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Discrimination Issues

Japan With Kids - Forums: General Discussions: Discrimination Issues
By Michael on Wednesday, February 5, 2003 - 12:54 pm:

If you have ever been denied a service here in Japan based on your race / nationality / ethnic origin, please read below and consider taking a few minutes to write down your story ... so that the future may be void of such incidents.


By Arudou Debito
Made public February 5, 2003
(freely forwardable; please translate if necessary)

Contents of this mailing:

Clarification: This post concerns the Appeal against Otaru City, in which I am the sole Plaintiff (see It does not concern the Yunohana Onsen Appeal (against us three original Plaintiffs, see

I would like to request assistance from the general public:



We (the lawyers and myself) are looking for concrete examples of exclusion from Japanese business/services due to race or nationality. This can include:

a) refusals of service at public-access facilities (bathhouses, restaurants, bars, taxis, shops, etc.)
b) denials of rental apartments, public or private housing
c) you name it... submit it and see

This is a chance for people out there to make their voice heard about discrimination here--the closest thing to a class-action lawsuit we are probably going to get in Japan. So submit your experience detailing to the best of your memory:

1) What kind of place refused you, its location in Japan, and when?
2) What were the reasons they gave for refusing you?
3) CONCISELY (Please! I will be translating this if not submitted in Japanese), in what manner did they refuse you? (The human equation matters to the judge.)

Total one page A4 single space max, please? You can submit and be kept anonymous if you want, but testimonials with names attached will make this case much stronger. Please submit anyway and see.

(NB: Sorry, we are not interested in refusals of the prurient variety, i.e. soaplands, fuuzokuten, etc, as they blur the message. We are more interested in establishments that anyone, particularly families, should be able to enter and enjoy--since denial of these services has an immediate and negative impact on the standard of living of non-Japanese here.)

(Mata NB: We wish we could take up cases of credit and financial refusals, but the Herman vs Asahi Bank Case of 1999-2002 ( demonstrated that Japanese courts view a loan refusal as "rational discrimination"--i.e. refusals justifiable due to the allegedly higher risk of foreign default because "they can leave the country" (as if Japanese cannot...?). Anyway, credit cases blur the issue too.)



Yesterday, my lawyers gave me chilling details about the Appeals process in Japan. I had been previously informed that one is more likely to get a fair shake in the High Courts (kousai), since the District Courts (chisai) have judges, seeking promotion to higher courts, who disavow judicial activism and invariably rule in favor of the government; therefore, the logic runs, High Court judges have reached their peaks and are more likely to overturn bad judgments.

Unfortunately, my lawyers say, those were the good old days. Current judges want to speed things up (which sounds like a good thing, but wait...) by asking if there is anything new to add to the case. They do not judge the old case on its merits or countermand the slipshod judicial logic of a previous ruling. If there is nothing new, they summarily reaffirm the previous decision and shoo the case out.

This means we have to approach the case from a new angle: How widespread is discrimination in Japan against people who are or look foreign?

Think about it--it's not all that hard to do. Just about everyone I know has had trouble renting an apartment. So tell us about it. Others have been turfed out of stores, discos, or restaurants. Tell us about it. We have plenty of evidence of the Japanese police's clear and present racial profiling (in the police's own words--see, and I will raise it in court. But now's your chance to raise the other stuff. Please focus on your treatment in the public and private sectors (not police harassment--since issues of criminality may call into question the speaker's credibility or innocence) and make it part of the public record.

The point is we must show the judges (and the Japanese press in general) that the discrimination is not limited to just three onsens or three people. It is a nationwide trend, and with clear "Japanese Only" etc. signposting, becoming more overt. Otaru City, which had signs excluding foreigners from 1993, did not help matters by essentially ignoring their situation for nearly ten years. Even if you feel Otaru is not a direct cause of this trend (though there is incontrovertible evidence that other places--Wakkanai and Misawa, for example--used Otaru as a template; see, look at the big picture: We must demonstrate that Japan needs an anti-racial-discrimination law to protect people--for without one things just will get (and have gotten) worse. Otaru's clear unwillingness to even draft a local anti-discrimination ordinance forbidding this practice in their jurisdiction (despite constitutional and UN treaty obligations) is something they must be held accountable for.

But to do that, we need input from outside. Please, give us a page on what happened to you.

Due date? Tuesday, February 25, 2003. Our first submission of court documents will be Wednesday, March 5, 2003 (complete with a press conference), so this will give me enough time to translate.



