Opening: For this, my 50th column for SNA, I’d like to take the reader on a little nostalgia trip through a project I’ve been working on for a quarter century: “Japanese Only” signs.
I’ve investigated and interviewed hundreds of these exclusionary places, published and updated seven books on this issue in English and Japanese, and curated on Debito.org the “Rogues’ Gallery of Exclusionary Establishments” since 1999 to make sure this issue doesn’t get memory-holed.
For it seems that memory-holing is happening. A SoraNews24 article on the Naha Case didn’t do much research, claiming somehow that, “Bars with Japanese-customers-only policies aren’t unheard of in Japan, but they’re becoming increasingly uncommon in the modern age. Moreover, when you do come across such establishments, they’re generally dedicated bars.” (Incorrect. The highest incidents of exclusionary rules are in fact hotels.)
Then we get to the public reaction to the news. When I put it up on Debito.org, some readers were defensive as usual, basically ranging from the “self-othering” by the Guestists (quote: “I understand why they do it. I’m not offended. It’s their business and country.”) to the Ostriches who prefer, in spite of decades of evidence to the contrary, to bury their head in the sand and pretend the problem simply doesn’t exist (quote: “You are overdramatizing things. It doesn’t say we do not allow foreigners. Being to those places as long as you speak Japanese you can enter anywhere. You have to see things from their perspective too you know. They don’t wanna get in trouble because a tourist doesn’t read nor understand. As simple as that.”)
But it’s not as simple as that. “Japanese Only” signs in fact predate the massive tourist influx to Japan over the past decade and thus cannot be blamed on them…