Hi all. It’s been difficult to get to the keyboard these past two weeks (especially when the first Galley of our upcoming book, HANDBOOK FOR IMMIGRANTS TO JAPAN, just landed on my desk the other day. On sale in mid–March, more at:)
So for the time being, let me fire something off Newsletterwise:

Table of Contents:



…and finally, just for fun…


By Arudou Debito in Sapporo, Japan,
Daily blog updates and RSS subscriptions at
Freely forwardable



On December 14, 2007, I heard from a list of a list that a Subcontinential Asian child (all of three years old) had been refused enrollment at a ballet school in Asabu, Tokyo (an area full of non-Japanese, thanks to the diplomatic community). This happened at a place called MG International Arts of Ballet (Mariko Goto, proprietor, website

It turned out that the girl’s parents were part of the Pakistani Embassy, and they sent word to in the form of several letters. Excerpting the introductory one:

Dear Sir, I am a wife of a foreign diplomat representing the Government of Pakistan, and we wanted our little girl to start ballet (she is almost 4)… we thought she would look soooo cute in a tutu.

The place we went to enroll her MG International Arts of Ballet located in Photo house MG Hall, 5-5-9 Azabu Minato Ku Tokyo, December 13th 2007, around 4pm.

My husband took his official translator along for this exchange also. At the reception we were greeted coldly from the start, and when we requested information about ballet for our daughter we were told that this school does not accept international students.

Thinking she meant they needed students to understand ballet instruction in Japanese we argued that our daughter goes to a local Hoikuen and can understand Japanese. But to our surprise the lady told us that we would need a reference to enter this school.

Still misunderstanding her attitude my husband informed her that his blood relative, an aunt who is Japanese, referred us to this particular school . The lady flat out refused to entertain anything, and after being insulted in such a fashion we left the place with our daughter crying.

We will not under any circumstance be sending our child to such a racist establishment and have already enrolled her in another school.

My husband will be raising this issue with the Japanese Foreign Ministry and the Minato-Ku ward. He says that it is not a petty issue. Such people and establishments should be exposed for their racist behavior, and the general public should be made aware of their attitude.

Your dissemination on your blog of what happened to us to other people will serve as a means to identifying such people, and save a lot of them the heartache and disgust we felt when we left that place. Turning such a beautiful art form into something this ugly is a crime in our books.

I have no need to be anonymous because I want people to know what happened, and want to find ways to make sure this does not happen to other expatriate families. Yours sincerely, Amira Rahman

Hours after I put this up on, the Ballet School came out swinging–threatening the blog with legal action for damages, and sending out post after angry post in two languages, saying they had been misrepresented somehow.

However, when official protest letters came through from the Embassy of Pakistan, and it dawned on the Ballet School that just because people are saying things they didn’t like didn’t amount to libel (especially when they did ultimately come out and admit they HAD refused the little girl), they backed down, and eventually went to the Pakistani Embassy to apologize. But it was a tense weekend, I must say.

See everything, including all the official Embassy letters and threatening correspondence up at
Human rights is a bruising matter.



I mentioned in a quick report to y’all last week about how surreal the unfettered exclusionism is getting in Japan, cf. the Hokkoku Shinbun in Ishikawa, where a sales outlet rep sent a postcard last November to a NJ subscriber, saying “Boss didn’t accept foreigner’s subscription”.

The update to that, as of January 9, 2007, I talked with a number of people on this case (NHK and Kyodo have also been in touch), including the “boss” mentioned in the post card (a Mr Sakurai) and the actual manager of the Hokkoku Shinbun Hanbai Bu Kanazawa Tantou Mr Kotake (076-260-3564, email twice, for about thirty minutes each. Here are their claims:

1) There was no discrimination. He was unaware that their underling, a Mr Matsuda, had written anything like that in the postcard. It is 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. He didn’t explain convincingly why.

Fu ni ochinakatta ne. Doushitemo nasuri tsuke da to ki ni shite narimasen.

1) This was a separate sales company unrelated to the actual Hokkoku Shinbunsha, so the problem is within the Nonoichi Sanba sales corp. itself.

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. (They did, and offered him two weeks’ free subscription; thanks for nothing.)

4) Er… that’s it.

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 had read a lot of my website) and hoped that I would have no negative impressions of things. I simply said that this sort of thing is happening all over 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 newspaper column to that? He mentioned that few foreigner laborers come here, but lots of exchange students. It’s an idea, anyhoo.

