American journo banned from “Japanese Only” Toyota press conference — in America!


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in JapansourstrawberriesavatarUPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Hi Blog.  Here’s something discussed in Ivan Hall’s seminal CARTELS OF THE MIND and other sources, such as Laurie Freeman’s JPRI article on Japan’s Press Clubs (kisha kurabu, i.e. media cartels).  It hasn’t changed since the publication of these works.  Problem is, the case discussed below isn’t a Japan Press Club.  It’s a Japanese company denying access to local-area journalists IN AMERICA, despite both local ethics and corporate promises to the contrary.  In other words, it’s Japan’s Press Clubs exported.  Read on.  Arudou Debito in Tokyo


Toyota stops American from attending exec’s press conference in America

Former FCCJ President Jim Treece gets the cold shoulder from the PR department of Japan’s automotive giant.
by Jim Treece, courtesy of JCH.
Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan website, Sept 9, 2009

I thought my days of battling kisha clubs were over.

Nope. There I was, arguing that I, an American, should be allowed into a Japanese-only press conference. In Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

I was being excluded not by a kisha club, but by Toyota Motor’s PR staff.

The main speaker at an August automotive conference in Traverse City was Toyota
President Akio Toyoda. He did not meet the media. Instead, after Toyoda’s speech, Toyota Motor Sales USA boss Jim Lentz held a press briefing.

A large number of Japanese reporters showed up in Traverse City. I soon learned that Lentz’ boss, Yoshimi Inaba, would give a separate briefing for the Japanese press. I asked to attend, since I speak Japanese. They said no.

“This stinks,” I e-mailed Toyota USA’s top PR man, Irv Miller.

“I have attended sessions of the kisha club at the Ministry of Infrastructure, Land and Transportation. I have gone on overseas trips with Japanese media from the Jidosha Kisha Club where all events were conducted solely in Japanese. Why am I being kept out of an event in the United States where the only real restriction should be language, not nationality?”

His Blackberry reply: “You are not barred from Mr. Inaba’s press interview you ARE invited to Mr. Lentz’s press interview.”

Well, if I’m not barred, then I might as well walk into the room before it began, I decided. Toyota PR staffers double-teamed me to make sure I didn’t get past the doorway.

“You are not invited. It’s our press conference and we chose to invite only the Japanese media,” lead flack Hashimoto said.

Automotive News attended a media roundtable with Inaba in Detroit a week ago, an American staffer added. Yes, I said, but that was a week ago. There has been news since then. I want to hear what Inaba tells the Japanese media. The Q&A will be different from Lentz’s, I said.

They kept saying they wanted Japanese media only. “Who is ‘they?’” I asked. The Toyota PR department, they replied. Who? Finally, Mr. Hashimoto said, “Me.”

Why, I asked.

“You’re American media and I’m not in charge of American media,” he said. At the Detroit auto show, he argued, you have German media press conferences where the Swedish or Japanese media are not invited.

But those are based on language, I said. I’ve attended Japanese-language press conferences at the Detroit auto show, and at the Tokyo and Bangkok motor shows.

There’s not enough room, he said. They had a dozen chairs and a table in a room easily large enough for 40 people. I suggested they could fit in another chair.

But if you come in, all the American media will want to attend, he said. No, I said, just say it’s going to be done in Japanese with no translation. Only those who can handle that will come.

Hashimoto offered me a deal. He would let me come in, as long as I didn’t tell any other American media that I had attended. That was unacceptable. I would not be able to report anything. Then Miller stepped in.

He repeated the we-can’t-let-everyone-in line, then switched to the offensive. “I take exception to the fact that you do not value your invitation to Mr. Lentz’ press conference,” he said. Trying not to roll my eyes, I said I did value that invitation. I had assigned another reporter to cover that press conference.

He kept me cornered and talking in the hallway. Inaba passed by, and briefly paused and looked at us. I was about to greet him – I had interviewed him one-on-one two or three times in Japan – but Hashimoto hurried him along. With him in the room and the door shut, Miller left me for the room where Lentz would speak. Kicking myself for not just sitting in a chair and daring them to throw me out bodily – hey, it worked at the Prime Minister’s office – I headed back to the media room and wrote up a straightforward account of Toyoda’s speech.

