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Justifiable discrimination? An op-ed in the Japan Times

January 19th, 2009 . by Matt

Gregory Clark, who has been a critic of Debito in the past, has written an op-ed for the Japan Times (where Debito has a regular column).

“Japan girai” — dislike of Japan — is an allergy that seems to afflict many Westerners here. If someone handing out Japanese-language flyers assumes they cannot read Japanese and ignores them, they cry racial discrimination. If they are left sitting alone in a train, they assume that is because the raci st Japanese do not want to sit next to foreigners. If someone does sit next to them and tries to speak to them in English, they claim more discrimination, this time becau se it is assumed they cannot speak Japanese.

Normally these people do little harm. In their gaijin ghettoes they complain about everything from landlords reluctant to rent to foreigners (igno ring justified landlord fear of the damage foreigners can cause) to use of the word “gaijin” (forgetting the way some English speakers use the shorter and sometimes discr iminatory word “foreigner” rather than “foreign national.”). A favorite complaint is that Japanese universities discriminate against foreigners. How many Western universi ties would employ, even as simple language teachers, foreigners who could not speak, write and read the national language?

Recently they have revived the story of how they bravely abolished antiforeigner discrimination from bathhouses in the port town of Otaru in Hokkaido. Si nce I was closely involved, allow me to throw some extra light on that affair.

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 fr om 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 ha ve 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 ti me 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 i n 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 abs urd.

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 regula r Japanese customers seeking the quiet Japanese-style camaraderie of the traditional Japanese bathhouse would want to flee an invasion of noisy, bathhouse-ignorant foreig ners. 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 tim e 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 probabl y not be where he is today.

Malaysia has also ignored it, with its Bumiputra policy of favoring Malays over Chinese and other minorities. There are dozens more examples of societies deciding to favor one group of people over others in order to preserve solidarity or prevent injustices. A large chain of barbershops in Japan has signs saying service i s denied to those who do not speak Japanese. Non-Japanese speakers probably cause much less harm to a business than delinquent Russians. But we do not see our activists i n action there.

The activists say there should be action to educate Russian sailors in bathhouse behavior. But do we see any of the activists in the friendship societies where worthy Japanese citizens try to ease problems for foreigners living here? Not as far as I know. Presumably close contact with these citizens would also upset their Japan-girai feelings.

In Otaru the obvious answer from the beginning was to create a seamen’s club similar to those that exist in many major ports. But here too the activists were very silent. It seems they prefer to move against weak targets where they can gain publicity with a minimum of effort. One result, either of the intensity of their beliefs or of their self-aggrandizement urges, is the vitriol they pour on those who have criticized their actions.

While not naming Debito directly, it is obvious that the criticism is directed at Debito and his mostly non-Japanese speaking followers. Is discrimination ever justified? Well, perhaps it is in a personal sense. If a certain group of people continually abused my trust, then I would probably be wary in the future of that particular group. It is a no-brainer.

9 Responses to “Justifiable discrimination? An op-ed in the Japan Times”

  1. comment number 1 by: Yoshi_UK

    I work as a chemical engineer in a beautiful medieval city of Krakow Poland for a large multi-national company. The biggest problem here regarding foreigners is a huge number of drunk British louts. They come up in a huge number, smash up bars and pubs, urinate everywhere, run around naked, and quite often beaten to pulp by local football supporters (and by cops, too). As a result, many bars here state, “No British allowed”. Thanks to the good reputation of the Japanese, I am always treated extremely well by the local bar staff, but they tell me a lot of horror stories once I tell them that I lived in the UK for seven years. Of course, there’s no cry of discrimination or whatever against the Poles as it is considered to be politically correct for the Poles to discriminate(?) the British. The sad reality is that some low-life Whites come to Japan and expect to be treated by the Japanese well, only because they are from the parts of the world which, they believe, are regarded by everyone around the world as the First Circle, and it doesn’t matter if they are from a scanty rural township in Australia or stinking Hackney. Of course, the Japanese do not subscribe to such nonsense, and treat vandals as such. Then, suddenly, they want us to lower our standard and treat them equally as if our somewhat higher standard of respect to the other people is discriminatory.

    Well. Whatever those leftwing arsewipes say, their juvenile cries continue to fall on deaf ears, thus the Japanese (and Polish) remain conservative and treat vandals as vandals.

  2. comment number 2 by: john k

    “…They come up in a huge number, smash up bars and pubs, urinate everywhere, run around naked..”

    The British have been behaving like that at home and abroad for nearly 1000 years, nothing new. Except more publicity today than days before the Internet and TV.

  3. comment number 3 by: kuruma

    My first comment, and I would like to say welcome back, Matt. I found your blog last November and worried because you were not posting new entries 😉

    In Japan so called “racism” occurs in following conditions;

    1) ignorance – we tend to reject something(someone) that they don’t know about

    2) fear – most foreign people are taller and bigger than Japanese so we are intimidated

    3) personal experience – if someone has a bad experience with an American ten years ago, he/she will not like American people until he/she has a good experience with them(obvious, isn’t it?)

