High court rejects compensation claim over racial discrimination at bathhouse

Kyodo

The Sapporo High Court rejected an appeal Thursday seeking compensation from a city government in Hokkaido for failing to halt a ban on foreigners at a bathhouse under its jurisdiction.

The suit, seeking 6 million yen in damages from the Otaru Municipal Government and the bathhouse operator, was filed Feb. 1, 2001, by David Aldwinckle, a 39-year-old U.S.-born local resident who is now a naturalized Japanese with the name of Debito Arudou, and two foreign nationals.

In November 2002, the Sapporo District Court dismissed the suit for compensation against the city but ordered the bathhouse operator to pay 1 million yen each to the three plaintiffs.

In the high court, the plaintiffs argued that the city had a duty to meet the requirements of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which Japan signed in December 1995, by introducing an ordinance to ban racial discrimination.

Presiding Judge Keiichi Sakamoto called the bathhouse’s refusal to admit non-Japanese “unreasonable discrimination,” but added that the convention “has only general, abstract provisions recommending appropriate measures to eliminate racial discrimination, and the city of Otaru does not have any obligation to institute ordinances to ban such discrimination.”

In September 1999, Arudou, then still a U.S. citizen, and German Olaf Karthaus visited the Yunohana Onsen bathhouse in the port city and were refused entry because they were foreigners, according to the suit. Ken Sutherland, another American, was denied admission there in December 2000.

The bathhouse had put up a multilingual sign saying “Japanese only” in English. It gave as a reason that trouble with drunken Russian sailors at similar facilities in the area had caused Japanese customers to stay away.

Arudou filed the complaint with the court after he visited the bathhouse again in October 2000 after becoming a naturalized Japanese citizen. He was refused entry even after he presented his driver’s license as proof of his Japanese citizenship.

Arudou lives in the town of Namporo in Hokkaido with his Japanese wife and two daughters.