Later, a Japanese reporter came up and asked for clarification about comments Ron Bloom had made. Bloom, head of President Obama’s autos task force, had originally been scheduled to hold a press briefing for a small group of reporters, but as word of the briefing leaked out, it was opened to all reporters at the conference. The Japanese reporters also attended.

Toyota’s PR staffers kept me out because they could not think outside of their organization-chart boxes. Hashimoto was Inaba’s handler, so he would only let in the reporters he deals with. Opening the briefing to all Japanese-speaking media would have required a willingness to rethink the way they worked. Akio Toyoda’s speech had urged the auto industry to do just that.

Too bad his PR staff wasn’t listening. ❶

22 comments on “American journo banned from “Japanese Only” Toyota press conference — in America!

  • Sue them for racial discrimination. Bankrupt the US end of the company. Make a huge stink in the American press. These racists have got to be taught that their racism is unacceptable.

  • This is disgusting but I am not surprised

    What I find even more disturbing is that Toyota was the biggest beneficiary of the U.S. “Cash for Clunkers” debacle. They should be gladly inviting Mr. Treece in and giving him a front row seat. However I am wondering what they really had to say in the meeting. My guess it is something they would rather not have Americans hear.

    Unfortunately, Toyota is an extremley well oiled machine in the United States and I am not sure the average American would care about this (Do not get me wrong – I find it shameful).

  • I think there is a lot here at stake. The US is heavily dependent on the Japanese car market. Probably they don’t want to rock the boat or make a giant stink. This is short term vs. Long term. Yes, they can sue, have them charged for racial discrimination (rightfully so) but who knows what the repercussions would be and I really don’t think at this point and time that the US would confront the Japanese, there would be a lot to lose. Does it make it right, certainly no and absolutely unacceptable. But with the US economy in shambles, one must wonder what is the number one priority?

  • Innocent_Bystander says:

    I guess it would have been expecting way, way too much for one or more Japanese journalist present to stand up to Toyota and say, “this man is a respected trade journalist and former president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan and should be admitted.” The blame might be Toyota’s but I’m willing to bet those smug Japanese journalists were secretly delighted to see a foreign “colleague” be turned away at the door.

  • Have also seen “Japanese Only” press conferences and press rooms overseas, no surprise here. Of course Japanese don’t leave the Us and Them mindset at home, there are for example countless “Japanese Only” nightclubs in New York City (which pretend a “members only” policy that is conveniently ignored when a “real” Japanese appears.) I knew two girls who worked in these places (, and neither had a work visa. It’s not only the United States, “Japartism” is also exported to clubs in the Philippines and Hawaii and golf courses in British Columbia; Thaniya Dori is a “Japanese only” street in Bangkok’s red light district. Let’s face it, Japanese are “unique”; particularly in how “unique” they believe they are . . .

  • While reading I find it interesting to analyze all the angles and arguments used to prevent Mr Treece from attending, with one actually going on the offensive and delicately threatening to not allow him to attend the press conference with Mr. Lentz.

  • charles
    “.. I really don’t think at this point and time that the US would confront the Japanese, there would be a lot to lose…”

    Like what?…the Japanese car market NEEDS the US market to recover and obtain some kind of ‘profit’ and not go under. The US has far more clout than it realises. Also, if the US did this and stood their ground, perhaps others may follow suit, whom may have also been suitably chagrined….in the end, where could they go to sell such huge numbers required to recover???

  • Oh yes, there is a lot of money waiting for that man. Sue the ass off them. And to think that an American (guessing from the name Irv Miller) was at the forefront of it all. I like to think I too would have sat down and said “Oh well come and get rid of me then”. Write it up in the American press, call the Japanese embassy, take it all the way to the supreme court. Things are not run like that in America.

  • I can’t say I’m feeling the anger over this incident.

    If the headline instead read “American Journo Politely Prevented from Gatecrashing Invitation Only Event”, how much would that differ from the truth?

    Now yes, I know that there is a long history of Japanese collusion and unfair dealing when it comes to their operations outside Japan, I don’t deny it. But I don’t see this incident as one of the standout cases. It’s a footnote at best.

