Otaru Onsens Case published as English teaching material


Hello Blog. The Otaru Onsens Case (https://www.debito.org/otarulawsuit.html) refuses to fade into obscurity, thank goodness. Still, the facts of the case are being increasingly bleached out as time goes on. Witness how in this English teaching book discussing the case for educational purposes. Thanks to Bert for sending me this. Comment at the bottom.

From: Sloss, Colin; Kawahara Toshiaki; Grassi, Richard: “Shift the Focus”, Lesson 4: “Discrimination, or Being Japanese…?” pp 18-21, on the Otaru Onsens Case. Sanshusha Pubilshing Co., Ltd. February, 2006. ISBN 4-384-33363-3.


Lesson 4
Discrimination, or Being Japanese…?

Having lived some twenty years in Japan, I have not often felt I was facing negative discrimination for being a foreigner. On the other hand, I have often felt conscious of positive discrimination and of being given special treatment because I am a foreigner. However, like everything else, there are advantages and disadvantages to being a foreigner in Japan.

This is why there are varying opinions regarding the Otaru Onsen Case amongst foreigners living in Japan. To explain the case, a few years ago a foreign university professor who had lived a long time in Japan and who spoke Japanese fluently was denied entry to a hot spring, because the hot spring had a “no foreigners” policy. The foreign professor then received Japanese citizenship and went back to the hot spring. Once again he was stopped for being a foreigner, but he showed the people at the hot spring proof that he was now a Japanese. However, he was still refused entry because the owner said that Japanese people at the hot spring would still think he was a foreigner because of his appearance. So, the professor filed a court suit against the owner of the hot spring for discrimination and he won the case. There is more to this story than this brief summary, but I was interested in the reaction of the English-language-speaking foreigners to this incident.

Some foreigners who had been living in Japan for a long time, lets [sic] call them “old Japan hands,” objected to the claim that this was discrimination and should be stopped. Their argument, as I understand it, was that trying to make Japan like other countries would, in fact, make Japan less distinct and more ordinary. Japan, as it is now (regardless of any problems it may possess, such as discrimination and racism), should be appreciated because of its uniqueness. Ultimately, this argument is romantic, condescending and resistant to the globalization of Japan. Lafcadio Hearn could be said to represent an extreme of this kind of thinking. During the late Meiji Period, Hearn was strongly against the Westernization of Japan, which he feared would destroy the charms of old Japan. Such hopes, though understandable, tend to be disappointed with the changing times.

Many foreigners, particularly those who have been hurt by real or perceived discrimination in Japan, supported the man’s case against the hot spring. They were interested in the legal implications of the incident and the need to establish that open discrimination should be illegal in Japan. To some extent, I agree with them.

Nevertheless, if you look hard enough it is possible to find, or to imagine, discrimination everywhere. Once, I was at my local station and some women were handing out leaflets to people. However, they did not give anything to me. Inside my head a voice shouted “discrimination against foreigners.” So I walked back to the people who were handing out the leaflets and demanded one for myself. Then I read the leaflet and I felt embarrassed. The leaflet was asking young women to step forward to enter a “Miss Hyakumangoku” competition. What I had assumed had been racial discrimination was, in fact, sexual discrimination!

C.S. (Colin Sloss, author).

While I am happy that the issue has been condensed and replicated for future discussion in an educational setting, I wish the author could have gotten a little closer to the facts of the case. Perhaps included the fact that there was more than one Plaintiff in the case (Olaf and Ken), not just me alone.

I also think he should take less seriously the intellectual squirrelling afforded those postulating pundits he calls “old Japan hands”, found chattering away on places like NBR. They are hardly representative of the foreign resident community in Japan, the proprortionally-shrinking English-language community in Japan, or of anything at all, really. Except perhaps old grouches and bores.

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