Human Rights Violations at a J Gym Chain: “Young, Healthy Japanese Only” By Jim Dunlop


Human Rights Violations at a Well-Known Japanese Gym Chain
“Young, Healthy Japanese people only, please!”

By Jim Dunlop
August 30, 2007
drinkacupofcoffee AT

Writing this report made my think of a line from an old song, “Signs” by 5 Man Electrical Band:

And the sign said long haired freaky people need not apply,
So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why.
He said you look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do,
So I took off my hat I said imagine that, huh, me working for you…

Holiday Sports Club is a chain of gyms/exercise centers all across Japan.

There are about 33 locations spanning Honshu and one in Hokkaido… This also happens to be the club where my wife and I are currently members). Since we joined this gym, a number of issues have arisen that I think need to be made public and brought to the attention of anyone who may be considering supporting this business. Be aware, that if you are either a foreigner, or have any sort of physical disability, you may be discriminated against, or even prevented from joining. Here’s the scoop:

Race and Age Discrimination at Holiday Sports Club:

1. Racial discrimination. First and foremost, foreigners are routinely barred from joining the gym on the grounds that they “cannot read/write their name and address in Japanese.” This is always given as a requirement to prospective members. I suppose that the “standard” argument given here is that everyone must know some Japanese in case of an emergency, or perhaps in order to understand the rules and regulations and the club. That, however is a bit of a farce, and a HUGE contradiction, considering the club actually has an English rulebook that they give to new members to read through. But yet, the double standard arises when it comes to Japanese literacy. When the club first opened, my wife and I were the first foreign members and we were able to do this so we were given almost no problems in joining, however a friend of mine was told “no, he couldn’t join” because his Japanese was insufficient. When he brought in his Japanese wife, they were all apologetic and then, of course he could join without a hitch. Most recently, in past couple weeks three young women from Iowa who are here on a teacher exchange program were barred membership because their Japanese knowledge was deemed insufficient. Also worth noting (but nothing that can be done) is that a common secondary reason for disallowing people (foreigners and Japanese alike) is having a tattoo, even though many members have them (but cover them up with bandages when in the gym).

2. Discrimination against the elderly / people with limited mobility.

This was brought to my attention today by good friends of mine. They are a mixed couple (husband is Japanese and wife is American). They are both seniors and the American wife has lived in Japan for over 30 years. Her husband was born here and is a lifelong resident of the city. He still remembers the war and American bombing raids over the city during WWII when he was a child in elementary school. (But yet, he married an American when he got older. Interesting stuff! That just goes to show you how love can overcome even war, hatred and racism). As my friends are older, Takao (the Japanese husband) has troubles walking so he walks with a cane. He has been prohibited from entering Holiday Sports Club with his cane. The official reason given: the cane could be used as a weapon! Another elderly woman who needs a cane to walk (following an operation) has similarly been disallowed, and therefore been unable to join the gym for this reason. Furthermore, because Takao is forced to leave his cane in the car when he attends the gym, (thus leaning on his wife for support) both Takao and his wife have requested that several parking spaces near the entrance be marked as “handicapped” with those with limited mobility. This request has been effectively turned down.

The facility, incidentally also is NOT wheelchair accessible or open to those with impaired mobility. It should go without saying that it’s not only young, healthy people who go to gyms. Many people, regardless of age and physical ability attend for health reasons. First and foremost, gyms should be open and welcoming to such individuals, many of whom use gyms as part of physiotherapy or rehabilitation programs. This form of discrimination is both shocking and contemptible.

I question, whether it is even legal for them to prohibit someone from using a cane for SECURITY reasons! I asked my friends several times if there could have been some misunderstanding with what the gym staff told them… But they assured me, “Oh no. They were very clear as to the reason why canes are not allowed in.” Remember, we are talking about a Japanese man here, not a foreigner. There was no language barrier involved.

It really upsets me that our local gym (which is so close to my house) have chosen to be so difficult and unwelcoming to certain groups of people. The staff are often very friendly! In fact, my wife and I have gone out with some of them on a few occasions. But they are forced to enforce this company’s strange “rules” that really put many people off, now including myself.

Please give this report some consideration when you are shopping around for a gym to work out in. Please also let your friends know, whether they be Japanese or not, that Holiday Sports Club seems to only be interested in people who fall into a narrow view of what is acceptable. You must be young, Japanese, free from any body modifications, (which includes you ladies too, by the way. All jewelry, including earrings MUST be removed (without exception) prior to entering the pool area), and anyone who does not “fit in” will be denied entry or declined membership.

As the saying goes, “caveat emptor” — buyer beware.

Jim Dunlop
August 30, 2007

PS: If someone wants to call my local gym and check the information out for themselves, please contact me directly (drinkacupofcoffee AT and I can pass along the details (like a local phone number). If they wish to contact the company (in general) then all they need to do is go to the website link I provided above in the article. JD

5 comments on “Human Rights Violations at a J Gym Chain: “Young, Healthy Japanese Only” By Jim Dunlop

  • Thom Andrews says:

    During the 1990s, I was a member of Tipness in Tokyo. My Nihongo competency was not an issue with the unfailingly polite staff, who had memorized the training manual. There were few fellow patrons like myself who had been born overseas. I have shoulder-length hair, a discretely sized earring and small tattoo of Westcoast native Canadian design with immense meaning for me. These identifiers caused tremendous difficulty for the young staff, despite my linguistically-correct and legally-correct explanation to them that there was no reason for them to fear me (I am not a Yakuza associate) and that I only wished to swim. They wanted to bandage-over my earring and tatoo every time I used their facilities. We talked this over pleasantly for 20 minutes, with me pointing out all sorts of issues, such as Human Rights and the illegality of the policy and they stressed their need to adhere to the company rules and do their job as their job description set out. I agreed to their request and all of us saved face. In subsequent discussions with club management, who were perplexed and unconcerned with my concerns but, if I would abide by the rules, everyone could avoid the issue. I eventually went to an inferior but public pool, knowing that Human Rights in Japan is for individual concern rather than corporate or national government shifts in policy. Buckle or berate is hardly a promising choice.

  • I’m a British male and have worked at a sports club “Renaissance”, in Japan. They had no policy barring foreigners or older people with mobility problems. I recall one old gentleman who would take almost five minutes to walk a distance of ten metres but when he got on the treadmill he would go non-stop. He was still allowed to join and I’ll never forget him, a true inspiration. Although, they did bar people who had tatoos. I find it disgusting that any sports club would not allow older people with physical problems into the gym. These are the people who actually need to exercise more to maintain muscle and motor function than the fit, healthy 20-40 crowd.

  • Try out KONAMI. At least in my neck of the woods (Sapporo, Nishioka), I have in the past four years never witnessed any problems. To the contrary, quite a few foreigners are regular members, and the language barrier has never been a problem. Staff is making an extra effort to communicate with those who have only limited Japanese language ability. Before, I’ve been to Cesar in Yokohama (Ofuna Sta.). That was 10 years ago, but I made the same positive experiences over there.

  • I would assume that it’s a matter of “image” ie they are worried about protecting an image of their members as healthy, young, “perfect” specimens. Discrimination, pure and simple, and distasteful as it’s possible to be. The fact that they wouldn’t provide handicapped parking or allow canes says it all. Where’s the government? This _must be_ illegal.


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