We mentioned them before in context at, but again:

"We believe all levels of Japan's legislative, administrative, and judicial branches have a responsibility to keep their public promises--both those enshrined in the Japanese Constitution and affirmed under international treaty--in order to create a society where everyone, regardless of race, nationality, or appearance, can have their legal, civil, and human rights protected."

This is the tack my lawyers and I want to take. We have been witnessing unfavorable treatment by race and nationality in Japanese society for years. Despite it becoming more clear, present, and systematic over the past decade, responses from the authorities have been ineffective. Now it is time to see how the courts respond, in Japan's first class-action suit on behalf of non-Japanese and racially-diverse Japanese.

Please, help us make our case.

Arudou Debito, Plaintiff
The Otaru City Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Appeal

By Marta on Tuesday, February 11, 2003 - 9:49 pm:
Japan Times article on giving an Alaskan sea lion a juminhyo (family registry)...

By Pato on Tuesday, February 8, 2005 - 1:00 pm:

Look here for a fascinating review of the following two books (both in Japanese only I believe):
author: Debito Arudou (nEDavid Christopher Aldwinckle)
title: Japanese Only: The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan
Akashi Shoten Inc.; ISBN: 4-7503-2005-6; October 2004; pp. 432


author: Saori Oguri
title: Darin wa Gaikokujin, or My Darling is a Foreigner
Media Factory; ISBN: 4840106835; December 2002; pp. 159
...a slim bestselling comic (manga) book in Japanese on her life with husband Tony Laszlo

By Katherine on Wednesday, March 9, 2005 - 5:27 pm:

Although I found the side-by-side
reviews interesting, I must object to Ms. Honjo's portrayal of Arudo's action to involve his western looking daughter as irresponsibile when in fact it was very responsible. On this point her criticism comes too close to blaming the victim for her/his own abuse/discrimination.

Even if Ms. Honjo had not intended to discourage a parent from speaking out, it may have had that effect for some of us. "Do I dare speak up when my child is bullied or discriminated against, lest it be said that I have been irresponsible in protecting him/her against such a situation?"

I think most of us try so hard to do the right thing to keep our children safe that it should be said loud and clear, prejudice and bullying are not the parent's fault. They are the fault and the responsibility and the crimes of the ones who would practice such intolerance and abuse.

I would hope that we would all have the courage to speak out and expose such practices for what they are, heinous and moral crimes including the crime of separation of family members by appearance and race.

By Pato on Sunday, July 3, 2005 - 3:49 pm:

in The Japan Times
July 2, 2005
Forum mulls ways to make racial discrimination illegal here
By MASAMI ITO, Staff writer

Citing racial slurs by politicians and biased news reports playing up an increase in crimes committed by foreigners, participants in a Tokyo symposium called Thursday for a legal framework that would eradicate racial discrimination in Japan.

A project team of Tokyo Bar Association lawyers trying to promote a law against racial discrimination unveiled at the forum a draft ordinance they hope serves as a sample for
local governments -- and eventually a national law.

The ordinance states that racial discrimination is a "barrier" that threatens peace, and aims to ban such acts and create a support system for those who have been subject to such bias.

The ordinance will ban government officials from making or prompting racist statements and acts, and impose criminal penalties on those who break the rules.

One of the examples of racial discrimination given at the symposium were Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara's statements like "crime in Tokyo has changed -- people from third countries and foreigners who entered Japan illegally are repeatedly committing heinous crimes."

A document showed a copy of a police warning to "beware of bad groups of foreigners," including "Southeast Asians, South Americans and Indians who have a woman in the group." Another example was a notice circulated in a community that urged people to beware of lock-picking burglars who are "mainly bad Chinese illegal entrants" and to alert police immediately if they "see a Chinese talking on the phone" or carrying a large bag.

During the symposium, panelist Jung Yeong Hae, a Korean resident in Japan and teacher at Otsuma Women's University, spoke of the hardships she experienced in living in this country.

Jung recalled a time when she went to a real estate agent with a Japanese friend who was looking for a place to live -- and the agent, looking at Jung, told them, "No foreigners are allowed." Jung said her Korean traits are readily distinguishable from Japanese.

"There is so much injustice in Japan, where (racial) discrimination is just left lone to run wild," Jung said, pointing out that ever since North Korea admitted in 2002 that it had been abducting Japanese for decades, she has been living in fear of violence toward herself and her family.

In one of the sites on the 2-Channel chat room, various racial slurs are posted against Korean residents in Japan, Jung said.

"Korean residents are not Japanese. (We) won't say go home, (we) say die. And if they won't die, (we'll) kill them," Jung read aloud one of the messages posted on the chat room.

