Japan's foreigners fight back against widespread bias
They say they're denied access to loans, baths, bars

USA Today (March 8, 2000) Page 24A
By Peter Hadfield
Special for USA TODAY

TOKYO -- Americans living in Japan are hitting back at what they say
is the country's deeply embedded discrimination against foreigners.

Many are closely watching the case of Steven Herman, an American
broadcast journalist, who is suing Asahi Bank for turning him down
last year for a loan to buy a town house. Others have joined in an
effort to end discrimination against foreigners at some of the
hot-spring baths that Japanese cherish. If the challenges succeed,
it's likely there will be similar efforts made to open up the many
bars, restaurants and stores that try to keep out foreigners.

Herman is chairman of Foreign Press in Japan, which promotes freedom
of the foreign news media. He has lived in Japan for 10 years and says
he has a good credit record. At the time of his application, he was
engaged (now married) to a Japanese citizen. He declined to discuss
his salary but says he has a stable income that is ''comfortably
double'' that of a Japanese manager of his age. Such a manager would
earn the equivalent of about $100,000. That salary that doesn't go
nearly as far here, in one of the world's most expensive cities, as it
would in most U.S. cities.

''The bank wouldn't even accept the application,'' says Herman, 40, a
Nevadan. ''They say they have a secret manual that forbids them from
accepting an application from anyone who is not a citizen or a
resident of Japan.'' A bank spokesman declined to comment.

In the past, American residents -- who number around 100,000 of a
foreign population of about 1.2 million -- have accepted this kind of
discrimination as part of daily life. Many credit companies and real
estate agents have a policy of not dealing with gaijin, a term that
means ''outside person'' or non-Japanese.

University lecturers from abroad complain that their contracts offer
few of the benefits enjoyed by Japanese colleagues. Bars, hotels and
other establishments often post ''No foreigners'' signs on their
doors. In one humorous twist, a bar in Tokyo's nightlife district of
Shinjuku once had a sign that read: ''Club International -- No
foreigners allowed.''

Foreign residents say the government's attempts in the past decade to
encourage kokusaika, or internationalization, to integrate Japan with
the global community, is not backed up with laws. ''The Japanese
market decided to accept goods and investment from abroad,'' says
Yasushi Higashizawa, a human-rights lawyer who is handling Herman's
lawsuit. ''But I don't think Japan decided to accept people from
abroad. The system didn't adjust to living with them.''

Japan's Constitution, written in English with the help of American
occupying forces in 1946, is contradictory on the subject. The
English-language version says ''all of the people are equal under the
law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or
social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family
origin.'' However, the Japanese version renders ''people'' as kokumin,
or citizens. It implicitly excludes non-Japanese.

Now, Higashizawa says, the social and political system is under
pressure to open up to foreigners, just as Japan's markets were forced
to open wider in the 1980s. In November, a Japanese court ruled for
the first time that non-Japanese are protected by a 1965 United
Nations convention against racial discrimination, which Japan signed
in 1996.

The decision came in a case involving Ana Bortz, a Brazilian
journalist who was ejected from a jewelry store. The storeowner
claimed that Bortz had been acting suspiciously. A video from a
security camera supported Bortz's claim that she wasn't. The store
also had posted a sign banning foreigners.

Because the owner was acting legally under Japanese law, Bortz's
lawyer based her case on international law. Few legal experts expected
Bortz to win because previous court verdicts had ruled that Japan's
laws supersede international law. In addition, Japanese courts are
famously conservative.

To the surprise of the legal community, Judge Tetsuro So, head of a
three-judge panel that took the case, followed the U.N. guidelines in
the absence of any domestic laws banning discrimination. Acting on
behalf of the panel, he ruled that Bortz had suffered under Japan's
anti-defamation laws, which apply to non-Japanese as well as citizens.
''This was an illegal act against an individual,'' So said. He added
that it was ''unfair'' to eject Bortz from the store simply because
she was Brazilian. He ordered the jewelry store owner to pay Bortz
damages of around $14,000.

Herman says Bortz's case inspired him to file his suit against Ashai
Bank because it indicated that the legal system ''was starting to look
at things differently.'' So far, though, his case has drawn little
attention from the Japanese media.

The Bortz case has also inspired other foreign residents to oppose
what many believe is legalized racism. A group called Issho Kikaku,
made up of expatriates promoting internationalization in Japan,
launched a campaign against hot-spring baths that exclude foreigners
in the northern port city of Otaru. A group of them toured the baths
last year.

''Some of the onsen (hot spring) managers were very apologetic . . .
that we weren't allowed in,'' says David Aldwinckle of New York, local
coordinator for the group. ''Others were downright rude.''

The owners say they are justified in barring foreigners because baths
are communal and Japanese customers dislike sharing them with
foreigners. They say some non-Japanese are not familiar with bathing
rituals, such as washing and rinsing before getting into the bath.
Aldwinckle says the answer to this is education, not discrimination.

After the campaign gained nationwide attention, three hot-spring bath
owners promised to change their policy, but only one did, Aldwinckle
says. Another merely changed the ''No Foreigners'' sign to one that
read: ''Due to various circumstances, we refrain from allowing
foreigners entry into the premises.''

Even so, Tony Laszlo, the founder of Issho Kikaku, says many foreign
residents now feel a shift in Japan against overt discrimination.

''Store owners and hotel managers will have to think twice before they
blatantly exclude foreigners because now they risk getting sued,''
Laszlo says. ''If Steven Herman wins his lawsuit, that will knock back
the barriers even further.''