    The real question is why was the Yoshimi Inaba address restricted to Japanese media only? I can only guess, but I don’t think there was any untoward racial aspect to it. My money is on the probability that that’s just what the Japanese organizers expected and planned for. Nothing really sinister about it.

    The fact that Mr. Hashimoto eventually offered to let Mr. Treece (someone who understands the Japanese language) in on the condition that he didn’t tell any other American media that he had attended, seems pretty convincing to me that the address was not one of those ‘for Japanese ears only’ kinds of addresses.

    The only thing I will say in the article’s favor is that it makes the point that perhaps it is time for major corporations to stop segregating media releases on the basis of nationality. It really doesn’t make any sense.

  • :@Charles:
    The solution to the repurcussions is obvious: tax any disinvestment at 100%. That way, these racists can’t flee abroad with their ill-gotten gains.

  • Really makes you wonder what info they were trying to hide. If nothing, then this is just internal corporate bureaucracy gone mad. Just change the sign from ‘japanese only’ to ‘session held in japanese language’ instead.

  • Innocent_Bystander says:

    Toyota’s boss is much more likely to speak freely in front of a crowd of his compatriots, because he knows their publications depend on revenues from Toyota advertising and they won’t bite the hand that feeds them. With a gaikokujin in the room, he would almost certainly be more circumspect in his remarks.

  • The relevant question that isn’t being asked would seem to be if there was a Japanese representative of the US media in the room?

  • [swipes at authors deleted]
    it is clear from his account of the day’s events that he was not barred because of language or race.
    he was barred because he did not represent a media organization that had been invited to that particular event and it was the company’s right to do so and without any need for explanation.

    — That’ll be a great excuse for corporations to use in future when avoiding press scrutiny.

  • If you open the Toyota North American website, watch the flash presentation on Toyota’s values. It is interesting how they use the PC buzzword “We celebrate our diversity” in the flash presentation. (

    They do not seem to be celebrating diversity in this instance.

    TJJ. While I agree with most of your post I do disagree with the “seems pretty convincing to me that the address was not one of those ‘for Japanese ears only’ kinds of addresses.”

    My opinion on this matter is based on the fact that he was required to maintain silence and also with my experience working with very large Japanese companies. While Toyota may not be developing some grand scheme, my opinion is that the press conference probably would contain material that Americans would find offensive.


  • Innocent Bystander hit the nail on the head-
    They are most likely just scared that he would ask questions that had not been pre-approved or that could be “controversial”.

    Which I think is absolutely ridiculous.

  • To add to post nr. 6 – DM:
    But these are not nightclubs but a well-respected firm, which makes it more disgraceful. Toyota is the largest car maker in the world and one of Japan’s largest firms (or the largest?), not to mention a well-known brand with a solid reputation recognized from Dubai to Dublin and Bangkok to Buenos Aires. With such corporate practices Toyota is setting a very bad example for other Japanese firms. Such an important firm could take a progressive step by setting a more positive example for smaller firms from Japan to follow.

  • During the early 1990’s, during heightened Japan-US trade resentments, Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa was widely attributed to have said that “American workers are lazy”. It was a geo-political disaster. That translation was debunked as an out of context mistranslation, or at least a hyperbolic interpretation by a reporter, and this misunderstanding was never widely clarified by a US media that was bent on stoking anti-Japan sentiments.

    In the same vein, Toyota’s policy may be an _over-precaution_ to prevent hostile mistranslations, or to prevent a reporter from quoting something out of linguistic context and out of cultural context — in an inflammatory manner. Consequently, that may be why they would want to separate corporate communications along specific audience and language boundaries.

    If that’s so, their policy appears not to be very trusting of American reporters, but that’s probably why they are so cautious about their corp-comm.

    — Linguistic and cultural context as a shield? Those poor, easily misunderstood Japanese!

    Conversely, I’ve seen plenty of occasions when the J press has taken something said in a foreign language, mistranslated it, and blown the issue way out of proportion (for one example, see my book JAPANESE ONLY pp 66-69, pp 90-93). But I don’t see that being used as justification for excluding Japanese reporters.

  • A Man In Japan says:

    We are in the market for a car, but I don’t think we will be getting a toyota(I will not capitalise that word)Any other car companies doing this?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>