Final report here

Having recently moved to Shinjuku-ku, my continuing search for a new sports club seemed resolved when I stumbled across the Oasis sports club. Set over two floors of a gleaming high-rise, the club boasted an un-crowded atmosphere during the week and convenient location. Was this truly an "Oasis" in the midst's of downtown Kabukicho?

As it turns out, the Oasis sports club chain, which is a part of the behemoth Tokyu Group, has admission procedures that are, certainly concerning matters of nationality and identification, confused and arbitrary.

Entry for "foreigners" includes the requirement that they submit their Alien registration card for copying. This official document, issued to all non-Japanese, contains private and personal information and, according to Japanese law, its holder is not required to produce it to anyone except those expressly authorized by the Ministry of Justice (i.e. the police and immigration officials). The card has long been vilified by longer term Japan residents as that which once held one's fingerprint, a law repealed only as late as 2000.

"It is admittedly, difficult for foreigners to supply an ID that shows an address", thought I, but then, I discovered to my consternation, that Japanese nationals wishing to join the club, are not required to furnish ANY form of official ID above and beyond the information that they freely declare in the application form (a policy which was later justified to me by the club's duty manager, as quite in order due to the fact that he "didn't think Japanese would lie").

Further investigation was called for and after verifying the facts as far as possible from the desk staff, an appointment was made with said duty manager, Iwama san, for the following day, November 8th:

A report of my meeting with Iwama san, branch manager of Oasis sports gym is here.

From the meeting with Iwama san, it was clear to me that:

* Since there was no requirement on the application form to state nationality, the desk staff taking an application would arbitrarily deem who was a foreigner by facial features, Japanese language ability, and/or name alone, and demand ID or not accordingly.

* It is ridiculous to demand ID of only 4% (by the club's own reckoning, the approximate percentage of foreigner members) of the membership and not the other 96%. Besides showing ID is no guarantee that someone is not going to commit a crime.

* If problems occur then it would be far better to simply call the police than implement this policy singling out foreigners as troublemakers. A sentiment echoed by the judge in the recent Otaru onsen discrimination case.

* It is quite uncalled for a private company to demand a alien registration card. (Note: actually, what Iwama san initially said about accepting any form of ID was incorrect).

Ah well. Time to take the club on and draw up my list of objectives...

1) Change the current situation to an across-the-board policy for membership applications. I.e. every prospective member (Japanese and non-Japanese alike) shows ID or no one at all.

2) Change their promo flyers (which outlines their foreigner policy) in accordance with the above.

3) Have them send me a official letter declaring that their policy has in fact been changed or not.

As Iwama-san clearly stated during our chat, the policy was handed down from head office, so it was time to wheel out the big guns and go have a tete a tete with the folk at company HQ. The big cheese in this case was Sakatsume san, the customer service bucho. Arudou Debito san had kindly offered his assistance whilst he was in town, so an appointment was set-up for 2 pm on Weds 27th November at Oasis's offices in Shibuya.

Before that however, a little legwork:

The morn of the 27th found Debito and I rendezvousing with Deborah Hodgson, a Newsweek Japan associate editor, in Kabukicho. The aim was for me to try to join the club and, with Debito in tow, to see how they would respond to an application from him being a caucasian Japanese national.

usual_suspects Debito and I pre-Oasis

The girls on the desk made short shrift of me and I was refused when I declared that I wished to join upon the same terms as a Japanese customer. I then confirmed with them that Japanese aren't required to show ID. "So what about me?" Debito inquired. They would of course be happy to accept him if he produced his alien registration card. "But I don't have one. I'm Japanese". The horrified girls scuttled off to fetch the day's duty manager, a Mukai san. Immediately, Mukai san asked Debito to prove he was Japanese. Debito responded that a) the desk girls had especially gone off to fetch him after he said he was Japanese, which they likely wouldn't do for any one else, and b) no other Japanese would be asked to prove their nationality, so neither should he have to.

During the ensuing conversation, the manager indicated that the club's rules were formed after police "guidance" (shidou) about foreign crime. He would not be drawn personally about whether he thought it a good policy or not, but did say he had lived in Australia for some time(!). Deborah asked him if he was in Australia in similar circumstances and was asked, would he provide ID. He said he would.

Ultimately, he said he WOULD admit Debito as a member upon the same terms as a Japanese, but that he "would like" to see some ID. He further admitted that he did judge whether he would ask people for ID or not based purely on their looks.

In all, a very friendly conversation conducted in public at the clubs front desk. Off to a cafe for a post-mortem of stage one.


Stage two of the day's events and Debito and I meet up with "Community" member Dave Gutteridge. A quick walking briefing on the way to the HQ where we are ushered into a private room. In attendance: Tokyu group's Sakatsume san, The Community's Arudou Debito san, Dave Gutteridge and myself. I opened the meeting by going over some of the questions I had put to Iwama san (in fact the questions were the thread which ran through all of the meeting, where I would pose a question or two, the conversation would move off to a different area then return to me for the next question).

Soon we learned that ONLY the alien registration card would be acceptable as ID and that they wanted it to "confirm the person's address".

Early on Sakatsume san went over the usual claims that foreigners had been causing trouble in the clubs, but this time, as opposed to his colleagues, he gave a little more detail of the alleged offenders modus operandi. Apparently, villains would join, then open up other members lockers and steal cash/credit cards, etc.. This is why they made their ID policy about 3-4 years ago.

He made great play of the papers he had brought with him which were evidently a collection of "trouble reports" collated from all club branches for Heisei 13. There were 76 hand written entries (or about six a month). Half of these alleged incidents he claimed were caused by foreigners. Debito asked how he knew this to be the case. He responded that some of them were caught red-handed and others "assumed" to be so. Debito didn't push the point further. One particularly disturbing entry was that the police had come to one of the clubs and hauled away a visa overstayer. This said Sakatsume san was one reason they needed to see the alien registration card. The thinly-veiled implication here was - had the club tipped-off the police? A most disturbing scenario.

Interestingly, Sakatsume san had respect enough for us to admit, amid profuse apology and avoiding all the "this is Japan, this is how it is" mentality, that he could not produce a satisfactory answer when I asked him why Japanese nationals were not required to produce ID.

In conclusion, all community members felt it had been a very positive, open and constructive meeting and that Sakatsume san recognized that the club's policy was problematic. He seemed to feel that an policy where everyone showed ID would be a possible solution, and this would also streamline the current system.

In any case, he has promised to let me know in writing what happens after meeting with company executives.

Report ends. 29th Nov 2002. 5:14pm. Julian Wheatley.