An onsen manager who allegedly had earlier been driven to near bankruptcy by badly behaved Russian sailors had decided this time to bar all foreigners from his new enterprise. The activist then filed a suit for mental distress and won ¥3 million in damages. In the Zeit Gist and letter pages of this newspaper, some have criticized these excessively zealous moves by the activists. These critics in turn have been labeled as favoring Nazi-style discrimination and mob rule. Maybe it is time to bring some reality to this debate.

Otaru had been playing host to well over 20,000 Russian sailors a year, most arriving in small rust-bucket ships to deliver timber and pick up secondhand cars. I visited the wharves there, and as proof I harbor no anti-Russian feeling let me add that I speak Russian and enjoyed talking to these earthy, rough-hewn people in their own language. Even so, the idea of them demanding freedom to walk into any onsen bathhouse of their choice, especially to a high-class onsen like Yunohana, is absurd.

The antidiscrimination activists say bathhouse managers can solve all problems by barring drunken sailors. But how do you apply a drunk test? And how do you throw out a drunk who has his foot in the door? Besides, drunken behavior is not the only bathhouse problem with these Otaru sailors. I can understand well why regular Japanese customers seeking the quiet Japanese-style camaraderie of the traditional Japanese bathhouse would want to flee an invasion of noisy, bathhouse-ignorant foreigners. And since it is not possible to bar only Russians, barring all foreigners is the only answer.

The antidiscrimination people point to Japan’s acceptance of a U.N. edict banning discrimination on the basis of race. But that edict is broken every time any U.S. organization obeys the affirmative action law demanding preference for blacks and other minorities. Without it, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama would probably not be where he is today.

Sometimes their activism goes beyond even the absurd. Japan has long had a real problem of clever Chinese and Korean criminals taking advantage of Japan’ s lack of theft awareness to pick the locks and pockets of unsuspecting citizens. But when the authorities try to raise this problem, they too are accused of antiforeigner discrimination. Even companies advertising pick-proof locks are labeled as discriminators if they mention the Chinese lock-picking problem.

Read full article in Japan Times and note the frequent use of tu quoque fallacy.


9 thoughts on “Do Japanese Have a Right to Discriminate?

  1. The Japanese do tend to be a little more xenophobic than many cultures I’ve encountered. It’s not entirely without good reason – the poor onsen manager’s experience being one prime example – but a blanket ban may be going too far.

    For the record, I’m all in favour of tough restrictions on bad behaviour. If you act like a brute then it’s out the door with you, whatever your nationality.

  2. Too bad about the tattoo restriction for onsen, too. I was once asked (very politely, mind you) to leave an onsen after I had been there about 30 minutes because customers were upset about the tattoo..

  3. Animekritik,

    Well, at least they were polite… It is unfortunate that tattoos still have a negative image in Japan.

    – – –


    Oh, you think that banning all foreigners is an appropriate practice?

  4. I don’t think banning all foreigners is appropriate, but neither do I believe that this is somehow a problem of Japan-only. Just look at the debate over immigration laws in America. Does that make it right? No.

    But I, personally, don’t want to be anywhere that would implement such a rule anyway.

  5. Japanese government needs to get with the program and tackle this problem. Small businesses in Japan can’t be expected to make their own signs and do translation without seeming racist. Government needs to issue and distribute “approved” signage that bars people from entry based on Japanese LANGUAGE ability, such as

    “Japanese language only, Strict rules enforced, non-compliers will be denied” with equivalent Japanese. Russian/Chinese/Korean or whatever versions necessary may be made as well BY THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT.

    Why this is ok is because without the ability to understand RULES, service simply cannot be expected to be provided. Then, the issues of RACISM and DISCRIMINATION will all fade. This will stop the lawsuits and complaints of racism, and give the businesses some legitimacy at the same time.

    The idea is to rid Japan of blatant racism, but still allow businesses to deny customers that don’t follow rules. The rest of the world does this rather successfully, Japan would be wise to follow.

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