“Japanese Only” Newspaper Outlet: Hokkoku Shinbun in Ishikawa Pref (UPDATED)


Hi Blog. Things are getting surreal these days in Japan. Now even newspaper outlets are getting xenophobic.

Let’s trace the logical development of all this. In the Otaru Onsens Case, the management said they would refuse foreigners because of, inter alia, different bathing customs and sanitation issues.

In various other cases catalogued at the Rogues’ Gallery of Exclusionary Establishments, foreigners would be refused (these are actual reasons given from people in charge) at bars and restaurants ‘cos they might not pay, stores ‘cos they might shoplift, at a disco ‘cos they might drink too much or hit on Japanese women, at an Internet cafe cos they might breach security, at hotels ‘cos the management doesn’t speak any foreign languages, at a women’s relaxation boutique ‘cos their feet are too big, at an opticians ‘cos the owner doesn’t like Black people, and by realtors because, well, just because–the landlord has a “thing” about foreigners, and legally in Japan there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

But here’s a case that just boggles the mind. Of a newspaper sales outlet refusing a foreigner his subscription. What, is the newspaper seller (in this day of withering print journalism) worried the gaijin might be able to read what they write?

Turning the keyboard over to the person was canvassed, subscribed, then got refused. Anonymized. Courtesy of The Community mailing list. With updates and sleuthing to get to the bottom of this afterwards. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

November 27, 2007

Hi everyone, I thought this might be of interest to people in The Community.

About 2 weeks or so ago, a newspaper salesman came to my door. As soon as I opened the door, he gave a robust greeting in English that he works for Hokkoku Shinbun 北國新聞 (a local Ishikawa-ken paper) and asked if I understood Japanese. My Japanese isn’t great, but I like trying to read things. He then asked if I would like to subscribe for 3 months and I said sure. We filled out the form and he said that my paper would start to be delivered in December. He was extremely polite and happy that I wanted to subscribe and I was quite happy to have a chance to gather an abundance of reading materials.

Here’s the receipt (front and back, click on images to expand in browser):

However, about a week later, I got a postcard saying this: “Boss didn’t accept foreigner’s subscription. I am sorry.”

Naturally, this confused me. It’s for a three month subscription, of which I would pay each month for that month’s newspaper.

In our discussions, the salesman and I talked about where I work and it turns out that he took English classes at the same college way back when. So, he knew that I wouldn’t just up and run or that I wouldn’t be a deadbeat in paying.

Contact information on the newspaper:
販売所名: 野々市三馬(石川県)
電話: 076−247-2120 (changed to 076-243-1810)
〒920-8588 石川県金沢市香林坊2丁目5番1号 TEL.076-263-2111



I made some calls around to get to the bottom of this. Here’s what I unearthed:

1) Mr Matsuda, who made the house call to get our client above signed up, is employed of those special selling agencies (seiruzu, from “sales”) hired by the parent newspaper company. It is only tangentally-related (shita-uke) to the hanbaibu within Hokkoku Shinbun itself.

2) Mr Matsuda did not return my call. A Mr Oda at 076-247-7834 did. He said he hadn’t heard anything about this event–he hadn’t even received the actual contract forms I’ve blogged above. Hence he was not the “boss” referred to within the postcard.

3) That boss is a Mr Sakurai, and when asked by Mr Oda why he refused the client, there were some incomprehensible excuses about something or other having to do with some prior experience with something or other. (I don’t think Mr Oda even understood the excuse as he was trying to relate it to me.) What, nonpayment? Stop the subscription, like you would do for any Japanese deadbeat. But the client would be paying in advance anyway, so that’s not even a problem. Mr Oda tried to claim that this wasn’t a case of discrimination, but, I asked, what else could it be?

4) So unless I had made these phone calls, this refusal would have stopped at Mr Sakurai and nobody within Hokkoku Shinbun would have been the wiser. Who’s going to be taking responsibility for this?

Frankly, I felt there was something very fishy about all this (I have received warnings not to purchase newspaper subscriptions from these seiruzu outlets–the ones that offer long-term subscriptions with big presents–because they are often run by organized-crime syndicates. This is according to Hokkaido Shinbun.) So I called the Hokkoku Shinbun head office above and asked if they knew of Mr Oda at this company at this phone number. They did, he’s legit. And when I asked if they would look into it all, they said I should take it up with Mr Oda’s company first. Huh?

What a strange situation. Newsprint hurting for subscribers these days and they’re refusing foreigners, based upon the stealthy prejudices of one person sitting at a veto gate? Hurting the reputation of the newspaper? And the head office doesn’t want to do anything about it? What bad business practices.