Steven Herman on impending first decision:
(Made public November 9, 2001)

Some 23 months after filing suit for discrimination
regarding Asahi Bank's refusal to accept my
application for a housing loan, the three-judge panel
is scheduled to render a verdict Monday, Nov. 12
at 1:30 p.m. in courtroom #713 of Tokyo District

The courtroom is open to the public, so those of you
in Tokyo with nothing better to do, feel free to

I'm hesitant to send out a formal release due to my
journalistic positions but I won't object if anyone
onpasses this info to other lists or Japanese media.
(The Tokyo District Court has its own kisha club and I
assume they will be covering.)

If there's any sort of victory from this, all the
credit should go to Yasushi Higashizawa, Esq. (a Club
of 99'er) who was kind enough to devote a significant
portion of his time to this case despite a heavy
caseload and a lot of international travel during the
past two years.

If you are not acquainted with the case, but are
curious as to what the heck this semi-quixotic quest
is all about, there's a number of stories that can be
accessed online by doing a Google keyword search
(Asahi Bank, Herman, discrimination) -- that should
bring you up the articles in USA Today, Kyodo, Japan
Times, Tokyo Weekender, etc.

If it's a defeat, do cast all the blame my way.

Steven L Herman

Re: Verdict Herman vs Asahi Bank (2001)
Nov 12, 2001 04:55 PST

Court OKs bank's rejection of housing loan to ...

TOKYO, Nov 12, 2001 (Kyodo via COMTEX) -- The Tokyo
District Court on Monday dismissed a claim by an
American journalist that Asahi Bank racially
discriminated against him by refusing to accept his
application for a housing loan.

Steven Herman, 41, a former president of the Foreign
Correspondents Club of Japan (FCCJ), had filed a
damages suit against Asahi Bank demanding 11 million
yen in compensation.

Presiding Judge Takashi Otake said, "It is necessary
for a bank to make a guideline for conditions for
housing loans to make profits."

Noting that Asahi Bank also basically refuses housing
loans to overseas Japanese, Otake said, "It is
reasonable for the bank to turn down the request from
a foreigner who is not certain to stay in Japan."

According to the ruling, Herman came to Japan in 1990
and began living with his Japanese wife in a rented
condominium in Tokyo.

In June 1999, after deciding to live in Japan
permanently, he signed a contract with a real estate
agent to purchase a condominium in Tokyo's Shibuya
Ward for about 75 million yen and made a down payment.

The real estate agent introduced Herman to Asahi Bank
for a housing loan but the bank refused to provide
one, saying it is against its policy to provide loans
to foreigners without permanent residence status.

Asahi Bank said it would not be able to collect money
owed if the debtor flees overseas and noted that
Government Housing Loan Corp. also refuses loans to
foreigners without permanent residence.

Herman, who was FCCJ president from July 1997 to June
1998, said that during his trial he asked eight other
major Japanese banks about their housing loan policies
and was told by seven that they do not discriminate
based on whether the applicant has permanent
residential rights.

One bank failed to respond the inquiry, according to

2001 Kyodo News (c)

Thoughts on Herman Verdict
Arudou Debito/Dave Aldwinckle
Nov 12, 2001 17:52 PST

Hello Clubbers. I of course am unhappy with the Herman verdict. If people
can be now be legally disqualified from basic life-bettering amenities such
as house loans simply by dint of their nationality (without other factors
being taken into consideration), this does not bode well for our case
against Otaru City and the Onsens.

I understand that the cases are not exactly the same, but consider this
public policy overlap:

It is essentially for the same reason (plus, of course in my case as a
naturalized Japanese citizen, race) that extranationals have been barred
from a public service--i.e. public baths (which due to their public health
role, are considered legally to be more important a public good than a
restaurant or a store). Simply because they were foreign--no other factors
considered. Now if an esteemed business such as a bank can do it, why not
something as mom 'n' pop as a corner bathhouse?

Ultimately, this has a definitely negative impact on the standard of living
of non-Japanese, and their ability to live normal lives and assimilate into
this society, if they so choose.

I am glad Steven is appealing.

Arudou Debito


From: Yasushi Higashizawa <yhworld@tke.att.ne.jp>
Subject: Tokyo High Ct upheld Asahi Bank's discriminatory loan policy.
Date: Fri, 30 Aug 2002 11:40:42 +0900

On Aug. 30, Tokyo High Court upheld the Asahi Bank's discriminatory loan
policy, by rejecting an appeal of Mr. Herman whose housing loan application
had been precluded by the bank on the ground of non-permanent resident
status. I represent Mr. Herman for the case.

The High Court adopted the same reasoning as the district court that
such distinction is reasonable in order to avoid collection cost. It also
ruled that such policy is not racial discrimination since such distinction
is not based on grounds provided by the International Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

As to "collection cost," the bank has never explicitly argued that it
was concerned about "collection cost," nor provided details on what or how
much the "collection cost" is or on why it matters especially on
non-permanent residents. The High Court, nevertheless, paternalisticly
found the reason from the "whole context" of the bank's arguments.

Concerning racial discrimination, the Committee on the convention found
otherwise in its jurisprudence on credit discrimination against aliens. The
High Court disregard totally such jurisprudence. The High Court was also
ignorant of the fact that more than 99.9% of applicants for the renewal of
their non-permanent resident status are granted their visas here in Japan.

Yasushi Higashizawa

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