhance anything. Telling the shop manager may or may not solve this problematic trend at least in a particular shop, but that is of course not enough to stop it everywhere.
    Compared to being bullied by police officers, teachers, classmates, ot colleagues for just visibly sticking out this seems to be a minor and probably ignorable problem, and it’s not as bad as being completely rejected all along by rogues, but it’s nonetheless othering based on appearance that also needs to be talked about. Did anybody of you observe the same trend at the places you live?

    • Absolutely, and I thank you for pointing it out again.

      The place I experience this form of racism the most is, perhaps curiously, McDonald’s. It started a couple years ago, became very frequent, and has recently dropped off again. Asian customers would be asked 「店内でお召し上がりですか」, but I (a white person) would be asked 「ここで食べていきますか」. I complained to managers a couple of times, who were usually very obviously utterly disinterested in the problem. I would demand a reason for the rudeness, which would be explained away as “a lack of training.” The problem kept reoccurring, so finally I stopped patronizing McDonald’s entirely.

      For what it’s worth, there was also a period where McDonald’s had a “the voice of customers” board on which comments submitted from patrons would be displayed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, racist remarks about minority staff members would be shamelessly posted. I blogged about this issue a while back. Not included in the blog post is a customer comment I discovered sometime afterwards, where some racist Wajin wrote, “The store employee was a foreigner (外国人), but the service was good!” I brought this down to the guy working the register and asked him how he would feel if someone said, “The staff was Japanese, but the service was good,” as if Japanese staff means the service ought be poor. He admitted it would be an unpleasant comment and removed the card with the offensive remark.

      Back to the point you made, I run into the same sort of problem from time to time at various businesses. I have either ignored it or failed to take notice of it at times, which always leads me to regret later. It’s easy for us minorities to get swept up in the notion of being non-confrontational or maintaining humility, especially as many of us are taught this attitude while learning Japanese.

      To be fair, sometimes the employee with whom you are dealing really does respond to essentially everyone in an informal, relaxed manner. It is important to assess the situation, to be sure.

      However, when you know you are being spoken to impolitely, and you (or you and other minorities) are the only one(s) being addressed this way, I would encourage you to speak up about it immediately, regardless of the time or situation. After years of contemplating how to respond to this sort of problem and endless trial and error, I’ve found that using polite language with an obviously irritated and sharp, curt tone seems to be the best balance.

      In the situation you described, I would start with body language. Posture and facial expressions which make clear that you are uncomfortable with the way the employee is speaking should be picked up on. I could also envision responding in polite Japanese, asking if an employee is available. This insinuates that the person with whom you are speaking is not even at the “employee” level, based on the person’s inappropriate language. If the person identifies herself/himself as an employee and still does not speak properly, I might ask about that directly, continuing to speak politely while maintaining body language that conveys indignation and displeasure. If the person still does not respond appropriately, it’s time to ask for a manager.

      This time, your problem with your bicycle might have been fixed fairly and reasonably, but true “service” includes the interaction, not just the work performed or goods sold. Part of that means treating the customer with respect and dignity, no matter what type of person. “He’s a white guy so I don’t need to be polite” is no different from “He’s a white guy so I don’t need to help him” or “He’s a white guy so I don’t need to accept his business.” It’s all racism in the end.

      • Baudrillard says:

        For J Macdonaldo, “The staff was a gaijin but the service was good” is progressive in their thinking, i.e. “hey! Accept our (exploited, vietnamese) gajin staff! They are actually OK!”

    • Baudrillard says:

      For Japanese, Keigo is a big deal. Know someone who was fired last week for not using it. She is an American returnee Japanese, who has never been trained in Keigo, so three Japanese restaurant owners complained about that, so she was “let go”.
      Also conversely, when I visited Kyoto as a tourist/obvious customer NJ, the staff were extremely polite to me, but verbally abused the Japanese Tokyoite I was with, almost to the point of “thats a bloody stupid question!”!
      It is oft said Kyotoites look down on the rest of Japan and Japanese.
      So I think this is all about respect. NJs no longer have the “automatic assumed honored guest” status of the 80s, now you are JAFG (just another expletive gaijin, changed from JAFA, just another expletive Australian), and anyway, keigo is mendokusai and not sure how to place you in the J hierarchy, so lets just talk to you in basic Japanese (as its easier to understand) until my boss shows up?

      So much for Omotenashi. I have had some really weird service in Japan. One woman in Akihabara insulted my manhood, “any man can change this light bulb” to a coffee shop staff inexplicably crossing their arms to us coming in with books or documents in Chiba (exact town where Lindsay Ann met her demise, sadly), so go figure.

