Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column July 6, 2010: “Japan’s hostile hosteling industry”: how government agencies want NJ tourists yet are accessories to excluding them


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The Japan Times, Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Japan’s hostile hosteling industry
Draft eleven with links to sources and alternate conclusion

Online version at http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20100706ad.html

As you may know, Japan has no national civil or criminal legislation outlawing and punishing racial discrimination, meaning businesses with “Japanese only” signs aren’t doing anything illegal.

Problem is, I’m not sure it would matter if such a law existed.

To illustrate, consider one business sector that — technically — cannot exclude customers by race or nationality: hotels. Article 5 of Japan’s Hotel Management Law (ryokan gyoho, or HML) says that licensed accommodations cannot refuse service unless 1) rooms are full, 2) there is a threat of contagious disease, or 3) there is a issue of “public morals” (as in shooting porno movies there, etc.).


However, as discussed here last week (“No need to know the law, but you must obey it,” Zeit Gist, June 29), the law in Japan can be a mere technicality.

The HML is frequently ignored. Quick online searches (try Rakuten or Jalan) soon uncover hotels either outright refusing non-Japanese (NJ) lodgers, or, more circumspectly, those that say, “We don’t take reservations from NJ without addresses in Japan” (which is still unlawful).

SOURCE:  Jalan:  (recently amended to say “NJ without domestic contact addresses” refused)

Rakuten:  (now amended to say “no bookings from overseas”)

Still excluding:  http://travel.rakuten.co.jp/HOTEL/18497/18497_std.html

When I call these hotels and ask why they feel the need to exclude (it’s my hobby), their justifications range from the unprofessional to the cowardly.

Most claim they can’t provide sufficient service in English (as if that’s all that NJ can speak), so naturally it follows that they won’t provide NJ with any service at all. Or they say they have no Western-style beds (I wonder if they worry about people using chopsticks too?).

More clever managers claim “safety” (the trump card in Japanese culture), as in: “In case of an emergency, how can we communicate with NJ effectively to get them out of a burning building?” (When I ask how they would deal with blind or deaf Japanese customers, they become markedly less clever.)

The nasty managers hiss that NJ steal hotel goods or cause trouble for other guests, thus making it a crime issue. (After all, Japanese guests never get drunk and rowdy, or “permanently borrow” hotel amenities themselves, right?)

This attitude in Japanese hotels is surprisingly widespread. According to a 2008 government survey, 27 percent of them said they didn’t want any NJ customers at all.


Some might claim this is no big deal. After all, you could go someplace else, and why stay at a place that doesn’t want you there anyway? At least one columnist might claim that culturally insensitive NJ deserve to be excluded because some of them have been bad guests.

Fortunately, these apologist fringe opinions do limited damage. However, when a government agency allows — even promotes — the systematic exclusion of NJ clients, we have a real problem with the rule of law in Japan.

Consider the curious case of the Fukushima Prefectural Tourist Association ( www.tif.ne.jp ). In September 2007, I was notified that their English site was offering member hotels two preset options for “acceptance of foreigners” and “admittance of foreigners” (whatever that difference may be). Of the 142 hotels then listed, 35 chose not to accept or admit NJ customers.

SOURCE: https://www.debito.org/?p=1941

I contacted FPTA and asked about the unlawfulness. A month later their reply was they had advised all 35 hotels that they really, really oughta stop that — although not all of them would. For its part, FPTA said it would remove the site’s “confusing” preset options, but it could not force hotels to repeal their exclusionary rules — FPTA is not a law enforcement agency, y’know. I asked if FPTA would at least delist those hotels, and got the standard “we’ll take it under advisement.”

Case closed. Or so I thought. I was doing some followup research last December and discovered that even after two years, FPTA still had the option to exclude on their Japanese Web site. And now nine times more hotels — 318 — were advertised as refusing NJ (gaikokujin no ukeire: fuka).

SOURCE: https://www.debito.org/?p=5619

I put the issue up on Debito.org, and several concerned readers immediately contacted FPTA to advise them their wording was offensive and unlawful. Within hours, FPTA amended it to “no foreign language service available” (gaikokugo taio: fuka).

This sounds like progress, but the mystery remains: Why didn’t FPTA come up with this wording in Japanese on its own?

Moreover, unlike the Japanese site, FPTA’s English site had stopped advertising that NJ were being refused at all. So instead of fixing the problem, FPTA made it invisible for NJ who can’t read Japanese.

Furthermore, when researching this article last month, I discovered FPTA had revamped its site to make it more multilingual (with Korean and two Chinese dialects, as well as English). However, the multilingual site buttons for searching accommodations led to dead links (the Japanese links, however, worked just fine).

