Mark Austin reports that Otaru, site of the famous onsen lawsuit, still has a “Japanese Only” establishment, “Monika”


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

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Hi Blog.  Mark Austin reports the following.  In light of Otaru’s long and rather pathetic history of refusing NJ (and NJ-looking Japanese) customers entry to their bathhouses etc., one would hope that the authorities by now might be a bit more proactive in preventing this sort of thing from happening again.  Used with permission of the author.  Arudou Debito


From: Mark Austin
Subject: Re: From Otaru tourism association
Date: June 30, 2011 4:29:24 AM GMT+09:00

Dear XXXX-san,

Thanks very much for your mail.

I very much appreciate your kind attention to the matter of my being denied entry to a business establishment in Otaru simply because I’m not Japanese.

Thank you for taking my complaint seriously.

Of course, I fully understand that the food bar Monika may have had trouble with foreigners in the past. I’ve heard that Russian sailors in Otaru sometimes get drunk and behave badly.

I must say that I truly sympathize with the situation of Monika and other eating/drinking establishments in Otaru that have had trouble with non-Japanese people.

However, I strongly feel that banning all foreigners is not the way to solve any problems that Otaru businesses have with non-Japanese people.

As for myself, I am a British citizen who has permanent residency in Japan. I moved to this country in 1990. I now work in Bangalore, India, as a visiting professor at a journalism school, but my home is Japan. I visited Otaru on Monday to give a lecture at Otaru University of Commerce.

On Monday evening, after I’d visited the onsen at the Dormy Inn, where I was staying, I asked a receptionist at the hotel if she could recommend a pub or bar where I could have a beer and something to eat. She pointed me in the direction of the area west of the railway. I walked there and found loads of “snack” bars, which I didn’t want to enter. Then I found Monika [I think this is the place — Ed] and was told by a Mr. XXXXX that I wasn’t welcome there.

I pointed out to Mr. XXXXX (in Japanese) that his refusal to serve me constituted racial discrimination (I used the phrase “jinshu sabetsu”) and he agreed that it was, and defended this by merely saying, “Ma, sho ga nai.”

After about 10 minutes, I gave up (politely) arguing with Mr. XXXXX and left.

I felt very hurt, angry and frustrated.

I hope you’ll take a look at this United Nations report on racial discrimination in Japan, which finds that the Japanese government is not living up to its promises to stop Japanese businesses discriminating against foreigners.

The rude treatment given to me on Monday night in Otaru would be unthinkable in my country, or other European countries, or the United States, and, I guess, most other democracies in the world that I’ve visited.

As an employee of the Otaru Tourism Association, I’m sure you’ll agree that your job description is to try to boost the local economy as much as possible by advertising the many attractions of Otaru, a beautiful city with a rich history in which foreigners played an important part from the late 19th century, to Japanese and non-Japanese people alike. In Otaru, foreigners (residents and tourists) and Japanese spend the same currency–yen. Is it asking too much that we be treated the same, as far as possible?

I should tell you that I have a huge admiration and respect for Japan, the country where I’ve lived almost half my life very happily. One thing I don’t like about Japan, however, is its thinking that it is somehow “exceptional”–that normal rules that apply everywhere else in the world don’t apply here. According to this thinking, Japan is “in” the world, but not “of” the world.

If pubs, restaurants and bars in Otaru (and elsewhere in Japan) have problems with foreigners, here’s what they should do:

1 Call the police.

2 Film and photograph the troublemakers (using cell phones or CCTV).

3 Ban individual troublemakers.

4 Ask the local government to contact the foreign ministry of the troublemakers’ country, requesting that foreign ministry to advise its citizens how to behave properly in Japan (the British Foreign Ministry regularly issues such advisories to British citizens traveling abroad; I don’t know if the foreign ministries of China or Russia, two countries whose citizens regularly visit Otaru, do so).

5 Post notices in various languages giving advice on acceptable/unacceptable behavior (that is now standard with onsen and sento, which is good).

Thanks again, XXXX-san, for your kind attention to my complaint. I would like to say, respectfully, that I expect some sort of concrete resolution to this problem (in other words, not just a vague promise of “We’re sorry, and we’ll try to improve the situation”), and I’ll be very happy to help you achieve that result in any way I can.