      My overall impression of CS in Japan is they have their system, it isn’t their jobs worth to deviate from it, and ironically money isnt the key concern there.

    • Jim Di Griz says:

      I can’t stand keigo; time wasting passive aggressive robot performance that does nothing to solve any problem. Ever.

      But I think we’ve discussed this lack of keigo with regard to NJ here before?
      I feel that many Japanese believe that only Japanese people are ‘polite’ and all NJ are ‘rude’ therefore they feel it’s not necessary to be ‘polite’ to NJ. After all, they saw it on TV in the subtitles to some Hollywood action movie or something- those NJ are so ‘direct’ with each other!

      Customer service/omotenashi; we’ve said all that before too- it’s a deeply flawed attempt to dodge responsibility in a typically passive aggressive manner; ‘I’ve bent over backwards to give you what you ought to be wanting (in my opinion), and if you’re not satisfied, it’s not my fault’, kind of thing.

      • This ” they feel it’s not necessary to be ‘polite’ to NJ. After all, they saw it on TV”. So many (younger) Japanese come back from the States and think upon meeting besuited NJ exec they can start with “How the f**k are you man?” Ditto certain people living near the US base in Yokosuka; they think anything goes in English.
        At which point I switch to Japanese _masu forms and an amazing thing happens, they revert to be extremely polite, but there was an initial pained expression on their faces, like “Oh no. I have to be polite again…mendokusai. And I just wanna hang out with my dawgs in da hood in L.A etc.”
        For this kind of person, “polite” plus NJ is an oxymoron, or not what they desire from the interaction.

      • @ Jim, I teach my Japanese students that an apology first, or too many apologies, suggests there is no solution. They should write the solution first (if there is one).
        Just like not including a reason, is unreasonable.
        Thus, the reason they apologize so much it quite because indeed, there is no solution and all they can do is apologize.
        Or more likely, its too difficult/jobs worth of them to try to change that system they have nothing to gain from trying to change.

        So much for omotenashi. Thanks for the deep bows and telephone card. Now pay my hospital bill from your restaurant food poisoning (I know you wont). Might as well just sue like in America.

    • It bothers me too, Justanordinarycustomernanoni.
      Not getting adressed politely IS a lack of respect, and knowing Japan it’s very hard to think the employee will be be talking like that to all customers. I can stand familiarity or bad service, but not racism.

      Most of my interactions are fine, but it actually bothers me to no end when it happens: up to now there haven’t been other customers around to check how they were addressed, so I’m left with a lingering feeling that it was their honne showing, but no proof. I recall it happening with fairly young people, which *could* mean they’re less courteous around the board; but my experience is that younger people can be more racist than elder citizens.

      My significant other says I’m very strict with language, but I point out that’s the only way I have to know I’m getting basic respect.

      On a final note, I might still find acceptable being asked, for example “koko-de tabemasuka?” instead of “tennnai-de omeshiagari desu-ka?”. It *could* be the waiter trying to make it easier to understand without keigo, and it’s still formal with -masu, as opposed to “koko de taberu?”. (Of course, I’d rather them realize I’m speaking to them in fluent Japanese, which thankfully is what normally happens.)

      • Gulf, I hate to sound nitpicky, but using the word 食べる about a customer is unacceptable. 食べる is at its heart a humble term (謙譲語) for 食う and is completely inappropriate to say about a customer. It is not far from using 頂く.

        When dealing with store staff or just people in general, I usually overlook small mistakes, but for some idiot to try to speak to me in what basically amounts to baby talk all because they have made a racist assumption about my ability to speak the language of the country I live in, and in so doing demonstrate that they understand their own language less than I do, is unforgivable. They’ve already taken a condescending attitude towards me by using the inappropriate language, so I will not hesitate to stand there at the counter and explain to them why they are mistaken, then chastise them.

        In Dr. Arudou’s words, lose the racism and complete the transaction.

        — The context behind what I said back then is a little different. 🙂

    • @Justanordinarycustomernanoni

      I’m sorry your transaction left you with a bad taste in your mouth, but for my part, and from how you have described it, if it had been me I would probably not have been offended. In my experience, some Japanese people dispense with keigo, even in a business situation, when they can get away with it, not because they want to be impolite but because they feel a solidarity or a level of comfort based on your personality. It’s rare, but there are people like that out there.

      While I agree that othering is a problem in Japan, that kind of situation that you described would be on the low level for me and probably something I wouldn’t have given a second thought to.

      That’s just me though and if you were annoyed you have every right to complain. We all prosper by policing the fine details.

    • Justanordinarycustomernanoni says:

      Thank you all for telling your experience with and opinion on this issue. It also shows me that this is largely a countrywide one and not only something locally limited to Fukuoka.