On May 24, a Mr. Azuma, head of FPTA’s Tourism Department, told me it was taking a while to reword things properly. I asked if the past two years plus six months was insufficient. Miraculously, in time for this article, the foreign-language links are now fixed, and no more excluders can be found on the site.

However, the underlying problem has still not been fixed. Another NJ recently alerted me to the fact that the only hotel in Futaba town, Fukushima Prefecture, refused him entry on May 2. He had made the mistake of going up alone to the front desk and asking in Japanese if he could have a room. Management claimed none were available.

Suspicious, he walked outside and had his Japanese wife phone the hotel from the parking lot. Presto! A twin room was procured. She walked in, got the key, and all was sparkly.

When I phoned the hotel myself to confirm this story, the manager claimed that a room had just happened to open up right after my friend left. Amazing what coincidences happen, especially when this hotel — also featured on the FPTA Web site — advertises that they “can’t offer services in foreign languages” (or, it seems, even if a foreigner speaks a nonforeign language).

SOURCES: here and here

Let’s connect some dots: We have public policies working at cross-purposes. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism wants more NJ to visit and pump money into our economy, with Japan relaxing visa requirements for mainland Chinese tourists as of July 1. Yet the Ministry of Justice and other law enforcement agencies just want to keep policing NJ, and that includes deputizing hotels. This is why since 2005 they’ve been demanding hotels photocopy all NJ passports at check-in — again, unlawful (Zeit Gists, Mar. 8 and Oct. 18, 2005).

Of course, this assumes that anyone pays attention to the laws at all.

Japan’s lack of legal support for hapless NJ tourists (not to mention residents) — who face unfettered exclusionism precisely where the HML says they shouldn’t — are thus finding local government bodies conspiring against them.

SOURCES: https://www.debito.org/japantimes030805.html

Brains cooked yet? Now get a load of this:

As of June 1, the Toyoko Inn chain, already saddled with a history of poor treatment of NJ and handicapped customers, opened up a “Chinese only” hotel in Sapporo. When I called there to confirm, the cheery clerk said yes, only Chinese could stay there. Other NJ — and even Japanese — would be refused reservations!

I asked if this wasn’t of questionable legality. She laughed and said, “It probably is.” But she wasn’t calling it out. Nor was anyone else. Several articles appeared in the Japanese media about this “exclusively Chinese hotel,” and none of them raised any qualms about the legal precedents being set.

SOURCES:  Toyoko’s history: https://www.debito.org/olafongaijincarding.html
and https://www.debito.org/?p=797
and http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20060128a1.html
Sapporo Chinese Only: https://www.debito.org/?p=6864

So what’s next? More hotels segregated by nationality? Separate floors within hotels reserved for Chinese, Japanese and garden-variety gaijin? What happens to guests with international marriages and multiethnic families? Are we witnessing the Balkanization of Japan’s hosteling industry?


Folks, it’s not difficult to resolve this situation. Follow the rule of law. You find a hotel violating the HML, you suspend its operating license until they stop, like the Kumamoto prefectural government did in 2004 to a hotel excluding former Hansen’s disease patients.


Oh wait — the ex-Hansen’s patients were Japanese, so they deserve to have their legal rights protected. It sucks to be NJ: The laws, such as they are, don’t apply to you anyway — if they are applied at all. Yokoso Japan.


Oh wait — the ex-Hansen’s patients were Japanese, so they deserve to have their legal rights protected.

Sucks to be NJ: Let NJ in our orderly society, and they cause so much confusion that people don’t even feel the need to obey the law anymore. Now that even Japanese are being excluded, no doubt NJ will be blamed for disrupting the “wa” once again. Yōkoso Japan.

Debito Arudou coauthored the “Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrants.” Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments on this issue to community@japantimes.co.jp

22 comments on “Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column July 6, 2010: “Japan’s hostile hosteling industry”: how government agencies want NJ tourists yet are accessories to excluding them

  • The Shark says:

    My point of view is that only education of hotel operators and managers would be an effective solution.

    reasons / elabaration:
    1) additional legislation
    ==> sounds good, but could always be bypassed by hotels (therefore not really effective)

    2) Assumption: All NJ cannot or don’t want to speak Japanese.
    I believe that many NJ come to Japan especially to speak Japanese. Therefore service in Japanese would even be better for them than service in English.
    Apart from that, everyone knows that Japanese is the oficial language here: it would therefore be OK for hotels to state that service is only be provided in Japanese (but to exclude NJ in general would be wrong).

    3) “We don’t take reservations from NJ without addresses in Japan”
    I don’t get this point. Why should the address of the customer matter? All that matters is that he/she has a valid credit card or can pay in cash upfront. How about overseas Japanese?