Best regards,

Mark Austin
Visiting Professor
Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media
Bangalore, India


20 comments on “Mark Austin reports that Otaru, site of the famous onsen lawsuit, still has a “Japanese Only” establishment, “Monika”

  • This “Japanese only” problem is far from over…and government are not even slightly concerned by it.
    I once complained at a bar that had a “Japanese Only” sign in Yokosuka, Kanagawa. Next week the sign said “Members only” (in English)… sigh.
    I kind of despair and lose motivation battling with these places because even though in principle it is outrageous, after knowing about the attitude of the owner I cant imagine anyone would want to go there or give them money. I wish they would put the sign in Japanese though, just to make it extra clear to the Japanese when they are entering a racist establishment.

  • Ironically, the website for the restaurant says the place serves “mukokuseki food.” So the food can be from anywhere, but the customers can’t. The restaurant’s website has a place for comments and reviews, and that may be a great place to leave polite and public comments as to the practice of discrimination.

  • Maxabillion Slartibartfast says:

    The website also says they have English-speaking staff available! I guess so they can tell gaijin would-be customers to shove off…

  • The fact that the restaurant has an English language web page and Mark’s experience somehow don’t square. I wonder, if the reported conversation took place entirely in Japanese, if Mr XXXXX assumed that Mark was Russian? Not that that excuses anything.

    — Once again, are we starting to give the benefit of the doubt to the perpetrator, not the victim? Why do so many people actively seek to doubt that racial discrimination happens in Japan? We did a whole lawsuit for half a decade to prove without question or doubt that it does. And I can vouch for Mark’s credentials — I’ve known him for years as a reporter for the Daily Yomiuri. So if he says it happened, I fully believe it happened.

  • @Debito
    Absolutely not, There’s no doubt for him to be goven the benefit of. He’s a racist idiot. I’m just trying to make sense of the fact that the place has an English website but refused Mark service. And I absoutely trust Mark’s story; I don’t see any suggestion in what I wrote that implies otherwise.

    — You doubted if “the reported conversation took place entirely in Japanese”. Anyway, onward with the discussion.

  • The benefit of doubt is always given to the perpetrator, not the victim. That is called presumed innocence.

  • JIb Halyard says:

    “The benefit of doubt is always given to the perpetrator, not the victim. That is called presumed innocence.”

    This is not a court of law, HO.

  • An English website! Oh good, this will make it easier for me to find the contact info and call to complain.

    If a few of us just call up along the lines of “Sumimasen ga, gaikokujin wa fuka desu ka? Naze deshou ka? Sore wa jinshuu sabetsu desu ne..” it might humiliate or shame them into rethinking their policy.

    At the very least, it might wind them up. Don`t get mad, get even.

    At the same time, the usual “take a photo and name and shame” tactic would be useful.

    Harsh but fair.

  • Maxabillion Slartibartfast says:

    My guess is that the English translation is done automatically by the company Gourmet Navigator, which runs that website, not by the restaurant itself.

    The restaurant may not even be aware that its website is available in English.

  • Mark Austin says:

    Hi all,

    The Monika in question with the English-language website and English-speaking staff is indeed the one that turned me away! How weird…

    @Joe, the conversation was wholly in Japanese (though my Japanese leaves much to be desired).

  • A racially discriminatory restaurant called “Monika” ? Might I suggest instead the “Kokuryuu Cafe” ?

    There was a time when Japan took pride in its racism; to think we’ve gone from Master Race Maestros like Hideaki Tojo to passive-aggressive pansies running quaint eateries…maybe Mr. Sheftall was onto something.

    Kidding(?) aside, if it’s true that the exclusory policy is an excercise in convenience, then obviously it would disappear in short order should it become an inconvenience. I wonder if it is possible to overload them with paperwork or something time and resource consuming. Or perhaps some NJ residents of Otaru could add to the irony: who wouldn’t love to see a Taiyaki stand set up shop outside, openly refusing business to Japanese customers? Now there’s a tourist attraction!

  • beneaththewheel says:

    Debito, do you live in or close to this area? Is there anyway you could go there and inquire about the situation?