    What I am trying to say is that Japanese people are not “haters”. For those of you who come to Japan, rest assured that Japanese people will treat you good. The chance for a foreign national being mistreated should be much lower than in other countries.

    I am grieving because too much propaganda goes on to make people believe Japanese people are savage haters.

  4. comment number 4 by: camphortree

    Years ago my friend’s son ventured out to Europe from Idaho for skiing. Many Germans, British, French, local Swiss and Japanese were hanging around in the ski resort. The Idaho son was dumfounded with some European skiers who cut in line like business as usual nearly every time the Idaho son was waiting for the lift.
    A lot of Australians go to Nagano or Hokkaido for skiing. I have never heard of this sort of problem.

  5. comment number 5 by: sgsilver

    I wrote a response to Mr. Clark’s piece on my site:


    Please feel free to read and comment.


  6. comment number 6 by: Matt

    sgsilver, thanks for your comment. I went over to your site and had a read. I disagreed with a couple of things you wrote (although not directly relevant to what Mr. Clark wrote).

    While the issue of whether such objectives have been achieved or not can be debated, it is clear that the policies of the U.S. and Malaysian governments do indeed fall under the exception, and do not, as Mr. Clark claims, violate the terms of the Convention. Furthermore, racial discrimination violates Japan’s own constitution, something that Mr. Clark fails to mention. Is he arguing that the Japanese constitution should also be ignored?

    The problem is that the U.S. and Malaysian Affirmative Action demands equal outcomes, not equal opportunity. The equal outcomes are absolutely impossible so the systems are de facto permanent. I would also argue that Bumipatra is about racial supremacy rather than equal rights. There is no indication that Bumipatra is ever meant to be temporary.

    As for the Japanese constitution, it does guarantee equal rights under the law.

    Article 14:

    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. 2) Peers and peerage shall not be recognized. 3) No privilege shall accompany any award of honor, decoration or any distinction, nor shall any such award be valid beyond the lifetime of the individual who now holds or hereafter may receive it.

    But that concerns the government, not individuals. If you wanted to be my friend but I said I don’t want to be your friend because you are a foreigner (a clear cut case of discrimination), then you are out of luck because it has nothing to do with your dealings with the government. Likewise, I could start up the “Tokyo Foreigners Club” and not admit Japanese people as members, simply because they are Japanese. My right to do this is protected under articles 19 and 21 of the constitution.

    Article 19:

    Freedom of thought and conscience shall not be violated.

    Article 21:

    Freedom of assembly and association as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed. 2) No censorship shall be maintained, nor shall the secrecy of any means of communication be violated.

    Likewise, I could reject marriage proposals based on race, social status, religion, family origin, sex or creed (rejected marriage proposals was one of the things that Doudou Diene called discrimination and demanded that the Japanese government put an end to it).

    A men’s club is perfectly fine and legal. So is a women’s club. Both can deny membership or entry to anyone, based on whatever criteria they choose.

    It is only the government that is not allowed to discriminate against the people. The people are free to associate with whoever they choose. IIRC, the Japanese supreme court judgment was made using an interpretation of the UN convention ratified by Japan. Whether this takes precedence over article 21 of the constitution is questionable. I expect not because it would be unconstitutional for the Japanese government to ratify away the rights of the people.

  7. comment number 7 by: LB

    “Likewise, I could start up the “Tokyo Foreigners Club” and not admit Japanese people as members, simply because they are Japanese. My right to do this is protected under articles 19 and 21 of the constitution.”

    Indeed, such a group has already been started – it is called FRANCA. And I am sure those who founded it would defend their right to choose who to allow in, and who to keep out. I really doubt I would be welcome there – not that I would want to join an organization that requires a 踏み絵 test in order to become a full-fledged member with a say in the organization.

    But funny how that works, isn’t it? Discriminating against folks who might want to join an anti-discrimination group. But as you say, their right of assembly and association is protected by the Constitution.

  8. comment number 8 by: Matt


    踏み絵? You mean to join you have to literally step on the symbols of Christ, or figuratively reject something or other? What do you have to do to be a member?

  9. comment number 9 by: LB

    I didn’t actually mean you have to step on Icons. 😉

    You do have to show that you are a “good member”.

    But from the minutes of one of their own meetings: “The first item on the agenda was a discussion about membership. FRANCA polls indicate that a majority of members favor limiting voting rights to certain people within the membership, not the least because many would want to avoid a hijacking and stacking of the group by unsympathetic people (and because we’d like people to have been here a few years and have worked through their “honeymoon–we’re only guests here so don’t complain” periods). The best way for people to be voting members would be to have people who agreed with our goals.”

    Here’s the link: http://www.francajapan.org/index.php/Meeting_Summaries/2008-01-24_Shibuya

    So in order to have a say in the organization, you have to show that you will be a good little sheep and vote as the group wants you to vote. Dissent is not allowed. All must be assimilated….