Meanwhile, I thought Kyodo would have a story out by now, but I’ve heard that the editor in the Osaka Kyodo Branch is leaning on my reporter not to do an article!

Amazing. Nobody has been able to reach the scapegoat in this case, Mr Matsuda–he’s apparently been suspended from work.

I’ve also heard from a friend:
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.

So the story has some potential to go beyond Ishikawa in general if more people come forward with their experiences, and if other print outlets would be willing to show some spine and take up the story. Drop by:



Ryan Hagglund found an apartment he really wanted for one of his employees. But, as many readers know, if the landlord has a hair in his heinie about foreigners and flat-out refuses them, there’s not a damn thing you can do about it in Japan. It’s not illegal. However, he managed to turn the tables on the landlord and realtors and convince them to take his money. See how in a remarkable case study at

The lessons to be learned:

Sticktoitiveness and accountability are crucial. You must talk to the landlord as politely as possible while being clear that you will not accept a denial based upon being foreign. And you must audio record everything (even covert recordings are admissible in court–I know because I recorded my refusal at Yunohana Onsen in Otaru on October 31, 2000, and that won us the case).

Anyway, well done, Ryan. Even if you have to go through all this trouble just to get somebody to take your rent.

Alright, let’s lighten up:



Now look what happens when “human rights” actually DOES get enforced in Japan. People are clueless.

JR East links “naked festival” posters to sexual harassment
Mainichi Shinbun January 8, 2008

See scan of the poster at

OSHU, Iwate — East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) has rejected calls to stick up posters promoting a local “naked festival,” saying there are many women who aren’t comfortable seeing men naked.

The Oshu Municipal Government had sought permission from the Morioka branch of JR East to display the posters advertising Kokuseki Temple’s Somin Festival at stations, but JR East said the posters could not be displayed unless the images were changed.

“As sexual harassment becomes more of a problem, the standards for displaying posters in public spaces are becoming stricter,” a representative of the Morioka branch of JR East explained. “It wasn’t just that it was out of line because there was nakedness; the pictures showed things that were particularly unpleasant for women, such as chest hair, and it was decided that showing them things they didn’t want to see was sexual harassment.”

In the festival, crowds of men wearing nothing but loincloths participate in scrambles using sacks called sominbukuro. The festival, which has continued for about 1,000 years, is held in the hope of warding off plagues and producing bumper crops. This year, it will be held between the evening of Feb. 13 and early Feb. 14.

The poster in question combines three photos, showing a close-up of a bearded man with a hairy chest, and men in the background wearing loincloths.

The city retouched some of the loincloths, but decided that it would be difficult to completely alter images as JR had requested. It has reportedly decided to decrease the number of posters by about 200 to 1,400, and will display them in the city and in the Tokyo metropolitan area instead.

Oshu Municipal Government official Yuzuru Sasaki said that efforts to liven up the festival would continue in spite of the setback.

“The number of tourists might drop, but we want to display the posters in the city and ask tourist facilities in the metropolitan area to display them to pump up the festival,” he said.

COMMENT: How silly. I have written in depth on how vague the notion of human rights is in Japan (yes, it tends to be vague everywhere in the world, but what the GOJ considers human rights in its surveys is especially confusing, even discriminatory in itself!).

Under half-baked concepts (where it’s okay to discriminate against NJ but not okay to ignore allegedly oversensitive people who might swoon in shock at stray muna-ge), it’s no wonder some people go over the top and construe something like “chest hair” as “sexual harassment”.

And the issue is chest hair, not nudity in itself. If you look at the previous year’s (approved) poster for the same event:
you still have the same thing (it’s a festival celebrating male near-nakedness, after all)–fundoshi, asses–except no hairy chest in the foreground.

Better not ask even me to bare my semi-hirsute pecs, such as they are. And let’s see if JR East will enforce this on Sumo, and not allow broadcasts of matches on TVs on their premises. Same degree of nakedness (if not even more flesh)–and yes, before you say it–some sumo wrestlers have chest hair. Horrors!

There is a happy end to this, however. Thanks to the scoffing nationwide media coverage given this tempest in a teapot, this festival has gotten more publicity nationwide than ever before, and according to Sunday Japon January 13, 2007, they’re anticipating the highest level of attendance ever!