    4) “they say they have no Western-style beds”
    Wow, does that mean NJ cannot use futons? What if all overseas hotels without futons excluded Japanese customers?

    5) “In case of an emergency, how can we communicate with NJ effectively to get them out of a burning building?”
    Emergency exit sign are pretty universal. Also most people know not to use elevators etc. in such case. And if there really is a fire, there is not much time to have a long conversation anyway. You just leave the building. That’s all.

    The real problem is that for some reason hotel operators believe NJ customers are unwilling or unable to follow rules or customs and would make others feel uncomfortable. That’s why I believe education needs to be at the center of any attempt to change things. Japanese hotel operators need to realize that Japanese hotels are not that unique after all and that most NJ customers know pretty well how to use hotels. Also hotel operators need to realize that NJ customers are not completely different types of human beings. Both NJ and J mainly need a hotel room to have a good slep at night.

    That whole language thing is not really the real issue I believe. Because when you stay at a hotel you just have 2 short conversations (during check-in and during check-out). There is really not that much talking involved.

  • Mark Hunter says:

    Shark, agreed. However, garden-variety racism is probaly as much a factor as anything in the refusals. Address racism by teaching elementary school kids what it is and then follow up in junior high. That would help a lot.

  • I wonder how the Japanese goverrnment would react if “No Japanese “signs were put up in hotels in the USA…?

  • It looks like for these managers NJ ≠ 東洋人
    “Most claim they can’t provide sufficient service in English (as if that’s all that NJ can speak), so naturally it follows that they won’t provide NJ with any service at all. Or they say they have no Western-style beds” .
    Even more, I feel that this organization is already dividing the NJ into Chinese, Koreans and その他。For me, it is already racial issue.
    BTW, does anyone have any link/info on the issue of “NJs criminal behavior in hotels”?

  • I wonder how the Japanese goverrnment would react if “No Japanese “signs were put up in hotels in the USA…?

    It would be outrageous and whole week program on JTV about how US can dare to treat US this way. This would be discrimination. The thing is that other countries at least most of them respect law and any such claim would be considered to investigate and punish responsible person, not in Japan. [further hyperbole deleted, calm down please]

  • Another one for you to check.

    Go to Keio Hachioji Plaza hotel:


    Select “booking” in the Japanese page. Then date, kind of rooms, etc. One has a whole range of rooms, plans, etc.

    Do the same in the English page version. Follow online booking, etc… Check on the same dates (I checked for September 2010 and as far as May 2011) and guess what: No rooms available!

    It`s like Queen`s song: “It’s a kind of magic” 🙂

    And they have a free-toll number in the US! Guess you can call them for free in the US but don`t you dare to book from Japan!

  • Another one from an onsen in Arashiyama, Kyoto:


    Go to rooms, online book, check the calendar. Every single day full till September! It must be such a good place but I actually know it is not.

    Go to the Japanese version…do I need to say more?

    I think the practice is while spread, just too late to keep looking. People out there, do your research!


  • “…does that mean NJ cannot use futons?” – I’ve met some who can’t.

    “…NJ customers are unwilling or unable to follow rules or customs” – Indeed.

    Haven’t you ever had foreign guests visit you in Japan? If you have, you know that many do not know or do not respect the customs – particularly in Japanese style homes or hotels. If you have done much traveling in the states, you’d also know that smaller hotels often have rules that exclude certain guests – namely children. That is not racism, but I’m sure you can understand the reasons behind it. I’ve certainly seen enough NJ behave like children to understand why a hotel would rather not serve them. It’s not racism. It’s protecting property and business.

    As NJ, we should realize that the NJ who do offend – or in some cases actually damage property – are the ones who are remembered rather than just blaming the problem on racism.

    Also, in Yokohama, there is already a program the elementary schools that fosters and promotes nondiscrimination: Global English and Understanding. Check it out and encourage your local schools to introduce the program.

    — And if you are representative of how effective the program is in Japan, I despair. You have no grasp of what racism means.

  • For Nobulin,

    Maybe you are right for some cheap ryokans but we are talking about major business hotels like Keio Plaza (Which has beds only) and an onsen in Kyoto, a major tourist area.

    Yes, you are right some people have no clue, don`t want follow Japanese customs but then promote how to stay in a ryokan, what to do, what not do, etc. Pretending the hotel is full for the next two months is just a typical Japanese way to avoid fixing a problem.

    Guess you think generalizations and stereotyping based in nationality is not racism, is Xenophobia…Guess that acceptable for the “Japanese public” or “Japanese People” or “Everybody”, again another generalization politicians and people in power love to use.

    But then how do you recognize if someone is foreigner? 😛

  • For Nobulin,

    One question, what`s that program in Yokohama? Can you send the website? Is not this one?