I’ve already sent out the above notices to my Japanese press lists, as well as to the dokusha and koho Hokkoku Shinbun email addresses above. The media should find this interesting as it’s one of their own. Should draw up a report in Japanese tonight.

More updates as they come in. Debito in Sapporo



I have talked with a number of people on this case (NHK and Kyodo have also been in touch), including Mr Sakurai and the actual manager of the Hokkoku Shinbun Hanbai Bu Kanazawa Tantou Mr Kotake (076-260-3564, email kotake@hokkoku.co.jp) twice, for about thirty minutes each. Here’s what else has surfaced:

MR SAKURAI (Last night before dinner):

1) There was no discrimination. He was unaware that Mr Matsuda had written anything like that in the postcard. It’s Mr Matsuda’s fault.

2) There was a problem with the contract, so we cancelled it. Yes, unilaterally.

3) Er… that’s it.

When asked why they didn’t, like, come back with a new contract, or answer with a postcard or a personal visit something a little nicer than “no foreigners”, he just said he had no knowledge the postcard said such a thing, and was sorry he didn’t come back with a new contract.

Fu ni ochinai ne.

MR KOTAKE (this morning, after checking with the Nonoichi Sanba company and Mr Sakurai):

1) This was a separate sales company unrelated to the actual Hokkoku Shinbunsha, so the problem is within the Nonoichi Sanba sales corp. itself. (As H.O. advised me below in the Comments section.)

2) There was no inkan (seal) on the contract, so it wasn’t a legitimate contract yet.

3) There was no intent to discriminate, and everyone (Mr Kotake, Mr Sakurai, Mr Matsuda) will be going to the client’s house and apologizing today if not tomorrow for not explaining this situation to the customer properly.

I pointed out that it still seemed unnatural (in this day of withering print journalism) for a sales outlet not to assiduously court paying customers (if this were a Japanese client, I doubt there would be any hesitation to go back with a new contract or ask for an inkan on the old contract). And if it I hadn’t made the phone calls, these apologies would never have happened. That, plus the postcard explicitly giving the reason as “no foreigners”, were enough to make one doubt the claim that there was no discrimination. And this attempt to pin the blame on Mr Matsuda, when it was Mr Sakurai who didn’t tell Mr Oda or anyone else in the company about the contract issue, is pretty strange.

Mr Kotake replied that he hoped that this would not give people a bad impression of Ishikawa Prefecture or of Hokkoku Shinbun. I said that how they handled this situation would determine that. He hoped that some of the information on this blog would be changed to reflect that Hokkoku Shinbun and Nonoichi Sanba were two different entities, and I have since made some alterations to the report above.

He also mentioned that he remembered me from the Otaru Onsens Case (he read a lot of my website last night) and hoped that I would have no negative impressions of things. I simply said that this sort of thing is happening all over Japan (see Comments section below for a claim that a Yomiuri subscription service did the same thing to somebody else), in all sectors of Japan, and if Japan is ever to get over their “gaijin allergy”, it’s going to take some work by media outlets, such as the Hokkoku Shinbun, to report the good things that NJ residents also do here, not just the allegedly bad. How about devoting an occasional column to that? He mentioned that few foreigner laborers come here, but lots of exchange students. It’s an idea.

That was it. Lots of loose ends here. Let’s wait and see how they play out in the other media. I spent another half hour on the phone this afternoon with a Kyodo reporter on this. Keep an eye on NHK and Kyodo News. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

18 comments on ““Japanese Only” Newspaper Outlet: Hokkoku Shinbun in Ishikawa Pref (UPDATED)

  • As I’ve said before, you’re doing a great job Debito. I’ll be disappointed if Hokkoku Shinbun does not put some pointed questions to Mr. Sakurai about refusing a willing, pre-paying, customer.

    But I’ll be even more disappointed if someone trots out the old “we’ve had problems with foreigners before” routine. That line always seems to imply that they’ve never had problems with Japanese before.

  • Xenophobia (stupid) is as xenophobia (stupid) does. You really should try to use this to light a competition fire among the newspapers…any Japanese company LUVZ to hear dirt about their competition. I see it at work every day.

  • Edit – I should have said ” ‘eventually’ put some pointed questions to Mr. Sakurai…”

    Because it seems like they’re doing nothing at the moment.

  • This comment brought me back to the Japan Times debate held some months ago on this website. Not that I am an expert on media, but as I see it newspapers “struggling for subcribers” need to be looking for something more. While one reason they are struggling for subscribers is racism, I think another may be the fact that they have no idea who their subscribers are. These days the biggest asset is a “name list” but newspapers don’t actually have that list in Japan. This rather short-sighted local newspaper’s dastardly and just embarrassing behavior aside, my question is how is Japan Times going to increase subcribers if they don’t know who is reading their daily, as good as it is.