Mattaku mechakucha! Grow up, people. Chest hair isn’t, say, pubic hair–you might as well be offended by beards. Establish some concept of what real human rights are. That’s supposed to be the job of places like the absolutely useless MOJ Bureau of Human Rights. And even if BOHR bothered to weigh in, they’ll only say, “we have no enforcement authority” and go back to soaking up tax monies for their own festivals.

No wonder the public has trouble taking people who promote human rights seriously!

Sumo wrestlers, get your razors out! And there are some rikishi I would pay money to see get a Steve Carell-style body waxing…


…and finally, just for fun…


You might remember that at the end of 2007, the GOJ (only half-seriously, yes, but for far too much time) explored the possibility of an alien invasion. No not foreigners. Background at:

Charles Kowalski sent this letter to the Yomiuri when Defense Minister Hashiba (inter alia) was getting all nerdy about defenses. He takes the issue and runs with it. Hilariously.

The Yomiuri, not known for any sense of humor (or for brooking any criticism of Japan from outsiders), wouldn’t publish it. So I did, at Enjoy:

To Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba:

I urge you to reconsider your comment that UFOs “can’t be categorized as coming from a foreign country” (Yomiuri December 21, page 2). Please take a moment to think about the dangerous precedents this policy would set.

If UFOs could enter Japanese airspace without resistance, they could easily spirit away Japanese citizens. Japan has enough abduction issues already! But even worse, what if the extraterrestrial visitors liked our beautiful country so much that they decided to stay – and without the limitations that apply to humans from other countries?

First of all, with no visa restrictions, they could take jobs away from Japanese citizens. In the fields of astrophysics and aeronautics, an interstellar pilot would have a grossly unfair advantage over a Japanese graduate who shuffled through university with a perpetual hangover. Do you want more of our young people to become NEETs?

And if men from Mars, or women from Venus, were to marry Japanese citizens, what would prevent their names from being recorded in the juminhyo? Tama-chan was cute as a one-time joke, but do you really want to see Qrlzak Wzaxo from Jupiter listed on equal terms with Hanako Sato from Morioka? And their children, with one parent from a planet with higher gravity, would always beat their Japanese classmates in athletic competitions! How unsporting!

Our course of action should be clear: Treat extraterrestrials the same as any other aliens. When they arrive at the UFO terminal at Narita, take prints of their claws, tentacles, antennae or whatever they use for fingers. Make them carry Space Alien Registration Cards that the police could inspect at any time. Interplanetarization is all very well, but we Japanese must take measures to prevent these aliens from going where no gaijin has gone before.

All for today. Getting back to work! Arudou Debito in Sapporo,
Daily blog updates and RSS subscriptions at

4 comments on “DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER JANUARY 15, 2008

  • thanks for this- i am interested in the reaction of the rejected person in question when they went round to offer him 2 weeks subscription – did he tell them where to go?

  • Ohayo!
    Greatly appreciate your updates to this site. Glad to see that my perception of Japan is not TOTALLY out in left field. I came across the link below today while surfing the news:
    I believe that the Japan Times or others are also dutifully reporting same.
    Seems that Japanese language ability will now be necessary for any long term visa application or renewals. While a certain level of functional knowledge is always desireable, what about the JET folks straight off the boat? Or the language school teachers who are here on one-year terms or working-holiday stints? Or diplomats? Or international students who study in English? Or the Peruvians and Brazilians who have ancestry rights? Or international executives brought in to clean house and rebuild fallen empires?
    It appears they’ve CYA’d themselves by saying it’s a “case-by case” thing.
    It is becoming obvious that Japan simply wants all NJ to just go away. Anywhere, just away!

    I watched GWB whiz past the exclusionary wall into the Palestinian territories this past week, and I cannot help but think that all those tetrapods on the beaches in Japan are the foundation stones for this country’s soon to be erected exclusionary wall, designed to keep EVERYBODY out!
    And we call the DPRK a hermit kingdom!

  • It would be interesting (regarding the newspaper situation) if more foreigners went out of their way to try to get a subscription. Then the company might see how much they could make off us foreigners if they saw more numbers (people=yen). Whether we all actually want the propaganda is another story.

  • G8, I saw the same thing today on another site, but without the reference. It “appeared” to be from the Mainichi but good (well …) to see it confirmed.
    Yet another excuse for “them” to pull whatever stunts they like and say “well too bad for you cos you just don’t understand the Japanese-ness of the situation” :rolleyes: but when “they” go overseas and set up shop “we” have to bend over backwards to make them feel comfortable and at home. Pity it’s not reciprocated 🙁

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