"If someone said that (to you), you would be afraid to go out, too," Jung said. "It is not like we did anything wrong. But (Korean residents in Japan) are a vent for all of the anxiety and discontent of Japanese society, due to the political background and prejudice (toward
Koreans here)."

Toshiaki Fujimoto, a lecturer at Kanagawa University and a specialist in international human rights law, said he was utterly confused when he first learned that Japan had no legislation banning racial discrimination, even though it became a member of the U.N. International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1995.

"As a member of the international convention, Japan has an obligation to provide a law (to ban discrimination)," Fujimoto told the symposium, adding that various U.N. organizations on human rights have urged Japan to do so.

Australia, Brazil, Canada and Britain have laws against racial discrimination that punish violators, Fujimoto pointed out.

"In the past 10 years, laws against child abuse, domestic violence and stalking have been enacted," he pointed out.

While these laws will not solve all problems, it is important to raise public awareness of those issues through legislation, he noted. "And I believe that the same goes for racial discrimination."

By Mary Tokuhara on Sunday, July 3, 2005 - 10:49 pm:

Hi Pato,
Thanks for the post. Last month there was a small meeting at the lobby of our apartment building, every family had a member present and one of the issues that was announced were the installments of cameras at the lobby entrance. The "ryocho", I think translated as apartment monitor, said that "The cameras are needed due to the fact that recently the number of foreigners in our area has increased, therefore (our area) has become more dangerous". After he said that, everyone automatically glanced at us. I should have said something then, but was tongue tied. Why is it that when the need to retort comes, I can't get a word out.

By Yuko Kubota on Monday, July 4, 2005 - 12:38 am:


I think you did okay. The reason everyone glanced at you was probably because they noticed the ryocho's carelessness in your presence. I'm possitive that they wouldn't have expected you to say, "I totally support the ryocho" and thought that your silence was either a polite opposition to his words or an adult way of appreciation to those who understand you. I hope! Anyway, I rarely know people who can speak up when they most want to. That's why internet forums are popular, I guess.

By Admin on Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - 8:53 am:

Does anyone know the ruling? I couldn't find it in the English press this morning:
* * * *
Racial-discrimination lawsuit to be ruled upon by Osaka District
Court on Monday, January 30, 11AM.

Steve McGowan, an African-American resident of Kyoto, was refused entry to an eyeglass shop in October 2004 because the owner, quote, "doesn't like black people". Case alluded to in Nov 30, 2004 Japan Times column at

You can contact his lawyer, Mr NIWA Masao, at 06-6360-0550.

Further links: Jan 3, 2006 Japan Times article on lawsuiting (debunking the myth that lawsuits don't happen in Japan) at

By Helen Braithwaite on Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - 9:11 am:

I have just found it in Japan Times.
He lost the case!


By Cornelia on Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - 2:22 pm:

Thanks Helen, I did a search by his name, so at first missed the following column, which excludes his name. I do have an email address for Steve if anyone wants to send him a message. There are also many people who are sending money for an appeal apparently.

Court rejects African-American's damages claim over denied entry to shop
Tuesday, January 31, 2006 at 07:18 EST
(2006 Kyodo news)

OSAKA EThe Osaka District Court rejected a damages suit Monday filed by a U.S. citizen living in Kyoto Prefecture who said he was denied entry to an Osaka optical shop in 2004 because he is black.

The 41-year-old man, a designer living in the town of Seika, had demanded the shop owner pay 5.5 million yen in damages.

"It was inappropriate for the owner to have asked the man who was in front of the shop to leave ... but there is no evidence that he made remarks discriminating against black people," Judge Yoshifumi Saga said in handing down the ruling.

The man said after the ruling that it is a sad day and that he feels like he is living in Alabama or Louisiana in the 1950s.

He also said that he will continue to fight until he receives equal treatment with Japanese people.

According to the ruling, the shop owner told the man in Japanese to leave when he was in front of the premises with a non-Japanese friend in September 2004.

The man said the shop owner shouted, "I hate black people."

Saga said that the claim lacked credibility.

According to the lawsuit, the owner used the derogatory term "kokujin," or black people, when denying the man entry, and the man said the remark is racist.

The man later returned to the shop with his Japanese wife to ask why he was denied entry. The owner said he had received a phone call from someone saying they were unable to enter the premises because "two strange people" were in front, according to the lawsuit.

The judge rejected the claim by the owner about the phone call.

By Cornelia on Thursday, February 2, 2006 - 9:28 am:

Here is an analysis of the court's decision with some paragraphs translated from Japanese, by Arudou Debito (of Otaru Onsen fame). There is also a Japanese version.
Enjoy! ... and weep.

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