      I am also not one of those who are up to preserve keigo manners for their own sake. I can live with being addressed to in normal desu-masu without many of those (in)famous over the top polite phrases. However, the fun ends if some random person I meet for the first time or shop staff or other service providers think they can drop even that very basic formal mode of speech solely based on my looks because of assumptions about how it works in English (the presupposed native language of literally all non-East Asians, go figure). The only exception where I find casual speech towards customers acceptable is if it’s an integral part of the shop’s concept that applies to every customer regardless of age, race, gender, or other indicators of social standing.

      Maybe I take this admittedly minor issue so seriously because my native language applies something called “T-V distinction”, a feature modern English lost a few centuries ago. It’s the phenomenon of using different second person pronouns based on the closeness to the person you are addressing, using the polite, respectful one towards random adults you are not close with (“vous” in case of French, “sie” in case of German, “usted” in case of Spanish and so on). To me the Japanese da vs. desu distinction is the Japanese equivalent to this, and when some random Japanese doesn’t bother to even use the very basic polite mode towards me without my express permission to do so, I immediately feel like being treated like a child and may even take it directly as an insult when already in a bad mood.

      I tend to follow HJ’s recommendation of complaining about it every time I encounter it from know on. Might be the most effective way to get rid of it at least in the stores I am frequently patronizing.

      • Baudrillard says:

        I wonder, if a staff uses an impolite form to you like “anata da”, could or did you not reply in kind, to show them how it feels? Or even calling them “omae”?
        Okyakusan wa kamisama after all….

        • Justanordinarycustomernanoni says:

          Well, luckily until now no staff called me “anata” at the cash register. My reaction to that would likely be fun for bystanders.

          When complaining about improper speech, I often say something like “sō iu hanashikata wa daijōbu da to omoimasu ka?” (friendly mode), “yōchien nihongo wa irimasen” (annoyed mode), “watashitachi wa shitashikattakke?” (trolling mode) to show them that I care about politeness, just like almost every J customer does, and that I understand keigo. Standard reaction to the first two sentences is the aforementioned “mōshiwake gozaimasen”, while the third one causes confused faces first.

        • Baud, I would personally avoid this. It is merely sinking to their level and only escalates the interaction. If the staff is impolite, I would politely chastise them, then address the issue with the manager. あなた, coming from staff to a customer, is completely unacceptable, and from customer towards staff is already a bit condescending, without crossing the threshold into outright rude. (Like オマエ would.)

          Lately, I feel like using polite language, especially in certain circumstances, says more about you than it does about the other person. Kind of like an, “I’m too dignified and refined to use ため口 with strangers”-type of attitude. For a mental image, think about the way government employees speak to citizens and residents at town hall or wherever. They use really polite language, but to me in a certain sense it stinks of either arrogance or depersonalization at times.

  • realitycheck says:

    It`s very simple to find out which Japanese are disrespecting you as a non-Japanese and therefore there is a discriminatory/racist element there.
    Apart from old people – 70 and over because those under that age should know better given the education they have had compared to the older group – nobody should be allowed to get away with calling you `anata` especially at government offices.
    `Anata` has a very different meaning from the common `you` of English which is only rude when it is spoken rudely.
    Decent Japanese who read your name when you are doing business will refer to you by your surname with san. It`s that simple. Anything else is putting you below and depending on the tone and how many times `anata` is said, is racist. Despite the disingenious protests very common in Tokyo that rude speech and rude staring are in no way meant to be discriminatory.
    In Tokyo it`s a `misunderstanding`. Yeah, right. Especially in government offices, tell the rude person being paid your tax dollars to treat you as inferior that you have a name.
    Speak politely, say in Japanese or English if you can`t speak Japanese, `Excuse me, I have a name. Please call me by my family name with San. My name is not `Anata`.
    This has worked for me. You`d also be surprised how sometimes politeness is in unexpected places. I had to speak to the police about a minor matter in a big police station and from the jump the reception staff and then the police referred to me respectfully.
    Unlike my ward office where I had to explain the fundamentals of customer speech to a ward officer.
    No, she was not old or older. She was in her 30s but I wasn`t surprised as I have found in Tokyo the younger generations have a tendency to use the word `Gaijin` frequently. As well as have a bad attitude to foreigners in the case of some who still have no problem living in other countries where anti-discrimination laws assist them.
    Lack of honest education under the LPD and the increasing nationalism over the last 12 years or so has developed these attitudes amongthe younger generations. Propaganda works.

    • cynical.nj says:

      >Decent Japanese who read your name when you are doing business will refer to you by your surname with san.

      This. Unfortunately, often the patronizing mode of ‘first name-san’ kicks in.. which is not as bad as ‘anata’, but still..


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