  • Interesting find. It speaks more to the sophistication of people who choose to contract as newspaper subscription sellers more than anything else. However, I wonder if the situation will actually be rectified?


    I had a similar thing happen to me with the Yomiuri Shimbun in Yamagata City several years ago. The salesman told me and my wife that we could sign up under her name but not under mine, as a foreigner would be refused. At the time we just decided not to go with Yomiuri. I also didn’t know about their conservative politics at the time. I had almost forgotten about that.


  • The relation between newspaper publisher and newspaper retailer (Hnabaisho) is similar to that of a book publisher and a bookstore. A publisher is not liable to what a retailer does, unless the publisher itself is forcing some odd policy to the retailer.


  • A bit of an eye-opener this …
    What legitimate excuse could there possibly be? Petty wee man venting his frustrations in a pointless little power-trip … sad.

  • Matthew Huster says:

    I was very surprised when I heard that this problem is related to the Hokkoku Shinbun. As a tactic to bolster their international image, the Hokkoku Shinbun pours bundles of cash into an NPO called Japan Tent (http://www.japantent.com/).

    Each year, Japan Tent invites over 1000 foreign students in Japan to do a homestay in Ishikawa prefecture in the name of promoting international understanding. The Hokkoku Shinbun then proceeds to turn it into a disgusting media event, complete with bows on the stage from the president of the company. Needless to say, they milk it for all they can.

    Granted, the Hokkoku Shinbun did not have any direct influence over the decision to deny this fellow’s subscription, but they do have a controlling relationship over the newspaper vendor. (They can choose not to do business with them anymore) Furthermore, Hokkoku Shinbun is clearly very sensitive of their image as a company with an international outlook.

    It seems to me that pointing out (either publicly or privately) this contradiction in attitude could go a long way toward preventing this kind of treatment of foreign customers in the future.

  • Well, despite its appearance, the contract slip does not specify the name of the party to the contract other than the reader. The name “Hokkoku Shinbun” appears on the slip, but it is the name of the newspaper purchased, not the party to the contract.

    Actually, Debito, you hit the tip of a big social problem in Japan called “Newspaper Retailers”. Here is a horrifying article about them in wikipedia.

    The publisher will keep saying, “we are not the party to the contract.” People will have a lot of trouble bringing them down.


  • Disappointed. All these years I thought I was boycotting Japanese newspapers, and now it turns out they were probably boycotting me.


    It may be out of the hands of the newspaper, as they have to rely on the local carrier to deliver the papers. It could be the local carrier that has determined that they will not cater to foreigners!

    I have wanted to subscribe to the JAPAN TIMES, BUT, I need the Japanese commercial advertising inserts. The local carrier refuses to put the advertising inserts into the ENGLISH paper, but will do it IF I purchase a Japanese subscription! (Then I get two sets of advertising inserts)

    Go figure!

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    Could the newspaper be selling lists of subscribers, and having concerns that these lists would lose value if foreign names were on them? That’s the only thing I can think of.

  • I have the same problem as the poster in comment #12. I want the Japanese inserts, but nobody will put them in an English newspaper.
    Back when I actually had a newspaper subscription, I used to “donate” them to the local florist who thought that it was trendy to wrap up the flowers in English newspapers. My wife enjoyed the free flowers, too.

  • ‘Think before you speak’ should be changed to ‘think before you write’. In the Japanese world of tatemae (saying what you want to hear) it’s surprising to see such a postcard filled with such Honne (truth).

    One point I would like to check. I have been subscribing to the Yomiuri (English) for years now (mainly bought it for the Independent pull-out on Sundays – now no longer) but I pay for my papers at the end of the month after receiving them not paying in advance. Same with all the utilities – you pay for what you use – so maybe there exisits the fear that the ‘not-to-be-trusted’ foreigner will indeed read his papers (or hers) and do a runner!


  • debito,

    are you sure he was to pay in advance??
    in the report ,he said that was to pay that month for that months
    newspapers-this could mean paying towards the end of the month for newspapers already recvd earlier in same..
    this is the normal system-and like Doug,I would suspect that they are worried about foreigners suddenly disappearing without paying
    (though this is obviously ridiculous)



  • Ryan Hagglund says:

    I was the one who wrote to Debito about having been denied a newspaper subscription several years back while living in Yamagata City. I need to make a small correction, however. I went back over the complaint letter I had sent to the newspaper and realized that it was not the Yomiuri Newspaper that I had been denied, but the Asahi Newspaper. I apologize for the error.


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