    — Yes I do. But another friend is currently making inquiries. And any Reader should feel free to telephone them and ask what happened. That includes you, beneaththewheel. Stand up for your (collective) rights. Don’t always leave it up to me.

  • beneaththewheel says:

    Fair enough. I think someone (Sora) did call them, and they said Mark was refused, but not because he was a foreigner (I’ve seen many Japanese get refused at bars for various reasons). So it becomes a matter of he-said, she-said. If someone “foreign looking” is in the area, they could do an experiment.

    If you don’t mind my asking Debito, are you recently changing your role from a person “on the front lines” to a person wanting to encourage others to take up “the cause”? Perhaps it has always been a part of your mission statement and I was oblivious.

    — I’ve been doing this sort of thing for nearly two decades (one case in the very city of Otaru from 1999 to 2005, and written two books about it). I’m tired.

    I’m especially tired of taking the blame whenever things don’t work out to some people’s (for the most part freeloaders’) satisfaction (case in point, this essay by self-proclaimed Tepido and former friend Eido Inoue, who even ignorantly asserts that I made the Otaru Onsens Case worse by being involved). That hurts. I don’t mind offering an archive for the information and reports by and for people who want to do something to better their lives in Japan. I just don’t want to be the one apparently having to lead the charge all the time. Time for others to take the mantle. It’s a long way from the audience to the stage, so give it a try, folks, and see how challenging a task it is.

    Here’s your first challenge: Give the restaurant a call if you’re curious. Find out for yourself why Mark was refused (what does Sora — who has no dog in this fight because he wouldn’t be refused anyway — say the manager said, if you can believe either party?). Don’t settle for a “he-said, she said” conclusion. That’s just the lazy freeloader’s way out (i.e. wait for somebody else to do what you should be doing to protect collective civic rights). Go on, give it a try.

    So yes, there has been a paradigm shift for me. I’m a better organizer of information than of people anyway, I’ve come to realize. Now back on topic.

  • I was wondering where else Mr Austin wrote, except to this site and Otaru Tourism Association. Did he write to Japan Times or any other media? Did he write to the Ministry of Transport and its Kankocho? Did he speak to the Department for human rights in Otaru or Sapporo? Did he inform his embasssy? Did he mentioned the Otaru lawsuit in his conversation with Mr XXX?Who was Mr XXX, some young furyo chap with strange haircut who works part-time and can be kicked out anytime? Because Ihad similar experiense, when I was looking for a part-time job before-I was told by certain Tsutaya shop that they don’t hire foreigners, but when I complained and the uni called them, they told the uni that I had talked on the phone with some part-timer, and the manager would never ever say such thing.
    If Mr Austin has done all this, then it is worth stepping in and calling here and there. But if the victim himself is not interested in getting justice for him being discriminated, and is satisfied only with sharing his experience, then I don’t think anyone should get more involved than Mr Austin himself. Especially the renown internet stalker Sora.

  • Dont give up the fight Debito, we have no one else to represent. The ilk over at Tepido is the other side of whats out there.

    — Shan’t be giving up. will remain up no matter what as a matter of record (unlike other places). But if you don’t want those trolls and stalkers to appear to have the final say on what kind of activism can happen in Japan, all of you have got to come together and fight for yourselves. As I have been arguing in my last three Japan Times columns. Get on with it.

  • See, this is just very interesting–because in New Jersey, they’d get a visit from the government. For example, if it were a restaurant not allowing Japanese people in. If the Japanese don’t want to extend their own laws to non-Japanese, you’d think they’d at least enforce some sort of reciprocity for people from countries they have relations with.

  • Well I just sent them an email, through the Japanese site. I left my name and email address but I doubt they will reply.
    I told them what was said here and asked them why they have an english advertising if foreigners are not allowed to enter. I told them that if I have any friends foreign or Japanese visiting Otaru that I will flag them not to go to Monika.

  • I got a reply Monika.

    He said that because he thinks that both parties will not be able to agree on what was said or what was not said, he does not want to comment any further on it.

    He said that while I am free to believe one side of the story and tell other people bad things about his shop, he would like me to
    visit his shop just once and it wont be too late to make my judgment then.

    Anyway as I live far far away from Hokaido I wont be able to take him up on his offer anytime soon.


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