    Weird address. Anyway, typical civil servant project, they have the website in Japanese only, so far for international communication. Well, no need to be in English but at least in Esperanto, why not 😛

    It seems it`s a program for domestic consumption, for local promotion: “Hey locals, look how international we are!”

  • @Lepanto, interestingly it seems like you can make reservations in English at Keio Hachioji Hotel if you go through third-party English-language booking sites:

    Example: http://tinyurl.com/25qcau7

    I don’t know if that is a “mistake” on the hotel’s part, and they just reject you when you get further along in the reservation process, or if their English-language reservations system is not working properly.

  • Anyway, check the link “soar to the world”, quite hilarious. It seems like a one way street and there is no much communication here.

  • @Lepanto, to add to my earlier comment, it just seems very strange to me that both the hotels you cite would put so much effort into creating detailed English-language websites if they are not interested in NJ customers. I would expect such a hotel to have a website in Japanese only.

  • Justin, one would think the segregation in the hotels has already begun. Obviously, there are rooms for J and for NJ, and the number for NJ is already full.
    I might be wrong, of course, the best way is the person interested to contact them on the phone and clarify the problem.

  • @ Justin and Allen,

    And another reason is to get tax cuts from the government for “welcoming foreign guest”.

    Anyway, the rates in that website “booking.com” are more expensive than if you book via Janal or Rakuten. If you check the Keio Plaza rates, it`s around 8000 Yens for their cheapest room.

    I know by experience that foreigners get a worse deal than Japanese when booking rooms. Specially in Kyoto, a city I know quite well.

    — Need a source for the tax cuts.

  • I cannot confirm above saying by Lepanto that Japanese get better deals compared with foreigners. Several times I experienced when I asked my japanese secretary to get room rates at the Imperial Hotel or the New Otani in Tokyo, that a pretty high room rate was mentioned. When I called minutes later by myself in English, a much better rate was offered for the same room. Try it!

    — The pricing regimes at hotels are mysterious creatures, aren’t they. Anyone have any insights on how hotels discount in general?

  • Guillaume says:

    Many hotels now have dynamic pricing (less in Japan than abroad though), so it doesn’t make any sense to compare prices between websites.
    Dynamic pricing is now used in many businesses. French railways have now dynamic pricing and I wish this would be introduced also with JR and other railways companies.

    Concerning the discrimination at hotels, it is a serious issue that won’t go away unless a serious effort is made on the education system. Japan is often portrayed here as a unique country with unique characteristics, which reinforces the “us vs them” mentality. I wish schools teach kids that Japan is a valuable part of the world community and that each culture is equal and should be respected.

  • I travelled through Hokkaido and Aomori in the summer, staying at a couple of Route Inn hotels in Aomori City and Tomakomai. The front desk clerk at the Tomakomai one asked me for ID (she looked about 17) but her boss intervened and told her it wasn’t necessary. Aomori didn’t ask at all. So thumbs up in general to them.

    Perhaps the message is getting through.

  • Turkish guy says:

    In my country, Turkey, it’s a two-way street. Those “All-inclusive Mediterranean Resorts” have much better rates for foreigners than Turkish persons. On top of that the bulk of them do not let single Turkish men in. A system that discriminates its own people…how about that? But on the other hand, spa places (or “Kaplica”, onsen for you) mostly catering to Turkish market have different (and more expensive) rates for foreign people. City hotels have both practices. One hotel I know in Istanbul showed different rates for “Local”, “US-Canada”, “South America”, “Middle East”, “Western Europe”, “Eastern Europe”, “India” and “Far East” markets…don’t know which were more expensive, but they tend to charge Middle East market more, to rip off the petrol sheikhs.

    As a person in travel business, I can say that the hotel reservations online can be tricky. I use Amadeus or GTA systems, online wholesalers for travel agencies. You may not find one room you just found a minute ago on your next search, or the fully-booked hotel you lost all hope a minute ago can miraculously give your much needed room. I can’t say anything about the repeated search on one occasion where the person constantly found room at the Japanese web site, but not on its English version, but some of the occasions might be mere coincidences.

    In Turkey it’s mandatory to give your ID when you’re checking in, be it Turkish or foreigner.

    — Thanks for the feedback, but it’s not particularly germane to this blog entry.

  • Turkish guy says:

    Well, I was telling about the hotel pricing practices in my own country and the online reservation experiences to give an idea…but if you don’t think it’s germane, that’s OK.

    — It’s not. It elucidates little and justifies nothing, sorry. Thanks anyway.

    UPDATE: I just reread the comments above (not just the blog entry). I see the context now of your comment. Thanks for contributing.


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